Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
2012 Vintage Books
Finished on March 26, 2015
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)
Life can be hard: your lover cheats on you; you lose a family member; you can’t pay the bills. And it can be great: you’ve had the hottest sex of your life; you get that plum job; you muster the courage to write your novel. Sugar—the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus, now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild—is the person thousands turn to for advice.
Tiny Beautiful Things brings the best of Dear Sugar together in one place and includes never-before-published columns and a new introduction by Steve Almond. Rich with humor, insight, compassion—and absolute honesty—this book is a balm for everything life throws our way.
From the introduction by Steve Almond:
…Tiny Beautiful Things can be read as a kind of ad hoc memoir. But it’s a memoir with an agenda. With great patience, and eloquence, she assures her readers that within the chaos of our shame and disappointment and rage there is meaning, and within that meaning is the possibility of rescue.
I bought Dear Sugar a couple of years ago after reading Cheryl Strayed’s novel Torch and memoir Wild. Strayed is an amazing writer, so I’m not sure why I let this book languish on my nightstand for so long. It’s a winner, folks, and I have all the colorful Post-It flags to prove it! 18, if you’re counting. There could have easily been twice that many, but I decided there’s no way I can quote every favorite passage or letter. I will share a few, but I’m only scratching the surface.
Love is the feeling we have for those we care deeply about and hold in high regard. It can be light as the hug we give a friend or heavy as the sacrifices we make for our children. It can be romantic, platonic, familial, fleeting, everlasting, conditional, unconditional, imbued with sorrow, stoked by sex, sullied by abuse, amplified by kindness, twisted by betrayal, deepened by time, darkened by difficulty, leavened by generosity, nourished by humor and “loaded with promises and commitments” that we may or may not want or keep.On the Loss of a Child:
Though we live in a time and place and culture that tries to tell us otherwise, suffering is what happens when truly horrible things happen to us.And finally, when asked, “You give a lot of great advice about what to do. Do you have any advice of what not to do?” Strayed responds with:
Don’t listen to those people who suggest you should be “over” your daughter’s death by now. The people who squawk the loudest about such things have almost never had to get over anything. Or at least not anything that was genuinely, mind-fuckingly, soul-crushingly life altering. Some of those people believe they’re being helpful by minimizing your pain. Others are scared of the intensity of your loss and so they use their words to push your grief away. Many of those people love you and are worthy of your love, but they are not the people who will be helpful to you when it comes to healing the pain of your daughter’s death.
They live on Planet Earth. You live on Planet My Baby Died.
It seems to me that you feel like you’re all alone there. You aren’t. There are women reading this right now who have tears in their eyes. There are women who have spent their days chanting daughter, daughter, or son, son silently to themselves. Women who have been privately tormented about the things they did or didn’t do that they fear caused the deaths of their babies. You need to find those women. They are your tribe.
I know because I’ve lived on a few planets that aren’t Planet Earth myself.
The healing power of even the most microscopic exchange with someone who knows in a flash precisely what you’re talking about because she experienced that thing too cannot be overestimated. Call your local hospitals and birth centers and inquire about support groups for people who’ve lost babies at or before or shortly after birth… Find online communities where you can have conversations with people during which you don’t have to pretend a thing…
This is how you get unstuck, Stuck. You reach. Not so you can walk away from the daughter you loved, but so you can live the life that is yours—the one that includes the sad loss of your daughter, but is not arrested by it. The one that eventually leads you to a place in which you not only grieve her, but also feel lucky to have had the privilege of loving her. That place of true healing is a fierce place. It’s a giant place. It’s a place of monstrous beauty and endless dark and glimmering light. And you have to work, really, really, really hard to get there, but you can do it. You’re a woman who can travel that far. I know it. Your ability to get there is evident to me in every word of your bright shining grief star of a letter.
Don’t do what you know on a gut level to be the wrong thing to do. Don’t stay when you know you should go or go when you know you should stay. Don’t fight when you should hold steady or hold steady when you should fight. Don’t focus on the short-term fun instead of the long-term fall out. Don’t surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn’t true anymore. Don’t seek joy at all costs. I know it’s hard to know what to do when you have a conflicting set of emotions and desires, but it’s not as hard as we pretend it is. Saying it’s hard is ultimately a justification to do whatever seems like the easiest thing to do—have the affair, stay at that horrible job, end a friendship over a slight, keep loving someone who treats you terribly. I don’t think there’s a single dumbass thing I’ve done in my adult life that I didn’t know was a dumbass thing to do while I was doing it. Even when I justified it to myself—as I did every damn time—the truest part of me knew I was doing the wrong thing. Always. As the years pass, I’m learning how to better trust my gut and not do the wrong thing, but every so often I get a harsh reminder that I’ve still got work to do.”Final Thoughts:
I read Tiny Beautiful Things over the course of two months, not because it was plodding or dull (this gal can write!), but simply because it’s not the sort of book one reads from cover to cover. It’s the type of book you want to savor, absorbing Strayed’s excellent advice, enjoying a few letters at a time, rather than zipping through in a few days (which is certainly doable), which would make all the letters blur into one big, depressing pile of sadness.
Cheryl Strayed is well-spoken and articulate, offering clear advice that actually seems obvious once she’s explained her reasoning. She provides anecdotes to substantiate her opinions, which are delivered with kindness and love. My only complaint? There are enough f-bombs and references to sex to make even the most libertine among us blush. This is not the sort of book you want to listen to on audio with your mother. Or your daughter. ;)
Dear Abby meets Dr. Laura? This is a keeper and one I’ll most certainly read again!