Wild by Cheryl Strayed – a book you should read

(Something I wrote during a frenzied writing challenge:)

With writing that is nothing short of merciless, unflinching and raw, here is a book for those who are willing to have their heart broken and put back together again.

You will not get the condensed version of suffering. Strayed will not brush over death with a six-word obituary. She will not briefly list her suffering and move onto the story. Her suffering is the story. It’s the blood that runs through the veins of the story and she draws it from her own veins, as she recounts the very difficult steps she took towards healing her soul.

Throughout Wild, Cheryl Strayed documents the thousands and thousands of steps she took, arriving in such a way that it almost seems nonchalant (but the reader knows it’s anything but).

As I was reading, I felt hunger pangs when Cheryl was starving. I craved Snapple lemonade without even knowing what this was but the product came to mean something to me, because the descriptions are nothing short of vivid and visceral. I felt my feet taking the same steps. I felt exhausted after each chapter. I could feel her Monster backpack digging into my skin. Being a woman, I also felt the sharp pangs of fear as a woman travelling alone, conjuring up similar feelings from when I travelled alone in a dangerous country. All your senses are awake and alert. You see every eye darting, every hand gesture and you feel yourself on display like a piece of art on there for everyone to stare at, hoping no one will break the invisible barrier that says ‘do not touch’.

But being alone is not only humbling; as a woman it’s empowering. When Cheryl quotes Adrienne Rich, one of my favourite poets, my heart soars along with the words.

Here’s an extract:

‘It was a deal I’d made with myself months before and the only thing that allowed me to hike alone. I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I heard a sound of unknown origin or felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.

I was working too hard to be afraid.’

After I had sufficiently cried through the first few chapters, I rang my mother The Breast Cancer Survivor, and just held onto the phone tightly, willing myself not to cry, so I wouldn’t have to explain why I had called her for the first time in so long, why she normally had to be the one who always called me. I didn’t want to have to speak about the shift that had changed my world, that had made the earth move a little, forcing my own steps to move faster to keep up with the earth.

I remember a while back falling into a strange place and time and not being able to lift myself out of the depression that had befallen me. I saw the balcony from our London apartment and I wanted to just jump from it into the canal below and swim away, to escape from it all. Just as the thought came into my mind, so too did the song from an iPod. And sometimes that’s all it takes. A few words to wake us up from a strange reverie.

Let it be, it sang. Mother Mary. Words of wisdom. Let it be. The calmness washing over me, knowing that these wild thoughts could be tamed by just letting it be.

You have to unleash a bit of the wild into yourself to really feel something. Find yourself all over again in the fallen grace. Don’t just read this book. Consume it, inhale it, dance with it in your arms. You are on the Pacific Crest Trail and we are all on a strayed path, in need of a shower and counting our pennies. Cheryl (or Sugar as she is known to many of her fans on the internet) takes us on a breathless journey and there are moments when you’re not sure you’re going to make it, although this book is proof that we can all cross that final stretch and find our way home. This book is an awakening. This book should not be burned, not even to save room on a long journey.

Her very last line slayed me. I suggest you read all the way until the end, if only to get to that epic sentence.

It’s raining so hard right now that I can’t see the buildings in the distance, only their faint outline, slightly grey against the sky’s background. For a moment, it’s almost raining on me and I feel cleansed.

baby bicycle protocol

The first time I left my bike chained to its little parking spot outside work, in order to attend a conference, I remember fretting about it in the ladies bathroom. I wanted to turn to the woman next to me and say with an exasperated sigh,

‘It’s his first time alone!’

‘Newborn baby?’ she would say sympathetically.

I respond with a heavy sigh.

‘Yes, I knew you’d understand’.

‘It’s hard leaving them on their own for the first night, I know how you feel’

‘Exactly! I mean it’s got a really strong chain wrapped around it the right way to make sure no one steals it’.

‘I’m sorry?’

‘But I just feel like it’s so exposed to the elements out on the street like that, what if it rains!’

This imaginary conversation would probably end with her slapping me for bad parenting, not realising that I’m talking about my brand new vintage bicycle (dubbed Clomo after Clover Moore, champion of Sydney bike lanes, represent). How can anyone understand it?

Crazy dog people can understand it, that’s who! You know the ones: crazy people who have pet dogs and treat them like surrogate babies. How they clothe them like children and talk about sending them to school and finding a sitter when they go out and how hard it is to say goodbye to them before they go to doggie school, creepy, etc. and so forth.

I totally get all that now that I’ve invested in my two baby wheels.

My boyfriend and I find ourselves talking as though the bike really is our newborn baby.

‘Should we leave him in the hallway tonight?’

‘No, he’s not ready, it’s too soon! I NEED TO BE THERE IF HE CRIES AT NIGHT AND NEEDS ME’.

When laughing about a crazy situation where someone was trying to enlist my help for a dodgy, law-breaking thing called ‘insurance fraud’ (ha! those crazy kids) I told them to kindly take their insurance law breaking ways elsewhere, for I had no interest in helping them, GOOD DAY SIR. My boyfriend said this was very honourable of me.

But then he stopped in his tracks dramatically. I turned to him.

‘What? What is it?’

‘Nothing. I mean, I just thought…haha, well it probably won’t happen’

‘What. Tell me’

‘Well they might hurt someone you love…to try and get you to comply with them!’


By ‘someone you love’, my boyfriend was referring to himself, of course. I’m letting our bicycle spawn get the better of me…

So naturally when I read the conditions about taking bikes on public transport, I read that most hours of the day you can take them with you. During peak hour however, you had to buy a child’s ticket for the bicycle.

Well played, Cityrail. Well played.

soul reading

It’s not that I’m a non-believer. I believe, alright. I just see my soul as unreadable, a dark untraceable map on the continent of my body. So when I found myself sitting across from a fortune teller at a house party, holding a mojito with a pineapple on the side, I realised I was more transparent than I initially believed.

I was also, quite possibly, a little pissed on rum.

(I made sure to sneak away from the party at some point to transcribe the conversation in my little red notebook. I then threw the notebook across the room in anger because I could hear my favourite songs playing downstairs and I couldn’t work out how to get myself to the dancefloor in time to dance to them, SO YOU BETTER APPRECIATE WHAT I SACRIFICED TO BRING THIS BLOG POST TO YOUR FACE okay).

I can’t remember the fortune teller’s name but I recall she had curly hair with wisps of grey throughout. She had the obligatory dark, stormy eyes and wore a black dress of lace, which I assume to be some sort of standard uniform in the divination world. Later someone added that she had Maori blood. I think this just added to her mystical nature or something.

I picked out my ten cards. She asked if I had ever done this before. I shook my head. She smiled. DID SHE ALREADY KNOW THAT? I thought, suddenly paranoid that she knew everything in the world.

‘Do you know anyone in the house?’ she asked casually.

‘Yes, my boyfriend lives here’.

Her whole face lit up with a massive smile.

‘Oh he was just in here!’ she declared (this is not divination; he’s the only straight guy who lives in the house).

Her smile grew wider as she shuffled the remaining cards. ‘Well isn’t that interesting…very interesting…what a unique person he is…very special’.

She flipped the first card: lovers. This was my foundation card apparently.

‘You have so much love at your centre. You surround yourself with people and people love and adore you. This is a good sign and a good start. Always come back to your core when you stray from this element’.

She flipped the next card and looked aghast all of a sudden.

‘If you don’t want children, you need to do something now to prevent it because children appear in your future!’

‘HOW SOON?!?!’ I shouted, jumping from the bed a little too excitedly.

‘It’s not too far off in your future so take care. I mean it could mean a new beginning and be referring to something else…but it’s more likely a baby’.

Although it seemed like an impossibility, my head began planning appropriate baby names and contemplating which school I would enrol the baby in, and would the baby turn out to be a gangster? Or would he/she be a revolutionary? I would accept the baby even if it chose to be an accountant, but I would put revolutionary posters in its crib, just to ensure that it was aware of all its options.

She flipped another card. Snakes, tangled and coiled. The Medusa card.

‘Something is troubling you now. You have a tendency to engage in troubling self-doubt. You lack confidence in yourself but it makes no sense for you to do that. You have so much talent. People adore you. You need to stop doubting yourself. Will you promise to stop?’ she asked, seriously concerned.

I promised the stranger lady with the seeing powers that I would try to believe in myself a little more.

Another card. ‘Your job will change soon and it will be on your terms…but you also have a big project in your life, an unfinished project that’s very close to your heart and it will take up more prominence in your life…are you writing something big?’

‘I’m writing a novel’ I said in a small voice.

‘Ahh that makes a lot of sense. And you struggle when you’re not in the right circumstances for writing, don’t you? You feel like it will only happen when you have the right time and place to do it. But you can do it anywhere…I sense there’s a poison in your life at the moment that’s stopping you from doing what you need to do’.

‘Will I finish it?’ my voice is barely audible.

She simply smiled back at me and took my hand. She peers carefully at the lines marked there.

‘OH MY! You will have many children! So many babies here…you will marry once.’ She paused in deep thought, brows furrowed.

‘But the question is, will I have enough babies to form a small soccer team?’ I interrupt with a serious expression.

‘Well isn’t this interesting? You are nothing like your family. You feel like you are from somewhere else, from a different family. You don’t think like anyone else in your family.’

I nodded, a little perplexed and flabbergasted at this assessment.

‘You will live a full and prosperous life with opportunities being thrown your way. You will always have money. At one stage, you will have a lot of it. Oh…that’s strange’. she says, as though my hand was just one big fat odd occurrence.

‘One line indicates stability. A careful, well thought out path. But the other line is faint and suggests unpredictability. In this line you could find fame and recognition for one major thing, but there are also two other strong things you accomplish. But this line is faint. Overall you will do many things in your life and you will do them well. I can see your unfinished project in these lines and it seems to prosper. There is an unpredictable chaos here next to your stable path. I suppose it could go either way…’

I stared at the faint line on my palm, the unpredictable one where my novel sat. I stared at it so hard, almost willing it to appear less faint on my hand.

Back to the cards: A ring of commitment appears.

‘He loves you. He is so committed to you. You have no idea just how much. A change will come soon for the two of you…a big change’.

A CHANGE LIKE MARRIAGE AND A FOOTBALL TEAM OF BABIES? I think quietly to myself, fully aware that she is probably reading my mind. In under ten minutes I have become a marriage-wanting-baby-machine.

She asks me to pick up another card because she needs to know more about this. The card is of a man. I assume I know what this means but I am wrong, of course.

‘Oh! Why?!’ You’re worried about him. And you’re letting it drive you crazy! Why are you worrying about him?’ she says, exasperated.

Oh. That.

I briefly explained how he was a little bit wild like me sometimes but was more likely to live with a kind of reckless abandon and on the edge of things. I suppose I’m not like that, mainly because I inherited my mother’s paranoia and anxiety for most things in life.

But I didn’t elaborate on this or explain how he had a tough life, how he had to flee his home country as a refugee when he was a child or how he grew up in a very German town. I didn’t mention how his best friend was murdered or how he was in multiple car accidents where he nearly died nor did I reveal how he told me the fourth day of knowing me, that he feared he might die young.

I only let her know that all these things led to a kind of paranoia that had been building inside me, forcing me to worry the way my own mother might worry, allowing me to cry at the tip of a hat, just thinking about the worst that could happen.

It was here that her interpretation actually scared me. How could she know that? I was overwhelmed with emotions as she  reassured me that he’ll be fine and I didn’t need to worry. This woman, who up until ten minutes ago had been a complete stranger, managed to cure me of my crazy. I felt instantly better, but secretly tapped my hand on the wooden table just to be safe.

Another card: ‘I’m worried that you’re somewhat of a loner’

Me: ‘Ha! But I’m fun loving and sociable! Look, I’m holding a mojito with a pineapple in it!’

She laughed.

‘It goes deeper than that. You are submissive. You always come back to love and need someone special in your life. But deep down you can be a real loner. I can see you have a bit of magic in you. The people who surround you see that and love you instantly for it. You have talent and your life will be full and prosperous. But this self-doubt is crippling you and your heart is the driving force of this pain. Stop worrying. You will write your book and you will be known for it. Your skill as a writer has got you here now but you have other places to go too. You will get there’.

Another card: ‘Ahh yes. You will live in Europe next year and love will be the motivating factor in that decision. There you’ll be nervous and uncomfortable for a while because it will feel unfamiliar and you will feel insecure all over again. You will struggle with the difficulty of a new home in a foreign country where you won’t speak the language at first. You’ve done this before. This time so many opportunities will arise from this. So many things are connected to that experience.’

‘You must go’

And that was that.