A stark startle while reading Dear Sugar (it was a tiny beautiful thing)

Francesco Chiacchio, illustrator. His blog
"I love to grow words in my word garden [and] sprinkle them with different signs, watch them grow from afar, and pick them up with a drawing (Curious Hat)."

I'm still thinking about Cheryl Strayed (and what I wrote). 

That got me thinking about a moment I had while reading her book Tiny Beautiful Things, Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar.

Strayed is Sugar, the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus who thousands turned to for advice about life when it’s tough and when it’s good: a loved one dies, courage to write, wanting to marry, getting a job, a partner cheats, whether to have a child.

She is like Ann Landers on steroids. 

Addressing advice-seekers as “honey bun” and “sweet pea” not so much with affection as to help us circle what she’s about to say, she acknowledges she hears and understands. She shines a light on plights from her personal experience and uses quotes from her favorite writers.

Her sugar is laced with pointed statements that feel like forced awareness. I gulp air as I read.

A friend sent me the book with a note that when I got to a certain page to let her know. It’s that kind of book. The problems are all of ours and the strangers become me.

So I had my own page of stark startle.

It was in the letter from twenty-six-year-old Elissa Bassist who sums up her dilemma as a “writer who can’t write” mostly because she believes she doesn’t have it in her to write: “I am sick with panic that I cannot—will not—override my limitations, insecurities, jealousies, and ineptitude, to write well, with intelligence and heart and lengthiness…How does one go on, Sugar, when you realize you might not have it in you?”


(Too many) friends (if they’re reading this post) may see an ever so slight similarity in Elissa’s letter to some of my writing whines. Like how I don’t have the degrees, haven’t read all the classics, that my life isn’t all that interesting, and what can I say anyway. I have many excuses.

Those excuses sit squarely within a victim-thinking frame of mind. Thinking that when I’m in that space keeps me in a triangle of poor me (not good, smart, educated enough) thoughts that spill over into persecuting (why did or didn’t you do, say such and such) and then rescuing myself (I would have if only) from that harsh criticism.

An utter waste of energy and time.

Strayed helps. She says the only way to override your limitations, insecurities, jealousies, and ineptitude is to produce. To practice. 

To write. To do the work. 

And about those feelings that arise? She reminds me that I have control over how much power I give them.

She says write “blazingly good…Nobody is going to give you a thing. You have to give it to yourself. You have to tell us what you have to say…”

Again. I have to do the work.

She tells what she commits to: “Read voraciously. Read and memorize the work of writers you love. Record your life copiously and artfully in journals…”

To sum it up, she says, “Write like a motherfucker.”

Strayed’s response to Elissa helps in the same way I imagine Cupid’s bow does when it ends up in someone’s heart. I sit straight up.

And here I am writing.

(First published 3/20/16)