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I'm a member of our legal team.
And I somehow got tricked into doing this event because I was
so excited to meet Cheryl.
For those of you who don't know, Cheryl Strayed is a New
York Times best-selling author.
She had two books come out in the last year, "Wild," which
was her memoir of her three-month solo trip up the
Pacific Crest Trail of hiking more than 1,000 miles.
She also had a book come out called "Tiny Beautiful
Things," which is a compendium, I don't know, a
collection of her columns that she wrote as Dear Sugar.
And "Dear Sugar" was an advice column on the Rumpus.
Still is.
CHRISTINE: But, sort of advice column that transcended the
bounds of advice columns.
She's also the author of a critically acclaimed novel
called "Torch." And she has an MFA from Syracuse University
and a PA from the University of Minnesota.
And she lives in Portland with two kids.
CHERYL STRAYED: And my husband.
CHRISTINE: And her husband.
CHERYL STRAYED: And our three cats.
CHRISTINE: Three cats?
CHERYL STRAYED: Three, yeah.
CHRISTINE: That's a lot of cats.
CHERYL STRAYED: That's a lot of cats.
CHRISTINE: So welcome.
We're so excited to have you.
It's great to be here.
And thank you all for coming.
Oh, thanks.
CHRISTINE: So, we had lunch today.
And Cheryl has seen all of the Google perks.
So I think the next step, Laslo, is maybe that we need
an artist in residence.
We're thinking.
I could split my time, artist in residence
and hiker in residence.
CHRISTINE: We have plenty of trails around here.
CHERYL STRAYED: That's right.
That's right.
Somebody needs to take you guys on those trails.
CHRISTINE: So, the last year of your life, I think, must be
something that you couldn't have anticipated.
Did you anticipate that both "Tiny Beautiful Things" and
"Wild" would have exploded like this when you were
writing them and publishing them?
And yet, there's a longer answer to that question.
It has to do with essentially what I had to do along the way
as I became a writer.
When I was in my early 20s and I had all of these ambitions
to be a writer and was really studying the writer's craft
and writing my first stories, I had these grandiose ideas
about what it meant to be a writer that I think a lot of
times people early in their careers as writers they think,
OK, I'm gonna write this book.
I am gonna be on the best seller list, or I'll be a
famous author.
And then the more you work, the more you come to
understand that you really cannot measure
success in that way.
Your book being on the best seller list is not an accurate
gauge of success when you're a literary artist.
And I say that with great confidence because I know so
many fantastic writers who are writing beautiful work worthy
of our attention that they don't ever
really get our attention.
And so, I had to really come to grips with that pretty
early on and say the way I was going to measure success as a
writer was to always do the best work I could, to put my
full self into it, to do my work, to study the craft, and
to write fearlessly with great vulnerability, and
then come what may.
What's so fascinating to me is "Wild" would be the exact same
book whether two people had read it or two million people
had read it.
That book what exist.
I would not have done anything differently.
But of course what happens when two million people have
read your book is it becomes something else.
It goes from being my book to your book.
And one of the things that has happened over and over again,
I've talked to thousands of people around the world in
this last year.
And they all tell me their relationship to the book,
their stories about the book, the pieces of it that
intrigued them or infuriated them or whatever
the book did to them.
And so they've sort of made it theirs.
CHRISTINE: Your writing, I think, is so emotional.
And it's so honest, I think, so raw about experiences that
happened to you.
It's seems like you're very, very forthcoming about things.
And I think I'm curious as to what it's like as a writer to
have something that's so close to your heart that then goes
out into the world and sort of morphs into its own beast?
What is that like?
CHERYL STRAYED: The couple months right
before "Wild" came out--
I'm just gonna set this down.
The couple months before "Wild"
came out, I was terrified.
I had been writing the "Dear Sugar" column.
I'd written essays that had been read widely that were
very vulnerable and raw.
But I had never published a book that was essentially my
heart on the page.
I mean, my first book, "Torch," is my heart on the
page, but it's fiction.
And so even though there are all these pieces of "Torch"
that are, in fact, very true, there was this screen between
me and the reader where I could say,
well, this is a fiction.
"Wild," I was saying the opposite.
I was saying this is me.
This is my story.
If somebody doesn't like the book-- and I
mean, I've seen this.
I try not to read--
I try not to Google myself.
Because really for a writer, that's a dangerous prospect.
And I get these Google alerts every day.
And I try to sort of skim and not really actually read what
people have written about me.
And people have written all kinds of really nice
things about me.
And then some people have written really nasty
things about me.
And what's happening is that character in that book is me.
And so if they don't like the book, they think
they don't like me.
Or if they do like the book, they think they like me.
And, a couple of nights ago I was giving a reading.
And afterwards, this woman came up with her book and she
said, I'm so glad I came tonight.
And I said think you.
And she said I didn't think I was gonna like you at all.
And I was like, oh, thank you.
And I didn't even want to explore what she
meant by that because--
What she was saying is you in person, I like you in person.
But I think she had some misgivings
about me on the page.
And so this is an incredibly scary thing.
And yet it's the writer's work.
It's the whole deal.
Not just the writer, any artist.
I walked past some paintings when we were coming in here.
And that is this person taking a great amount of risk and
presenting it to you.
And you get to say whether you like it or you don't like it.
And so you're either accepting or rejecting really something
that is this person's like greatest passion.
And, it's a big deal.
And I had to really come to grips with the fact that like
there's never been a book written that everyone loves.
I'm OK with the fact that some people hate the book and some
people love the book.
But, I've had to step back from it.
CHRISTINE: One of the craziest things that I think must have
happened to you--
this is from my perspective, of course-- but I understand
that Reese Witherspoon requested your book before it
was even published and then optioned it essentially before
it was out on the presses.
And so, now there's going to be a big screen movie of your
life, of an incredibly raw part of your life that is also
going to be made in Hollywood.
And letting go of that control must be something difficult to
CHERYL STRAYED: Just last week, I read the script.
So, you're right.
About three months before "Wild" came out,
I got a film agent.
And in just all right in one day, the film agent said,
there are three women in Hollywood under the age of 40
who can get a movie made.
And they knew that the challenge of "Wild" is the
main character is a woman.
And there are a bunch of men in the book, but none of them
are really main characters.
And so that's already problematic.
Hollywood doesn't want to make a movie featuring a woman.
And so, right away my film agent said, so we need to find
an actress who feels passionately about the book
and will take it on as her project.
And she said, I just was chatting with Reese
Witherspoon, and she said she'd loved to read your book
over the weekend.
So this was a Friday.
Would you let Reese read it?
And I was like sure.
I mean, why not?
I guess.
CHERYL STRAYED: And so, and then I lit a candle--
which I don't necessarily believe that lighting a candle
has any actual impact on the world-- but I light a candle
and every time I passed it or looked at it I'd say, Reese.
And, I can't believe I'm telling you this actually.
I've only said this two times now.
This is the second time.
So, it's 'cause you guys gave me ice cream at lunch.
CHRISTINE: Really good ice cream.
CHERYL STRAYED: And so then Monday, my cell phone rang.
And it was my agent saying, Reese loves it and she wants
to option it and she wants to talk to you.
And so, Reese and I just had this hour long conversation
where she just told me everything she understood
about the book, everything she felt about the book.
And I could see right away that she got it, that she was
really deeply connected to the story I was telling.
And then she was sharing with me all parts of herself as an
artist, too, as an actress, what she could
bring to the story.
Because that's the deal is it is gonna be strange when I see
the movie and there's Reese and she's me.
But it's also I've had to let that go.
Because I wrote the book.
Nobody can change the book.
That was my creation.
The film isn't my creation.
And so Reese is gonna have to make it hers in order for it
to succeed.
I really think that anything that is made with artistic
intentions, it has to come from a core place.
It has to come from an authentic place.
And so she can't be trying to sort of mimic me in the course
of making the film.
So I have just great confidence in her.
I think she's really smart and really kind of--
and I've met her and had long conversations with her.
I couldn't be more thrilled.
And she hired--
I didn't want anything to do with the script, so she hired
Nick Hornby, the writer Nick Hornby--
CHERYL STRAYED: --to write the script.
And so then I went to England in January for the "Wild"
launch there, and I hung out with Nick for several days.
And it was so strange 'cause I met him and he's been
obsessively thinking about me for like
the last three months.
He's like, Cheryl--
and it was just this--
CHRISTINE: So have I, just by the way.
And we just had this really intense experience together.
And last week I read the script.
I was afraid to ask him for it because I was like, oh, what
if I don't like it?
He sent it to me, and it's really good.
It's great.
CHRISTINE: That's wonderful.
CHERYL STRAYED: So, the hope is that it'll
be shot this summer.
There are all these logistics that need to be worked out.
And who knows.
It's Hollywood.
You never know.
But, there are good things happening.
CHRISTINE: So when you play the game of who would play you
in a movie, did you ever think it would be Reese Witherspoon?
I never did.
I never could think of an answer to that question.
CHRISTINE: Now you know.
You don't even have to--
It's really--
CHRISTINE: --play the game anymore.
CHERYL STRAYED: Isn't that interesting?
So it'll be Reese.
CHRISTINE: Well, let's talk about the book a bit.
So, the book is about your memoir of
your hike up the PCT.
It's 1,000 miles, three months alone.
You were 26 at the time, right?
CHRISTINE: And, to me that's just a startling undertaking.
And I hear that lots of women are now being inspired to do
this by themselves.
But, one of the themes of the book, one of the things that
you're open and honest about, is that you were completely
ill prepared for it.
So, I guess one of the things that I think about is if you
were to do it again, would you have done it differently?
Would you have planned it differently?
Would you have thought it through?
Would you have gone with a group?
Are there things about the hike that you would have done
CHERYL STRAYED: Well, I certainly would not have gone
with anyone.
I think that being alone was a really important piece of it.
And I still love to travel alone.
I love to do things alone.
You just exist in the world in a different way when you are
by yourself, whether you're a man or a woman.
And I do think that there's something about solitude,
especially in wild places, that you go
into a deeper solitude.
And also that when you're by yourself, you
have to rely on yourself.
You have to literally carry your own weight.
You are the beast of your own burden.
And I think that was an incredibly powerful thing for
me at that moment in my life.
I think it would be a powerful thing for me at any moment in
my life, but I think particularly then.
And as far as preparing, I mean one of things that's
I've been really thinking about this 'cause this
question comes up a lot--
I did so much preparation before my hike.
I had to pack those boxes.
I had to dehydrate food.
I had to figure out these little Podunk stops along the
way and calculate how long it would take me to get them.
CHRISTINE: And there was no Google then.
CHERYL STRAYED: And there was no-- that's
what I was gonna say--
and there was no Google.
And, so I think a lot of times people say, oh, you were so
ill prepared.
They're forgetting the world of 1995.
I was on the PCT when somebody for the first time explained
to me what email was.
And I could not understand what she was saying.
And I remember saying, so you're sitting there at your
computer and then a letter appears on the screen?
And she was like, yeah, it's kind of like that.
And I was like, that seems totally weird.
The other thing is I was also on the PCT the first time I
heard of a cell phone.
So those of you who have read the book, the guy Albert who
was like this Eagle Scout who helps me lighten my load and
like finds the condoms and all that, this guy, he was like
Mr. Lightweight.
But he did have this huge brick of plastic with numbers
on the front.
And I said, what is this?
And he said it's a stupid thing that I have been
carrying now for 500 miles now, and I'm
gonna dump it here.
It's a thing called a cell phone.
And this company had found out-- that was like trying to
make these early cell phones-- had found out he was taking
the PCT and wanted him to carry it to see--
and he'd have to turn it on once a day to
see if he got reception.
And he'd never got reception.
And he's like, I'm not carrying this.
And I remember us sitting around this campfire and the
absolute consensus without any question was this is a product
that is never gonna fly because who would want to walk
around with a phone in their pocket all the time?
I mean, who would want--
I mean, right?
Which is so funny now, 'cause I'm like--
CHRISTINE: That's like 15 years ago we're talking about
at this point.
CHRISTINE: Like that's amazing.
That's what's so crazy about it.
So the world changed really quickly.
We could Google--
I mean, I swear I think I use Google like 500 times a day.
CHRISTINE: We all do.
We could have hundreds, maybe thousands of trail
journals, in a snap.
People now, they blog from the PCT.
I have tweeted on my iPhone from the PCT.
Different world then.
Like my communication with the world is if you wanted to get
in touch with me, you'd write a letter to a post office
where you thought I might be in a couple weeks and write
general delivery, Cheryl Strayed and the
town and the zip code.
CHRISTINE: Which is interesting because that's the
way that we would have communicated for hundreds of
years before--
CHERYL STRAYED: Hundreds of year.
And in a mere 15, 16 years--
CHRISTINE: --at this point, it's utterly changed.
CHERYL STRAYED: It's totally different.
And I remember, I bought that guidebook at
REI, the PCT guidebook.
And I went to the Minneapolis Public Library because I
wanted to read more about the PCT.
And they didn't have any other books about it.
And that was it.
That was the end of my research.
The piece of it that you're right about that I didn't
prepare physically.
I mean, I don't know,, drinking a lot, doing heroin,
sleeping with a lot of guys.
It's not really a great preparation for--
CHRISTINE: Not the best training.
CHERYL STRAYED: So I did that.
So that was a mistake.
I wouldn't recommend those things.
And I also just didn't know how hard it would be.
I had this idea of being in the wild.
And I had been a day hiker.
And I thought, well, it's kind of like that.
But it's not like that.
It was much harder and much more remote than I
thought it would be.
But having said that, I don't think I would do anything
I would get better boots that fit.
And I would take fewer things.
But I'm glad in retrospect that I had exactly the
experience I did because I'd learned the hard way, and all
the best things I've learned the hard way.
Because the thing about that is you never forget then.
And, I think I needed to have a sort of reckoning.
And, I suffered the consequences of all of my
decisions on the trail.
And that was an incredibly--
CHRISTINE: In a very, very--
CHERYL STRAYED: --empowering experience, in a really
physical way.
I guess I've heard you say in other forums that putting
yourself through the physical pain sort of helped you cope
with the emotional pain.
And, I don't know what the question is here, but that's
very, I think, powerful.
And to understand that, I mean, I think that's something
I do in my life is that you focus on something else so
that the other things can process behind you.
CHRISTINE: Which is cool.
CHERYL STRAYED: I think that that's true.
I think, too, one of the things I maybe didn't
consciously realize at the time is that I was creating my
own rite of passage.
We don't really have this in our culture.
And we all know--
I mean, some of you in the room are in your 20s, but
those of you who have gone beyond those years know that
even if things had been going really well for me, even if
I'd had like a great father and a mom who didn't die at 45
of cancer, all of these different things that sort of
combined to get me at that place in my life of despair
that I was at, I would still have had to
figure out who I was.
And I would still would have had to figure out what path I
was gonna take and also how to survive and
thrive on that path.
Because I was choosing a path of the writer, which can be
seen sort of as an illegitimate path for quite a
number of years.
I was a waitress, and I'd say, well, I'm a waitress but I'm
really a writer.
And people, they scoff at that or they roll their eyes or
they're when are you gonna get a real job, all of that stuff
you have to endure when you have taken that other path.
And so I needed to go through some sort of rite that would
take me to that next place of growing up.
And I needed to heal.
I needed to heal all of that stuff that you mentioned.
And so I think I didn't know quite what I was.
Like I said, I didn't know what I was getting into
But once I was out there, I realized it was very physical
and it was exactly what I needed.
I was suffering on the inside, and suddenly I forgot about
those things because I was suffering so much physically.
CHRISTINE: One of the things I think that's really
interesting about this book that I've realized only in
retrospect and when you talk about the rite of passage it
brings it up to me is that I think your memoir is very much
sort of a female archetype story, like sort of a feminine
superhero in some ways.
I mean, you did this rite of passage.
You were doing it on your own.
And you're sort of creating your own archetype or tapping
into an architect that isn't necessarily out there for a
female archetype.
It's something that you see in a lot of male role models.
And that's more what you touch on in popular culture.
But, you were doing this as a woman, and there wasn't a lot
out there that time.
And so I think to me it's interesting that you--
I guess my question to you is did you consciously write with
that archetype in mind?
Because to me this is also just your story.
And this is just something that you did.
But at the same time you are tapping into those themes.
I teach memoir writing sometimes.
A lot of people, when they first began to write creative
nonfiction or memoir, stories from their lives, they'll come
to me and say, well, you know my son died or I spent a year
in France or I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro after surviving
breast cancer, whatever story they have.
And they're impulse is to write that story because they
had the experience and the experience was dramatic or
traumatic or adventuresome or whatever, any of those things.
And I always say, the experience isn't enough.
We've all had traumas and dramas and adventures.
And there's a difference between having a great dinner
party conversation about an experience you had and writing
a great book or writing a great essay.
And the difference is the consciousness you bring to
bear on it.
Well, first of all it's the writing craft.
You have to actually know how to write sentences that people
want to read.
But then--
CHRISTINE: Which you do really, really well.
CHERYL STRAYED: Oh, thank you.
But then, what consciousness are you bringing to bear?
What awareness?
What does this thing mean?
For years, I didn't write about my hike on the PCT
because I had nothing to say really about it.
If I met you, we could talk about it and it would be a
nice conversation.
But until I really had something to say in the realm
of art which is, I think, is a bigger undertaking.
What did my hike really mean to me?
And what can it possibly mean to you?
And if you're ever reading a book and you're thinking,
well, why the hell am I reading about this woman's
dad's death, I think that writer hasn't
really done her job.
Because, I think when you read personal stories that do that
thing where they transcend--
which means to move from one realm to the other, to move
from me to you--
is that they've obliterated that question in your mind
because you recognize yourself in the work, even if the life
you're reading about is profoundly
different than your own.
And so, lot of times people say, well, you took the hike
in '95 and the book didn't get published in 2012.
Why did you wait?
And the answer is I did not wait.
I wrote the book as soon as it was time to write the book.
And, I didn't write the book 'cause I took a hike.
A lot of people have taken longer, better hikes than me.
I wrote the book because I'm a writer.
I wrote the book because I finally realized I'd reached a
place in my own life that I understood that I could
actually tell this story in a way that had a consciousness
of those layers that we're talking about.
Which brings me to your question about
the heroine's journey.
And I did.
I wrote with great consciousness and awareness of
the long tradition of the hero's journey.
And it's almost always been male.
But I decided that I was part of that, too.
I didn't write a book for women.
I wrote a book for people.
And I wanted my stories to resonate with
both men and women.
And so I just decided to essentially look at those kind
of deep mythologies of somebody who goes off into the
darkness, off into the wild darkness, has to slay a bunch
of demons and dragons and then returns different, changed.
And so, when I was able to think about my own journey
within that context, I was able to write "Wild." It
wasn't like I sat down and said, well, I'm gonna tell the
hero's journey.
But it was in the cells of my creative mind when I was
writing the book.
I was aware of it.
I was aware of basically the woman versus nature, the
hero's journey, all of those different elements of the
story that are there.
CHRISTINE: One aspect I think of the hero's journey that is
common to literature is that some event has to kick it off,
something has to create it.
And it's all part of the mythology.
One thing that stood out to me when I read this book with my
book club was the figure of your mother, who obviously is
an amazing woman.
But you have a passage, like near the very end, of two
pages of minor faults of your mom.
And other than that, it's almost all glowing praise.
And I wonder if you feel that by writing this you've sort of
mythologized your mother or changed her
character in some way?
I don't know.
CHERYL STRAYED: That's a great question.
So for those of you who haven't read the book, what
she's referring to is there's this time a couple months into
my hike when I realize it's my mom's 50th birthday.
And, I'm furious.
My mom's been dead like 4.5 years at this point.
And I'm furious with my mom for the first time because she
doesn't get to turn 50.
And, as I'm hiking--
and I did this in my journal, too--
this mother who was so beloved to me and so--
I did idolize her and mythologized her.
I loved her so fiercely that to even think one negative
thought hurt my heart.
But on this day for whatever reason, I'd reached a place
where I finally could be mad at my mom.
And I listed everything that she had
done wrong in my childhood.
I listed all of the things that I didn't like about her
or that I think that she shouldn't have done or she
should have done better.
And, I think that was a really important thing for me
personally in my life.
My mom died at this--
I was a senior in college.
I was at this moment in my life where I had
full license really.
It was developmentally appropriate for me to be kind
of rejecting my mom or angry with my mom or assessing her
with a critical eye.
And she died in the middle of that.
And so I was robbed of that experience.
And so I think what happened was I was doing it then.
But when I was writing "Wild" all those years later when I
had completely forgiven my mother everything, it was so
painful for me to write that chapter because I thought,
well, I can't possibly keep this in the book because I
don't want you all to hate my mom-- oh, my mom smoked pot in
front of me sometimes-- and that I didn't want to be
judgmental or whatever it was.
And then my editor said, no, you really need to keep this
in here because it's important.
It actually makes us love your mom more
because she's human then.
She's not a myth.
So, I don't think I've idolized my mom in my work.
I did have an incredibly good mom.
My mother was a really powerfully loving person.
And she did mothering really well.
My brother and sister would say the same thing.
My brother and sister have very different lives than me,
but we all always knew that we were really loved by our mom.
And I think that that's probably
what matters the most.
But she was human.
And she did all these things that were
probably mistakes, too.
And I think that more than anything, that's been the
strange experience around my mom is how many people now are
aware of my mom.
My mom who was not remotely a public or
famous person at all.
She was just like a very ordinary person who had a very
ordinary life.
Thousands of people know her now.
CHRISTINE: It's great.
CHERYL STRAYED: Isn't that crazy?
CHRISTINE: That's an amazing thing.
CHERYL STRAYED: I mean, really in some ways it's like I
brought my mom back to life through my work.
Like the one thing I want the most is my mom.
And I've made her like live again in my
work over and over.
CHRISTINE: Well, I think including the passage on the
faults I think your editor was absolutely right because other
than that she would have just been a
different type of archetype.
CHRISTINE: Yeah, a saint or the other role in the sort of
hero's journey, something that--
a saint, you know, something--
CHRISTINE: --you can't really relate to.
And by putting in those faults that, frankly, I read them and
I was like minor.
But what's funny about the minor faults-- but don't you
remember when you're like in your early 20s and you're like
even the little things you can hold against your parents.
That's what parents are for, right?
CHERYL STRAYED: That's what parents are for.
And so, I didn't have parents from that age on.
And so I have no one to blame for any of my shit.
CHRISTINE: It's all on you.
CHERYL STRAYED: It was all on me.
Yeah, yeah.
CHRISTINE: And literally, like with monster, your backpack,
the backpack that you carry is something like 75 pounds.
Did you ever weigh it?
The one thing I didn't bring out there with me is a scale.
I brought everything else.
But some newspaper just decided--
I read a story recently, they said it was like 50 pounds.
It wasn't 50 pounds.
I could totally lift 50 pounds.
It was really heavy.
I couldn't lift it at all the first--
I mean, I couldn't lift it.
Literally, I mean I had to get it on my back, but--
CHRISTINE: I grew up backpacking with my dad.
And I read you packing it in the beginning and I--
oh no, no.
You don't need that.
You don't need that.
It just sounded so painful, so.
I would say it was at least 75.
Just the first day alone, just the water, was 24.5 pounds.
So that was just the water.
And, 'cause I started my hike in the Mojave Desert.
And I'm from Minnesota-- so here's maybe lack of
and I'm like, you know, there are lakes everywhere, right?
I mean, I'm from the land of 10,000 lakes.
Turns out, Mojave Desert, hardly any lakes.
CHRISTINE: It's weird about deserts.
It's a really funny thing.
Well, and I write about this in "Wild", too, the way I
didn't really understand what a mountain was and what a
desert was.
And I think you can even live here maybe and not totally
You have a different understanding of the world
when you are on foot.
One of the things that would always happen to any of the
backpackers if we would run into people who would be
driving past in a car and you ask them ever for like
directions to anything, they would always say, oh, it's
just right down the road.
It's just right there.
And then they'd drive away.
And you'd be like walking for 10 miles to this thing.
And your perspective's different when you're in a car
then when you're on foot.
And when your on foot, you actually see the world.
I mean, you really see in a very close up
fashion what it is.
And so that was a really
fascinating part of the journey.
CHRISTINE: One of the things that I think is another
consistent theme in the book is how much kindness and just
help you get strangers.
Was that something that you would have expected?
And what do you think it is that caused
people to be so kind?
CHERYL STRAYED: It's really a huge part of trail culture.
And it's true across any long trail.
And I know this because I've experienced it many times, but
also all of the different backpackers who have read
"Wild" say that's exactly how it is out there.
And I think is that when you're out there doing this
thing and you meet other people who are doing this
thing, you're in it together.
And there's this wonderful--
it doesn't matter if you like have different religious
beliefs or political beliefs or totally different lives
back home, there's this sort of kinship and energy about
being in this together.
And also, you're the only game in town.
Like if you need help and I'm the only one there to give it
you to, I'm gonna give it to you, and vice versa.
And so that happened over and over.
And it really is a wonderful experience.
If your faith in humanity ever flags, just get a
backpack and go hiking.
I promise you, you will be met with kindness.
Unless you do meet the one serial killer, I mean.
CHRISTINE: Well, I was always expecting that.
Except once in awhile.
I mean, that's the other thing people always say, well, the
fear thing.
CHRISTINE: Especially as a woman.
I think that's--
CHRISTINE: --pretty remarkable that--
CHRISTINE: Well, your motto on the trail was--
CHERYL STRAYED: I am not afraid.
CHRISTINE: I am not afraid.
I am not afraid.
And do you think that was specifically because
you're a woman or--
CHRISTINE: What was it?
Though a lot of men would be afraid to go sleep in the
wilderness, too.
But, I was plugged into everything we're all plugged
into in terms of the narrative about violence against women.
And I mean, those things are true.
But what I decided to really rely upon was reason.
And that is, it would be more dangerous for me to live in
Portland or Minneapolis that summer than it would be for me
to go walk a wilderness trail.
You know, the chances were--
just like any of us right now, I mean, chances are nothing
bad is going to happen to us today, but something might.
And it doesn't always have to do with where you are.
You could be in the wrong parking lot
in the wrong apartment.
You could be on the wrong trail at the wrong moment.
And I don't mean to make light of it.
I mean certainly people have had bad things happen to them
all over the place.
But what I just decided to do was say, look, was I gonna let
this tiny little chance of something bad happening to me
stop me from doing this incredible thing?
And the answer was no.
And so then what I had to do is just manage my inner voice.
I think so much of life is managing your inner voice.
And I had to say, OK, when that voice says, well,
something bad is gonna happen, I would just
say, no, I'm not afraid.
I'm gonna do this.
And it was really helpful.
It kept me going.
CHRISTINE: It's the mantra, you know.
CHERYL STRAYED: That's right.
And no harm came to me.
No harm came to me.
CHRISTINE: It's like chanting Reese at your candle.
CHERYL STRAYED: That's right.
I didn't chant Oprah.
I didn't even dream of Oprah.
CHRISTINE: How could you dream of Oprah?
And one of the things I saw--
so, Oprah revived her book club just for "Wild."
CHRISTINE: And I saw it in another interview that you
just picked up your cell phone one day--
your cell phone that--
CHERYL STRAYED: It's a pretty hot cell phone
I have there with--
CHRISTINE: And you answered and it's,
hello, this is Oprah.
CHRISTINE: It's quite an experience.
It was an experience.
CHRISTINE: And I can't imagine that the person that you were
at 26 walking the trail, I can't imagine would have had
even the possible inkling that that could have happened on
the other end.
CHERYL STRAYED: None of this is--
It's really nutty.
So my cell phone rang, and I think a lot of times-- and I
thought this, too, before this happened to me, that there was
this whole sort of marketing wizard committee who tells
Oprah what book she's gonna pick.
And, the reverse is true.
I mean the only person--
the only two people who knew that Oprah was gonna revive
her book club for a little period of time
there was me and Oprah.
Oprah got my book just on her own.
Read my book.
Loved it.
Asked the editor of O magazine who she knew had interviewed
me for a piece about "Wild", 'cause "Wild" kind of came out
like the month before.
And she said will you give me Cheryl Strayed's phone number.
And the editor said sure.
And Oprah called me.
And, we just had this great talk about the book, when I
wasn't shrieking and saying things like, are you fucking
kidding me?
I said fuck to Oprah.
And then she's like, I have this idea.
I just want everyone to read it.
How about I restart the book club.
I was like OK.
CHRISTINE: If you insist.
CHERYL STRAYED: And we got off the phone.
And she said, well, now my people are gonna call your
people and we'll work all this out.
But you have to not tell anyone until everything's
worked out and I make the announcement.
And so she was like, will you come to my house this week?
I said sure.
So we shot this thing.
But she said but you have to keep it a secret until I
announce it.
So there were like seven weeks where I knew and my husband
knew, but I couldn't tell anyone.
And it was just terrible, because also--
meanwhile, "Wild," I was on my book tour and meeting people.
And everyone kept going, you know, Oprah would
really like this book.
I'd be like, you think so?
And I had to like pretend.
And it got the point where I was getting so like waiting
for this news to come out that even every time I thought the
word Oprah--
and especially because my editor and all the people at
my publishing house were like, you cannot say anything to
anyone 'cause if this comes out, the whole
thing could go away--
and so it got to the point were every time I even thought
the word Oprah just silently in my head, I felt like a
sniper was gonna shoot me, you know.
And I couldn't even tell my kids because I knew if they
said the word Oprah, everyone knows who Oprah is.
But I did have this funny Oprah thing in January.
I just got on a plane.
I was flying to Santa Barbara.
And she lives there.
And I was gonna talk that night.
So I text her and said you know I'm gonna be--
CHRISTINE: You text Oprah?
Oprah is really sweet.
She's very texty.
And anyway--
I said, hey, I'll be in Santa Barbara tonight.
If you want to come to my talk, let me know.
She texted me.
And I'm sitting on the runway on this plane right before
they're saying turn off your cell phones.
And she texted me back and says I'm in Texas.
I'm about to interview Lance Armstrong.
So I can't be there.
And I was like, I'm asking her about this.
And the flight attendant comes by to tell me to turn off my
cell phone just as a text from Oprah comes in.
And her name is like Oprah on my cell phone.
And the flight attendants says, wouldn't that be funny
if it were the real Oprah?
And I was kind of like, what makes you assume it isn't?
But, no.
I just laughed and said, yeah, it would be totally hilarious.
Oprah's really exact- she's so sweet.
Have you guys ever had Oprah come to a Google Talk?
CHRISTINE: Maybe we should.
CHERYL STRAYED: You could lure her with a nice lunch.
CHRISTINE: There we go.
Well, so one of the things that happened to you over the
last couple of years is the explosion of fame, basically.
And you've become this household name.
You've had these associations with all these interesting
famous people.
And my question for you is how you manage to maintain the
boundaries between your life and the way that all of these
other people want something from you now, both the outside
world in terms of publicity and excitement and just people
that I would imagine crop up in every dark corner seeking
your incredible advice at this point?
CHERYL STRAYED: I think that that's an answer I'm still
trying to figure out.
I mean, essentially this past year or so has been like
holding on really hard to a very fast rocket ship.
And my husband and I have two kids who are seven and eight.
And in so many real ways-- people are like how is your
life different?
In so many real ways essentially that like the
things that are actually very important in my life--
what I think of makes up the heart of my life, my family
and just that my three cats and my two kids and my husband
and that daily thrum--
is very much the same except it's been disrupted by me
traveling so much.
But it's true that now I do.
I occupy like a different space
professionally than I ever have.
And on top of that, the work I do causes people to feel
really connected to me personally.
CHRISTINE: Or maybe even entitled that they know you, I
guess, because you are so raw in your writing.
CHERYL STRAYED: And that's a beautiful thing.
I mean, it's allowed me to really feel connected to other
people, too.
I was saying earlier that I just feel that so many people
have experienced the book and then like come to me with
really open hearts and shared profound stories with me.
I don't think there's ever been--
I know there hasn't been a day in the last year that I
haven't received countless emails that really tell me
just the most beautiful stories about people's lives.
And I feel so grateful for that and so lucky about that.
And yet, yeah, I'm trying to figure out how to--
I can't give that much every day.
One of the places I have to go to as a writer where the
energy lives is in solitude, in blocking out the world.
And so, I'm thinking I'll move into that space this summer.
I'm hoping to kind of pull back from some
of this public stuff.
But I really think it's any of the big changes in my life--
my mother's death, the birth of my children,
and then this success--
I would say that those were times where my life just
shifted pretty seismically.
It took some time for me to figure out what it even was,
what it even meant.
And so I guess I'll find out down the road.
CHRISTINE: Get your footing eventually.
CHERYL STRAYED: Or down the trail.
Down the trail.
Up the trail.
CHERYL STRAYED: Up the trail.
Are we gonna answer some questions?
CHRISTINE: I think we are supposed to.
And I think we were supposed to start those
five minutes ago.
CHERYL STRAYED: OK Who has questions?
My feet are OK.
My siblings are OK.
My ex-husband did not object to the book.
He loved it.
Those are some common questions I get.
AUDIENCE: Hi Cheryl.
I'm Heather.
I love all your work.
AUDIENCE: I have so many questions, but I'm gonna
narrow it down to two.
AUDIENCE: One is what is the best piece of writing advice
you've ever gotten?
And the second one is after writing "Wild," have you
connected with a lot of the characters whom
you met on the trail?
So, I'll answer the first first, or the second first.
Pretty much everyone in the book has
come out of the woodwork.
I've had so many fun experiences with people who I
wrote about in the book who show up.
I'll look out and they're in the audience.
And some of those people I had actually connected with them
when I was writing the book.
But because--
that's the other thing-- so because I met these people
before really the age of the internet--
I know the internet was around then, but only
Al Gore was on it--
were any of you on the internet in 1995?
Probably you guys were.
You're like--
I wasn't.
You were different, but-- and you still are different.
But it wasn't like we exchanged email addresses.
Nobody had an email address.
And so if your name was Roger Smith, I was never
gonna find you again.
And so some people I could find them when I googled them.
I could track down people while I was writing the book.
And I would always ask them their memories of when we met,
and also if in the book they wanted me to use their real
name or change their name.
And different people said different things.
But, yeah.
So it's been really fun to reconnect.
One of the funnest experiences, I did an event in
LA last summer.
And there was an elderly gentleman in the front row.
And every time I looked up, he kept sort of making a funny
face at me.
And so finally I just stopped in the middle of the action,
and I was like what do you want?
And he said, Cheryl, it's Ed.
And it was Ed who was the trailing angel at Kennedy
Meadows, one of the first guys I meet.
And he feeds me at his encampment.
And it was there that I also lightened my load and went
through my pack and got rid of a bunch of stuff.
So Ed in LA last summer, he opens up his bag and he pulls
out my foldable saw that I had taken with me on the PCT and
left, and he took it.
And he's like, every time I see this saw, I think of you.
And now it's like famous because I wrote about it in
So he gives it to me.
And I realized that I was on my book tour and
just doing carry on.
TSA won't let you take a saw.
So I had to give it back to him.
But it was so funny.
It's probably now for sale on eBay or something.
But, so that was fun.
And I connected with all kinds of other people.
And the best piece of writing advice, I think that one of
the things that is really true about being a
writer is it's hard.
It's hard like all the time.
Like when I sit down to write the next book,
it's gonna be hard.
And it was hard for me when I was 22.
And it was hard for me when I was 32.
And it's gonna be hard for me when I'm 72.
It's always this incredible sort of vulnerable,
scary leap of faith.
Am I gonna write something that you're all
gonna want to read?
And how can I even guess that?
I don't know.
I can only forge ahead.
And so, I think that especially early on--
now I've gotten all these rewards and praise, I can kind
of ride on the steam of that.
But back there--
imagine me back there in my 20s and early 30s when a lot
of the feedback was when are you gonna get a real job?
And what if it doesn't work?
And then I look up and I'm 40 and I've been working as a
waitress and trying this writing thing.
What if it doesn't work out?
And that's what I mean when I was saying I had to redefine
what success was in order to have success.
And, one of things I did last fall--
have any of you heard of the Do Lectures?
You should go to the Do Lectures sometime.
It's like the hippie Ted Talks.
But it's in Mendocino County on this beautiful vineyard and
say in tee pees.
You sign up for this weekend.
And, it's just this amazing thing.
You just like drink wine and eat amazing food, and then all
day sit around listening to these speakers.
And they're speakers from all walks of life, CEOs of
companies, people like me, chiefs of
Native American tribes.
And they stand up and they tell their story.
They have like 20 minutes to tell their story.
So they asked me to come.
And I sat there listening.
I was the final speaker.
And so it was two days of talks, lectures.
And I sat there and listened to everyone's lecture.
A woman who founded an orphanage in Nepal.
I mean really.
All the people--
a guy who makes these fancy shoes.
The guy from Blue something Coffee in San Francisco.
The founder of --
And they all tell their story.
And they're all incredibly successful people.
And the whole story was like a path of their failures.
And that was so fascinating to me because all of their
successes were built on a string of failures from which
they decided to learn from them.
And instead of giving up on that thing then, they either
worked harder or they took a different path.
But they used their failures as successes.
And I think that that's what a career in the
arts looks like, too.
And so my best advice is to keep the faith and stick with
it and just surrender, surrender to the idea that you
don't know what the outcome's gonna be.
You don't know.
And so what you need to keep faith with is the thing that
you control, which is how much heart you give something, how
much effort you give something, how
much work you commit.
I was really excited to see the email
that you were coming.
I just saw that on Monday on the food discussion.
I don't know how I ended up on the food one but.
I'm actually leaving Google on Friday to hike the PCT this
year with my boyfriend.
So it was like perfect timing, you're here 'cause--
--I only have three days left.
My one question for you is I have only gotten to the part
of the book where you were in [INAUDIBLE]
Meadows and the boy scout dad had to leave
with Giardia or something.
CHERYL STRAYED: Right, right.
AUDIENCE: But, I know there was a moment before that where
you felt like quitting and somehow you kind
of persevered so.
And I'm afraid of the unknown.
I know this is gonna be really tough.
My backpack is not gonna be a monster, think goodness.
CHERYL STRAYED: That'll make a big difference.
And you're going, did you say, with your boyfriend?
This has been his passion and I kind of got sucked into it.
CHERYL STRAYED: Men are superb pack animals.
This is-- yes.
AUDIENCE: So my question is at those times when you felt like
really quitting, how did you get past that so you could
keep moving? 'Cause I think I'm mentally tough, but I
don't even know what I'm getting myself into yet, and
I'm terrified.
Well, I will say that the three hardest things that I've
ever done, I would say, hiking the PCT, giving birth
naturally to my two children, and writing books.
And all of those things at many, many, many steps along
the way I felt like quitting.
And so I think it might be helpful to just go in knowing
that you are going to feel like quitting at certain
points and just talking to yourself ahead of time and
saying, well, but I'm not going to quit.
And also just to acknowledge that misery
is part of the deal.
You don't go on a long backpacking trip and then have
it be every day feels good.
Sometimes it's gonna be searingly hot or terribly cold
or raining or you're gonna want some real food and all
you've got is dehydrated beans, or any number of
things-- your feet are hurting.
And so that's going to be part of it.
It's kind of like--
and the reason I compare it to birth is my friend just gave
birth and she said, it was so much harder
than anyone told me.
And I was like, well, you should have asked me because I
would have told you.
If you go in going, well, I'm gonna try not to--
I'm gonna maybe-- it's like, well, no.
You've got to be like determined because it's going
to be really hard.
And same with writing a book.
It's like you're going to want to stop writing your book.
And so you have to make room for that.
Don't enter into the journey as if it's going to be always
like sunshine and you're singing what a beautiful
morning with your boyfriend and eating Cliff bars.
And then the times when it's not miserable, it's gonna be
so profoundly magnificent that you are gonna feel like the
luckiest person ever.
And I don't even know you, but I'm pretty sure that this will
be one of the best things you've ever done.
AUDIENCE: This kind of memoir especially, what it's like to
be in your 40s and look back at yourself when you're in the
20s and at that time.
I think I would have so much empathy for
myself at the point.
And I remember reading your book thinking about like you'd
open your box and there'd be like $20.
And I'm like, no.
AUDIENCE: I remember 20 like thinking-- or in my mid-20s--
thinking, OK, I can get by.
It's OK.
AUDIENCE: Like, what do you think of your 20-year-old self
when you look back?
CHERYL STRAYED: I think that's such a great question.
And somebody pointed this out to me pretty early on which I
think is accurate.
He said that he loved that I wrote about myself on one hand
in a very--
I didn't let myself off.
Like, I totally revealed negative things as well as
positive things.
But I also wrote with a lot of compassion and love for my
younger self.
And I think that it was because the older me was
looking back at that younger me.
And I could see from a long way away very clearly some of
the mistakes I made.
But I also could for the first time figure out like well why
did I do that thing?
Like one of the things that was clearly a bad idea, for
example, was using heroin, like just a really bad idea.
Don't do it, kids.
But I understand why I did it actually.
Like the older me could actually say I understand how
it made sense within the context of that
moment of my life.
I was young and in pain.
And I was looking for something to take
me away from that.
I was looking for attention.
That's something I would've never admitted in my 20s, but
I totally was.
It was like a cry for help.
So I'll just do something really bad and dramatic so the
people who love me will notice and help me.
And that's exactly what they did.
My husband, my ex-husband, helped me.
My friends helped me.
And, it doesn't make sense, but it's like what I did.
And so I could look back on it now with this perspective and
say, well, you know you dumb kid, but it's OK.
And so I sort of wrote it from that perspective.
And I also just shook my head a lot and just
thought what an idiot.
And also so many of the things that I--
there are all these pages and pages in my journal of just
how sure I am at the age of 26 that nobody will ever love me
again, and I will never love again, that I'm
just a ruined woman.
Which is so silly, but I do remember
feeling that way at 26.
And I was like who gets divorced at 26?
And what's so funny now in my role as Dear Sugar, I have so
many letters from people in their 20s who have had that
first big break up.
And they're convinced it's over.
And I'm just like, it's only just begun, honey.
I couldn't see that then.
So I see that now.
So it was just I got to look back at myself from a wiser
and more loving--
like as if I were my own mother.
It's always interesting to me that some of the haters--
you can Google them--
this one guy wrote, Cheryl Strayed is essentially a
mental cripple and a slut.
I mean that's actually a quote.
If you Google mental cripple and slut, I'm not kidding.
Google mental cripple and slut, it'll come to me, or to
this guy's blog post about me.
And one of the things that I find fascinating when people
criticize me about those things, I just think, my god,
were you never young?
Did you never make any mistakes?
Did you never sleep with the wrong person or 10 of them, or
whatever the case may be?
And I'm always amazed by that.
I think that's a lonely life, actually.
AUDIENCE: So, given all of your experience that you had,
going forward now that you have two kids, do you feel
like you're going to be the most forgiving, excepting,
loving, empathetic mom when your kids turn into teenagers
and then their 20s?
Or do you feel like, I don't know, I'm still a mom?
Well, I'm just planning that my children will be perfect
and never make a mistake.
But, no, I'm teasing.
That is something that's really interesting.
I get asked a lot like what have you told your
kids about your book?
And, I've told them like the g-rated version of "Wild",
because they're seven and eight.
I mean, that's the version they should get.
But as they get older, what parts of my life will
I share with them?
Will I tell them about my experience
with drug use or whatnot?
And, I'm not exactly sure how my husband and I are gonna
approach that quite yet.
We're talking about that because it's like pretty soon.
We got to think about it.
That's right.
Well, they can.
I think that they won't.
I think my kids won't read the book until they're grown ups.
That's just my sense.
Just because I think a lot--
the kids of writers often like, OK,
that's just too much.
Like they don't want to get too involved.
But when they're older, they will.
But I think that what I hope to do , as I hope to always
bring into every relationship I have, and probably most
significantly into my relationship with my kids,
everything that I've learned and that I know along the way.
And I certainly hope that they don't have as traumatic a
teenage and early 20s years as I did.
But, I feel like I want to be there to support them no
matter what happens.
And one of things I want to say about that is I return to
my mom's love.
So even though I got sort of lost along the way and did
some things I regret, I do think that actually what saved
me was everything that my mother had given.
So that in some ways, even though my mother's death
caused me to go off course, it was my mother's life that
provided me with the confidence to get
myself back on course.
The primary thing-- and I wrote this in "Wild"-- the
primary failing that I felt acutely when I decided to hike
the PCT is that I had not become the woman my mother
raised me to be.
And so I was hearkening back to the values that I knew were
really my own, and also the deepest way of honoring my mom
would be to be that woman, to become that person.
And so I just had to find my way back to that person.
And so, I know that I love my kids in that same way.
And so I hope that will provide whatever foundation
they need when they're lost, because they probably will be
at some point, right.
Thank you so much for coming today.
CHRISTINE: Thank you.
That was great.
CHRISTINE: Thank you.
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Cheryl Strayed "Wild" | Authors at Google

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Hhart Budha published on June 15, 2014
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