this piece of writing made my heart stretch

4 Oct

I am in awe of Cheryl Strayed’s writing. I find it so raw, honest and human. She’s so brave in her choices as a writer and it opens something up in me. After finishing her memoir “Wild“, I ran to the bookstore to buy another book of hers, entitled “Tiny Beautiful Things“. It’s a compilation of her Dear Sugar posts which was an advice column she wrote on Rumpus. Before reading this book, I thought “advice columns” were silly.  But her column blows my mind. She has an uncanny ability to read between the lines of a question. Her responses are so thoughtful, deep and soulful. She’s also not afraid to share herself and the result is exquisite.

I devoured “Tiny Beautiful Things” on the plane heading back to LA on Monday. Each post awakened something different in me and made me feel closer to humanity. But the last post made me laugh and cry and it brought me to my knees. I wanted to share it with you because it may be my favorite piece of writing ever.


Dear Sugar,

I read your column religiously. I’m twenty-two. From what I can tell by your writing, you’re in your early forties. My question is short and sweet: What would you tell your twentysomething self if you could talk to her now?


Seeking Wisdom


Dear Seeking Wisdom,

Stop worrying about whether you’re fat. You’re not fat. Or rather, you’re sometimes a little bit fat, but who gives a shit? There is nothing more boring and fruitless than a woman lamenting the fact her stomach is round. Feed yourself. Literally. The sort of people worthy of your love will love you more for this, sweet pea.

In the middle of the night in the middle of your twenties when your best friend crawls naked into your bed, straddles you, and says, You should run away from me before I devour you, believe her.

You are not a terrible person for wanting to break up with someone you love. You don’t need a reason to leave. Wanting to leave is enough. Leaving doesn’t mean you’re incapable of real love or that you’ll never love anyone else again. It doesn’t mean you’re morally bankrupt or psychologically demented or a nymphomaniac. It means you wish to change the terms of one particular relationship. That’s all. Be brave enough to break your own heart.

When that really sweet but fucked up gay couple invites you over to their cool apartment to do Ecstacy with them, say no.

There are some things you can’t understand yet. Your life will be great and continuous unfolding. It’s good you’ve worked hard to resolve childhood issues while in your twenties, but understand that what you resolve will need to be resolved again. And again. You will come to know things that can only be known with wisdom of age and the grace of years. Most of those things will have to do with forgiveness.

One evening you will be rolling around on the wooden floor of your apartment with a man who will tell you he doesn’t have a condom. You will smile in this spunky way that you think is hot and tell him to fuck you anyway. This will be a mistake for which you alone will pay.

Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You just don’t know it yet.

You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. No one will ever give you love because you want him or her to give it. Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else.

Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold one really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.

One hot afternoon during the era in which you’ve gotten yourself ridiculously tangled up with heroin, you will be riding the bus and thinking what a worthless piece of crap you are when a little girl will get on the bus with holding the strings of two purple balloons. She’ll offer you one of the balloons, but you won’t take it because you believe you no longer have a right to such tiny beautiful things. You’re wrong. You do.

Your assumptions about the lives of others are in direct relation to your naive pomposity. Many people you believe to be rich are not rich. Many people you think have it easy worked hard for what they got. Many people who seem to be gliding right along have suffered and are suffering. Many people who appear to you to be old and stupidly saddled down with kids and cars and houses were once every bit as hip and pompous as you.

When you meet a man in the doorway of a Mexican restaurant who later kisses you while explaining that this kiss doesn’t “mean anything” because, much as he likes you, he is not interested in having a relationship with you or anyone right now, just laugh and kiss him back. Your daughter will have his sense of humor. Your son will have his eyes.

The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry  and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave your under arms or not. These things are your becoming.

One Christmas at the very beginning of your twenties when your mother gives you a warm coat that she saved for months to buy, don’t look at her skeptically after she tells you she thought the coat was perfect for you. Don’t hold it up and say it’s longer than you like your coats to be and too puffy and possibly even too warm. Your mother will be dead by spring. That coat will be the last gift she gave you. You will regret the small thing you didn’t say for the rest of your life.

Say thank you.




10 Responses to “this piece of writing made my heart stretch”

  1. rachel October 4, 2012 at 8:10 am #

    Maybe its the fact that im up too early today and am detoxing, but this post makes me cry and makes me think. What blanket advice for someone in their twenties! xoxo

    • katemcclafferty October 4, 2012 at 8:14 am #

      Isn’t it gorgeous? I will give you her books on Saturday if you want! I think you would love her too. xoxoox

  2. barbarapotter October 4, 2012 at 8:40 am #

    I woke up a little late this morning and picked up my phone to see what I may be missing before getting out of bed. Your post was the first thing and I believe stretching is spot on. In fact some of these words have changed my life already perfect timing and beautiful words from the both of you. Wow!!!

  3. Maria Biancucci October 4, 2012 at 9:00 am #

    Hi Kate,

    I havent read too much of her book yet – just a few pages and I do love her writing. She’s amazing…her book is amazing. I got a copy for my best friend, her birthday is October 17th and I’m sooo exicited to give it to her!! I know she’s going to love it as much as I do (and again only from the few pages I’ve read so far…)

    Anyway, the question, what would you tell your 20 something self…that thought has crossed my mind before…and being 27 and single….thinking from time to time I thought it would be different…I read the words she writes when she says…

    “Be brave enough to break your own heart.”

    and I know I WAS brave enough to do so in the past because I would settle or put up with anyone’s BS – and that makes me proud of myself!!! That at such a young age, I was brave enough to break my own heart because I knew I wasn’t being treated right. AND being 27 and single…while that doesn’t bother me one bit because I know deep down the universe knows exactly what she’s doing and I won’t be alone forever…(lets hope not

    great writing yet again… 🙂 happy thanksgiving weekend to you and your family!


    maria xo

  4. the usual bliss October 6, 2012 at 6:42 pm #

    I have her book on my nightstand, waiting on deck to be read. Very powerful, funny, honest, relatable. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Erin Haslag (@WELLinLA) October 8, 2012 at 9:12 am #

    I adore the exercise of writing letters to our younger selves. Not only does it help make sense of our history, it also kind of (at least for me!) helps us to realize that we need to chill out about what is to come – it’s really, mostly, all going to be okay. We’re simply going to get better with age – more wise, more beautiful, more humble… a version of ourselves that has learned and is applying all she knows.

  6. Whitney Reynolds October 8, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

    Seriously amazing. I loved it. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Lauren October 10, 2012 at 7:49 am #

    Ah! I loved Dear Sugar so, so much. It actually took me awhile to get through because every letter was so emotional, I could only take so much at a time. I want to buy a copy of the book for pretty much everyone I know. All of our stories are in there somewhere.

    • katemcclafferty October 10, 2012 at 7:54 am #

      I couldn’t agree more. It’s such a beautiful book. I want to buy everyone I know a copy too!

  8. gregorychankins October 14, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    Thanks for sharing, Kate. Shit, that’s good!

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