Cheryl Strayed

Once my sister recommended I watch the movie Wild, so I tried it. I mean, I started it. I’ll be honest, I’m not a movie person. I’m not even really a TV person anymore. The only way I sit down in front of it is if I have a game to play or a book to read simultaneously. I get bored with TV. It doesn’t do it for me. I like to laugh, I like to be entertained, and I love a good story, but those things are are more likely to happen from a book or in real life than from a screen.

So I sat down to watch Wild but I didn’t get into it. It was hard to follow with the flashbacks. I just don’t follow stories on screen that well. But if I can get my hands on it, see the words, feel them, flow with the tide of each sentence, I can get into a story. I said, “I’d rather read this.” Of course, as most good stories are, it was a book. So I put it on hold at the library and in a few months, my name came up. I was captivated. Cheryl is the heroine of her own story, a real person, not a created character. She is flawed and not made to be likeable. But I found her likeable despite her flaws, or maybe because of them.

The book, in case you live under a rock, is about Cheryl’s journey hiking across the Pacific Crest Trail, 1100 miles of it, all alone one summer after losing her mom and losing herself in the hole that had created.

Then three weeks ago, Cheryl Strayed came to UNO. A friend in the MFA program got me a ticket without asking if I would want one, maybe just knowing I would want one because we’re writers and very few things can excite us more than hearing another writer speak our language. It was in the Baxter Arena, so it wasn’t like the casual readings I’ve been to in coffee shops or little rooms within a college.

She came out on stage and I strained to look at her, as though she was a rock god and I was a groupie. She spoke, a bit about her book, Wild, yes, but also just about living and how she managed to do it. About her two kids, one named Carver after Raymond Carver. I smiled, and daydreamed about meeting her and telling her my son’s name is Holden after Holden Caulfield. Then I scribbled notes furiously, the way I always do in the presence of greatness I admire.

She said she is often asked what took her so long to write Wild. She replied: “The hike was in the summer of 1995. I wrote Wild at the moment that I had something to say about the hike. As a writer, until you know what you have to say that transcends your own life, you don’t have a book.”

At this time, three weeks ago, I was two days late turning in my final packet and was trying to write the ending to my own story. The next day, I finished it. My own novel is about an eighteen-year-old girl, which I haven’t been for sixteen years. But I’m writing about it now, because now I have something to say about it. I will never know if it was coincidence that I finished my book the day after I saw Cheryl or if she–this hero of mine, this badass writer and woman and mother–pushed me toward it. If her bravery was contagious, even in that giant arena full of people.

Today, having something like free time, having finished my semester, finished my book, I sat outside in my new reading chair and read Cheryl Strayed’s book of her own quotes that Amber sent me, Brave Enough. Let me leave you with what she left me:

The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it. 

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