I like stalking authors online. I love listening to their stories of effort and creation, and about the moments that they’ve discovered that writing is what they want to pursue in life. Cheryl Strayed, the author of the memoirs called ‘Wild’, is one of the author’s whose voice is often heard on different media these days and it is the voice that so many people look forward to hear. It’s not difficult to identify with Cheryl Strayed. Her story is a story of loss, grief and self-destruction, but also a story of self-redemption, a story of coming back to one’s own ideals and life-path. The book is her true story of the lonely hike down eleven hundred miles of the Pacific Crest Trail that she took in order to deal with the sudden death of her mother and in order to pull herself out of a period of self-destruction that followed her mother’s death. Her walk is a rite of passage. It’s a source of reconciliation and strength. In her book she writes that the wilderness, the landscape of the hike, was
“A world I thought would both make me into the woman I knew I could become and turn back into the girl I’d once been.”
Cheryl Strayed’s book wonderfully shows how we deal with the most complex and emotionally-unbearable situations in life. Loss and rebelliousness (to the point of self-destruction) often go hand in hand in life. We can easily see for ourselves how our refusal to accept and awake to the life that is triggers our self-destructive or other-destructive tendencies. I’m not talking here about big things, but about small ones too, like over-working or not-eating, or even refusing to be kind to people. This is what I call self- or other-destructive tendencies. Realising that we have them is probably one of the things that we learn about ourselves when we truly decide to grow up.
What Cheryl Strayed’s book taught me was that after every major transition in life we need a rite of passage that would help us to somehow zip-up all the loss and rebelliousness associated with it and leave it behind us. I’ve been looking for my own rite of passage, for my own way of dealing with personal junctures. From Cheryl Strayed I’ve learnt that you need two things: nature and being on your own, on your own in doing something. I needed to feel discomfort and I needed wide open spaces. My family and friends joined me in my exploration of open spaces, but I gained my solitude through a very simple exercise. I’ve asked my husband not to help me with looking after our house for one hundred days, and as a result the house is dirtier than ever, and only on occasions is it delightful with colourful flowers in its various corners. You see, I’m a reader. I choose a book all the time. In my solitude I choose to study (or to chat to a friend on Facebook). There. That’s it. For a long time I’ve been trying to make myself into a mother and a wife that I thought I meant to be, but as my neighbour says, You cannot be what other people expect you to be. You are who you are. The solitude tells us a lot about our desires. Tells us a lot about who we really are.
I’ve been challenged in many areas of my life in the last few years, health-wise including. I think I went through a period of slight despair. Despair of not being able to conform to whatever I thought is right to do for a wife, a mum, a young researcher, a good patient, a good friend and a good daughter.
Wendell Berry wrote once that despair and pride are two sides of the same coin and the biggest enemies of creative work, I think that they are probably the biggest enemies of an honest life in general.
When we admit to our needs and desires, when we own them, we start creating space for them and the wide open space that we visit during weekends becomes all that we need to create spaces of fertile solitude during the rest of our week. And ironically, the better we use this space, the better companions we become.
*Photo 1 taken at Gogol & Company, The most wonderful a bookshop in Milan, Italy.
*Photo 2, The Tissington Trail, The Peak District, UK.