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Tiny Beautiful Things

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

Some of my favourite excerpts…

I happen to believe that America is dying of loneliness, that we, as a people, have bought into the false dream of convenience, and turned away from a deep engagement with our internal lives—those fountains of inconvenient feeling—and toward the frantic enticements of what our friends in the Greed Business call the Free Market. We’re hurtling through time and space and information faster and faster, seeking that network connection. But at the same time we’re falling away from our families and our neighbors and ourselves. We ego-surf and update our status and brush up on which celebrities are ruining themselves, and how. But the cure won’t stick.

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And this, I think, is why Sugar has become so important to so many people. Because she’s offering something almost unheard of in our culture: radical empathy. People come to her in real pain and she ministers to them, by telling stories about her own life, the particular ways in which she’s felt thwarted and lost, and how she got found again. She is able to transmute the raw material of the self-help aisle into genuine literature.

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She also recognizes that there’s another, truer story beneath the one we generally offer the world, the stuff we can’t or won’t see, the evasions and delusions, the places where we’re simply stuck.

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do the essential work of literary art: they make us more human than we were before.

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We need books, and Cheryl’s books in particular, because we are all, in the private kingdom of our hearts, desperate for the company of a wise, true friend. Someone who isn’t embarrassed by our emotions, or her own, who recognizes that life is short and that all we have to offer, in the end, is love.

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The healing power of even the most microscopic exchange with someone who knows in a flash precisely what you’re talking about because she experienced that thing too cannot be overestimated.

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I told her it was not okay, that it was unacceptable, that it was illegal and that I would call and report this latest horrible thing. But I did not tell her it would stop. I did not promise that anyone would intervene. I told her it would likely go on and she’d have to survive it. That she’d have to find a way within herself to not only escape the shit, but to transcend it, and if she wasn’t able to do that, then her whole life would be shit, forever and ever and ever. I told her that escaping the shit would be hard, but that if she wanted to not make her mother’s life her destiny, she had to be the one to make it happen. She had to do more than hold on. She had to reach. She had to want it more than she’d ever wanted anything. She had to grab like a drowning girl for every good thing that came her way and she had to swim like fuck away from every bad thing. She had to count the years and let them roll by, to grow up and then run as far as she could in the direction of her best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by her own desire to heal.

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We are all entitled to our opinions and religious beliefs, but we are not entitled to make shit up and then use the shit we made up to oppress other people.

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And true as that is and moved as I’ve been by many of the videos made by gay, lesbian, bi, and trans people telling their stories, I think there’s an important piece missing in that message. All those people in the wonderful videos? It didn’t just get better for them. They made it better.

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As you’ve so depressingly detailed, it hasn’t begun well. Baby Daddy has thus far failed on every front. This is not your responsibility, but it is your problem.

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You must find a place to put your negative feelings about the father of your child. If you don’t, they will rule you.

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Trust yourself. It’s Sugar’s golden rule. Trusting yourself means living out what you already know to be true.

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I hope you’ll think hard about that, honey bun. If you had a two-sided chalkboard in your living room I’d write humility on one side and surrender on the other for you. That’s what I think you need to find and do to get yourself out of the funk you’re in.

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I think you reconnect with your dad in a genuine way by being genuine. To be genuine means to be actual, to be true, to be sincere and honest. You need to tell your father how you feel about his actions and choices. You need to share your hurt and anger with him, as well as your desire to rebuild the relationship that was damaged by his dishonesty. You also need to do your best to listen to what he has to say.

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I encourage you to give him the opportunity. I don’t think you should let him off the hook, but you should not keep him on it either.

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The story of human intimacy is one of constantly allowing ourselves to see those we love most deeply in a new, more fractured light. Look hard. Risk that.

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But I encourage you to swallow your pride and hear your friends out, to look at the image of yourself they’re reflecting back to you. It might be useful.

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Ask better questions, sweet pea. The fuck is your life. Answer it.

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I suggest you forget about forgiveness for now and strive for acceptance instead. Accept that the man you love was unfaithful to you. Accept that a woman you once held in regard treated you with disrespect. Accept that their actions hurt you deeply.

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Have you made overtures and been rebuffed or are you projecting your own fears and insecurities onto others?

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You asked me for practical matchmaking solutions, but I believe once you allow yourself to be psychologically ready to give and receive love, your best course is to do what everyone who is looking for love does: put your best self out there with as much transparency and sincerity and humor as possible. Both online and in person. With strangers and among your circle of friends. Inhabit the beauty that lives in your beastly body and strive to see the beauty in all the other beasts.

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Doing what one wants to do because one wants to do it is hard for a lot of people, but I think it’s particularly hard for women. We are, after all, the gender onto which a giant Here to Serve button has been eternally pinned.

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I didn’t want to stay with my ex-husband, not at my core, even though whole swaths of me did. And if there’s one thing I believe more than I believe anything else, it’s that you can’t fake the core. The truth that lives there will eventually win out. It’s a god we must obey, a force that brings us all inevitably to our knees.

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We have to be as fearless about our bellies as we are with our hearts.

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probably already struggles with now). Real change happens on the level of the gesture. It’s one person doing one thing differently than he or she did before. It’s the man who opts not to invite his abusive mother to his wedding; the woman who decides to spend her Saturday mornings in a drawing class instead of scrubbing the toilets at home; the writer who won’t allow himself to be devoured by his envy; the parent who takes a deep breath instead of throwing a plate. It’s you and me standing naked before our lovers, even if it makes us feel kind of squirmy in a bad way when we do. The work is there. It’s our task. Doing it will give us strength and clarity. It will bring us closer to who we hope to be.

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That’s the question you need to answer, Wanting. That’s what will bring your deepest desires into your life. Not: Will my old, droopy male contemporaries accept and love the old, droopy me? But rather: What’s on the other side of the tiny gigantic revolution in which I move from loathing to loving my own skin? What fruits would that particular liberation bear?

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What would happen if you said to Mister Just-About-to-Do-Me: I feel terribly self-conscious about how droopy my body is and I’m not sure if I even really know how to have good sex anymore, since I was frozen in a boring pattern with my ex for years on end. In my experience, those sorts of revelations help. They unclench the stronghold of one’s fears. They push the intimacy to a more vulnerable place.

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So here’s the long and short of it, Wearing Thin: There is no why. You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding. And, dear one, you and I both were granted a mighty generous hand.

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Love is our essential nutrient. Without it, life has little meaning. It’s the best thing we have to give and the most valuable thing we receive. It’s worthy of all the hullabaloo.

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There’s a poem by Adrienne Rich I first read twenty years ago called “Splittings” that I thought of when I read your letter. The last two lines of the poem are: “I choose to love this time for once / with all my intelligence.” It seemed such a radical thought when I first read those lines when I was twenty-two—that love could rise from our deepest, most reasoned intentions rather than our strongest shadowy doubts.

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Forgiveness is the old fat guy you have to haul up the hill. You have to say I am forgiven again and again until it becomes the story you believe about yourself, Desperate. I hope you will.

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The obliterated place is equal parts destruction and creation. The obliterated place is pitch black and bright light. It is water and parched earth. It is mud and it is manna. The real work of deep grief is making a home there.

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I had that feeling you get—there is no word for this feeling—when you are simultaneously happy and sad and angry and grateful and accepting and appalled and every other possible emotion, all smashed together and amplified. Why is there no word for this feeling? Perhaps because the word is “healing” and we don’t want to believe that. We want to believe healing is purer and more perfect, like a baby on its birthday. Like we’re holding it in our hands. Like we’ll be better people than we’ve been before. Like we have to be.

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I never believed the boys were angry. I believed they were hurt and anger was the safest manifestation of their sorrow. It was the channel down which their impotent male rivers could rage.

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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 don’t know what it is yet.