Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"Tiny Beautiful Things" Is Huge


I've begun reading Cheryl Strayed's tiny beautiful things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar. As a result, I can separate my life into two parts: B.S. & A.S. Before Sugar, After Sugar. I have every reason to believe that reading this book, perhaps multiple times, might actually make me a better person. It surely will make me a better writer. It might even help me find a higher paying job (the congregation will kneel here).

There is this word a lot of people throw around: serendipity. I have never liked this word except when it is used to describe a particular upper east side Manhattan ice cream and regular food emporium. I've noticed that people who use this word are also prone to use the word, bliss, as in "Follow your bliss." More often then not, they mention bliss when I'm actually experiencing some of life's more painful blis-ters: underemployment, declining real estate values, college tuition due dates, to name but a few.

Who cares, you inquire? I do, sweet peas, as Sugar might respond.

I care, because I do not believe in serendipity or coincidences. I do not believe in following your bliss; I believe you either are your bliss at any given moment or you are not. I also believe as Ray Bradbury put it that "hope is action," and, when we act, stuff happens. tiny beautiful things happened to me at just the right moment, but it took me a lifetime of maneuvering to get in the right place at the right time.

Where were we?

Monday I acted and this happened. I "chanced" upon a Times review of a travel/personal narrative book called The Longest Way Home by Andrew McCarthy. I've linked to this review below and I urge you to read it, not so much so that you will blaze a trail to the Amazon app on your phone to buy the book; but, because Cheryl Strayed wrote the review and it offers you an opportunity to sample the voice of Sugar, the pen name for the advice columnist at The Rumpus, who is really Cheryl Strayed.

The New York Times Book Review (TBR) can make or break a book and a writer. Often enough, this has little to do with the book or writer him/herself, but very much to do with the editor's choice of reviewer. Some reviewers are loaded with what we might call bliss; others are just loaded with all the stuff they've learned to despise about themselves and are looking for some author to smash with their brass-plated Creative Writing diploma.

I have a feeling that Cheryl Strayed's review of The Longest Way Home might be better than the book itself. This is not to say that Ms. Strayed did not like the book; she kind of did. But, the really extraordinary thing is how compassionately, thoughtfully, respectfully, instructively, even lovingly Cheryl Strayed speaks to the author and us about how the book might have been even better and how the author might even become a better person.

     "But compassion isn't about solutions. It's about giving all the love that you've got."- Dear Bewildered

I had never heard of Cheryl Strayed before reading the review and the accompanying mini-bio that led me to Sugar. Since I read the review while sitting in one of the best libraries hedge fund dough could build*, I got a copy from a shelf and began to read Sugar's responses to those who wrote to her at The Rumpus, an online magazine and community. I have not stopped reading it, except to eat, sleep and write this. The author writes so well that I actually had to keep looking at her photo on the back of the book just to make sure she was real.

        "Our minds are small, but our hearts are big."- Dear Ruler of a Fallen Empire

I am not going to describe these conversations between Sugar and her pen pals. I can only say that there have been a number of things bothering me lately and, as a result of listening to Sugar, I am no longer worried about the following:
  • motorists in front of me not using turn signals
  • the sound leaf blowers make
  • the higher and higher cost of lower and lower college education
After Sugar, these are, at worst, so-what kinds of things. Sugar's got my attention focused on life and death and love things.

    "The complicated thing about friends is that sometimes 
     they are totally wrong about us and sometimes they are 
     totally right and it's almost always in retrospect that we know 
     which is which."- Dear Odd Man Out

In a regular feature, TBR asks authors what book they would like the President to read. I'd like to send both candidates a copy of tiny beautiful things. Maybe then we could have an election that is more about life and death and love things than about financial accounting or other mind-numbing stuff these super-achievers learned at Harvard. After Sugar, they might be able to truthfully discuss how they actually, painfully failed at something. And maybe then, they could help lead us on a national road to recovery, not just of net-taxable incomes, but of our souls.

Read tiny beautiful things and, if you do not like it, read it again.

You weren't paying attention.


* Greenwich, CT

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