‘Wild’ author Cheryl Strayed says you need to be ‘be brave enough to break your own heart’
Cheryl Strayed has always collected quotes from her favorite writers and used them as solace and inspiration during tough times. She’s copied their words into notebooks, tacked them onto her walls and even transcribed them into trailhead log books during her famous journey on the Pacific Crest Trail.
So, after she received letters from readers recounting how they’d tattooed her words on their bodies, needlepointed them onto pillows and printed them onto onesies for their babies, she began culling quotes from her own work. Now Strayed has curated more than 100 of her pithiest pearls of wisdom from her bestselling books, “Wild” and “Tiny Beautiful Things,” her critically acclaimed debut novel, “Torch,” and her essays, talks and interviews in “Brave Enough,” a collection of quotes being released Tuesday.
I love the title quote of your new book: “Be brave enough to break your own heart.” Can you talk about what this means to you?
I’ve learned over and over in my life that there are so many times where you actually have to make a choice that’s hard for you in order to make your life better. … In my case, in my first marriage I did love my husband, but I didn’t want to be married to him. And so I needed to leave him, even though there were huge parts of me that wanted to stay. And now I look back and think I’m so glad that I was brave enough to break my own heart — and I wish that I had been braver sooner because maybe I would have broken his a little less. And this applies to so many parts of life too.
You include a quote from “Wild” that ends with “Of all the things I’d been skeptical about, I didn’t feel skeptical about this: the wilderness had a clarity that included me.” How did your trek help you find clarity?
So what I felt at that time was this kind of confusion. Everything was a question. Another line from “Wild” is, “The sky doesn’t wonder what it is or who it is or what time it is.” Suddenly, on the trail there was a kind of clarity and radical simplicity, by which I mean simplicity at its core, that I felt a part of. And some of the questions just sort of settled and fell away in that space.
Is spending time in nature still important to you?
I really think that being in nature is a basic human need that we have. It gives us perspective because, when you walk into the woods, or walk through the desert or sit by a river, you realize that you’re only one thing in the great order of things. … I know for certain that I myself get incredibly bound up in very minor, ridiculous, temporary conundrums. And obviously there’s nothing wrong with that. I think we have to get bound up in those things or else we couldn’t get our kids to school on time. But if you only live in that realm, you are missing out on something that’s essential and illuminating.
Do you think it makes a difference that people undertake journeys alone?
I think that there is a wonderful thing that can happen if you’re with one other person or your family or a group of friends. … You face these challenges together, you see these beautiful things together. It’s a shared experience that you forever have that bonds you. I feel like everyone should get to have that experience. I also think that it’s really something else to be alone because there is nobody to buffer the experience between you and the world, there is nobody to lean on in hard times, there is nobody to distract you from your loneliness or your thoughts. … But some kind of particular strength rises out of doing it all on your own.
You write, “Transformation isn’t a butterfly. … It’s huddling in the dark cocoon and then pushing your way out.” Can you talk about the true nature of transformation?
First of all, it’s not as black and white as we all think. It’s not like you’re this one terrible thing and then you’re suddenly this one beautiful, wonderful thing. Real change in most of our lives is far more discrete and incremental, and it’s a lot gnarlier along the way. … We’re always evolving to that next thing. And we transform in discrete and powerful ways over the course of our lives.