Saturday, August 11, 2012

wild: staring down fear and aloneness

I picked up Cheryl Strayed's Wild because I so loved Lidia Yuknavitch's The Chronology of Water featuring one woman's journey from loss and hurt to empowerment and peace through the rugged path of alcohol, drugs, and a lot of sex. The marketing of Wild made it sound like the two women had some things in common (and in fact they belong to the same writers' group). And they do. All of us on healing journeys do. But this one was different. Like with The Chronology of Water I got hooked but not quite as viscerally. The waters didn't run as deep nor wild in Wild I thought whereas reading The Chronology of Water was an immensely cleansing experience.

Yet I couldn't put Wild down and I found it both greatly entertaining while also rather lovely and even poetic at times. Subtitled From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail it features memories from Strayed's childhood and recounts how her own first marriage as well as her family fell apart when her mother died from cancer when Strayed was only twenty-two. On the trail four years later, she is forced to come to terms with the aloneness and fear she'd sought to numb in heroine and sexual affairs. Tapping into her own strength, and detecting her connectedness with it all, she comes out on a quite beautiful note.

Some of the lines that struck me about fear and aloneness:
"Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren't a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was."

"I wasn't out here to keep myself from having to say I am not afraid. I'd come, I reazlied, to stare that fear down, to stare everything down, really — all that I'd done to myself and all that had been done to me."

"Maybe I was more alone than anyone in the whole wide world.
Maybe that was okay."
"but I'd forever be alone. And why? What did being alone do? I'm not afraid, I said, calling up my old mantra to calm my mind. But it didn't feel the same as it usually did to say it. Perhaps because that wasn't entirely true anymore.
Perhaps by now I'd come far enough that I had the guts to be afraid."
And about the father who abused her mother until she finally left him for good:
"Once, in the midst of one of [my father's] tirades, he threatened to throw my mother and her children naked onto the street, as if we weren't his children too. We lived in Minnesota then. It was winter when he made the threat. I was at an age when everything was literal. It seemed precisely like a thing that he would do."  
[Spoken to Cheryl by an astrologer about Cheryl's father] "He was deeply wounded. He was damaged. His damage has infected his life and it infected you. ... That's what fathers do if they don't heal their wounds. They wound their children in the same place. ... The father's job is to teach his children how to be warriors, to give them the confidence to get on the horse and ride into battle when it's necessary to do so. If you don't get that from your father, you have to teach yourself."

While Strayed's narrative is often powerful and true, I felt it ended on a trite note of living happily ever after with the man she married four years after her hike and their two kids. And while Yuknavitch too ends her memoir on a note of embracing the family she creates for herself, she does it very differently.

Here's Yuknavitch's:
So here's the deal. About family, you have to make it up. Seriously. I know amazing single women and their children who are families. Gay men and women with kids who are families. Bisexuals and transsexuals who family up all over the place. People who don't have partners create families in everyone they touch. I know women and men from a multitude of sexual orientations without any children just doing their lives who create families that kick the can down the street. The heterosexual trinity is just one of many stories.

If marriage goes busto, make up a different you. If the family you came from sucked, make up a new one. Look at all the people there are to choose from. If the family you are in hurts, get on the bus. Like now.

I'm saying I think you have to break into the words "relationship" or "marriage" or "family" and bring the walls down. Don't even get me started on the current BAR PEOPLE WHO LOVE EACH OTHER FROM MARRYING fiasco. Annie get your gun. Jeez. Anyway. The key is, make up shit.

Make up stories until you find one you can live with. 
I learned it through writing.
Writing can be that.
And here's Strayed musing on a bench at the end of her hike on the trail:
Thank you, I thought over and over again. Thank you. Not just for the long walk, but for everything I could feel finally gathered up inside of me; for everything the trail had taught me and everything I couldn't yet know, though I felt it somehow already contained within me. ... How in four years I'd cross the Bridge of the Gods with another man and marry him in a spot almost visible from where I now sat. How in nine years that man and I would have a son named Carver, and a year and a half after that, a daughter named Bobbi. How in fifteen years I'd bring my family to this same white bench and the four of us would eat ice-cream cones while I told them the story of the time I'd been here once before, when I'd finished walking a long way on something called the Pacific Crest Trail. And how it would be only then that the meaning of my hike would unfold inside of me, the secret I'd always told myself finally revealed. 
 But then further down the page, she presents this quite poignant final paragraph:
It was all unknown to me then, as I sat on that white bench on the day I finished my hike. Everything except the fact that I didn't have to know. That it was enough to trust that what I'd done was true. To understand its meaning without yet being able to say precisely what it was, like all those lines from The Dream of a Common Language that had run through my nights and days. To believe that I didn't need to reach with my bare hands anymore. To know that seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything. It was my life — like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me.
How wild it was, to let it be.
Yes. Let it be.

And both books are worth reading.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...