If someone tells me he is struggling, I listen to him and tell him to read this book.
If someone tells me she feels lost, I would listen to her and tell her to read this book.
If I have a young relative reaching maturity, I would give him this book.
And the reasons for this:
1. She gives bloody good advice – there are no pretensions about what life is – painful and occasionally beautiful.
2. Her advice comes from a real place, not off-the-shelf, not word of god, but a place of grace, forgiveness and real-shit-happened-to-her.
An example of the real shit is how she started off one column:
My father’s father made me jack him off when I was three and four and five. I wasn’t any good at it. My hands were too small and I couldn’t get the rhythm right and I didn’t understand what I was doing. I only knew I didn’t want to do it. Knew that it made me feel miserable and anxious in a way so sickeningly particular that I can feel that same particular sickness rising this very minute in my throat.”
She reveals herself in every answer and much of it are ugly truths about life.
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of lies, face tuning, self promotion, useless generalisations and other deceitful things. It’s why I cherish the book.
I am going to share some excerpts that will give you a sense of the advice she gives but bear in mind excerpts offer only a glimpse of the entirety of her wisdom.
To a woman who was struggling over the miscarriage of her 6.5 month baby
“Don’t listen to those people who suggest you should be “over” your daughter’s death by now. The people who squawk the loudest about such things have almost never had to get over anything. Or at least not anything that was genuinely, mind-fuckingly, soul-crushingly life altering. Some of those people believe they’re being helpful by minimizing your pain. Others are scared of the intensity of your loss and so they use their words to push your grief away. Many of those people love you and are worthy of your love, but they are not the people who will be helpful to you when it comes to healing the pain of your daughter’s death.
They live on Planet Earth. You live on Planet My Baby Died.”
“And stop pretending with your sweet boyfriend too. Tell him you’d like to punch him in the head and explain to him precisely why. Ask him what he has to say about the death of your daughter and do your very best to listen to his experience without comparing it to your own.”
“That place of true healing is a fierce place. It’s a giant place. It’s a place of monstrous beauty and endless dark and glimmering light. And you have to work really, really, really hard to get there, but you can do it. ”
To a 21 year old gay man living a double life so he can continue to live in his parents’ house. They think he has overcome his “gay lifestyle”.
“There is something I can offer that will help. I can tell you to get yourself out of that house. You mustn’t live with people who wish to annihilate you. Even if you love them. Even if they are your mom and dad. ”
“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. This is what your parents are doing to you. And by choosing to pretend you’re straight in order to placate them, you’re also doing it to yourself.”
“In your question you write that you feel “suffocated by the expectations of those on both sides,” but there are not two sides. There is only one and you’re it. The real you. The authentic you. The gay you.
“There is a middle path, but it goes in only one direction: toward the light. Your light. The one that goes blink, blink, blink inside your chest when you know what you’re doing is right. Listen to it. Trust it. Let it make you stronger than you are.”
“…love based on conditions such as those set forth by your parents is ugly, skimpy, diseased love. Yes, diseased. And it’s a kind of love that will kill you if you let it.”
“I think I cry (at gay pride parades) because it always strikes me as sacred, all those people going by. People who decided simply to live their truth, even when doing so wasn’t simple. Each and every one of them had the courage to say, This is who I am even if you’ll crucify me for it.
Just like Jesus did.”
To a young woman writer who was struggling with her “limitations, insecurities, jealousies, and ineptitude”
“I’d finally been able to give it because I’d let go of all the grandiose ideas I’d once had about myself and my writing—so talented! so young! I’d stopped being grandiose. I’d lowered myself to the notion that the absolute only thing that mattered was getting that extra beating heart out of my chest. Which meant I had to write my book. My very possibly mediocre book. My very possibly never-going-to-be-published book. My absolutely nowhere-in-league-with-the-writers-I’d-admired-so-much-that-I-practically-memorized-their-sentences book. It was only then, when I humbly surrendered, that I was able to do the work I needed to do.”
“We get the work done on the ground level. And the kindest thing I can do for you is to tell you to get your ass on the floor.”
“The unifying theme is resilience and faith. The unifying theme is being a warrior and a motherfucker. It is not fragility. It’s strength. It’s nerve. And “if your Nerve, deny you—,” as Emily Dickinson wrote, “go above your Nerve.” Writing is hard for every last one of us—straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.”
“So write, Elissa Bassist. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.”
To a young person who asked “what would you tell your twentysomething self if you could talk to her now?”
“ You will regret the small thing you didn’t say for the rest of your life. Say thank you.”
“It’s good you’ve worked hard to resolve childhood issues while in your twenties, but understand that what you resolve will need to be resolved again. And again.”
“You will come to know things that can only be known with the wisdom of age and the grace of years. Most of those things will have to do with forgiveness.”
“You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule.”
“Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be.”
“One hot afternoon during the era in which you’ve gotten yourself ridiculously tangled up with heroin, you will be riding the bus and thinking what a worthless piece of crap you are when a little girl will get on the bus holding the strings of two purple balloons. She’ll offer you one of the balloons, but you won’t take it because you believe you no longer have a right to such tiny beautiful things. You’re wrong. You do.”
Other beautiful advice
“You aren’t afraid of love. You’re afraid of all the junk you’ve yoked to love. And you’ve convinced yourself that withholding one tiny word from the woman you think you love will shield you from that junk. But it won’t.”
“Trust yourself. It’s Sugar’s (the pen name of Cheryl Strayed) golden rule. Trusting yourself means living out what you already know to be true.”
“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.”
“These are not pretty things, but they are true things.”
“Another thing that the best, sanest people on the planet do is they have the guts to tell the truth.”
“I suggest you forget about forgiveness for now and strive for acceptance instead.”
“Walk without a stick into the darkest woods. Believe that the fairy tale is true.”
“That when it comes down to it, you must trust your truest truth, even though there are other truths running alongside it—such as your love for the partners you want to leave.”
“Let yourself be gutted. Let it open you. Start there.”
“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.”
“The entire premise of your healing demands that you do let go of expectation.”
I’m inspired by Mark Zuckerberg’s annual projects and decided to have one of my own. Read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. Subscribe to my newsletter.