Wonderful words with Cheryl Strayed…
I spent a wonderful evening at The Cheltenham Literature Festival on Sunday. We are blessed to have such a diverse and interesting literary event on our doorstep. This year the likes of Jo Malone, Jilly Cooper, Clare Balding, Bryony Gordon, Jay Rayner, Paddy Ashdown, Justine Picardie, Maureen Lipman, Jack Monroe and Lionel Shriver were all in attendance.
We were there, though, to see Cheryl Strayed speak – a dynamic force of nature of a woman whose stunning memoir Wild is one of the best books I’ve read in ten years – and has recently been turned into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon. After the death of her beloved mother, the breakdown of her marriage and a spiralling of her life into drugs and destitution, Strayed came across a book about the Pacific Crest Trail, an epic and arduous route stretching from Mexico to Manning Park on the US-Canadian Border. A mostly remote wilderness walk, with breathtaking scenery, it is considered challenging even for experienced hikers. With no experience of hiking, or even walking great distances, Strayed set off, determined that walking this trail was the key to her very survival.
Some 15 years later she wrote her account of her experiences on the trail – and the result is Wild. A raw, honest, uncompromising, beautiful book, written with passion, pragmatism and humour. It’s a wonderful read. Strayed is an inspirational woman whose journey to her self is documented with bracing honesty and incredible warmth.
Strayed was at the Literature Festival to talk about her book and share some her thoughts and experiences from the trail. She was talking to The Pool‘s Sam Baker – I love The Pool, but I wish Baker had been a bit better prepared, she fumbled through her notes and it seemed hadn’t read, (or certainly couldn’t recall) many aspects of the book, and spent too long on details and specifics that weren’t relevant. Luckily, it didn’t seem to matter. Strayed’s confidence, her clarity, her ability to engage the audience shone through – she shared little anecdotes about her journey, talked about her experiences in Hollywood (a world she says is still so male-dominated), discussed how her life and focus has changed since having her daughter.
She talked a lot about overcoming adversity, and survival – both mental and physical and there was a lot that resonated, especially when she related her experiences on the trail to motherhood. “Walking the trail was a bit like when you first have a baby and you’re like: “You’d got to be fucking kidding me. This is it? This is the deal…?!” she said at one point. She carried on by explaining that overwhelming feeling of having started something you now have to finish, but have no idea where the finish line is. “With something like a hiking trail, you can’t just stop in the middle of nowhere, you have to get to the next town – so even if you decide to quit, you have to get off the trail first. The thing is, when you think you’re going to give up, you still have to walk to the end.”
Essentially, she says, life is about “surviving one moment and greeting the next one” – a metaphor for motherhood that I couldn’t agree with more.
Strayed is a powerful feminist voice with a lot to say, and if you get the chance to hear to her speak, grab it. She’s worth it.
“The best things in my life have required the most from me.”
Cheryl Strayed, October 2016