Book Review: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

I’m going to stay with the grieving theme since it still needs a somewhat broader brushstroke than what When He Was Wicked provided; and, while it is an entertaining romance that examines grief briefly, Ms. Strayed’s book plunges the reader in it till you’re gasping for peace and begging for relief, then she smacks you over the head and across the face with understanding and self-reflection. She takes your gut, heart, and head and beats them black and blue with sense, empathy, self-awareness, self-forgiveness, self-compassion, and so much more. That is how I felt after reading Wild. It was mentally, emotionally, and physically draining, but also, exhilarating, refreshing, restorative—empowering like few things I’ve read.

This book was rebirth and I was a phoenix.

Late to the Wild party, I didn’t read the book till March 2015 after the movie was released. Yes, you’ll notice that about me—I’m always late to the party and my pop culture knowledge is woefully inferior. I am aware of my limitations and have settled in nicely with them; we are push and pull pals—when I need a push forward or a pull backward, we dance. Ms. Strayed is one of the many, many women that helped me learn to dance with all my baggage—and reader, I got tons.

When one is on a limited budget with lots of issues and there’s no way in late-stage capitalism hell that one can afford a therapist, instead of looking for solutions in a bottle or some other depressing and destructive self-medicative intoxicants, one searches for them in books. Yes, that’s right—BOOKS. Even books written by men too. I know—shocking given my distinct taste for delicious misandry: YUM. Books are certainly a lot less expensive and a lot more enjoyable than traipsing to many, many different therapists where one is told that therapy goes only as far as one’s money and bank account; where one cannot even extend one’s mental health poetry without being condescendingly told that there’ll be a hefty price tag for reading that; this, also, while being advised that therapy for someone with oodles of baggage needs $5k-$10k in a battery of personality and inkblot tests in order to analyze and treat—wut? 😳 I dunno about y’all, but if I had $5k-$10k to spare, I’d rather get my therapy in a spa, on the beach, or in Paris instead of a stuffy therapist’s office.

So, when someone sermonizes on all the benefits of therapy and advises you to go get it, we need realize that sometimes we are not their target audience—yet, or maybe ever?—especially when the person proffering that advice can afford it and we cannot. For us poor folk, we need boot that ego that gets all pissy and offended, and move along to something we can afford, even if it means we have to take the longer, harder road towards health and peace, and are a little less saner, adjusted, self-aware, and smug about it. And, by the way, there is absolutely nothing wrong with women bringing that sermonizing bougie swagger who’ve worked hard for their capital—categorically none. They earned that and more and they’re simply trying to help all women; do not take it personally—yet another thing I learned far later than I should’ve. We don’t knock a woman’s right to her capital after hard work—not here, especially if she’s giving back to the sisterhood. Not unless she inherited it—then we can be all kinds of petty. But! We are unwilling members of imperialist-capitalist-white-supremacist-patriarchy, and ultimately, that cultural imprint keeps us all whores and hypocrites too; so you’ll probably see that pettiness on occasion directed and indirectly aimed at the well-intentioned—we are, after all, imperfect individuals and only human. Cuz, ya know, it is exhausting trying to do and be better, but we try—or not; depends. 🤷

Where was I? Oh, yes…

My dad died when I was twelve. Now, that wasn’t the only trauma my dad brought to my life. For the purposes of this review, I’ll only refer to that incident since it was surrounded by mystery, intrigue, theft, non-renewables, corporate and government fraud, malfeasance and greed, betrayal—family and friends, money, classism, police brutality, and murder, loyalty, shame, ostracism, and cover-up and collusion—of all kinds; government and corporate—etc. It is a wild story that I have told to very, very few—like, less than half a dozen, maybe at most—and it usually starts out with something like I’m the daughter and grand-daughter of two felons: a thief and a murderer, and the above story? Is only the story of the thief. I am most definitely not going into the details on this review, or any review—of either ever. You’ll have to read the shades of it in my writing because fiction is the only way I’ll touch it—yeah, it is that consequential, perhaps not for others, but definitely for me and mine. Also, I have it on good authority that it would make for fascinating non-fiction in whatever medium it was birthed, and ain’t no way in hell I’m getting on that ride.

That trauma (of the many) has held sway over me since and probably will endure till death—it will never embark into the far-removed or disappear entirely (a parent or child’s death never, ever vacates one’s mind); it will always be a grief and knowledge I’m saddled with; it has, though, gotten hella easier to deal over the years, especially when I write about it. Talking about it really does nothing for me—awkward word salad at most, but placing it in stories, no matter whose, is where the awareness, appreciation, and healing derives; my empathy and relation to the story and characters helps me understand and evolve. Ms. Strayed’s story allowed me to be. She gave me an awareness, showed me self-compassion, and allowed me to forgive myself for everything I thought I did wrong (and those I did do wrong), then endorsed who I was trying to be, and very few had ever done that for me before. There was also the pointed reminder to have more empathy and compassion for me mum because she went through all that trauma too.

I have always been a nature and outdoor freak so that portion of Ms. Strayed’s story appealed to me right off. Alas, no, I had no desire to hike the PCT because I had previously hiked the AT multiple times in my twenties and thirties and was perfectly content to place that in my checklist of goals previously accomplished (hell no I did not hike the entire thing—are you crazy). One of the many reasons one does the endurance push in times of grief is to feel and release another kind of pain and weariness of the body until it overcomes the pain and weariness of the mind; a cleanse so to speak; you inevitably have to confront it (or not) as it leaks out of you—I was stubborn and slow and defiant when confronting mine through the years and otherwise preoccupied with the people I hiked alongside. I was already comfortable with being alone since I am a natural introvert/ambivert; it was monkey mind that was reeking chaos on my psyche foremost. I had to become comfortable with being alone alongside an appropriately healthy mindfulness and once that was accomplished, I had to deal with my cognitive and behavioral distortions—CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy. I worked part-time at a bookstore at the time and got a great discount (I miss Borders!) so I went and bought all the books they had on CBT and mindfulness, costing far less than those $5k-10k+ batteries of tests and therapy. I had anti-depressants too—Zoloft, baby—that was exceedingly helpful (this was back when I had health care). And I survived, which was a feat unto itself, each day, every day. Yay!

Wild was one of the many books that helped me deal and Ms. Strayed was the like-minded soul I could connect with that allowed me to be me—all that chaos and baggage included. I’m sure I’m not the only one that connected with her and this book on an entirely other level as it seems to have struck a chord with a great number of GenX women and women in general, which made me feel not so alone in my chaos. I would like to reread it now to see how it and I have aged. After the past few years, I have placed books, film, and tv into separate categories of BTPE and ATPE—Before Trump-Pandemic Era and After Trump-Pandemic Era. As much as I am loathed to allude to Hegel (step off, Hegelians—I got no time for your BS and absolutely not, do I agree with everything he wrote) and his complicated mess of writing (white male mediocrity and privilege personified), I received and understand the lessons he attempted to impart when it comes to art, history, and progress and the reexamination of such; I want to reexamine and reevaluate things in my ATPE mindset—Ms. Strayed’s book is one such thing. Regardless, I thank her hugely for her words and wisdom.

“What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done?”

“How wild it was, to let it be.”

“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.”

“Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.”

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