Beloved, bestselling author Cheryl Strayed shares her thoughts with me about partnering with Waxing Poetic on her courage-bolstering give back collection for Outdoor Afro. She also shares her personal experience of facing fear and finding joy during these tumultuous times, and how we might use this time to examine who we really are, as we keep one foot in front of the other on the path to healing. —PP
photo: Lisa Field
“I’ve never lost sight of the idea of us on the other side of this.” - CS
PP: In the current state of uncertainty, how have you been able to unpack and explore fearful thoughts and feelings that arise?
CS: The coronavirus pandemic is unlike anything I’ve have ever experienced, as is true for most of us, and yet what’s been grounding to me is remembering that we've endured and survived hard times before. I’ve never lost sight of the idea of us on the other side of this. The only way to get there is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I’m such an advocate for cultivating courage by doing things that require us to struggle or be brave or persist. When we do difficult or scary things, we learn that we're capable of doing difficult and scary things.
photo: Joni Kaban
PP: One of the guiding principles at Waxing Poetic is “Write Your Own Way.” What are some actions we can take to truly become authors of our own lives?
CS: We become the authors of our own lives when we're brave enough to deeply examine not just who we are, but who we are really—to see our strengths, weaknesses, mistakes, triumphs, desires, regrets, dreams and fears with clarity and acceptance. It’s a powerful thing to accept yourself, and it takes many of us a lifetime to do that.
A New Story
PP: How will a new narrative help us overcome our fear and separation from each other? What might that new story be?
CS: Many of the stories we carry around in our heads are received stories. We decide someone will be this way or that way not because they’ve shown us that, but because we’ve received a false story about them. I think the most powerful act when it comes to connecting with others across perceived divides is to listen.
photo: Lisa Field
“Joy, to me, is often a fleeter, quieter thing.” - CS
Tune in to Joy
PP: What are some ideas we might that hold us back from experiencing joy?
CS: I’ve come to understand that joy isn’t this days-long condition in which I’m laughing and doing cartwheels for hours on end. Joy, to me, is often a fleeter, quieter thing. The beauty of the sunshine streaming through your window. The feeling you have of contentment on your daily walk. The smile you exchange with a loved one or stranger. Those are the more common experiences of joy in my life.
photo courtesy of Outdoor Afro
“For a long time, the outdoors has been viewed as the domain of white men.
That’s a story I’ve spent my life rewriting as a woman and organizations like Outdoor Afro are rewriting the narrative as well, when it comes to race. I’m honored to be partnering with them.”
PP: What are you learning about yourself as a result of this difficult time?
CS: The social tumult of these past years, especially around issues of racism, have been a potent reminder to me that there is always more to learn, always a deeper examination that can be undertaken and change that can be made. That’s the beautiful things about paths—you can’t see the end of it when you begin it. You simply have to trust that by walking it, you’ll get somewhere. If we as a people have the courage to continue walking the entire distance, new truths will be revealed to us and we’ll be better for them.
It’s been a trying time in the United States, but I’m optimistic that we are heading in the right direction. The tremendous, diverse support for the Black Lives Matter that we’ve seen in recent months, for example, has given me hope that real change is inevitable. It’s a slow walk to justice, but we are walking toward it.
photo: Lisa Field
Objects of Meaning
PP: I just love that Laura Dern wore two pieces of your mother’s jewelry in the film adaptation of “Wild.” Why was this important to you?
CS: The objects we wear so often become imbued with meaning—they become talismans rather than objects. They carry our stories. I gave Laura Dern two pieces of my mom’s jewelry when she played my mom, Bobbi, in the movie of Wild: a turquoise ring and a bracelet. They were things my mom loved and wore for many years in my childhood. When I look at them or wear them, I feel my mom’s spirit with me, her strength and her light. Laura told me she felt that too, when she wore them.
PP: It has been an incredible experience to bring this collection to life with you. What are your hopes for the talismans you have authored with Waxing Poetic?
CS: I love thinking of people I’ve never met wearing my words on your jewelry and making their own meanings of it. The grand mission of literature is to tell us what it means to be human, but on the personal level, what writing aims to do is to make one person feel seen and known, to make one person feel less alone in the world. I hope these talismans give people comfort and strength and joy.
photo: Kim Rierson
PP: What is the greatest lesson you learned from your time out on the trail?
CS: It’s hard to choose just one thing, but humble persistence is a big one. All it takes to truly change your life and the world is to believe that getting there is possible. You simply have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
photo courtesy of Outdoor Afro
“Empowering others became key to making our movement. It is not just about one person. It is about many people who come together as leaders with a common value and understanding that can be built upon from an authentic place.” – Rue Mapp, Founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro
PP: As part of our Poetic Giving initiative, 100% of the net profits from your collection will be donated to Outdoor Afro, an organization committed to connecting Black people with nature and changing the face of leadership in the outdoors. Why is diversity in the outdoors so important to you personally?
CS: We all have the right to experience the transformative power of reckoning with oneself against the beauty and grandeur of the wild places. When we become empowered through these experiences, we bring that empowerment into our lives and communities. We become more compassionate citizens and braver leaders. For a long time the outdoors has been viewed as the domain of white men. That’s a story I’ve spent my life rewriting as a woman and organizations like Outdoor Afro are rewriting the narrative as well, when it comes to race. I’m honored to be partnering with them.
About Cheryl Strayed
Cheryl Strayed is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling memoir Wild, the New York Times bestsellers Tiny Beautiful Things and Brave Enough, and the novel Torch. Wild was chosen by Oprah Winfrey as her first selection for Oprah's Book Club 2.0 and adapted into an Oscar-nominated film starring Reese Witherspoon. Tiny Beautiful Things was adapted for the stage by Nia Vardalos in a play directed by Thomas Kail that has been produced in theaters around the nation. Strayed's essays have been published in The Best American Essays, the New York Times, the Washington Post Magazine, Vogue, Salon, and elsewhere. She’s the host of the New York Times hit podcast Sugar Calling and was the co-host of the Dear Sugars podcast with Steve Almond. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her family.
Catch up with Cheryl on Instagram @cherylstrayed
About Outdoor Afro
Outdoor Afro has become the nation’s leading, cutting edge network that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature. We are a national not for profit organization with leadership networks around the country. With nearly 90 leaders in 30 states from around the country, we connect thousands of people to outdoor experiences, who are changing the face of conservation. So come out in nature with us, or be a partner to help us grow our work so that we can help lead the way for inclusion in outdoor recreation, nature, and conservation for all!
For more information, please visit www.outdoorafro.com and follow along on Instagram @outdoorafro