The MOCA Grand was standing room only last night. Not with the usual art seekers, but with book lovers, aspiring writers and advice column junkies like myself. We were there to see author Cheryl Strayed read from her new book, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. The memoir recounts Strayed’s journey hiking eleven hundred miles of the Pacific Crest Trail alone and ill-prepared. The book has received glowing reviews and the film rights have been optioned by Reese Witherspoon.
Zocalo was an excellent host. The LA-based organization strives to connect “people to ideas and to each other.” They have a great line-up of free upcoming events to check out. LA Times columnist Meghan Daum moderated the event with her usual humor and directness. I loved how rock-star the whole thing turned out to be. Zocalo gave us yellow wristbands for entry. Wristbands–for a book reading! Strayed and Daum sat in sleek Eames Lounge Chairs while I chilled out on a striped love-seat watching via simulcast. MOCA had to set up a separate viewing room to accommodate us all.
I can’t be sure, but I wonder if the crowds had anything to do with Strayed’s advice column, “Dear Sugar” from the literary website, The Rumpus. Strayed began writing the column anonymously in 2010. She wrote raw, deeply insightful responses to her readers’ questions, often divulging devastatingly painful personal anecdotes. The column became an internet sensation and we fans became “the cult of Sugar.” For the beginner, I’d steer you to “We Are All Savages Inside,” a response to a struggling writer who is jealous of her friends’ book deals. Strayed turns the question on its head when she delves into the root of jealousy: entitlement.
In the panel, Daum had an interesting take on Wild. She remarked that unlike other memoirs about female redemption- here veiled references were made to a book that sounds like Meet, Bray, Shove- unlike those books, Strayed does not approach redemption like some neat tidy package that arrives at the end of her long journey. Her writing is far too nuanced for that. That idea reminded me of another Sugar column, “The Empty Bowl” where Strayed discusses the healing process:
I had that feeling you get—there is no word for this feeling—when you are simultaneously happy and sad and angry and grateful and accepting and appalled and every other possible emotion, all smashed together and amplified. / Why is there no word for this feeling? / Perhaps because the word is ‘healing’ and we don’t want to believe that. We want to believe healing is purer and more perfect, like a baby on its birthday.