By now, you should know that I rarely do things on work nights. My schedule basically looks like this: wake up, do some work, go to work, come home and eat dinner, get back to work, go to bed. But when my friend Carrie texted me and asked if I wanted to go see Cheryl Strayed read on a Monday night at Ashland University, how could I resist? Since graduating from college, I rarely see readings, and I had a feeling that Cheryl Strayed would probably be pretty inspirational. So I left my house on a work night (on a work night!).
The universe conspired to keep us away from Cheryl Strayed. First we got stuck in near-standstill traffic, and then Ashland University ended up being a labyrinth of confusion and poorly named buildings. But we gave double middle fingers to the universe and ended up at the reading anyway.
Even though we were half an hour late, I felt like we got a pretty complete picture of Cheryl Strayed. She was as warm and engaging as she seems in her writing. She seemed to radiate compassion and wisdom, like George Saunders or Dolly Parton. Also, she talked like a real person. Have you ever noticed how some writers inexplicably speak with this not-quite-placeable, almost-British accent even though they’re from the Midwest? Or they pronounce human “yoo-min”? Cheryl Strayed didn’t do that.
We got to hear her read a bit from Wild, as well as a letter from Dear Sugar. And then she answered questions from the audience and was so shockingly articulate that I could hardly believe it. I mean, if I had to answer questions on the fly like that, there’d be a lot of stammering and “likes” and “you knows.” But Cheryl Strayed carries herself with the composure and calm of someone who’s met Oprah.
At one point, she said, “Nonfiction is things that really happened. Fiction is things that really happened plus shit I made up,” which kind of sums up why she’s so great.
And then we got books signed by her. I bought a copy of Torch because I felt weirdly drawn to it, although after the fact I figured out that, duh, it was her first novel and of course that was the reason I wanted to get that one signed. Carrie was very nice and told Cheryl Strayed that I was an awesome writer, and Cheryl Strayed was very polite and pretended to care. Cheryl Strayed looked sophisticated and comfortable in this purple flowy top that I now want to buy 7 of and wear every day of the week. That top said, “I am way too busy writing to wear restricting clothing. I have better things to do with my time than be uncomfortable.”
After that we went to Denny’s (Carrie and I, not Cheryl Strayed), which is what everyone should do after a literary event. I ordered a bacon avocado cheeseburger because Cheryl Strayed said to feed yourself, and maybe this wasn’t exactly what she meant, but I decided to go for it anyway.
That night when I went to bed I felt weirdly energized yet relaxed, the way I do after yoga. I sort of forgot how much I enjoyed going to reading, how just hearing words spoken out loud and seeing the real human who wrote them is often so much more filling than just reading those words on a page. But, I don’t know, it might’ve just been the cheeseburger.
Image via The Great Discontent