Painting is one of the world's most boring occupations. When I was painting walls and ceilings during an earlier part of the renovations, my daily thankful prayer was, 'I am so grateful I don't have to paint for a living.' Some people tell me they find painting relaxing and meditative. Well, they are clearly more evolved than I am. I find painting repetitive and irritating. So some kind patron saint of Easily Irritated DIY Practitioners must have led me to the audiobook section at the library last week, where I picked up Cheryl Strayed's Wild. Thirteen wonderful hours of beautifully distracting prose, a memoir woven seamlessly through the story of an arduous summer-long hike along the Pacific Crest Trail in California and Oregon.

Now you must know that hiking, carrying a heavy back pack, getting sweaty, nature as it involves bugs and most other wildlife, putting up tents and other by-products of camping are all anathema to me, but listening to someone else's experience of being exhausted and sweaty and terrified of mountain lions was wonderfully therapeutic over my weekend of painting; it made wielding a paintbrush and getting a slightly sore painting arm seem quite relaxing in comparison.

I first came across Cheryl Strayed's writing via her Dear Sugar columns several months ago. Dear Sugar was an agony aunt column, with no holds barred. Strayed is that unusual person who does not hide or avoid or cover up pain. She heads straight into it, straight to the heart of the person she is writing to every time. She has come through oceans of her own pain, swum through it, almost drowned in it, but come through to landfall, and her Dear Sugar letters are extraordinary love letters to many sad and broken hearts.

Which made me pick up Wild, eager to read about the life of this big hearted person. And there it all is in its painful honesty, a life and the walk of a lifetime, all woven into each other to create what becomes almost an epic tale, one of the old hero tales, or a pilgrimage. The author walks the trail for a hundred days. overwhelmed by the task she has set herself, but also overwhelmed by the pain of her past. She writes so simply, but direct to the heart. Rosy came in to the study over the week end to find me sobbing with my head in my arms, while holding the paint brush at arm's length so I wouldn't get paint in my hair.

'Mum, what's wrong?' she asked in alarm.

'The h-h-horse DIED,' I wailed. Rosy gave me that special look she saves just for me and my endless peculiarities, patted my shoulder and went to get me a cup of tea. She is a good girl, and should live long in the land (by the way, I haven't spoiled the plot for you. The horse was always going to die, but I defy you not to cry about it anyway).

There is much pain and loss and fear and anger in this memoir.  But it is a very hopeful book. My favourite sentence is the last, as the author compares her life to the fish in the river at the end of her trek, fish slipping away just under the surface of the river, impossible to catch or grasp or possess. Her life is:

Like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was to let it be.

I just love this line. In a world of self-improvement, I will hug this thought to me. How wild it is to just let my life be what it is and will be. And I will admit it, as a tiny bit of a perfectionist and being rather fond of being in control, I am both challenged and comforted by that thought. I have no idea where that will take me, but believe me, you will read about it here:)


Anonymous said…
No, not reading any books where an animal dies. Too sad!

I'm with you on painting. So boring. And so I drift off and get a bit slap dash, and try to con my self that "that'll do". Until the paint dries and I see the bits that didn't get a second coat.

Anonymous said…
I helped to paint a huge house not too far away from where you live. I spent months with a spotty white face because I was the only one willing to go up on scaffolding to paint the ceiling. I hear you about the painting. It's also the reason why I keep putting off painting our bedroom and spare room ;). Thinking I might try being like a gypsy and pinning up bright colourful fabric around the walls...I love the way your posts are going Jo. Seeing you unfold and tentatively test the wind and be completely willing to be invested in every part of your life journey (that doesn't sound too wanky does it?!) is brilliant. I think we all have moments when the horse dies. I was watching an awesome U.K. series the other day called Derek. His favourite dog died. I was a mess. I can't wait to see where urban life will take you next. You give me hope that through self exploration you can most assuredly find yourself. I think I missed myself going the other way back when I was about 34. I need to regroup and recamp (camping UGH!) and get heading in the same direction as myself because I feel like I have been going around in circles for a few years now. Looks like 2014 has been a bit of an epiphany for a lot of us :)
Unknown said…
This is a must read book by the looks of it and i'm hopping onto the online library catalog as soon as i've hit the publish button.

Sorry, i do find painting relaxing but probably because i do small areas or projects and not whole houses. I love the renewal that occurs with the swish of a brush.

Anonymous said…
I'm not a fan of books where animals die. I don't mind so much when people die, and possibly gruesomely, But when animals die, I don't like it. I used to live in a very cute little two bedroom weatherboard cottage and I pained that thing inside and out and put down my paintbrush, vowing to never ever ever do it again. Ever. Never. I've more or less tuck to my guns, in that I've painted the odd bit of furniture since, but we paid a man to paint the kitchen. And I have every intention of paying probably the same man to paint the laundry and bathroom when the time comes in the next six months or so, and as for the eaves and window frames of the brick house we now live in? "Hello, Man."
Anonymous said…
I despise painting, too. And never willingly "rough it" in the great outdoors. I have only recently learned the power of a good audio book, though! I listened to Patti Smith's book Just Kids over 10 hours while doing home workouts and I could hardly bear to hit pause and get on with my day!
CJ said…
Can't stand decorating. The preparation beforehand is even worse. Wishing you many happy adventures.
Jo said…
Lucinda and Miss Maudy - and I thought you were both such fearless readers, boldly going where I refused to follow because I am such a coward! The horse only dies on one page. You could skip that bit!
Fran, you never fail to have me in stitches with your comments:

"I think I missed myself going the other way back when I was 34."

That is totally brilliant. I feel like I am wallowing along in a total fog. Am vaguely hoping to find a direction to walk in with confidence, but for now, just muddling along..
Lynda, that is exactly what I do, library catalogue is bookmarked so I can order books as I read on-line. I have found many treasures that way. And I am glad to find someone who likes painting. I figure there must be some around or all those DIY shows would be just dead in the water..
Dar, I hear you. I would be finished a coat of paint and still lingering to hear just one more chapter..
CJ, oh yes, the preparation. Gah. And the cleaning up afterwards.Even worse..

Popular Posts