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:)
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