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Tiny Beautiful Things

Tiny Beautiful Things

Author: Cheryl Strayed
Rating: 9/10
Last Read: January 2015

Quick Summary: Cheryl Strayed wrote for an anonymous advice column titled "Dear Sugar" for many years.  This is a collection of letters from that column - and in their pages are found many tales of human sadness, joy, love, and loss.  There are terribly tragic aspects of humanity revealed to you, and people write about their problems with honesty.  Dear Sugar seems to always have the magical words we need to hear, and many good life lessons can be pulled out of these works.

I never thought I would be calling a book of letters from an advice column one of my favorite books...

I think the answer to most problems is more often than not outside of the right/wrong binary that we tend to cling to when we’re angry or scared or in pain. We are complicated people. Our lives do not play out in absolutes.

My Highlights

Inexplicable sorrows await all of us. --loc 116

Life isn’t some narcissistic game you play online. It all matters—every sin, every regret, every affliction. --loc 116

I happen to believe that America is dying of loneliness, that we, as a people, have bought into the false dream of convenience, and turned away from a deep engagement with our internal lives—those fountains of inconvenient feeling—and toward the frantic enticements of what our friends in the Greed Business call the Free Market. --loc 122

We’re hurtling through time and space and information faster and faster, seeking that network connection. But at the same time we’re falling away from our families and our neighbors and ourselves. We ego-surf and update our status and brush up on which celebrities are ruining themselves, and how. But the cure won’t stick. --loc 125

With great patience, and eloquence, she assures her readers that within the chaos of our shame and disappointment and rage there is meaning, and within that meaning is the possibility of rescue. --loc 135

She understands that attention is the first and final act of love, and that the ultimate dwindling resource in the human arrangement isn’t cheap oil or potable water or even common sense, but mercy. --loc 144

She also recognizes that there’s another, truer story beneath the one we generally offer the world, the stuff we can’t or won’t see, the evasions and delusions, the places where we’re simply stuck. --loc 147

We are obligated to the people we care about and who we allow to care about us, whether we say we love them or not. Our main obligation is to be forthright—to elucidate the nature of our affection when such elucidation would be meaningful or clarifying. --loc 229

I encourage you to do more than throw up your hands in your examination of “whose fault” it was that your twenty-year marriage fell apart. It was no one’s fault, darling, but it’s still all on you. --loc 234

A proclamation of love is not inherently “loaded with promises and commitments that are highly fragile and easily broken.” The terms you agree to in any given relationship are connected to, but not defined by, whether you’ve said “I love you” or not. “I love you” can mean I think you’re groovy and beautiful and I’m going to do everything in my power to be your partner for the rest of my life. It can mean I think you’re groovy and beautiful but I’m in transition right now, so let’s go easy on the promises and take it as it comes. It can mean I think you’re groovy and beautiful but I’m not interested in a commitment with you, now or probably ever, no matter how groovy or beautiful you continue to be. --loc 245

Withholding distorts reality. It makes the people who do the withholding ugly and small-hearted. It makes the people from whom things are withheld crazy and desperate and incapable of knowing what they actually feel. --loc 252

We’re all going to die, Johnny. --loc 255

Though we live in a time and place and culture that tries to tell us otherwise, suffering is what happens when truly horrible things happen to us. --loc 285

I think I cry because it always strikes me as sacred, all those people going by. People who decided simply to live their truth, even when doing so wasn’t simple. Each and every one of them had the courage to say, This is who I am even if you’ll crucify me for it. --loc 489

Trust yourself. It’s Sugar’s golden rule. Trusting yourself means living out what you already know to be true. --loc 681

The unifying theme is resilience and faith. The unifying theme is being a warrior and a motherfucker. It is not fragility. It’s strength. It’s nerve. And “if your Nerve, deny you—,” as Emily Dickinson wrote, “go above your Nerve.” Writing is hard for every last one of us—straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig. --loc 782

Good people do all sorts of idiotic stuff when it comes to sex and love. --loc 807

The story of human intimacy is one of constantly allowing ourselves to see those we love most deeply in a new, more fractured light. Look hard. Risk that. --loc 821

A healthy way is rooted in respect and love. In this case, we make critical assessments and uncomplimentary observations entirely within the context of our affection and concern for the individual in question. Sometimes we talk behind a friend’s back in order to grapple with our doubts about or disapproval of the choices he or she has made. Sometimes we do it because our friends possess qualities that confound, confuse, or annoy the shit out of us, though we love them anyway. Sometimes we discuss our friends with others because we had a weird or rude or dumb interaction with one of them and we simply need to blow off steam. The baseline of these discussions is a grounded knowledge that we love and care for the friend—regardless of the things that irk, confuse, or disappoint us about him or her. The negative thoughts we express about this friend are outweighed by the many positive thoughts we have. --loc 865

Who does what a friend tells her to do? I can’t say I ever have, even when later I fully recognized that I should have. --loc 910

There aren’t three options. There is only one. As Rilke says, “You must change your life.” --loc 1020

Our minds are small, but our hearts are big. --loc 1035

Humans are beautifully imperfect and complex. We’re horny, ass-saving, ego-driven drug fiends, among other, more noble things. --loc 1038

To hold the truth within me that some things are so sad and wrong and unanswerable that the question must simply stand alone like a spear in the mud. --loc 1134

Worry stones my mother had called them, the sort so pleasing against the palm she claimed they had the power to soothe the mind if you rubbed them right. --loc 1194

But compassion isn’t about solutions. It’s about giving all the love that you’ve got. --loc 1237

Jean-Paul Sartre famously said that “hell is other people,” which is true enough, but truer still is hell is other people’s boyfriends (or girlfriends, as the case may be). --loc 1261

cultivate an understanding of a bunch of the other things that the best, sanest people on the planet know: that life is long, that people both change and remain the same, that every last one of us will need to fuck up and be forgiven, that we’re all just walking and walking and walking and trying to find our way, that all roads lead eventually to the mountaintop. --loc 1288

I have breathed my way through so many people who I felt wronged by; through so many situations I couldn’t change. Sometimes while doing this I have breathed in acceptance and breathed out love. Sometimes I’ve breathed in gratitude and out forgiveness. Sometimes I haven’t been able to muster anything beyond the breath itself, my mind forced blank with nothing but the desire to be free of sorrow and rage. --loc 1418

There’s a line by the Italian writer Carlo Levi that I think is apt here: “The future has an ancient heart.” I love it because it expresses with such grace and economy what is certainly true—that who we become is born of who we most primitively are; that we both know and cannot possibly know what it is we’ve yet to make manifest in our lives. --loc 1595

You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don’t have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don’t have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards. You don’t have to maintain an impeccable credit score. Anyone who expects you to do any of those things has no sense of history or economics or science or the arts. --loc 1619

You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you got. You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth. But that’s all. --loc 1622

Whatever happens to you belongs to you. Make it yours. Feed it to yourself even if it feels impossible to swallow. Let it nurture you, because it will. --loc 1648

I hope when people ask what you’re going to do with your English and/or creative writing degree you’ll say: Continue my bookish examination of the contradictions and complexities of human motivation and desire; or maybe just: Carry it with me, as I do everything that matters. --loc 1665

I’d revealed a truth they were ready to know. Not about Christianity, but about the human condition: that suffering is part of life. --loc 1775

What if you allowed your God to exist in the simple words of compassion others offer to you? What if faith is the way it feels to lay your hand on your daughter’s sacred body? What if the greatest beauty of the day is the shaft of sunlight through your window? What if the worst thing happened and you rose anyway? What if you trusted in the human scale? What if you listened harder to the story of the man on the cross who found a way to endure his suffering than to the one about the impossible magic of the Messiah? Would you see the miracle in that? --loc 1810

If you had to give one piece of advice to people in their twenties, what would it be? To go to a bookstore and buy ten books of poetry and read them each five times. Why? Because the truth is inside. --loc 1816

“Naked and smiling” is one male friend’s only requirement for a lover. --loc 2270

No is golden. No is the kind of power the good witch wields. It’s the way whole, healthy, emotionally evolved people manage to have relationships with jackasses while limiting the amount of jackass in their lives. --loc 2341

I’m going to address you bluntly, but it’s a directness that rises from my compassion for you, not my judgment of you. --loc 2480

So here’s the long and short of it, Wearing Thin: There is no why. You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding. And, dear one, you and I both were granted a mighty generous hand. --loc 2522

“Don’t get me wrong. I want to hear everything about your life. But I want you to know that you don’t need to tell me this to get me to love you. You don’t have to be broken for me.” --loc 2699

Boundaries teach people how to treat you, and they teach you how to respect yourself. --loc 2777

Would the temporary loss of a considerable portion of your personal freedom in middle age be significantly neutralized by the experience of loving someone more powerfully than you ever have? Would the achy uncertainty of never having been anyone’s father be defused by the glorious reality that you got to live your life relatively unconstrained by the needs of another? --loc 3003

What is a good life? Write “good life” and list everything that you associate with a good life, then rank that list in order of importance. Have the most meaningful things in your life come to you as a result of ease or struggle? What scares you about sacrifice? What scares you about not sacrificing? --loc 3005

Many days I have to silently say to myself: It’s okay. You are loved. You are loved even if some people don’t love you. Even if some people hate you. You are okay even if sometimes you feel slighted by your friends --loc 3056

Forgiveness doesn’t just sit there like a pretty boy in a bar. Forgiveness is the old fat guy you have to haul up the hill. --loc 3335

You don’t need me to tell you how to be human again. You are there, in all of your humanity, shining unimpeachably before every person reading these words right now. --loc 3408

You have the power to withstand this sorrow. We all do, though we all claim not to. We say, “I couldn’t go on,” instead of saying we hope we won’t have to. That’s what you’re saying in your letter to me, Living Dead Dad. You’ve made it so long without your sweet boy and now you can’t take it anymore. But you can. You must. --loc 3433

When my son was six he said, “We don’t know how many years we have for our lives. People die at all ages.” He said it without anguish or remorse, without fear or desire. It has been healing to me to accept in a very simple way that my mother’s life was forty-five years long, that there was nothing beyond that. There was only my expectation that there would be—my mother at eighty-nine, my mother at sixty-three, my mother at forty-six. Those things don’t exist. They never did. --loc 3439

Your grief has taught you too, Living Dead Dad. Your son was your greatest gift in his life and he is your greatest gift in his death too. Receive it. Let your dead boy be your most profound revelation. Create something of him. Make it beautiful. --loc 3458

Don’t do what you know on a gut level to be the wrong thing to do. Don’t stay when you know you should go or go when you know you should stay. Don’t fight when you should hold steady or hold steady when you should fight. Don’t focus on the short-term fun instead of the long-term fallout. Don’t surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn’t true anymore. Don’t seek joy at all costs. I know it’s hard to know what to do when you have a conflicting set of emotions and desires, but it’s not as hard as we pretend it is. Saying it’s hard is ultimately a justification to do whatever seems like the easiest thing to do—have the affair, stay at that horrible job, end a friendship over a slight, keep loving someone who treats you terribly. --loc 3463

I think the answer to most problems is more often than not outside of the right/wrong binary that we tend to cling to when we’re angry or scared or in pain. We are complicated people. Our lives do not play out in absolutes. --loc 3478

I teach memoir writing occasionally. I always ask my students to answer two questions about the work they and their peers have written: What happened in this story? and What is this story about? It’s a useful way to see what’s there. A lot of times, it isn’t much. Or rather, it’s a bunch of what happened that ends up being about nothing at all. You get no points for the living, I tell my students. It isn’t enough to have had an interesting or hilarious or tragic life. Art isn’t anecdote. It’s the consciousness we bring to bear on our lives. For what happened in the story to transcend the limits of the personal, it must be driven by the engine of what the story means. --loc 3788

This is also true in life. Or at least it’s true when one wishes to live an ever-evolving life, such as you and I do, sweet pea. What this requires of us is that we don’t get tangled up in the living, even when we in fact feel woefully tangled up. It demands that we focus not only on what’s happening in our stories, but also what our stories are about. --loc 3795

It’s so simple it breaks my heart. How unspecial that fact is to so many, how ordinary for a child to wear a dress her grandmother bought her, but how very extraordinary it was to me. --loc 3909

Everything about that boy pacing the hallway tells me a story I need to know: that we do not have the right to feel helpless, Helpless Mom. That we must help ourselves. That after destiny has delivered what it delivers, we are responsible for our lives. --loc 4231

You are not a terrible person for wanting to break up with someone you love. You don’t need a reason to leave. Wanting to leave is enough. Leaving doesn’t mean you’re incapable of real love or that you’ll never love anyone else again. It doesn’t mean you’re morally bankrupt or psychologically demented or a nymphomaniac. It means you wish to change the terms of one particular relationship. That’s all. Be brave enough to break your own heart. --loc 4258

You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. No one will ever give you love because you want him or her to give it. Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else. --loc 4270

Your assumptions about the lives of others are in direct relation to your naïve pomposity. Many people you believe to be rich are not rich. Many people you think have it easy worked hard for what they got. Many people who seem to be gliding right along have suffered and are suffering. Many people who appear to you to be old and stupidly saddled down with kids and cars and houses were once every bit as hip and pompous as you. --loc 4277

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