Tuesday, November 16, 2010


This essay "The Love of My Life" by Cheryl Strayed?

Read it. I read it the other day after my idol Roxane Gay posted it to html giant. I raced through it. My heart was pounding--cliche, however, in this case, completely true. Afterward, I sat there at my desk, dazed, mouth open, all blub blub crying at the end.

HOW DID SHE WRITE THIS? That is my thesis about "The Love of my Life" by Cheryl Strayed. That is my literary analysis of this essay in total.

If I wrote this essay, I could jump off a building afterward, screaming YAHOO!

How does a person know why they do what they do so well?

It's nearly impossible to look at yourself so unflinchingly. Have you ever tried? Somebody asks you why you did something, and you have no idea. Or you have an idea but it's surrounded in the protective padding of Lies and you know it. Or you have an idea but it's surrounded in the protective padding of Lies and you don't know it.

Everybody says Know Thyself, like I'm sure that's on a piece of paper hanging above people's desks all around the world. But nobody really does. Who would want to?

CS that's who. It's like Cheryl Strayer died and hovered above her body for twenty years, watching her heart like a doctor would, with objectivity and care--and then she came back to life and wrote this essay.

CS's psyche is like a barge being pushed by a barge. It is large and solid and in charge. It holds a lot of nasty stuff and transports all of it where it's supposed to go--in her case, to the page. CS's psyche is also like an open pleasure barge. You could totally hold a pageant or party on top of Cheryl Strayer's psyche. It is so strong and keeps everything in its place. Nobody would get drunk and fall over the railing into the water.

The Big Book from Alcoholics Anonymous--no, I'm not in AA--has this passage in it that basically says that there are some people who will never recover and goes on to explain "usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault. They seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest."

Cheryl Strayed has this capacity. Most definitely. If this were a high school yearbook, Cheryl Strayed would be voted Most Likely to Kick Heroin and Then Write An Awesome Essay about It. In fact she did. It's called "Heroin/e">Heroin/e" and it's about being all wrecked and junked up in her early 20s.

Do you know there is such a thing as catastrophe theory? I do because I keep coming across it, looking it up, and then immediately forgetting what it is, and looking it up again.

"Catastrophe theory is a theory of mathematical structure in which smooth continuous inputs lead to discontinuous responses."

The guy who came up with the theory didn't really mean "catastrophe" as in "disaster" though. He just meant "smooth continuous inputs" cause abrupt changes.

As in:

Smooth continuous input = I keep putting a needle in my arm and shooting heroin in there and I feel great.

Discontinuous response 1 = I have abruptly stopped feeling great.

Discontinuous response 2 = I have abruptly died.

Am I applying the theory right? I'd like to think so.

When I think of catastrophe I always think of my friend Chris. He is gay and grew up in Speedway, Indiana in the 70s but it gets better. His family is Amish and thus, Chris hates anything faux old-timey/quaint, like one time he refused to go back to this restaurant where we ate because we had to drink water out of jelly jars.

Chris once told me this story about his step-mom who lived with his dad in a trailer. It's possible her name was Charlene though I'm not sure. In any case, she talked about herself in third-person consistently, with no irony, and called herself Char-Babe. As in "Char-Babe is going down to Hoosier Pete's to get a pack of Kools."

One day Chris and Char-Babe went to the grocery store and it seems Char-Babe was having quite a day and nothing was going right. It was just one of those days.

Well, wouldn't you know it, when Char-Babe and Chris got out to the car, there was a hole in one of the bags and it broke and everything was going everywhere like cans of Spaghettios rolling under the car. Char-Babe was beside herself. Holding the broken bag, she screamed:


That is my favorite catastrophe story to date and that says a lot considering it is ancient. An ancient story. Other than The Epic of Gilgamesh, it is, perhaps, the oldest story on Earth.

As you can imagine, when Chris and I lived together, we said this quite a lot, like if Burritoville forgot to put the tofu sour cream on our burritos or if we ran out of toilet paper.

To this day, when I am feeling especially tried or worn down, I return to What a fiesta. I recommend it. It's comforting. It's all-encompasing. It does and says it all.

Yes I am inciting ridicule, but I'm not judging Char-Babe as a whole. How could I? Our gas has been turned off for a week because we didn't pay our bill and we keep turning the knobs, checking to see if it's back on yet. What a fiesta.

This morning my daughter and I stood in front of the stove, expecting nothing, but when we saw a flame, we were so excited we jumped up and down and clapped.

"Yay! she said. "We can make this now!" [Holds up Pillsbury paper roll of dough in triumph]. "But we better make it fast before it's too late."

[As an aside, just checked again. Gas is not working. [WAF!] Zaz is crying behind me now. She really wanted those rolls.]

Could Char-Babe do better than that? Maybe.


  1. Oh HI, it's Chris! I am pleased that the FIESTA! saga has left such a warm and lasting place in your heart, although I feel that I'd be remiss if I didn't clarify a few details. Originally I was gonna come at this all irate, like "quit bungling my life story, you bloggin' flotsam!" but then you made me remember how we'd treat a burrito from Burritoville as if it were a gigantic casserole or a bountiful sheet cake, and how we'd cut little pieces from one stupid little burrito and eat off it for days, so poor were we. Anyway, that memory softened me. So I shall offer my clarifications as an alternate reality to your account - kind of like the ending of that movie "Clue", where there were five endings and people could choose their favorite. I shall offer my clarifications as separate comments, because there is nothing at all annoying about doing that.

  2. Clarification #1: Char-babe's real name, or as real as I understood it to be, was Cheri. She did indeed speak of herself in the third person. When answering the phone, instead of saying "hello" (as we of Earth tend to do), she would pick up the phone and simply say "CHER-BABE" as a greeting.

  3. Clarification #2: The FIESTA! event occurred when I was a teenager and I went grocery shopping with Cher-babe and her then not-quite two-year-old son, my half-brother. Upon storing our goods in the car for easy transport, Cher-babe made the mistake of locking her keys in the car. With my not-quite two-year-old half-brother locked in the car with the keys. Cher-babe slapped at the windows frantically and tried to coach the baby to unlock the door, but he was strapped into a baby seat and was only able to scream and cry. This is when Cher-babe fell to her knees in the Aldi parking lot and screamed "THIS IS A FIESTA!!!!"

  4. Clarification #3: I like old timey things. I do! Remember Farrell's Olde Tyme Ice Cream Parlour? They were big in the '70s when the whole ragtime "old timey" thing was a big trend, and I loved going there on my birthday and getting a clown face sundae and having a brass band serenade me. I like men with straw hats, waxed mustaches who wear arm garters over their shirt sleeves. I do! But you are correct: to this day I can't drink out of a mason jar, not even if it's meant to be ironic. That came from when I was a kid and my dad and Cher-babe tried to take me to a restaurant called Po'Folk and they bragged the whole way there about how we have to drink out of jars. Well, I wasn't having it. I threw a big fit and refused to go into the restaurant and said if they insisted on eating at Po'Folks I would sit in the car and starve in protest. I think my dad had to have a phone consult with my mom on this, it became so ugly. Anyway, I'm pretty sure we ended up going to what is now known as Chuck E. Cheeses. Yay me.

  5. Clarification #4: Cher-babe was a Marlboro woman all the way. Unless it was a tough week money-wise, then she was a Merit Lites woman.

  6. Chrissie!

    1. Yes, I remember being very irate on several occasions because SOMEBODY ate my last EIGHTH of a burrito. (Mr. G you know who you are, you pig in a dirty blanket. You are rude.)

    As an aside, remember that one time Mr. G set his enormous slice of pizza down on my white comforter like my comforter was a bed-sized paper plate?

    As another aside, remember that one time we were watching that commercial together, and it was like "This is what poverty looks like." And then it flashes to a supposedly "empty" refrigerator with a bottle of dried up ketchup and a half jar of mayo. And you were like, "THOSE PEOPLE HAVE IT SO GOOD. I LOVE MAYO."

    2. Sorry for so bungling. Memory is funny. I guess I should not be a memoirist if this is any indication of mine? So to respond:

    a. Cher! If I Could Turn Back Time I would retell this story and call your step-moms Cher-Babe. But I can't, and anyway, forever more, she will be Char-Babe to me. I like Char-Babe because it could be pronounced like charcoal, as in, OMG my Merit Lite just caught my hair on fire and now I'm a Char-Babe!

    2. How did I substitute a baby trapped in a car with a hole in a paper bag? Are these two things similar? I'm not immediately seeing it but I'm open to hearing thoughts.

    3. Yay everybody for Chuck E Cheeses. Yay!

    4. Honestly, I guessed Kools. I was going to guess Parliament.



  7. Lizzie!

    1. My ultimate story of how big of a PIG Mr. G was (and if you are reading this, Mr. G, we had some good times but you were a PIG PIG PIGGY PIG) involved the winter we had an apocalyptic snow storm in NYC and the whole city basically had the day off work because there was like 5 feet of snow accumulation, and we had no food so I walked through mountains of snow and bought us all soup, and agonized forever to find a soup for myself that was vegetarian, finally finding a beef broth-free can of minnestrone. I trudged home and before I could even take off my boots, Mr. G had already chugged my veg minestrone down his PIG gullet. When I confronted him about this and told him that was the only food I was able to eat in the whole apartment, his response was "well, I'm Italian. You shouldn't have gotten minestrone." GAH!

    2. Oh my god, my memory is horrible. The memories embellished my dementia tend to be a lot more entertaining than the truth, though.

    3. What was that movie where the lady talked about the Chuck E. Cheeses? Was that Safe? I need to look at that picture again.

    4. Cher-babe would probably have smoked a piece of bark if she had no other option.



  8. Oops, I meant "the memories embellished BY my dementia tend to be..."

    Stupid dementia.

  9. Thanks Elisa! Every day I go to your blog is the day I go to the right blog. Not being a sycophant. [Is that the right spelling? Looks so much like elephant today.] Anyway, the end of my life, if I'm a good enough person, will look like a beautiful French Exit.