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.
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:
WHAT A FIESTA!
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.