tiny beautiful things: Advice on Life and Love from Dear Sugar
Just thinking about this book makes my heart ache a little. I heard about it for years before I actually read it; girlfriends kept trying to press it on me, but it seemed a little too ‘self-helpy’, so I evaded their efforts. But after my fiancé, Rob, died suddenly in early 2017, I decided that I was probably in the market for some touchy-feely self help.
This book is not, actually, ‘touchy-feely self help’. It’s comprised of a series of advice columns that Strayed answered on the website The Rumpus, under the moniker Dear Sugar. She was anonymous at the time, but this was also pre-Wild fame, so she wasn’t a household name yet anyway. The letters that Strayed answers touch on a lot of difficult topics; death, betrayal, infidelity, self-doubt, and she approaches each one with a radical empathy that will amaze you over and over again.
I took something away from every essay in this book, even if the situation that she was addressing was totally foreign to me. Strayed’s advice is somehow universal even though it is particular. There’s a heartbreaking letter in the book called “Stuck” that was sent in by a woman who had suffered a late-term pregnancy loss, and eighteen months after the death of her child, feels unable to ‘get over it’. Strayed tells her that her suffering is absolutely appropriate to the loss she has endured, and that people who tell her to ‘get over it’ haven’t lived through a tragedy of this scale. She says, ‘Many of those people love you and are worthy of your love, but they are not the people who will be helpful to you when it comes to healing the pain of your daughter’s death.
They live on Planet Earth. You live on Planet My Baby Died.’
Reading that line, a few months after Rob’s death, shook me to my core, because it described exactly what I had been feeling since the initial shock and trauma of his death had subsided. Everybody else had gone back to living on Planet Earth, and I still lived on Planet Rob Died. It was so reassuring to me in that moment to feel seen, to feel like other people understood what I was going through, because they had gone through it themselves.
When we opened Crying Out Loud, tiny beautiful things is the first book we named when we were coming up with titles to order for the store. We put a copy of it in the packages we sent out to the media for our opening, and in our original First Aid Kit. We’ve sold more copies of it than any other book in the store, and we will carry it as long as the store exists. You don’t need to have suffered a major trauma in your life to appreciate this book, you just have to be a human, living in the world, trying things and sometimes fucking things up, and loving people. I realized when I went to write this review that I don’t currently own a copy of tiny beautiful things; I have bought, and then given away, this book multiple times over, and I’ll continue to do so because everyone. should. read. this. book.
Check out tiny beautiful things here.
Buy Yourself the Fucking Lilies
Tara Schuster is the kind of person who seems like she's got it all figured out; by her late twenties, she had already worked on The Daily Show with John Stewart, helped launch the viral hit show Key & Peele, and served as Vice President of Talent and Development at Comedy Central.
Despite all of that success, she was struggling internally with a deep sense of unhappiness, anxiety, and substance abuse. She hit her rock bottom the morning after her twenty-fifth birthday – waking up with vomit in her hair and panicked voicemails from her therapist, whom she had called while in a blackout state the night before. She decided then to take herself off of the self-destructive path she’d been traveling down, and figure out what skills she needed to lead a more happy and fulfilled life.
Over the next five years, she engaged in a project she describes as ‘re-parenting’ herself, which she describes as ‘figuring out what nurturing you need and then giving it to yourself’. After a tumultuous childhood, marked by neglectful and absentee parents, she entered the working world thinking that chaos was the norm, and life consisted of a series of crises to be endured. At twenty-five, she decided to dig into her past traumas, and try to really come to grips with the origins of her pain. Her process centre around journaling, writing three lines each day and gradually gleaning from that activity where her pain originated.
She became a student of self care; investigating her own feelings through journaling, and reading the work of others. She divides the lessons she learned over that five year journey into three categories: Mind Rituals; Body Rituals; and Relationship Rituals - daily activities she began incorporating into her life to counter negative self-talk and implement the changes she envisioned for herself.
A lot of the things she prescribes are simple, incremental changes, like making your bed every day, and learning how to cook vegetables in a way that will make you actually enjoy eating them. She gives instructions for how to write a ‘perfect, not gross, positive affirmation’, and reminds us that we should talk to ourselves the same way we’d talk to a friend if they were in the situation we’ve found ourselves in. Finding your way to self-love is a process, and she’s not offering a quick fix – rather a framework and assortment of tools that worked for her, and just might work for you, too.
Read more about Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies here.