Best-selling author speaks on wildness


Irvin Trigueros

Cheryl Strayed is interviewed by Honors Director Jennifer Saito about what inspired her to write “Wild.”

Kellie McCown

Yellow and red lights illuminated the deep blue velvet curtains inside the Heritage High School Theatre in Brentwood March 6. Two white plush chairs with decorative pillows sat on the stage, and the small oak table between them was topped with a vase containing bright pink gerber daisies and white carnations.

Excited chatter filled the room as people clutching white and magenta tickets settled into their seats. The chatter was low, but the words “journey,” “adventure” and “Pacific Crest Trail” could be clearly heard, their weight adding to the excited buzz in the air. An important conversation was about to take place.

The lights dimmed, the chatter came to a halt and the conversation began. Los Medanos College Honors Student Catherine Joy Buban took the stage, adjusted her mike, looked at the crowed and announced, “You have the hottest ticket in town.”

That hot ticket was to “A Conversation with Cheryl Strayed,” an interview and book-signing event made possible by the LMC Honors Program, whose members had written letters to the best-selling author explaining how her “Dear Sugar” columns had touched their lives since an honors retreat near Yosemite last fall where they were introduced to her work and first heard of her hiking the legendary trail. Those letters, and an invitation to visit LMC, were eventually personally delivered by Honors Director Professor Jennifer Saito during a book signing in San Francisco.

“Community colleges are my favorite places to go,” said Strayed during her sit down interview with Saito on stage. “The quality of learning is so prevalent here.”

During the hour-long event, Strayed addressed issues she talks about in her book “Wild” — substantive issues ranging from handling grief and applying to colleges, to the importance of taking risks to find yourself and overcoming the fear to do so. She also touched on lighter subjects like how she handles cursing around her children, and how she went from an inability to pay her electric bill before “Wild” took off on the New York Times Best Seller List to hanging out with Oprah in the star’s Santa Barbara home.

Sade Brown and Michael Walker, both honors students and avid participants in the Honors Program’s regular “Dear Sugar” meetings, read from Strayed’s “Tiny Beautiful Things,” choosing advice columns that ranged from a girl’s moral dilemma in accepting money for sex from a married man, to a young man’s struggle with a blood disease that left him disfigured. Both excerpts highlighted that “Dear Sugar” is not your mother’s advice column.

Strayed explained that her core answer to these two columns, and her thousands of others, is that people should love one another, and described love as the best gift one person can give another.

“It is my primary value in life,” said Strayed. “If a plane would be going down, what would we be thinking about? We would be thinking about the people that we love, and either regretting not giving all the love we have, or being so grateful that we did. That’s what we would be clinging do. We can’t live every day like a plane is going down, but if you could hold some of that inside of yourself every day, a better life can be had.” Strayed’s book “Wild” has been picked for Oprah’s new book club, and having such a high-profile author visit LMC shows students that with perseverance and taking risks, they can accomplish important goals.

“I think that most students at community colleges have inferiority complexes,” said Saito after the event. “To see that a world class author would come and talk to us and have dinner with us and treat us with all the respect in the world — that’s important for students to experience.”

The honors students who have been part of the “Dear Sugar” meetings were able to have a sit-down dinner with Strayed before the event, giving them an opportunity to talk to the writer on a personal level.

“At the beginning when we were waiting for her to come, a lot of people were nervous,” said honors student Andre Thompson, one of the lucky students to have dinner with Strayed. “When we met her, she was like a regular person — a real person that you would just love to talk to, someone that you would imagine would write the book that we have been reading.”

Strayed, who herself grew up poor on a piece of land in rural Minnesota, never thought she would be able to go to college until she was accepted to the University of St. Thompson. She transferred to the University of Minnesota during her sophomore year. doubling majoring in English and Women’s Studies.

After her mother’s death Strayed, who was just one college paper shy of earning her bachelor’s degree, retreated into a world of grief filled with drugs and affairs that eventually ended her marriage.

It wasn’t until Strayed decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone, a hike that started in the Mojave Desert and ended at the Bridge of the Gods in Oregon, that she was able to deal with the grief of her mother’s death and find herself.

It’s Strayed journey alone that Saito says is so important for college students to hear.

“I think that the very first time that you figure out who you are is in college,” said an elated Saito after the event. “Community college students don’t really get to do that. Hearing this is important.”

Co-Honors Director Jeannine Stein agreed that Strayed’s story, while heavy in its lessons of self discovery, is an important one for students.

“She is such an inspiration for the students,” Stein said as she stood in line to get her copies of ‘Wild’ signed. “From the minute she walked in the room, she had us. She said that there was no other place that she would rather be than right here and right now.”

Students interested in reading ‘Wild’ can purchase the novel at the Los Medanos College Bookstore located adjacent to Admission and Records on the third floor of the main College Complex.