I saw Cheryl Strayed speak last night at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco. She’s always a refreshing reminder that what we say matters, the stories we share matter, that raw grief never truly leaves us, and that you can totally throw around some f-bombs and still be sweet, endearing, and loving. It’s a fine balance to strike, but she fucking nails it every time.
You’ve probably read Wild, or at the very least heard of it and followed Reese Witherspoon to the movie screen to watch it. But the book she published so soon after, Tiny Beautiful Things, will change the way you think about basically everything. And let you know one simple thing: You’ll be fine — totally 100% okay — no matter what’s going on right now.
I’ve read that you should write something you would want to read, and recently read that you should write for someone you know. As I’ve treked along in my career as a dietitian, I haven’t done either of those things well, if at all. Until very recently, I can’t think of more than a few times when I considered my audience for any piece (e.g. blog post, freelance article, handout, tweet, etc.), or even a single person (or idea of a person), that I hoped would read what I was saying. I just put on my dietitian hat and wrote what I assumed the people expected, with some mix of authority and authenticity. I never thought, “This point is really important for this person, so even if they don’t read it I’m going to write it as if I’m saying it right to their face.” But I can see now how powerful that could be. Even if I just started with a younger me, or a friend, or someone I’ve worked with.
Cheryl spoke about the difference between writing a novel, a memoir, and an advice column. The former are traditional forms of literature, though very different, and follow certain rules. The latter is an act of speaking straight to someone who asked you something with personal motives and emotion, and as you write you’re only responding to that one person, not to an audience. I’m thinking, what if we started writing everything as if it were to one person? Maybe not always the same person, and maybe not an actual person but rather the idea of a character. Then hopefully when that one person reads, it matters to them. And when everyone else reads, maybe we don’t know it but they are “that person” too.
What health professionals have to say is important, as evidenced by the fact that the media can’t shut up about nutrition, medical, or general health advice and everyone feels the need to chime in. The people read it — I read it — with hope that something important and worth knowing is somewhere in those words. But maybe what we really read it for is hope that there’s a little piece of advice in there specifically for us.
To my person: I hope to start writing shit that resonates with you, that you need and are ready to hear, and I’m pretty pumped because we both know we’ve got a LOT to catch up on…