Cheryl Strayed: I’ve always thought that the important thing is to turn our suffering into beauty. And the image of the phoenix rising from the ashes has always been super-cool to me, that idea of our greatest beauty and strength rising out of the things that have been destroyed and have been lost. In Wild I talk about this book that I carried all the way with me, this collection of poems by Adrienne Rich called The Dream of A Common Language. And on the trail in Wild, I read that first poem, it’s called “Power.”
The poem is about Marie Curie, who discovered radiation. And she ended up dying of basically radiation exposure, this disease that had been essentially her greatest achievement. Marie Curie could never admit that’s what was killing her. And Adrienne Rich writes, she died a famous woman denying that the greatest source of her power was her wound. I’m paraphrasing it, but essentially it’s that. The thing about Adrienne Rich and what I was trying to do also in my writing career is to do the opposite, to not deny that our power comes from our wounds, that those deep wounds are the place of our power, and to really write from that place in my own life. That goes back to this earlier question about authority. That’s what authority is. When you’re actually writing from that deepest place within you, if you tell the truth, you’re using your greatest power and your greatest authority. That’s a key piece, not just doing that as a writer but when we talk about healing. Whatever the loss may be, not avoiding that wound, not trying to have it covered up and pretend it’s not there but rather to look into it.