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Cheryl Strayed, Author Of 'Wild,' Brings Back 'Dear Sugar' Column

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Cheryl Strayed is the writer behind the hit 2012 memoir "Wild." She's also the once-anonymous voice behind Sugar, a loving, lively advice columnist that offered her readers wisdom through intimate stories of her own life. Struggling with professional jealousy? Her advice would be to, quote, "get over yourself." Grappling with a miscarriage? She would say it's OK to lean in and feel pain. It's been about eight years since Strayed regularly wrote under the pseudonym Sugar, but she's now brought the column back as a monthly newsletter.

Our co-host Rachel Martin spoke with Strayed and asked her where she turns to for comfort and wisdom.

CHERYL STRAYED: I have always turned to literature, to poems and plays and books and, you know, things that people wrote yesterday or things that people wrote 300 years ago. And they console me. They make me feel less alone. They make me feel more human, more part of the human family. And so that's what I try to do as Dear Sugar. I tell those stories because I know that story has power.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I imagine every life is different and unique and people's pain is different, but do you see patterns in the trauma people experience?

STRAYED: When we boil it down, we only have really about five or six problems (laughter). I mean, honestly, I could take all of those letters and divide them into about six buckets. And what excites me probably the most about the Dear Sugar column is that when people write to me, what they're - what happens is by just simple virtue of me publishing their letter, I know that thousands of people out there are saying, me too. This is how I also feel. This is what I am also up against.

And so, you know, I do see that - you know, not just the pattern or the kinds of problems we have with family, with romantic partners, with children, with work, with ourselves, with those voices in our heads that say we're not enough or we can't - you know, those are the kinds of problems that come up over and over again.

MARTIN: Then how do you as a writer and as an advice-giver avoid giving out the same solution all the time?

STRAYED: Well, that's in so many ways, Rachel, why I stopped writing the column in 2012, because I'd written so many columns and had felt - you know, all those columns that were published in "Tiny Beautiful Things," I felt like, OK, I've answered in a sort of global way, in a universal way, any question that can be asked of me. And even though a new letter might detail a different situation, the answer to it would be pretty much the same. And so I stepped away from it. I started writing the column more than a decade ago, when I was 41. I'm 52 now. I have new stories.

And I think that that's the thing. You know, we all have basically the same problems. That's just the fact of life. And what's true is we have to constantly remind ourselves of the way out of that conundrum. And hopefully what happens over time is we get better at doing it. We get better at being faster to do it. You know, when whatever that problem you're up against happens for the 10th time, maybe you do it - you respond to it better than you did the third time and the eighth time, right? That's, I think, our work here is to evolve. And evolution doesn't happen all at once. It takes time.

And I don't know about you, but I know I have to give myself the same advice over and over again. Every time I sit down to write, I have to say, OK, Cheryl, this is hard, but you can do it, and you know that the hardest part is beginning, so just begin. Well, does that mean that every time I sit down and just happily begin? It does not. Like any person, we all have to do this. And I think that what Dear Sugar is involved in, the work I'm doing, is reminding people of that, that life is struggle and we have the capacity to overcome it, that we have the capacity to engage with it even if we can't overcome it.

MARTIN: Where do you put all the pain people need you to absorb? Are you just that person who has boundless space for that in your own head and heart?

STRAYED: For whatever reason, I find it far more uncomfortable to turn away from the difficult emotions than I do to turn toward them. And I know that that's unlike a lot of people. I don't - and I can't explain why I'm that way. But I sort of liken it to, you know, if I arrived at the scene of an accident, I would feel so much calmer running to the person who was hurt and helping them than standing back and panicking about it.

Like, there's something calming to me when I address what hurts. And that's true in my own life. It's true in my own relationships. And it's really true in the work I do. And, you know, I didn't - when I was writing the Dear Sugar column way back in the day, I never thought that what I was writing was self-help. Rather, I think that all literature, all truth-telling in the form of writing and storytelling, is - helps us.

MARTIN: Cheryl Strayed, otherwise known as Dear Sugar. It's always so great to talk with you. Thank you so much.

STRAYED: Thank you, Rachel. It's wonderful to talk to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OH DEAR SOMEONE")

WONDERLY: (Singing) Oh, dear someone, won't you please... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.