Dear Sugar is back!
Dear readers, all your problems are solved. The original Sugar advice columnist Steve Almond, who passed the torch to Wild author Cheryl Strayed have come together for a weekly podcast that will soothe troubled hearts and worried minds. In short, the story goes like this: Steve Almond was looking for someone to take over his advice column at TheRumpus.net. Strayed had written him a heart-felt reader letter, and he knew he had found his successor. Strayed had just sent Wild, her memoir (and feature film in cinemas now) about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, to her publisher and, as she told The New Yorker was “in the midst of this tiny lull in my writing life”. She trusted her gut, and agreed to become the next Sugar.
Cheryl Strayed’s sensibility made the advice column a sensation and highlights were collected in the book Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. Almond (pictured below with Strayed) describes her mission as Sugar in the introduction to the audiobook: “Inexplicable sorrows await all of us. That was her essential point. Life isn’t some narcissistic game you play online. It all matters — every sin, every regret, every affliction. As proof, she offered an account of her own struggle to reckon with a cruelty she’s absorbed before she was old enough to even understand it. Ask better questions, sweet pea,she concluded.” Strayed took the tradition of Dear Abby and updated it for the modern age by mixing deep personal experience, references to Pat Benatar and the Victorian journal of erotica The Pearl, sincerity and radical empathy she answered life’s more difficult questions about being through winding meditations. She was called “the ultimate advice columnist for the Internet age, remaking a genre that has existed, in more or less the same form, since well before Nathanael West’s acerbic novella ‘Miss Lonelyhearts’ first put a face on the figure in 1933.”
The essence of her advice comes from the wisdom of trusting your gut, but what made the Dear Sugar podcast so special is how Almond and Strayed pick apart questions such as “Should I have another baby?”, winding through topics of the joy of jumping into the unknown, the value in being selfish, and the seemingly superficial detail that another child would mean buying a bigger car, and what the seemingly toss-away thought can reveal about who you are on a deeper level. Not to mention the guests they reach out to by phone to help them think through their questions (Roxane Gay! Stephen Elliott! Strayed’s husband!). The way Strayed and Almond read the letters so closely is powerful; they zero in on telling words, how sentences are phrased and focus on the letter writer. As a result, the feeling of listening to Dear Sugar is one of comfort and personal unlocking. The feeling that no matter how grey the day, we all have a fighting chance to make sense of and make peace with the twists of life.
This blog was originally published in the Audible UK blog on 03/02/2015.