We are nearing the tail-end of our reading theme on love – and I thought that it would be good to share some of my insights about (Dear) Sugar’s stellar advice on love and life. This was originally found in an online community called The Rumpus, now collected and gathered together in this orange book that contains resplendent slivers of truth. I am hoping that through these snippets I have lovingly prepared, you’d allow yourself to be found by Sugar. Then listen. Transform your life.
Written by Cheryl Strayed
Published by Vintage (2012)
Bought a copy of the book. Book quotes are laid-out through Typorama.
I do not normally go for self-help type of books – nor do I do advice columns. I am a clinical psychologist by training – and I do practice clinical supervision in my university. Hence, I try to avoid anything that resembles work for my personal/recreational reading – as it defeats the entire purpose of the escapism that books afford me from the mundane realities of everyday work. I suppose it isn’t just escape that I am craving for – it is a measure of transcendence – that of going beyond, providing me the space to luxuriate in the beauty of words without having to closely analyze them for academic purposes. Yet it is precisely this level of transcendence that I got from reading Dear Sugar.
As a clinician, there are things I am bounded by in terms of the dispensation of ‘advice’ – similar to what Sugar is doing in her column. For one, the counseling relationship is not ruled by a prescriptive set of very specific advice provided to the client with a marked checklist of what one should do/not do (unless of course it is a matter of safety or survival). Rather, it is a more arduous, lengthy process of the client arriving at their own insights. The goal is a measure of self-illumination with the therapist serving as a sounding board that would hopefully guide the client to clarity with a few measured questions or a nudge in the right corner here and there. Sugar cuts through all the red tape and the lengthy BS by saying exactly what her audience needed to hear in a snap. This is because they don’t necessarily have the luxury of a tete-a-tete that would provide deeper background information, hurts, grievances that may need to be resolved in order to arrive at some level of self-developed understanding.
Another difference is that the counseling relationship should ideally be free of judgments or condemnation. Sugar again cuts through all that bull by passing judgments and condemning whoever needs to be condemned based on the person’s narrative, and saying it in colourful cuss words at that. Truth be told, I wish I could do what she does – as her thoughts are unfiltered and raw yet still totally and singularly acceptable, because it comes from a place of truth, empathic connection, and good intention. It comes wrapped up in honeybun or sweet pea to sweeten the fact that the person in trouble has just been called a jackass or a self-entitled brat. But yeah, the slapping of one’s butt is done with playful love – but a zinging truth does hit you in your cheeks nonetheless.
Thirdly, the therapist does not use the client’s issues to resolve one’s own. The reciprocal disclosure is done with grave caution as it might lead to transference/counter-transference. There is a professional boundary that also needs to be established and respected as the therapist is ultimately there to help untangle issues rather than further tie the client hopelessly in knots. The fact that Sugar writes anonymously (and she is a wonderfully gifted writer) provides her the perfect backdrop to work out her own issues – as it sinuously weaves into the story of whoever is seeking her advice. The fact that she can masterfully move in and out of these intertwined narratives with grace, compassion, and shared humanity is perhaps what makes her… Sugar.
As I read through all the problems that Sugar needed to face and resolve one letter at a time, I found some patterns – alongside her advice which seem to go along a similar vein – indicative of her integrity as an individual. I’ve summarized them into ten beautiful things here – accompanied by Sugar’s voice illuminated in images through Typorama.
(1) Establish boundaries.
(2) Embrace vulnerability.
(3) Avoid drama.
(4) No pity party, please.
(6) Forgive yourself.
(7) Walk into the light.
(8) You are worthy of love.
(9) Take risks.
(10) Keep on keeping on.
#LitWorld2018GB Update: US