Author Cheryl Strayed will deliver keynote at 2nd Mammoth Yoga Festival
Bestselling author Cheryl Strayed will give the keynote address at the Mammoth Yoga Festival three weeks from now on Friday, June 15. She’ll follow it up by teaching a writing workshop the following day.
The writing workshop already has eighty people signed up, a testament to Strayed’s enduring popularity following the publication of her memoir “Wild” in 2012. “Wild” chronicled Strayed’s journey of self-discovery as she set out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).
The book not only landed Strayed the honor of being the first author featured in Oprah’s resurrected book club – which also involved a three-hour pal around with Oprah herself – but it also got turned into a Hollywood film starring Reese Witherspoon.
The Sheet spoke with Ms. Strayed about her upcoming trip to Mammoth, her accidental career as a public speaker, and about what it takes to lift the weight one cannot lift.
Strayed’s accidental career, in some measure, is due to the nature and volume of the dramatic strands in her life.
She’s a child of divorce. Once-divorced herself. Her mother died of lung cancer when she was just 45.
Her breakthrough success as a writer wasn’t immediate, and she spent many years working regular jobs to support her writing during her 20’s and early 30’s so she’s had her share of professional struggle.
“When I was in my 20s, I struggled and suffered a lot. I felt like I had squandered my dreams and ruined my life.”
*Of course, she was in her 20s, so her fears were obviously a bit overblown.
“But the glory of one’s 20s is that anything can happen. And there’s a nostalgia surrounding that – about living like a free-ranging wolf, about that fear of never finding your way. And sometimes getting yourself hurt.”
When you speak to Strayed, there’s not a hint of affectation. And she’ll speak with you as if she’s known you five years, not five minutes. In short, she has a gift for quick connection and getting to the heart of things.
So what’ll she speak to a bunch of yogis about?
“[The practice of] yoga is about mindfulness. And there’s a life-changing magic when you really get clear with yourself.”
But Strayed doesn’t get too fixated upon the group she’s addressing, whether it’s yoga practitioners … or accountants.
“The minute I start thinking about who I’m speaking to, or classifying the audience, I’m always mistaken. If I just tell the truth, the truest truth, that’s where I’m going to connect the threads.”
She recalled being at a festival in India where she was speaking to 1,000 people, and she wondered how her white, midwestern background would play in a foreign country. The universal reaction: We are more alike than different.
Strayed is greatly looking forward to her visit to the Eastern Sierra just because she didn’t actually hike this section of trail during her summer on the PCT due to the fact that it was a big snow year.
And she enjoys the seminars because they’re looser, less academic and provide an outlet for the more extroverted part of her personality.
It gives her a chance to give a version of the big commencement speech fitting for this time of year: “Go forth. Create. I believe in you!”
The Sheet tossed Strayed a few curveballs just for kicks, and she swatted them back one by one.
First question was in relation to her last name, which she invented and took as she was getting her divorce.
Sheet: What were the runner-up names to Strayed?
Strayed (laughs): There were no runner-up names. It was just no, no, no, no, no and then yes. Once I heard it, that’s what I wanted.
Second question was in relation to her role as a public speaker and mentor.
Sheet: If you break down the word advice, it’s ad, which means toward, and vice. So when people give advice, are they just really leading people in the wrong direction?
Strayed: I think it [leading towards vice or no] totally depends upon the agenda of the giver [of advice]. It could be life-saving. It could also be disastrous.
Another question related to something Strayed told Oprah during their interview for Oprah’s magazine:
“I was failing in so many ways in my life, and my biggest fear was that I would fail again on this trip. I simply could not fail. I was too proud to call my friends and say, ‘You know how I was gonna hike that trail? I didn’t do it.’ So, no matter what, no matter what, I had to get that pack attached to me and go. It didn’t feel good. It felt terrible. It was really painful. But I had to do it, and now I see why: I needed to carry that heavy weight. I needed to carry the weight that I couldn’t bear. That’s what Wild is about. It’s about how we bear what we cannot bear.”
Sheet: How conscious were you at the time of the symbolism of the weight?
Strayed: It’s not something you go in thinking about. A long-distance hike is a powerful metaphor – what it takes to commit to a journey. But you live the experience first, and then it’s your job as a writer (because it’s not just about you) to identify the universal afterward.
A final question related to Ms. Strayed’s essay about Alice Munro, titled “Munro Country,” which won a Pushcart Prize in 2010.
The essay’s about Ms. Strayed sending Munro a copy of a short story she’d just had published, Ms. Munro’s return letter, and what it all meant.
In the return letter, Munro tells Strayed she is, “quite right to stay out of academic life.”
And yet, Ms. Strayed eventually headed back to graduate school to obtain an MFA from Syracuse University.
So we asked Strayed to elaborate upon this decision.
Strayed: I got my MFA because I needed the financial support to have time to write. Teaching was about how to pay the rent.
Wait, wait. One more question.
Sheet: A lot of people are interested in what you have to say, but … what do your kids think about that? Do they listen at all?
Strayed: My kids listen on occasion … They’re proud of me, but they’re typical teenagers, mortified by 85% of what comes out of my mouth. Maybe 95%
Cheryl Strayed’s writing workshop is scheduled on June 16 from 10:30 a.m. ‘til 1:30 p.m. at the Mountainside Conference Center at Mammoth Mountain’s Main Lodge. It’s for everybody who’s got a burning story to tell and is trying to figure out how to tell it. Tickets for the event are $89 and can obtained by visiting www.mammothyogafestival.com.
Locals, if you’ve got a Mono/Inyo driver’s license and you’re signed up for the Strayed writing workshop, you are also eligible to attend the Friday keynote address/opening ceremony at Shady Rest Park at no additional charge.