If you can’t make it to any of these events, come see Katie Roiphe next week to hear her discuss her essays on literature and contemporary life, gathered in her new collection, In Praise of Messy Lives.
You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself. I don’t say this as a condemnation—I need regular reminders to stop feeling sorry for myself too. I’m going to address you bluntly, but it’s a directness that rises from my compassion for you, not my judgment of you. You must separate the global injustice (why should some be shackled by student loan debt when others aren’t?) from the individual reality (I’ll be paying this damn bill forever).
As you and other long-time readers of this column may know, I’m a socialist at heart, but when it comes to the actual, individual way we live our lives, I adhere to an entirely pull-oneself-up-by-one’s-bootstraps creed. Nobody’s going to do your life for you. You have to do it yourself, whether you’re rich or poor, out of money or raking it in, the beneficiary of ridiculous fortune or terrible injustice. And you have to do it no matter what is true. No matter what is hard. No matter what unjust, sad, sucky things have befallen you. Self-pity is a dead end road. You make the choice to drive down it. It’s up to you to decide to stay parked there or to turn around and drive out.
Sometimes I think the reason I became a writer is because I’ve always felt others’ experiences so acutely. When I tell the people who write me letters that their problems keep me up at night, I’m not joking. I’ve been given a huge gift with this column, and I knew I would write it like a motherfucker, but I didn’t know people would embrace Sugar the way they have. I knew I wanted to be a writer, but the crosscurrent was always that I wanted to help people. I didn’t have total faith that I could help people with writing, but as Sugar I feel like I have helped in some small way.
—Cheryl Strayed, in an interview with Bitch Magazine