I think I saw you post something to that effect on Facebook, something about how you didn’t come out of nowhere. I think so many of us in some ways have imagined or wanted something like that to happen, and on the other hand, it seems very overwhelming.
I think in our culture we think that fame is equivalent to success, so that if you’re successful in the arts, that means you must be famous. But we know that’s not true, that most of the people that we know who are writers who are very successful aren’t at all famous.
I got some fame, actually, modest fame compared to — even the most famous writer isn’t as famous as, like, Beyoncé. My kids, when they understood that this thing was happening, my son said — we were trying to figure out what famous was — and my son said, “So, Mom, are you as famous as Lady Gaga?” And I was like, “No, no, no, no. No, not quite.”
There is a funny thing, though, and I think that that’s what I was speaking to when I posted on Facebook. I was like, “Look, just because now a whole bunch of people know me doesn’t mean that where I was writing before was total obscurity.” There’s a community and an audience for a lot of writers who are never going to be famous, and that’s where my home is. I just think that when people say, “Oh, she’s this overnight success,” it invalidates that place, which is where most of the art in this world is made.
I know you’ve received a lot of attention about work that’s about your own life. You seem like such a genuine person. How are you balancing the idea of Cheryl Strayed and the reality of being Cheryl Strayed at this moment?
I’m really glad that I had been writing essays, really personal essays, very raw and vulnerable stuff. So in some ways I got to kind of test the waters, it was a muscle I worked. I became familiar with negotiating that territory where you’re really being very vulnerable on the page without that equaling, essentially, letting everyone into all of your business. I think there’s that fine line between vulnerability on the page and transparency and confession.
There’s a lot of stuff that I haven’t ever written about, as Sugar or Cheryl. If you and I were not having an interview and we were just taking a walk as friends, there would be whole swaths of my life that we could discuss that I’ve never written about and never will. I think that because I’m so really open in my writing people think that they’re getting everything, that I’m giving them everything. I do give them everything when it comes to the thing that I’m trying to tell them. But there are other areas that are my private life and my private business, and if I feel like that there’s no reason to write certain things from a literary standpoint, I don’t write about them.