After hello, this is my opening line to Joe, my acupuncturist, when I appear for my weekly session recently.
“These kind of have that effect, don’t they?” he says about our sessions.
I explain that while walking the four blocks there, all I could think about was how I was going to get something parmigiana after I left his office. I’m an emotional eater and I’ve gotten much better about steering clear of danger zones to make me feel better. But this day I was obsessing in my head.
There was no discernible reason for this, I further explained to Joe. Nothing had happened to send me down an emotional road. Something was just there, hanging over me. I felt like I needed to cry and the tears weren’t coming.
After being on the acupuncture table for a while, just me and a lot of needles, I sat up and realized I felt refreshed. I had taken a lot of deep breaths and I could feel myself relaxing during the session, like something beyond my control was taking over. I suddenly had no desire for comfort food and wound up craving vegetables instead.
The next day I woke up feeling blah again. It was raining, which typically doesn’t affect me much, but it put me in a place where I realized I wanted to do something to keep myself from succumbing to a downward spiral. I didn’t want to return to the parmigiana place. I have found that giving myself reasons to move about and experience things can help until I get my emotional footing.
That’s when I decided to go see Wild, the movie based on the book by Cheryl Strayed. I really enjoyed the book, her journey, her truth and I wanted to see what Reese Witherspoon would do with it, both as a producer and an actor. Some of Witherspoon’s previous movies are the ones I watch over and over, you know, the ones you can’t pass by if you’re channel surfing, i.e. Walk the Line, Legally Blonde, Sweet Home Alabama.
I settled into my seat in the theater in Union Square in New York City on the film’s opening day. It was rainy outside, which made it cozy on this mid-afternoon. My plan was to walk one block to the Strand bookstore afterwards and browse. That is a dreamy afternoon in the world of me.
When the movie opened and I saw the real Cheryl Strayed in a cameo role, driving a truck and dropping off Reese Witherspoon (playing Cheryl Strayed) at the place where she’d begin her journey on the Pacific Crest Trail, I was hooked. The symbolism was so perfect. I could almost hear Strayed saying, “Go ahead, Reese, you’ve got this. Tell my story. It’s your story now.” I recall author Elizabeth Gilbert expressing a similar sentiment to Julia Roberts when she played Gilbert in the Eat Pray Love movie.
How freeing and yet frightening it must be to release your story that way. To let someone execute a vision of what you lived. And not some happy-go-lucky story either. This is excruciating in parts – grieving mixed with bloody blisters, fear of potential harm in the wilderness melding with the reality of divorce, constant questioning of yourself converging with an actual lack of water on the trail. All of that provides contrast to the most divinely poignant moments with nature and with complete strangers.
Despite knowing how the film would end, I lived those bumps with Strayed through Witherspoon. The backstory clips were interspersed in a way that lent context and gravity to what was happening on the trail. I liked that Strayed wrote meaningful quotes in the log books on the trail along the way. It was purposeful. It was survival. Walking her way to peace.
In the book Strayed writes, “I was entering. I was leaving. California streamed behind me like a long silk veil. I didn’t feel like a big fat idiot anymore. And I didn’t feel like a hard-ass motherfucking Amazonian queen. I felt fierce and humble and gathered up inside, like I was safe in this world too.”
And because we’ve all felt like a big fat idiot and we’d all likely expect to feel like an Amazonian queen after embarking on this kind of adventure, we simply nod and acknowledge her for getting to this place that buoys her. I found myself craving a journey that would buoy me as well.
When the credits rolled, there were tears streaming down my cheeks in the dark theater. I’d finally cried. I still wasn’t sure why, cinematic excellence aside.
The rain had stopped, I realized, as I emerged from the theater. I walked to the Strand with the intent of taking a look at a book I’d seen on The New York Times Best Sellers Travel List called 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go. They didn’t have it, but I put my name on a list in case they get it.
Then I walked back out into the fresh air and mulled it all – the tears, my strong reaction to a story that doesn’t mirror my own, the emotional place I’d been in all week. Was it really all that hard to figure out? My own chronicled journey is in the hands of an agent. I know how hard it is to cut a vein and bleed all over the paper. And wait.
In the name of what, I often ask.
Maybe it’s so that someone else in a vulnerable place on a random day can feel, just acutely feel, when they hear my story. Just like Strayed’s did for me on this day.