1027 A friend of mine emailed me recently to ask for help with a personal essay. It was a short piece about how all the great stories seem to be about doing heroin or cheating on your spouse.

She’s not imagining that. There are some great stories out there about doing heroin and cheating on your spouse.

The piece reminded me of certain “envy essays” I’ve seen around on writer’s blogs, The New York Times, and in interviews. “I’m so jealous of Lena Dunham/Cat Marnell/Cheryl Strayed.” Very talented and determined people have these feelings.

It seems everyone I encounter in literary circles has had a Cheryl Strayed moment, a moment in which something Strayed has written, as the author of Wild or as The Rumpus’ dispenser of hard truths – “Dear Sugar,” has deeply resonated. For me, it would have to be this “Dear Sugar” response:

“Writing is hard for every last one of us—straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig. You need to do the same. … So write, Elissa Bassist. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.”

It’s a quote I’d passed along to my creative nonfiction students one semester with my demure modification, “write like a mother fudgsicle.” But that’s what poises Strayed’s work for maximum impact. She doesn’t modify or shy away. She tells it like it is.  And Strayed’s circle of influence is rapidly widening as a result.

Know any writers? Facebook and Twitter much? If so, you know that last week VIDA announced its 2012 Count. For three years, VIDA’s pie charts have shown in stark relief the gender bias at several top-tier literary publications. Yet for many of the writers and publishers engaged in heated discussions about The Count at the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in Boston, the “real story” was in VIDA’s three-year comparisons, which looked at publications’ numbers since the first Count in 2010.

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Another year has come and gone, and it’s time once again to present The Nobbies, the official book awards of The Nervous Breakdown.

Below you’ll find this year’s winners, our picks for the best books of 2012.

Congrats to the victors, and their publishers.

And thanks, as always, for reading.

-BL

Cheryl Strayed and my husband Lars met when she wandered by the open window of our vacation rental in Sayulita, Mexico with her laptop open, looking desperately for a WiFi signal. She and Lars briefly bonded over their mutual and depressing need to be wired in paradise, and Lars pointed her toward a coconut palm that had the most reliable signal.

Why she needed connectivity in paradise was to communicate with her editors about the first draft of WILD, which she had delivered the day before her family left on this celebratory trip to Mexico.

Dear Sugar, 

I read your column religiously. I’m twenty-two. From what I can tell by your writing, you’re in your early forties. My question is short and sweet: What would you tell your twentysomething self if you could talk to her now?                                                                                                              

Love,

Seeking Wisdom 

Writers are by definition obsessed with words. And when it comes down to it, unless you’re really plucky, there are two or three words you’re stuck with for life: your name. Every other week we’ll ask a different writer five or so questions on the subject.

This week we talk to Cheryl Strayed, the New York Times bestselling author of the memoir Wild (Alfred A. Knopf), the advice essay collection Tiny Beautiful Things (Vintage Books), and the novel Torch (Houghton Mifflin). Strayed has written the “Dear Sugar” column on TheRumpus.net since March 2010, and she’s a founding member of VIDA: Women In Literary Arts, and serves on its board of directors. Raised in Minnesota, Strayed now lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, the filmmaker Brian Lindstrom, and their two children.

What do you do when your mother dies and you feel lost in the world, angry and hell-bent on self-destruction? You take a 1,000-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Or at least, that’s what Cheryl Strayed did in Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Knopf). This is an epic journey across mountains and deserts—and along the way we are forced to endure snow and rain, intense heat and brutal cold—a passenger in the overloaded backpack that Cheryl Strayed calls “Monster.” While this is certainly a memoir—and we do spend time inside her head thinking about the death of her mother, her relationship with her family, and her troubled history with men—it is just as much a tale of wanderlust, the outdoors, and an education that only Mother Nature can provide.

Early on, Strayed (which later morphs into “Starved,” the letters on her necklace difficult to read at times) gives us a bit of backstory to help us understand why she is doing this: