Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? –Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”
Dear Sugar Radio recently taped two podcast episodes in front of a live audience in Portland, OR. I decided to attend–even though I live no where near Portland, OR. For details on how that happened see Part 1.
I made it to the hotel with plenty of time to walk to Revolution Hall.
“You walked?” My grandma was utterly scandalized when she heard that part.
“It wasn’t very far and Portland is a very walkable city.”
“Alright then—keep going.”
It started drizzling on my way over, but not much. I was surprised that there were more people queuing outside the building even though I arrived only about 10 minutes before the doors were set to open. To my surprise, I was allowed to enter the building right away. I made my way upstairs to the theater and suddenly understood—a long line had already formed in front of the main theater doors. That’s the part that would be opening in a few minutes.
I wandered over to the back of the line and resolved myself to a long wait. After just a few minutes, though, an employee clued those of us in the back that there was another set of doors with almost no line just around the corner. A few fast-paced steps later and I was near the front of the other line. A few minutes after that, the doors were open and I found myself in the 5th row from the front. I was ready.
There was a huge backdrop reading “Dear Sugar Radio” across the back of the stage behind large red armchair and a beige love-seat. The arm chair was for Cheryl Strayed while Steve Almond and the guest speaker would sit on the couch. I had originally thought that I would be watching one episode with two guest speakers, but it soon became apparent that there would be two episodes taped that night. Works for me!
Each episode of Dear Sugar Radio starts with a voice-over of Cheryl while the theme song plays. For the first year or so, the theme was “I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl,” by Nina Simone, but sometime around January they switched to an original song played by the band Wonderly and sung by Angela Freeman. I got a little thrill when Wonderly started playing the song live at the start of the first episode. Then Angela Freedman strolled on stage, belted into the microphone, and sauntered away. And so it began.
Both episodes followed this format: opening song, introduction of the episode’s theme, introduction of the episode’s guest, reading and discussion of a letter from a listener, and Dear Sugar-style Q&A. Each episode ended with a live song played by a musical guest. I’m not going to give a complete summary of each one because I think it would be better to just listen to them.
The first episode focused on the idea of reinvention and featured writer Lidia Yuknavitch. I had read Lidia’s novel, The Small Backs of Children, on the train to Portland, so it was very fresh it my mind. There is a chapter in that book called, “White Space”. It is only six pages long, but it is some of the most beautiful and complex writing I have ever read in my life. I am a better writer just for having read those six pages. [Thank you, Lidia! P.S. I loved your red boots!]
The second episode focused on addiction and featured writer Sarah Hepola. Sarah spoke about her own experiences as a recovering alcoholic in response to that episode’s letter. I started reading her memoir, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget, the next day. I have never drunk to the extent that Sarah describes, but I definitely related to many of the insecurities that she cited as reasons she drank such as building up courage in social settings. I also loved her writing style. Steve read a few excerpts from the book during the podcast that he especially loved, but really the entire book is full of beautiful sentences.
Like I said earlier, both episodes ended with a Dear Sugar version of a Q&A. Rather than having audience members ask questions in a microphone, someone had gone around with blank index cards while we were waiting in line so to allow questions of a more anonymous and intimate nature. Cheryl and Steve gave advice that night regarding such topics as infidelity, hiking, writing real-life events, and parenting. I didn’t ask a question that night. I thought of a couple I could have asked over the next few days, but in the moment I was too full of euphoria to remember that, just like everybody else, I have problems.
I walked back to my hotel in actual rain, rather than just drizzle, but at that point I was way beyond caring. There was a piano in the parking lot of Revolution Hall and some was playing in the rain. I didn’t recognize the tune, but in the moment it was magic.