Running With Augusten Burroughs
Let me just finish writing about Augusten Burrough’s memoirs before I forget what I’ve read.
I loved A Wolf at the Table so much that I just had to get his other books. After searching the second hand bookstores in my area, I found three more of his books. What can I say? I love this guy. I was reading Dry on the bus when the young woman sitting next to me said, “He’s one of my favourite authors.” Actually, she said it after I closed the book. And yeah, now, he’s also become one of my favourite authors.
In Running With Scissors, Augusten writes about his painful childhood. In the first chapter titled, “Something Isn’t Right,” he must have already known at ten years old that there’s something wrong with his mother. She wasn’t seeing Dr. Finch, the psychiatrist, just because of her marital problems, but because she’s crazy, as in psychotic crazy. His father was cold and distant and by the second chapter, his parents are already divorced. It was an explosive divorce.
When he was 13, his mother left him to live with the Finches because she could no longer handle him. The Finches were an eccentric and dysfunctional family.
I could relate to Augusten’s story. I was twelve when my parents separated and it was also an explosive separation. I was 15 when mother left me and my sister to live with relatives. Also a dysfunctional family. I love them dearly, but that’s the truth. I grew up in a dysfunctional family and was sent away to live in another dysfunctional family. But when I say dysfunctional, I say it like it is a term of endearment. (Sorry, folks. But I do love you all.)
Just when you think that you had a tough childhood, you read something like this and you feel lucky that this childhood didn’t happen to you. And once again, here’s a memoir that relates about the pains of growing up, about one’s trials and tribulations early in life. And it was written so beautifully and injected with humour. I think there’s only a chosen few who can do that.
I’ve read quite a few memoirs already and I think that the best way to relate about a painful childhood or experience is to either write it beautifully or with humour, or better yet, both.
Just a few interesting notes that I like to point out after reading this book:
Dr. Finch encouraged his children and patients to shout, scream, confront. Because as he said, if you don’t let the anger out, it will kill you. I do agree that sometimes it feels better when you let off the steam, but I don’t know, a shouting family? Is that any healthier?
Augusten said that the Finches showed him that you could make your own rules. Your life was your own and no adult should be allowed to shape it for you. At one point in the book, Augusten said that while he was living with the Finches, he had freedom. There were no rules at the Finches’ house, yet he felt trapped. “I wanted to break free. But free from what? And that was the problem. Because I didn’t know what I wanted to break free from. I was stuck.”
When Augusten was still living with his mother and he didn’t want to go to school, she wouldn’t force him and she would let him stay at home with her. When he was also living with the Finches, he’d skip school and the doctor even helped him stage a suicide attempt just so he’d have a valid reason to stay out of school. But he had to spend a month in a psychiatric hospital. I know, that’s just sick and weird.
Augusten also wrote about how he’d rather stay at home and write in his journal. I wonder if all memoirists kept journals. I’ve always wondered how they can remember details vividly from their childhood.
In Dry, Augusten writes about his life in advertising and about his alcoholism. His co-workers did an intervention and he agreed to check into rehab. He became sober and attended AA meetings. In this memoir, we get a glimpse of the life of this gay guy in his twenties struggling to fight the urge to drink and let go of his baggage. He wasn’t supposed to date anybody in his AA group, but he became involved with someone in his group.
I found it interesting how he, a gay guy, describes his feelings towards somebody that he’s attracted to. It’s the same feelings and emotions that I have experienced towards anybody that I have been attracted to. Gay or straight, we’re all the same. In Dry, I like how he wrote about his sexual feelings. It was so sweet and he wrote about it in sort of a discreet way.
In Running With Scissors, I was shocked at how he described his first sexual encounter, with a gay guy. But he wrote Running from his point of view as a child. I guess, when you have been taken advantage of at age 13, it will stick in your mind as a nasty experience. And there’s just no other way of saying it.
Dry is written like a novel and I love how he wrote it with his self-deprecating sense of humor. In the book, he used the word riveting to describe one of the stories that was shared in his group. Riveting is how I found his story. This has been a page-turner for me.
Magical Thinking is a collection of true stories. Funny, amusing, entertaining, and just brilliant writing. A couple of memorable ones are the one about his cleaning lady who was trying to rip him off and how he outsmarted her, and the one where he tried to kill a rat in his New York apartment. Magical Thinking is also the title of one of the stories in this book. Magical thinking, he explains, is the belief that we can influence events by thinking about them. Like for instance, how he willed his partner to let him have a dog, or how at 34, he decided to stop being an alcoholic and become a New York Times bestselling author. And look at him now.
I believe my youngest son has this (power?) influence, too. On November 1st, he came home complaining how he was forced to sign up for volleyball. Now, I don’t really think that he was forced against his will. The good mother and motivator that I am, I tried to sell it to him. Oh, that’s a good activity for you. You’ll get the exercise that you need. Still, he complained and begged me to not let him go to the tournament that was happening at the end of the month. But what’s the point of all these lessons and practice? Just go, I told him. The night before the tournament, he got ill. He had a fever and he had to stay home the next day. Coincidence or magical thinking?
Read my movie review of Running With Scissors here.