Guest Host: Marc Fisher
Augusten Burroughs is known for writing memoirs — including “Running with Scissors” and “Dry” — that unflinchingly and meticulously detail his unconventional childhood and struggles with alcoholism. Now, Burroughs is moving into another, perhaps unexpected, realm: self-help. He simultaneously criticizes and contributes to the $11 billion industry with his latest book “This is How.”
- Augusten Burroughs Author, "This is How: Help for the Self"
Burroughs talks about the self-help industry and how “healing” can sometimes be a less useful idea than honesty:
MR. MARC FISHERWelcome back. I'm Marc Fisher of the Washington Post sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Well, it's an industry worth more than $10 billion a year and one of the few fields where growth didn't slow during the recession. And that's the self-help industry where the premise behind every book is that we the readers have a long way to go and that try as we may we're never going to get there because then of course there'd be no one left to buy self-help books. Well, writer Augusten Burroughs thinks that there's danger in the self-help genre, maybe too much positivity and not enough cold hard truth.
MR. DEREK MCCOYAnd so he's written his own self-help book sharing lessons he learned the hard way. They won't make you perfect but then again perfection can be overrated. And the book is called "This is How: Help for the Self." It was published yesterday, and welcome to the program. This is an unusual self-help book in part because you're not someone who's been thought of as a self-help writer. You've been a memoirist, you wrote a novel. And what you've written about yourself is often about highly traumatic stuff. You've had a troubled upbringing and all of that. And you sort of reinvented yourself. So what makes you the person to be giving others advice?
MR. AUGUSTEN BURROUGHSYou know, I think it's, by virtue -- I mean, I was raised sort of without parents. You know, my mother was mentally ill and my father was an alcoholic. And, you know, my memoir "Running with Scissors" I wrote about how I was given away by my mother to live with her psychiatrist who was nuts. So as a kid there were really no adults that I could turn to for advice or counsel. And, you know, I was subject to just a tremendous amount of, you know, adversity. And in order to solve the problems I faced I really had to fix them myself. And the only way to do that was to be just brutally honest with myself.
MR. AUGUSTEN BURROUGHSSo, you know, as the years had passed, you know, as an author people have come up to me and said, you know, so many thousands of times, thank you for writing, you know, "Running with Scissors" or "Dry" or one of the books. And, you know, I didn't write them to be helpful. I mean, I didn't -- you know, that was never part of the plan and, you know, I'm glad they are. But I felt that there were some things I could share with people that really may be more directly helpful.
MR. AUGUSTEN BURROUGHSAnd, you know, self-help as a genre of literature, it's not one that I've ever engaged with. I mean, my parents, you know, they were both well educated people and had lots of books, but self-help books were not among them.
FISHERThey probably looked down on them.
BURROUGHSProbably, yeah, and I think I did, too. I sort of sneered at them, you know, with a sort of -- and the idea of being a self-help author did not appeal to me. But this is -- but what does appeal to me and has, you know, since I was very young, as a matter of fact, was giving people insight that I can see, you know. When I'm presented with a problem, it's often -- not always, but often very clear to me what needs to be done to solve it. And I think that that's because I don't have sort of a network of assumptions and beliefs built into me. You know, probably because how I was raised.
BURROUGHSAnd this was an opportunity to really say to people across the board with, you know, weight loss -- I mean, it doesn't really matter sort of the topic because the point is the same. And it's just different -- you've got to be -- you've got to get to the absolute rock bottom truth of your circumstances in order to solve your problem. And that sounds really simple but it's tricky because often you can't see the truth because of, you know, how you were raised or what you believe or, you know, you'd never think to look at one of the myths, you know, within you.
BURROUGHSSo this book sort of approaches it from many different angles and each angle is the same thing essentially.
FISHERYou can join our conversation with Augusten Burroughs by calling 1-800-433-8850 or email us at email@example.com. If you have read self-help books on a regular basis or if you don't and have a good reason why not give us a ring. What do you think the qualifications for giving good advice are? And is -- if you've read Augusten Burroughs' other books do you think he's the guy who should be giving advice?
FISHERYou know, you write very early on in the book you say self help makes you feel worse. And you start out the book with a story of a woman who gets on the elevator with you and she tries to get you to put on a big smile and she'll even lend you one of hers. And really what you want her to do is die. I mean, you have a very visceral reaction to her. And to my mind that's a good and natural reaction to such inane behavior.
FISHERYet you then sit down and write a book that ends with this soaring sort of Barrack Obama-like love song to the idea that sort of we are the change that we're looking for. Is there a contradiction there?
BURROUGHSYeah, there is a contraction there. You know, there's a side of me that's sort of cynical and I think that, you know, my reaction when a -- I mean, I had gone through something really painful in my personal life. And I was on an elevator and a woman said, you know, whatever it is it can't be that bad. And I just thought, wow, it shows? You know, but then I thought, well how do you know it can't be that bad? And what if it is that bad, you know?
BURROUGHSAnd I had this visceral gut reaction that smiling is not going to be helpful, you know. And I came across a study done by some Canadian researchers and it was specifically -- it wasn't really self help bits that's detrimental. It was affirmations which are -- you know, I was an alcoholic for many years and went through rehab. And one of the things we did in rehab was to perform affirmations. And the concept is, you know, you sort of focus on something that you'd like to improve or change that you don't feel you presently possess, you know. So if you were overweight you might look in the mirror and say, I am thin and beautiful and I love the way I look.
BURROUGHSAnd when I was doing that, you know, in a rehab context I felt ridiculous. And I felt like this is just a complete waste of time. And that's really what this research out of Canada did. It just substantiated what I feel like I just instinctively know, which is all that sort of thing does is, you know, you betray yourself. You know, you're looking in the mirror and lying to yourself. It's much better, I think, to just be really honest with yourself.
BURROUGHSI mean, if you want to -- if you're here and you want to go to California you kind of need to know where here is. And if here is I feel really crummy about myself. On the other hand, I love people and I love possibility. You know, I have definitely had a great many challenges and adversities in my life, but I've not been crushed by them.
BURROUGHSAnd that's because even through, you know, something rather terrible, you know, childhood sexual abuse and, I mean, all these sort of kind of unspeakable things, I have gained tremendous insight. And I value what I have gained from even the worst of my experiences. And I really want people, you know, other people to feel the same way. And I wasn't always this sort of touchy feely. It didn't really happen until I became an author.
BURROUGHSAnd before I was an author, before I was published, you know, when I thought about being an author, I thought of a stack of books at a bookstore. And the first time I saw that for about three seconds it was pretty amazing and it was never amazing again. The one thing I never considered ever were the actual people who were going to read the book and meeting the people. And when I did it changed me on a very fundamental level. I felt much more connected to humanity and I felt much -- in a way that I had never felt before.
FISHERBut this must've been a difficult transition, I would think, because your persona in the book initially is as this very skeptical guy who, you know, doesn't -- thinks that a lot of self help is a bunch of malarkey who, you know, you mentioned your time in rehab. You talk about AA as being medieval. You have this animosity toward the woman who wants you to smile. And then on the other hand there's this sort of feel good sunshiny you-are-the-best-that-you-can-be feeling to the latter part of the book.
BURROUGHSWell, at the end of the book I talk about -- you know, I mean, it's sort of a cosmological thought that, you know, we are all made of stars, Carl Sagan. That's what it really is. It's not so much that it's sunny, that it's just on a very literal level. You're a molecule. You know, the calcium in your bones, you know, may very well have been part of a star 20, you know, trillion years ago.
BURROUGHSAnd I am -- I don't find words like healing to be particularly useful and self-help jargon to be particularly helpful. But -- because I think it's -- I'm a real fan of specificity. And I don't think -- you know, people talk -- there's a lot of talk about healing in our culture. We just want to heal, imperative healing. You know, the truth is there're some things you're just not going to heal from. And that's something people need to know. I think more than coddling people sort of need a friendly, kindly well intentioned slap in the face.
BURROUGHSYou know, there are -- in order to overcome problems, sometimes you're the one that actually has to change. You know, you've got to change. And you don't need to be sort of necessarily soothed and told that, well if that's how you feel you just need to, you know, learn to feel good about how you -- sometimes you do need to make a change. It's like with alcoholism and drinking. You know, I've known people who have struggled and been in and out and in and out and in and out. And people who say, you know, it's just very difficult for me.
BURROUGHSAnd I think what's difficult -- it's not difficult to remain -- to not drink. I mean, it's extra work to lift the glass, you know. But what's difficult about sobriety is admitting that, yeah, I keep failing this because I actually would rather spend time -- and in a way I love the booze more than I love my daughter or my wife. And I must be a horrible person. And that's a horrible thing to admit but there's a certain truth to that. There's a certain truth to that that's important to admit. It's important to admit the gravity of the addiction so that you can really appreciate how significant it is and how important it is to find something that you feel stronger about than the drug.
FISHERWe're talking with Augusten Burroughs the author of bestselling memoirs "Running with Scissors" and "Dry." His latest book is "This is How: Help for the Self" and it's written in a very tough tone in a sense. It has that love that you were talking about but it also has a very direct tough message, sort of tough love in which you tell readers -- and I get the sense that you're speaking to a woman most of the time. And there are several chapters where you're quite explicitly aiming this at women.
FISHERAnd you're saying to them, it doesn't matter whether you think you ought to be thinner or it doesn't matter that you think you ought to dress in a certain way. What matters is who you are, which is a kind of traditional self-help message in a way but you phrase it in a very tough way that is very different from most self-help books.
BURROUGHSWell, I don't really actually think I say that. What I say is that when I'm confronted with someone -- I have a friend, you know, who's been dieting for 20 years. And when you've been dieting for 20 years, I have to wonder is it that -- is thin real? A, is thin real? I mean, I know an anorexic girl whose 70 pounds and she's not thin. So does anyone ever get to thin? But when you've been dieting and failing and dieting and failing, I think it's like me and my living situation.
BURROUGHSI want to have a great swanky apartment. You know, I've always wanted that and I don't. I live in -- it's disorganized. It's got like 900 computers in it and parts, but that's because as much as I want to want to be that guy with a great apartment, I don't want to be him all that much. And I think that with weight it is sometimes the case that you really, you know, want to rally and you want to be that thin -- but there's other stuff that's occupying your gray matter. And you just don't want it as -- you want to be that person more than you actually want the thin.
BURROUGHSAnd I feel that you should then stop pretending you want it. Because there's nothing wrong with not, you know, having something that you don't actually truly want in the first place.
FISHERYou can join our conversation with Augusten Burroughs by calling 1-800-433-8850 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And you are someone who has written at great length about the terrible things that have happened to you in your life, and yet you refuse to be seen as a victim. In fact, the whole notion of victimhood sort of makes you angry.
FISHERAnd you encourage other people to reject that label as well. Why is it so important to say I'm not a victim, this is who I am?
BURROUGHSIt's important because inside of victimhood is like -- I was watching a little kid fairly recently fall down, you know, a five or six-year-old fall down and hit his chin on the grass. And before he cried, he looked around and then he wailed and an adult came over. And I thought well, that's an experience probably all of us have had at some point as kids, and in a way that kind of remains.
BURROUGHSIn victimhood, there is -- being a victim is seeking -- it's depending upon someone else, someone else's actions, you know. Admit you were wrong. Give me an apology. Well, you shouldn't have done that. And my point is like, look, you've got a flat tire. We're by the side of the road, it's 3:00 in the morning. Are you going to get down and fix this wheel or not? Yeah, you know, someone else threw the bottle out the window that cut the tire, but let's fix it. It's really about triage.
BURROUGHSAnd to me, what's more important than spending your life, you know, seeking apologies and whatever from the victim point of view is to fix yourself because no one's going to. No one else is going to do that. You've got to do it yourself.
FISHERLet's hear from Natalie in Reston, Va. Natalie, you are on with Augusten Burroughs.
NATALIEHi. This is really exciting for me. You are my favorite author ever. I read everything that you've written.
NATALIEAnd I just wanted to say that my family life was ridiculously unstable growing up. So I feel, for me, that your writing has already been sort of a self help for me.
NATALIEBut in particular, "Dry," both of my parents are addicts and my childhood best friend growing up OD'd a few years ago. I had read "Dry" before that happened and was able to go back and read it after he had passed away and recommended it to his mother, who also found it helpful. So I just wanted to say, you know, thank you for sharing your stories.
NATALIEThey are life-changing really.
FISHERThanks, Natalie. I mean, you probably hear things like that fairly often. Is it that kind of feedback that made you look back at your other work and say, there was an element of self help in those books?
BURROUGHSYeah, there is. You know, like I said before, as soon as I became an author and met the actual people who are reading my books I felt so much more connected to humanity. I mean, many of the experiences that I've written about, when I wrote them I felt like the only person who's gone through this, you know. And now that I see, you know, it's just a vast universe of people who've gone through so many different kinds of things.
BURROUGHSI mean, I'll never forget actually the first time I was on tour for "Running with Scissors," I had just written it and I was in Los Angeles. And I just never thought about how people would think. It just never occurred to me. You know, it's my story. And before I went onto the stage, I thought, what have I done? I mean, what have I got in that book? This is the worst mistake. And I went out and of course I'm in Los Angeles and there's, you know, celebrities and everyone's sort of really well dressed. And, you know, no one's had a carbohydrate for 12 years.
BURROUGHSAnd I'm thinking this is just -- and people had read it by then and they came up to me one after another and they said, I -- they told me what they related. You know, I had a thing or I was this or I was molested or I was also a -- you know, and I was just floored by the fact that the outside, you know, the well-dressed, she didn't match the inside. They'd also gone through this rotting festering feeling. And that sort of fused me with people.
BURROUGHSAnd in a way, that was the genesis to this book because it's like I don't want people wasting their lives trying to go out and get confident, more confident, more -- when it's just not a real thing. Confidence isn't a real thing. All confidence is is just focusing on what you're doing and not thinking about what other people are thinking of you. That's literally all it is.
BURROUGHSI mean, I've always been a confident person on stage or in front of people and I've observed myself. When I'm in the midst of being confident, do I have some special emotion that I feel? No. It's focus and that takes practice, but it's not like years. You know, it can be weeks. It's very tangible.
FISHERLet's hear from Angela in Bowie, Md. Angela, you're on the air.
ANGELAHi, thanks for taking my call. And, Augusten, thanks so much for your work. It's fabulous and was a life changer for me as well...
ANGELA...and I really appreciate it. And I got the opportunity to hear you speak in Pittsburgh some years ago and that was a great experience. I want to say, you know, as somebody who considers herself a self-help junky that I'm excited to read this book. Because the ones that stay on my shelf book after book after book are the ones that really tell it like it is and tell me -- give me a tool to fix myself and say hey, you know, if you want -- you either want to fix this or you don't.
ANGELAYou know, there's a great book that -- on organizing and it seemed like a silly thing, but the author said, hey, if you kick your shoes off by the front door every single day, stop convincing yourself you want a shoe rack in your closet. You don't. And I hear you saying something very similar (unintelligible) ...
BURROUGHSThat's so true. What's the name of that book? I need it.
ANGELAWell, that's "Organizing From the Inside Out."
ANGELABut yeah. So I really greatly appreciate that, and I also appreciate hearing, you know, you speak a little bit about what is that confidence or that hubris that you're able to put out there? I grew up with an alcoholic father and an outhouse, and people are always asking me, how come you find a way to work at home full time, you know. Why are you so bold? Why are you so confident? And it's the resourceful we learned and turned into skill. So thanks for giving me another tool, and I really appreciate you taking my call.
BURROUGHSWorking at home and having any kind of life you want is the payment you are owed for growing up with an outhouse.
ANGELAThat's exactly it.
FISHERWell, and the point that she makes, I mean, it was almost as if she'd taken some of those lines directly out of the book where she talks about how you have riff about how willpower is sort of a fraud, and that really the only way you get something done is if you need to do it so deeply that willpower is not even an issue.
BURROUGHSThat's right. I mean, willpower is like a little engine and it can be useful, but it's temporary, and it's, you know, it's gonna -- willpower, you know, is gonna like run out of power eventually. You need to make a change on more of a fundamental just a -- that deep, deep, deep, deep level. It's like, I mean, if you're child, you know, was trapped under a car or a boulder or something, I mean, you would not need willpower to go and like motivate yourself to lift up the car, or even if you didn't have the strength, you would simply do it or you would die doing it. One or the other.
BURROUGHSI mean, that would be it. There would be no -- because you would need to lift that car up and you would need nothing else in the world but to lift that car off your child. That would be the thing you needed, and if there was no one around to help you, then you would either do it, or you'd just drop dead from an aneurysm trying, and that's -- you kind of have to do that in a lot of facets of your life, you know? You really do.
FISHERAfter a short break, we will continue our conversation with author, Augusten Burroughs. He wrote in his new book "This is How: Help for the Self," he says truth is accuracy. We'll talk about the meaning of truth and -- with Augusten Burroughs after this break. I'm Marc Fisher, and this is "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
FISHERWelcome back. I'm Marc Fisher, and this is "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." We're talking with author Augusten Burroughs, author of the best-selling memoirs, "Running with Scissors," and "Dry," and his latest book just published yesterday is called "This is How: Help for the Self." And in the book you write about truth. You say that truth is accuracy, and you say, I want to urge people to recognize not your truth or my truth, but the in-your-face, shackle-cracking, buck-stopping factual truth.
FISHERAnd that's, I mean, that's -- you're trying to drive people to accept things about themselves, but that's very hard to achieve isn't it? And didn't discover that as a memoirist, author of several books about yourself, and we see so many memoirs being challenged on accuracy grounds, and writers defense as well, they're true even if they're not accurate. So is there -- is there a contradiction there where memoirs inevitably because they involve memory they're not quite accurate, and yet you're really insisting on that kind of accuracy in people's examinations of themselves.
BURROUGHSI'm insisting on that as a goal, which is probably an impossible goal. And yes, writing a memoir, you know, you can do it honestly and as truthfully as possible, or you can take liberty and make things up. And if you're -- you can do either, but you really should know which you're doing and be up front about it. And the thing with truth and accuracy, especially in relation to like -- in respect to like overcoming something in the past, you know, when people -- everyone has sort of baggage they want to overcome, and, you know, you can sit in a therapist's office for 20 years and try to go revisit those moments, and the problem with that -- the flow is twofold.
BURROUGHSOne, time itself moves forward, you know, it doesn't move in reverse. It's woven into the very fabric of the universe, forward momentum, you know. There is that sort of sense of move forward, but you cannot -- the past is literally -- it's gone. It's no longer real when it's passed. Evidence that it exists certainly we have, and, you know, scars and such, but the past, you can't go back and actually find out well, what was in my abuser's head. What was their thought process. You can't ever do that.
BURROUGHSIt's really difficult to gain accuracy. You can speculate, and you can perhaps gain accuracy like I like to think I do with my memoirs. You know, I've got a -- apparently a very good memory for distant stuff, and -- but that's one side of it, and that's actually in reply to the question you asked before about how a memoir can be -- I forgot how you phrased it, but -- truthful, but not necessarily accurate.
FISHERBut not accurate, mm-hmm.
BURROUGHSWell, that comes about from, I mean, I'm gonna just give you a visual analogy. If you were driving by a car accident and you saw this big car, and the front of it was all crushed up and oh, you knew people died, I mean, you just knew they were dead because it was unsurvivable, and you couldn't -- you were on the opposite side of the road and it's haunted you for years seeing this because, you know, but if you were inside the car, what if it's a, you know, a very well-engineered sedan with, you know, very strong A pillars and the people in the car, the passenger compartment, maybe that's unscathed, and maybe the radio still works, and they're talking about how, wow, we're gonna be late the car's totaled, and we always hated grey anyway.
BURROUGHSSo who's right? The person who says, I saw a car accident, it was so destructive and I'm sure they're all dead, or the people inside the car who had the car accident and say, well, we had car accident today and it was nothing, and who's right? Well, you know, they're both kind of right in a way. As long as they're being truthful with what they say or what they think they saw. Now, it becomes sort of a fake -- a dishonest situation when the observer or the participant says -- add features.
BURROUGHSOh, there was a school bus filled with children and it slammed into it. Well, you didn't see that. So that's sort of how it can be both truthful and inaccurate.
FISHERBut you have, in your previous books there were claims despite all of your efforts to be as accurate as you could be, and despite having a great memory, there are always people who pop up and say hey, that's not how I saw it. I saw the accident from a different perspective.
FISHERAnd we have one example after another of memoirists from Greg Mortenson to James Frey, and most recently, this controversy over what Mike Daisey did or didn't do in reporting his theater piece about Chinese workers...
FISHER...with Apple products. Is there an essential problem with the genre that you're always going to be challenged on the accuracy of what you write?
BURROUGHSYou know, I have no idea if there's a central problem with it, and I'll probably be challenged because I'm a memoirist. But the -- what -- my experience was, I mean, they -- the family that I wrote about in "Running with Scissors," came forward and they didn't just complain, I mean, they filed litigation, and it went on for two years and it settled in my favor because I actually didn't lie, you know?
BURROUGHSThe -- I think -- but I think that it's fine to write a memoir and invent stuff if you want. You might want to write a memoir for example, and then just pulling this out of thin air, you might want to write a memoir, and you might want to add some sort of surreal detail, you know, like, my mother had fairy wings. I mean, you might want to do something like that because it's a piece of art, and if you do something like that, I mean, there's no shame in, you know, pouring your imagination into a work of art. There's no shame in that.
BURROUGHSA memoir is not a piece of, you know, court stenography. It's just not, and I don't think readers -- I mean, as much as the media sort of asked and asked and asked and asked and asked if I lied, actual real people didn't, you know. They just didn't. You know, I don't think they really cared, or maybe they did but they didn't ask.
FISHERPeople see the truth -- in any work of art, there's kind of an elemental level of truth that either people see or they don't see, and in the new book, you're asking people to see that truth in themselves, and you're asking them not to look back so much, you know, as you were saying before, the past is not -- you can't recapture it. But in your case, you have really totally reinvented yourself. You have a different name from the name you were born with. You reinvented yourself in many ways, and yet you're asking people in this book to be true to themselves. Is there a problem -- a disconnect there?
BURROUGHSNo. You know what it is, it's that I made a lot of mistakes in my life. I keep making them. I keep learning. So I changed my name, and the reason I did, I did it when I was 18 years old because I did not want to be that person who went through that "Running with Scissors" childhood, and, I mean, I like my name. It's fine. I've had it for longer now -- I was a Chris before, and now I'm Augusten. I've been Augusten for longer, but hmm, it didn't actually work. I didn't actually, you know, get to not be that person. So I learned something there.
BURROUGHSEach -- I mean, I just -- I astound myself with the lies I tell myself, you know, about being happy with this, or I'm gonna be -- I'm gonna like that, or, you know, and the upside to that is that I get better and better and better, and faster and faster and faster, and it becomes more second nature for me to be myself, to do what I want to -- just to say what I want to say and be who I am, and not, you know, I mean, I was ashamed, you know, I started -- I wanted to write a self-help book in 2008, but it was like unthinkable because I didn't read -- it seemed cheesy to me.
BURROUGHSIt seemed like, oh, I don't want to have one of those, but, you know, it's -- that was just sort of in a way fighting who I am. I mean, the things is that...
FISHERSo you're still Chris in a way?
BURROUGHSWell, I've been Augusten for so long that if we had a Chris here in the room and someone called Chris, I...
FISHERYou wouldn't even...
BURROUGHS...I don't -- yeah. That's happened, and I don't even -- it doesn't even register. It's just, you know...
FISHERBut you're still the same person?
BURROUGHSBut I'm Chris when I got to Dothan, Alabama, I'm Chris.
BURROUGHSWhen I go to my uncle and aunt in Dothan, I'm Chris.
FISHERLet's here from Patrick in Arlington, Va. Patrick?
PATRICKYeah, hi. I wanted to talk with Augusten about philosophy. I'm actually a student of philosophy at the University of Maryland, and I guess my question is, is don't you need, in order to improve yourself, you need to have an idea of how to improve yourself or how the world should be, and so shouldn't people that are wanting to prove themselves study philosophy which is the idea of the prescription of this is how my life should be, this is how everyone's life should be, and what he thought about that idea. Thank you.
BURROUGHSSure. Well, I think it would be fantastic if people studied philosophy, if they taught, you know, introduction of philosophy in the fourth grade, I mean, I think that would be great. But, I do think that you don't necessarily have to have a -- or know, you don't have to know the solution, but you do have to be specific with something that you want to stop, or change or grow from. You need to have, you know, a direction, and I think that's sort of what you were asking. I mean, you do need to have, you know, if not this, what?
BURROUGHSAnd, um, one has to find that what. There's no book you can open that will give you that what, you know. That is something that a person has to find for themselves, but what I hope to do with this, is just keep hammering and hammering and hammering and hammering basically the same point over and over and over again, and through different doorways. That's a terrible analogy, but you know what I mean, of what the truth looks like from this perspective, and what a little bit of lie looks like from that perspective.
BURROUGHSI mean, you can be a very honest, honest person and not be living a truthful life and not even know it.
FISHERAre you better off having had all the trauma that you lived through? Do you become a better person for having suffered?
BURROUGHSBetter than what?
FISHERBetter than someone who hasn't?
BURROUGHSI don't necessarily think so. I mean, I think it really depends on how you respond to the suffering. You know, if I were, you know, sort of whining about it and complaining, and I don't think that would be useful. I think in relation to myself, I can only really compare myself to other versions of myself, you know, version 1.0, and I'm a lot better now than the person I was when I was 24, you know, when -- in 19 -- was it '97, someone who meant just everything to me died. It was Pighead from "Dry," and I made his death about me.
BURROUGHSI mean, I made his whole death about me, and that's -- I'm better now than I was then. I wouldn't do that now. But no, I'm not better than other people. It's not really a think about -- there's no sort of hierarchy, and I'm certainly not coming from some oh, spiritual plane or a plane of superiority and enlightenment. My -- I mean, in a way, someone asked me this in an interview, isn't it a bit like the blind leading the blind? And it is like the blind leading the blind in a way.
BURROUGHSBut if you woke up suddenly unable to see, would you rather kind of have someone who's got book knowledge and maybe a degree, five degrees and a very popular pamphlet on learning to accept your blindness, or would you rather have somebody take your elbow who can't see and never has, and can warn you, you know, when there's been a busy dog 300 feet ahead because you can hear the sound the shoes make. I mean, it's just a very -- I make a lot of mistakes, plus I've had a lot of really lousy stuff happen to me, and that is -- and I'm smart, and that's useful to people
FISHERJust a little bit of time left, but throughout the book, there are these quick statements you make, very decisive things, you say, delay is deadly. You say decisions are beautiful.
FISHERThese are -- obviously these three-word summaries of a lot of thinking. Did you start out with those little statements, or did you come to them after a lot of thought? What was the writing process like on that?
BURROUGHSOh, no. The writing process was a mess. I have no organization when it comes to writing. I don't -- none at all. I just -- I have like -- I'm propelled forward by almost a physical sensation in my chest to make something clear. I want to get a point across and make it clear, and I'm really unaware of the actual mechanics of the writing, if I have three word sentences, I mean, I couldn't tell you is the book beautifully written, or it is horrible and hacked together. I honestly can't tell you.
BURROUGHSBut what I can tell you is that it's got a lot of useful stuff in it. I've not ever been someone who's like very -- the writing is just -- I don't even -- it's second nature.
FISHERAugusten Burroughs is the author the best-selling memoirs, "Running with Scissors," and "Dry." His latest book is called "This is How: Help for the Self, Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude, and More for Young and Old Alike." That's a long title.
BURROUGHSIt sounds so much better in your voice.
FISHERWell, thanks so much for being here.
BURROUGHSThank you for having me.
FISHERI'm Marc Fisher of the Washington Post sitting for Kojo Nnamdi. Thanks for listening.