Thanks to a coworker of Chris’, we were offered last minute tickets to see author Augusten Burroughs do a live reading at Mount Holyoke college last night.
Augusten is best known for writing “Running With Scissors”, and Chris and I are both fans of his funny/dark/sad memoirs and short stories, as a matter of fact we have his whole collection.
Augusten was originally from the Northampton area, and he seemed happy to be back on familiar turf (it’s funny to be reading a well-known author and have him mention several familiar things about the Hadley area in his novels). He was very congenial and got everyone laughing, even though his subject matter was macabre.
His latest book is called ” A Wolf at the Table”, and its his darkest of memoirs, about his relationship with his father. He read a few excerpts from it and answered readers questions. One of the best responses he had was to a woman who said she identified with a lot of the tragic events in his stories (molestation, being pushed around from foster home to foster home, being abandoned by parents, etc…) and wanted to know what is the best way to write a memoir of her own, and she also wanted to know if writing about it helped him to “heal”.
He told her that he thinks the term “healing” is a bunch of psychobabble. That people never completely “heal” from things, and to try to seek absolute healing after terrible tragedies is futile. There are certain things, he said, that you will never fully heal from. The loss will feel like a huge hole in your chest at first, and you will wonder how you can possibly go on. You’ll have to rely on others to ground you at first. But then an amazing thing happens. The hole doesn’t dissapear, but you begin to develop a “musculature of the soul” around the empty spaces, and you are able to carry on with your life. He said, “I am so full of holes that I’m basically a piece of swiss cheese that can stand upright and shop. But I’m happy, because I’ve stopped trying to be “complete”, and “whole again”. I’ve simply learned how to live with the emptiness.”
His answer about where to begin writing was to start at the middle, and tell the absolute truth, as dirty and terrible as it seems. He said the best memoirs are those that are deeply honest. An embellished one doesn’t sound nearly as good as one that’s honest, even if it’s about something trite.
All in all, the talk was very inspiring and reminded me of the memoir class I was taking last year at GCC. I haven’t been writing in a while and I really need that in my life. So hopefully I can get back to the pen and notebook, no holds barred!