Sunday, May 4, 2008

What I learned from Augusten Burroughs

When you were a teenager, do you remember having heart palpatations when you were at a New Kids on the Block concert and you were close to, say, maybe Donnie Wahlberg? Yeah. I felt that way yesterday at the Free Library of Philadelphia when Augusten Burroughs walked on stage. 12 or so hours later, I still kinda have those butterflies.

My fellow Wilkes University MA in Creative Writing friend and classmate, Angie and I, along with her avid-reader friend, Shannon trekked into the city of brotherly love to see Augusten Burroughs read from his new memoir, A Wolf at the Table, which by the way is getting rave reviews from places like The Washington Post.

I cannot put to words how I felt when I read Running With Scissors. That book really gave me the courage to write my own memoir-- but at the same time, it also entertained the hell out of me. I don't think there is anyone else on this Earth like Augusten. In Running with Scissors, we learn that as a kid he loved shiny things and dreamed of fame. Now that he has it, guess what? He's just like you and me. He's honest, sincere and just so super-freaking inspiring to people like me. And he is funny as shit, too.

I did the unthinkable. I wrote him a fan/thank-you letter this morning. It's so strange-- when I worked in country radio, I had the really cool opportunity to meet some big names in the music biz-- and not so much with the big stars, but I also got to hang out and do some really cool things on a personal level with lots of singers (many who turned out to be one-hit wonders) that have had a lot of mainstream radio success. They were all cool, but it was so usual for me. I didn't get excited about meeting someone famous anymore. I don't get star-struck easy is what I am trying to say. Meeting Augusten was very different. He's truly someone I have related to for years. And I met him. And when he signed my book, he gave me writing advice and recommended a book to read (Elizabeth Berg- The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted.) There were hundreds in line ahead of us- but he didn't rush us. He wasn't tired. He wanted to talk to us. He's so humble.

I am not ready to share my story with the world just yet through this blog- but there are some things I never had the courage to put on paper yet-- some painful things I want to include in the memoir. Through reading Augusten, as well as the support from my Wilkes mentors, things are really coming together for me on the writing front. Finally. I am drafting it now, and will hopefully one day get to see it printed.

In his reading- which was FANTASTIC- he was just so animated. A Wolf at the Table is a little different than his past memoirs- this one is a told a little more seriously because as Augusten explained, he didn't have the humor defense mechanism developed yet- he was a lot younger. So as an aspiring memoirist, it was very cool to hear about this being in a totally different voice because it was a different time in his life. But Augusten Burroughs does not hide behind the podium. He walks around the stage with a wireless mic and tells us a story- he doesn't read to us. He shared it like he was talking to a few friends- not an auditorium filled with fans. He also reads his own audio books. I also listened to Running With Scissors and my god, did he do a stellar job. Makes me wonder why he never got into film or theater.

During the Q&A, he was just so open. He gave some great writing advice as well, describing the memoir process like I never heard before. Someone in the audience had asked if Augusten felt Scissors helped create the memoir craze-- which of course led to some "lying memoirs" so Augusten commented on that with an answer so amazing that I took notes on my checkbook (I didn't have my moleskine). The answer itself was one that I have been sort-of taught- that a memoir is the way we remember something. But the analogy he used was awesome. Maybe I'll post it later, but Angie and I were both blown away by his advice. He also quoted Einstein, that there is no one point of relation in the universe. We all see things from a different perspective. It was powerful. The whole freakin' night was just powerful.

And- if you have not read Augusten Burroughs. Do it. Read Running With Scissors first-- if you read that, I know you will fall in love with him too. Then, Dry. Then read the others- Possible Side Effects was great and so was Magical Thinking. I actually was with Augusten from the beginning because I bought Sellevision when it first came out- that's his only novel. I was a communications major, so I was always fascinated by TV stations..... Buy them from your favorite bookstore because I want his sales to soar. However, if you want you can also use the library or if you are local, borrow them from me.

But by golly, read Augusten Burroughs. Turn off the freakin' TV and read a reality book-- a memoir.

P.S. Speaking of courage, I have more. To really focus on my career, education and writing, I have decided to move into my own apartment in Shavertown- less than a mile from where I work. Out of respect for Dave, I won't publicly write a blog about the whole thing or share those kinds of feelings right now, but wanted to at least mention it because it goes along with this whole theme here-- but please know that everything is fine- it's on good terms and just something that I need to do. This week has really been a week of change! So, here is to new beginnings.

P.P.S- I didn't realize that I've blogged and written so much about him:


John Elder Robison said...

You know, you talk about being thrilled, meeting my brother, but we find it thrilling, meeting enthusiastic readers like you.


Donna T said...

John, thank you so,so much for your kind words. That means a lot that you took the time to read. You and your brother should be so proud of everything that you have accomplished. Thank you for sharing your stories.

Theresa said...

You should have let me know you were coming to Philly. We could have met up.

Glad you have fun!

Donna T said...

Theresa! Thanks for reading. I thought about it- but I was with two other people, so I figured it'd be too hard to coordinate stuff. ; ) Next time. There's a lot more I want to do in Philly. I never get down there, but after being there for a few hours I realized I need to get to the city more.

Theresa said...


I am a regular reader.

I agree. We are right near the Ambler train station so we take that rather than driving, unless what we plan requires a vehicle.

I really should take advantage of all of the great things there are to do in the city.

Let me know next time you want to head this way and we can make a day or weekend of it.


P.S. I am sure you remember the B and G thing.

Kristi Abbatemarco said...

keep on writing donna. im a fan!

i adore augusten borroughs. i have read all his memoirs and have also read sellevision. after reading a wolf at the table, i went and got myself john elder's book, look me in the eye. fantastic!

sweeet that he reads your blog!

keep on keepin on, donna. thank you for writing!

Kristi =)