Thursday, May 24, 2012
"This is How" by Augusten Burroughs
I've never read anything by Burroughs, but I'd heard he was funny, so I thought "why not"? I mean, if I won, it wasn't like I was going to be out any money, and perhaps I'd discover a new author.
Well, I really don't know what to think about Burroughs after reading this book. It sounds like it should be funny from the blurb on the back. After all, what would you think when you read that the author will cover topics such as:
· How to feel like crap
· How to ride an elevator
· How to be thin
· How to be fat
· How to find love
· How to feel sorry for yourself
· How to get the job
· How to end your life
· How to remain unhealed
· How to finish your drink
· How to regret as little as possible
· And much more
I know, right? Imagine my surprise when I started getting into this book and realize - he's serious. Well, I think he is, I should say. Again, I've never read anything by him, so maybe he's having a good laugh at my expense. In any case, I read the whole thing, and I have to say, there's actually some very good advice here.
What sort of advice? Take the chapter on ending an addiction. Burroughs talks a bit about AA, and says that yes, it does work for some. But he points out that one of the 12 steps talks about "when" you slip, not "if" you slip - which almost makes it sound as if you've got permission to do so. Or that you won't have really completed the 12 steps is you don't slip. In the end, I tend to agree with him on this count: while AA and other programs may help one, in the end, you have to want to live more than you want your drug of choice. (And before anyone blasts me on here for agreeing, my husband was pretty much considered someone "with a drinking problem" about 2 years ago. After a near-death illness, at which time he was told about permanent liver damage, he now drinks exactly 2 beers/year - one on his birthday, and one around Christmas/New Year's Eve. I was amazed that he could just quit like that without going to any sort of support group. He told me that almost dying was a pretty good motivator.)
And speaking of illness, I could truly appreciate his chapter on "how to be sick". He repeats a phrase over and over: Once you're in it, it's okay. I totally get this, the idea that hearing about the illness will be the worst moment of your life. After that, everything else is okay - still hard, but okay. It truly is the unknown that is the scariest part of any illness. Once you know what exactly you're dealing with, you know there's a plan. Maybe not one you'll like, and maybe not a successful one, but still - a plan. And I like the terms "disease bride" and "DST: Disease Standard Time". Been there, done that!
Perhaps the most interesting piece of advice what on "how to end your life". Yes, he talks about the obvious, suicide (and he does a pretty darn good job of making it seem like the worst possible option). He goes on to say that there's another way to "end your life" - and that is to become someone else. After all, ending "your life" can also mean ending the life you're leading at this very moment. Burroughs did just that; he legally changed his name, moved to a new state, and began a new life. I really like this idea; you wouldn't necessarily need to go that far, but yes, if you don't like the life you have right now, change it! Hate your job? Do something different. Bad relationship? Get out of it. Just change something so that you literally are not living "your life". Granted, some of this will take a leap of faith, but it sounds like a much better option to me than slitting one's wrists.
Finally, my favorite line of the book. I believe it was in the "how to end your life" chapter, but it's still great.
"If you have two parents who love you? You have won life's Lotto." It's exactly how I feel about my own parents.
I enjoyed this book, and now I'm curious about his other work. But I worry that since I liked the "serious" Burroughs, I may not appreciate his humor.
UPDATE: I was contacted by Esther Bochner, senior publicist @ Macmillan Audio, with an offer of a clip from the audiobook. Yes, folks, people do actually read this little blog of mine, and you cannot imagine how happy it makes me! Esther graciously offered the link below, so if you prefer audio rather than print, check out the clip. And thanks very much to Esther for her help!