|AUGUSTEN BURROUGHS' MAGICAL
WAY OF THINKING.
love mellow Augusten Burroughs?
Um, no. When his new book, Magical Thinking: True Stories hits stores on October 5th, fans will get more of the types of shit-reading,
crack-smoking hilarity seen in Burroughs's previous New York Times best-selling memoirs, Running With Scissors and Dry.
This collection of essays bursts with delightfully twisted tales: Burroughs (successfully) wills his psycho-hag boss to her death; a fan reveals a phantasmagoric anecdote involving Dr. Pepper enemas that appalls him (no mean feat), and Burroughs recounts sexual escapades with an undertaker, three priests, and a pretentious "spiritual gay man" afflicted with a case of "micro-penis." But the true revelation is that Burroughs remains funny
when he writes about finding love with his boyfriend, Dennis. (The office half-wit gets laughs mocking the company v.p., but a gifted writer can sound like a tool when describing his or her paramour.) Magical Thinking won't disappoint.
The Black Table spoke to Mr. Burroughs on the phone.
Litsa Dremousis: Before I received a copy of the book, I wondered if you worried that you were going to run out of material now that you're sober and successful and in this great relationship. Do you think that things just happen to you?
Augusten Burroughs: I don't know. Some things are so strange. I don't know if I wrote about it, actually, I touched on it just a slight, slight bit in "Magical Thinking", but I know I haven't really written about it, but, for example, when I was in elementary school, they divided the boys and the girls up for sex education. And our teacher took the boys into the bathroom and pulled down his pants and had the boys pull down their pants and said, "Okay, you can see little Ethan is circumcised, but little Juan is not".
AB: And he said to the kids, "You can touch my erect penis if you want" and I just stood back and didn't do any of it. I stood back and thought, "This is fucked up". I must have been in the third grade
LD: so you were eight years old
AB: yeah, so years later this guy was caught and arrested and charged and convicted. He was caught fucking around with two little kids and he had to leave town, and that's something that's not in the
that's how my life has been. It's been this series of weird things that
have stuck to me like mice on a glue trap.
All I ever wanted was to be a little trust fund kid whose mother went to Yale and it's the opposite of what I got. I never wanted to have peculiar experiences. I'm not one of those writers, you know how there are some writers who go around and do weird stuff so they can write about it.
LD: Kind of like William Vollman goes around the world. He really throws himself into things.
AB: Right. They really look for the dwarves with the missing fingers. And I never wanted to be friends with the dwarves. I wanted a
social life, you know? For some reason, I end up with all the dwarves. [Laughs.]
LD: Along those lines, Carrie Fisher has said of couple of times that she doesn't go on as many talk shows as she's asked to because she's afraid she'd become the Joanne Worley of her generation.
AB: Oh, that's funny.
LD: Do you get offers to go on talk shows, because it seems you're so ready to be televised?
AB: I don't get as many because I think I'm a little too weird. I remember when "Scissors" came out, it's not breakfast material. Like with "Dry", it's not breakfast material. I imagine with this one I will, because I can talk about being on a Tang commercial. With "Scissors", what was I going to talk about? Pulling shit out of the toilet? Or the pedophile?
This one is more
LD: Katie and Matt friendly?
AB: I would think. Unless someone has something against transsexuals.
LD: You get compared to David Sedaris a lot.
AB: Uh, huh.
LD: And I was going to ask you if you get tired of it, then I read that great review you wrote [in Entertainment Weekly] of "Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim". I think it's a favorable comparison for both of you and you can see why people associate the two of you together, but does it get tiresome to have your work continually compared to another writer? Even one you admire?
AB: Yeah, I do admire him. Maybe it should get tiresome. Maybe I haven't looked at it in the right way. It doesn't bother me, but maybe it should. I really respect him and people love him, so it's not a bad thing.
LD: Regarding the whole concept behind "Magical Thinking", that you can control the world around you with your thoughts, how much of that do you believe, like with the Baby Jesus and the cow [detailed in the essay, "Magical Thinking"], and how much do you say you believe?
AB: [Laughs.] It's tongue in cheek. I joke about it. It's the kind of the thing I joke about, but I joke about the things that come true, so I joke about it more. So, I'll say to my editor, "Say something weird" and then it'll happen and it's weird so we'll joke about it.
LD: Right. And everyone's got experiences like that in their own lives, where it seems too much to be coincidence. That seems to be a pan-cultural concept, that you can somehow control fate. Do you believe in curses and things like that?
AB: Well, I think to some degree, do you have control over your fate. But there are so many variables that you absolutely can't control. When I got out of rehab, years and years and years ago, I had a problem with the whole "higher power" thing, so I decided that whatever the Baby Jesus wants me to do, I'll just do.
I basically lived my life like a Magic 8 Ball and things fell into place instantly. It was uncanny. It was so peculiar and I began happily following all the little serendipitous paths that lead me to my literary agent and got me started writing, and it's all very peculiar. I mean, the way I found my agent is so strange. Remember Pighead [Augusten's close friend and former lover, chronicled in "Dry"]? Pighead's brother was a book designer with Doubleday, so Pighead would buy the books his brother designed. And after Pighead died, I had one of the books his brother designed in my apartment and I read it and I called the author and said, "Who's your agent?" That's how I got my agent. That's how I found him, after everyone turned me down.
LD: So, going back to the concept of magical thinking, like when you talk about Charlotte at the Chicago ad agency [from the essay, "Magical Thinking"] -- by the way, that's the most horrific shit I've ever laughed at -- it was so scathing, but it was so funny, because we've all wanted to tell a boss off like that. And then she dies. So if you knew you could kill someone and get away with it, who would you kill? If mentally you could will it, who would you pick and why?
AB: Oh, that's a difficult question because there are so many people. There would be mass devastation. [Laughs.] It'd be unbelievable. I'd flatten whole countries.
AB: Bridges and schools would blowup.
LD: I'm laughing because you know in the back of Vanity Fair? Their Proust Questionnaire? One of the questions is, "Which living person do you despise?" So many people will get all eloquent and say, "I no longer despise anyone."
AB: Oh, please.
LD: You know that's horseshit. They just don't want to say it in print.
AB: They just don't want to say it.
LD: Is there anyone you want to name?
AB: It's not even usually, like, specific people. It's like groups of fucking people. Jeez, there's got to be someone
LD: Even an anonymous stranger on the street or someone like that?
AB: Well, there's always someone in traffic. There was a woman on I-91 and she had a Volvo, a silver fucking Volvo and she had two kids in the back, and they were not in their seatbelts, so they were just sort of crawling around. And then she cut in front of Dennis, really, really unsafe, and then she zoomed over to the left, and then she cut in front of someone else. And it made me sick. I wanted to
|immediately pull her over, take
her kids, raise them as my own, and then I wanted to beat her with a crowbar
on the head until she was dead. And if you told me I wouldn't get arrested
for doing it, as sick as I am, I would.
I would take her kids and I would raise them and I would spoil them all horribly. I would have been like Joan Crawford and strapped them into their beds at night so they wouldn't get hurt. [Laughs.] But I can't stand sanctimonious, self-righteous, bigoted people. You know, highly religious people who are aggressively hateful, you know, those kinds of Christians, or any religious people like that, really
LD: anyone that dogmatic, who
carries it to that extreme.
AB: Right. They need to be killed.
LD: "Magical Thinking" will be released soon, and you've already had "Scissors" and "Dry" on the New York Times bestseller list simultaneously. Do you worry, "What the fuck do I do now?" Do you worry about topping yourself or do you just not care about it?
AB: No, I never worry about that, because you know what? That's one of the things you can't control. You just can't control it.
LD: It seems like the healthier approach is to not worry about it.
AB: It's hard. It's hard not to worry about it, but there's some part of me -- it's so hard to explain to people -- but there's some part of me that was worn down so many years ago. Just worn the fuck down, flat. This is fun, publishing and books is a lot of fun, but it's my career. You know what I mean?
And my career is so not everything to me. It's just not the most important thing, so if all my books just completely tanked, I'd feel horrible for my publisher, I'd feel just horrible, not horrible enough to give them back any money, but it wouldn't crush me, you know what I mean? To me it was an honor to have my first little book, "Sellevision", published the first time. For me, that was it. That was what I wanted to accomplish.
LD: You could be this sage for young writers. You sound so amazingly grounded and mature.
AB: It's hard because I think I got to this place just by just having such a piece of a shit life for so many years. So much stuff, you know, in quotes, is just not fucking important to me.
Now the other day, we had these two friends in town. You know, Dennis and I, we live like lesbians. We don't go out. So I've got these two glamorous girls in town from San Francisco. They own an ad agency and they're both incredibly healthy and beautiful, so I've known them for years, since I was nineteen. One of them was my first boss. So I thought, where's somewhere trendy? I called up a friend and said I had to take these girls out somewhere trendy and cool in New York. Where should I go? And he said, go to this place called Meat in the Meatpacking District. So I called up Meat, and I had no time to make a reservation. I should have thought of this not the day of the actual dinner, but I should have thought of this the week before, right?
So I called Meat and asked, "Do you think you could squeeze in four people for dinner?" And she was like, "Oh, I don't know. Let me see. Do you have a reservation? What's your name?" And I said, "Augusten is the first name" and she said, "Augusten Burroughs?"
And she said, "The Augusten Burroughs?" And I said, "Yeah." And she said, "Oh my god, I'm such a huge fan" and it was so sweet. And I'm like, thank fucking god.
So we have dinner and I thought, it would be fun to use this, to go out to parties and hob-nob, but I can't even imagine it. I just have no
that kind of life.
LD: There's something to be said for the time at which it's hitting you, because you're in your late thirties, right?
LD: So maybe if you'd broken through at twenty-four
AB: maybe I would have been like Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney and would have been out on the town. But somehow, doing it at this age, I don't know. I guess there are people who still do it, though. They absolutely still do it. [Laughs.] So maybe that's why I wouldn't be leveled if the book -- or the books -- didn't do well. I
mean, you can't control it. Again, it's just one of those things you can't control.
LD: I feel so enlightened now. All that sounded so healthy. [Laughs.] Hey, what's up with the film version of "Scissors"? Julianne Moore is in it, right?
AB: Yeah, she is.
LD: Is that finished? Is that in post-production now?
AB: No, no, no. It's not finished yet. I think it's going to start shooting--I think Ryan Murphy told me it's going to start shooting in January, I think. The first draft of the script is done and he's going to make some revisions on that. I've read it and he did a great job.
LD: Is he the guy who writes and directs "Nip/Tuck"?
AB: Yeah. That's his little baby, one of them. I like him a lot. He's not an established film director, but I just have a gut instinct about the guy. To me, that's just as important. And he had a similar mother, so he totally got her [Augusten's mother]. I mean, it's different, the treatment of the book is different because it's a whole different media, you know? And I wasn't expecting it to be slavishly devoted to the book, but it's a lot closer than I expected, actually. A lot of the dialogue is just lifted up from the book.
He's switched some stuff around and made it great. It's going to be a great film, I think. I think it has a chance to be a great film. I mean, Julianne Moore, though, she could just sit there. She's got one of those faces that's just very interesting to watch.
LD: Anyone else we'd recognize?
AB: I don't know who else has agreed officially. I think, Cate Blanchett. I think she'll play Hope. Like I said, I'm not sure, though.
LD: I wanted to ask you this before I read that things about the woman with the Dr. Pepper enemas [from M.T.'s "I'm Gonna Live Forever"] -- but can anything still shock or repel you? Or have you heard everything?
AB: Things do shock and repel me and they're not the things you'd think. For example, my friend the undertaker [from "Magical Thinking" and "Dry"] sent me a link, and he was saying, "You should adopt kids". So he sent me this link and it was page after page of little boys and little girls and each one had a little profile. Like, "This is Jeremy. He likes to play football and do things other kids like to do, but due to severe abuse, he has issues and wakes up one or two times a night with nightmares". And these are like six year old kids, five year old kids, four year old kids, and one was a teen who wanted to a championship BMX racer. And I was up until four o'clock in the morning looking at their pictures and I spent all day today looking at their pictures and it's the most horrifying thing I've ever seen. It's absolutely devastating. Devastating, and it shocks me. Those faces. And because it's a web site, I just want to click, "Add to cart. Add to cart. Add to cart."
AB: That just shocks and horrifies me. People who have appalling greed shock me, things like that shock and horrify me. It's things like that. It's not physical deformity and stupid reality TV show kind of shit. It's more like
LD: like genuine horror.
AB: Yeah. I get shocked at people's blindness sometimes and I get shocked by the level of shallowness I sometimes see in the culture. Things like that.
LD: Last question: What's up next?
AB: What's up next? I'm just now finishing it. It's the next book after "Magical Thinking". Right now I'm calling it, "Possible Side Effects". And it's [hushed voice] more stories.