I have been absent for the last two days on my blog, but I took some time to really enjoy all that California has to offer.  I went sailing on Saturday, and tomorrow, I’m going to blog about that experience, because it was so amazing and important, strangely, to my writing.

But today, I went paddle boarding with Heron and some friends.  We went down to Newport Beach, and we went into the bay.  On the way back, surrounded by hundreds of boats with names like Claire De Lune and All That Jazz, I looked out before me, and I saw the Saddlyback Mountain, the mansions plastered along the hills in Newport and Corona Del Mar and even Laguna Beach, and I remembered how amazing and wonderful and immense California is.  Whenever I need a moment of freedom, of nature, of something bigger than myself, the ocean, the mountains, well, it’s all there.  Today, I was lucky to be alive.  I was grateful to be living in a state I had been dreaming about since I was a kid.

On the way back, we stopped at a little shake and burger shack on the PCH between Bolsa Chica and Sunset Beach.  It’s a tradition now.  They have the most amazing shakes I have ever tasted.  Heron and I also ate some french fries covered in Feta, and I had a cheeseburger, and she had a veggie pita.  It was a wonderful day.

Now to change gears a bit.  When I came home from paddle boarding, and I wanted to do some work.  And just about twenty minutes ago, I turned the final page of Augusten Burroughs’,” Running With Scissors.”  Recently, someone who read my book and offered some advice for revision told me that there were a lot of similarities.  And now, as I turn my novel into memoir, I feel amazed, stunned, really, that someone had already written a book I have longed to write.  It’s a book that spoke to me in so many ways I hope I will be able to explain. 

The memoir is about a young boy growing up in Amherst, Massachusetts, and dealing with a mother who has a mental illness.  At 12, his mother dropped him off at her psychiatrist’s house, and he was supposed to live with the doctor.  It’s a heartbreaking and beautiful book, which is famous and maded into a movie.  I grew up in Massachusetts, and I also have a mother who has a mental illness.  While there are many similarities, there are also many differences.

But what was the same is a sense of feeling trapped and the inability to fathom the difference between sick and normal.  Here is a few lines that resonated with me: “The line between normal and crazy seemed impossibly thin.  A person would have to be an expert tightrope walker in order not to fail.”  When you grow up with someone who has mental illness, it becomes difficult to understand the difference between normal/happy and sick/manic.  It becomes difficult to understand why some people need to go to a hospital and some people get called eccentric.  And it becomes nearly impossible to gauge people’s reactions to illness, to strangeness, to the image of the mad-raving lunatic against the patient who needs help, the family member, etc.

Well, Burroughs nails this tension.  He nails the inability to understand, as a child, what is real and what is imagined. What is someone having a psychotic break and what is fantasy.  I don’t know if I have expressed myself fully, here, but there is something magical in Running with Scissors.  Something that just works.  And I want to steal it without actually stealing.

Here’s another line: “So why did we feel so trapped?  Why did I feel like I had no options in my life when it seemed that options were the only thing I did have?…I worried that my  feeling of being belted into an electric chair was due to some sort of mental illness.”  Another great moment in the book .

I learned so much from reading this book in terms of structure, movement, time, style.  Oh, it’s hard to put my thoughts into words right now; it’s an incredible book.  I will try to explain this more later, but I think I just need time to think about it.

2 thoughts

  1. Dear poet-friend Joe,

    I too loved Running With Scissors, and for the same reasons. I’m so grateful when a writer describes experiences similar to mine and uses language so near-perfect that I know that they know exactly how I’ve felt at certain times in my own life. It’s especially powerful when a writer is able to capture something from childhood, and speak to it from both the perspective of the child he/she was and the adult looking back. Sometimes a writer shares a story about experiences with outward circumstances that couldn’t be further from my own life – or so it seems at first, on the surface – and then, in the description of emotion or setting or even weather, with dialogue, inspired metaphor or analogy, somehow that writer is able to capture an isolated melody or recurring refrain from my life as if she’d born witness to it, almost as if she’d lived it instead of me.

    Which is all just to say, Yeah, oh man, that is what I love most about the art of storytelling. Those touch-points and connections, those echoes of haunting familiarity, the energy in the connection you feel with that writer you’ve never met, and with yourself, too, in a way that feels like recognition and validation. If you’re really lucky, those connections can serve as a source of healing, or at the very least a salving. Sometimes, if you’re really, really lucky, you end up with inspiration – as if the connection were live electrical current feeding you – a prime jumping-off spot for creating, seeing new things or old things – like yourself or someone you know – in a new way.

    Love this post; thanks you for sharing so much of yourself. And now I have to go back and read Burroughs again. Who knows, maybe the rereading will help my memoir-writing too? Speaking of which, hurry the frack up, would ya? I wanna read your book 🙂

    XOX to you and the family ~

    1. Wow, Denise, what a beautiful comment. Glad to hear you loved “Running with Scissors” too. It is really amazing when an author seems to speak directly to you, even though that’s only an illusion. Well, I guess a lot of writing is like that — creating illusions. I haven’t read anything else by Burroughs, but I definitely will.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and reading the post. It’s hard to share, sometimes, “so much of myself,” because, well, you never know how people are going to react, especially the people you’re writing about. It’s a tough balance. And don’t worry, I’m working on that memoir…lol. Thanks so much for your interest. Hope to read your memoir, too.

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