The “You Better Not Cry” author describes the holiday as a gem of happiness wrapped in a package of tragedy.
Question: What does Christmas mean to you?
Augusten Burroughs: Well Christmas has always been, as far back as I can remember, my favorite holiday. Actually, holidays don't mean anything to me except for Christmas. Now the thing is though that every Christmas that I can remember has been really cruddy. In fact, it has seemed to me that each Christmas is worse than the one before and sometimes that's my own doing. I'm the author of the ruin. But at other times it has seemed that Christmas itself hates me.
So the book is a compilation of not all but a few of these holidays and the thing that I have found is that no matter how nasty the Christmas was, there has always been usually in retrospect -- always been something perfect and small and shiny hidden within it. That has made me appreciate the holiday even more.
Question: When you think of being “home for the holidays,” what is home?
Augusten Burroughs: I don't have a sense of that. I suppose it is, for me, more of a state of mind. Well probably in front of my laptop computer, actually. Wherever that is. I don't have home as a place in the chest that many people have. Home is like a -- how many ribs do we have? What? 15? 12? It's the extra rib. Home is the -- for people it's like a hammock. But I've actually never had that; I have tried to create that as a structure, which is actually the last story in this book. That structure flooded. So for me it's really more of about being where I want to be with people I care about.
Question: For memoirists, is the past a gift that keeps on giving?
Augusten Burroughs: Well it depends, I suppose, on who you ask and how you define gift. From my perspective, I could continue to write memoirs probably for many, many, many years. I don't want to say the rest of my life, but many years. However, I could never do that because it's just not interesting to me, at a certain point. But certainly the material is there.
What I have found is yes I've definitely had some unusual circumstances in my life, but I've also just paid attention. I pay attention to what happens to me and -- but I pay a lot of very close attention. I fixate, I focus, and I'm a visual thinker; I don't -- and a lot of people are visual thinkers and analog. They kind of flop back and forth but I'm only visual, only. Like if you had a shopping list, for a split second I'm going to see the hieroglyphics that are there. When I am writing anything, a memoir or a novel or whatever, I'm translating these images. So there is -- I suppose there is a limit to how much time I want to look at myself, at the past self. I'll always write about what's going on in my life and the reason for that is it's not actually because I'm so fascinated with myself, it's because I can't think. I can't think like have thoughts in my head like juggling them up there and think them through and come to a conclusion. It's like math for me; I can't do that. I have to sort of storyboard my circumstances at any given moment in order to see them and appreciate them. By appreciate them, that's probably the wrong word. In order to understand them.
So I'll always write because now at this point I'm kind of trained to think that way but I like many other things, many other topics.
Recorded on November 3, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen