Thursday, December 27, 2012

"This Is How" And The Critical Mom OR: Happy Holidays, Augusten Burroughs

My Dear Mr. Burroughs,

How delightful--especially while sleigh bells are banging--to come across someone as funny as you, whose history resembles my own.  The cult psychoanalyst.  The parents.  Mine met at a party given by their mutual shrink.  I often imagine my incompatible progenitors whiling away the evening on the analytic couch, consumed by anything but analytic insight.  At least the analyst's folly promoted my existence.

If you've been rolling around in religion or in psychology much of your life, you can find yourself a meaning in my origins.   But I'd rather have a laugh or a quirky insight.  

Which is just what I get from your latest: This Is How: Help For the Self: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. 

Indeed, I'm getting plenty of both, now that I'm dipping into the book--it's fun to dip rather than go cover-to-cover with this one.  And I see how ultra-American it is:

(1) Mr. Burroughs is the ultimate underdog, and America is all about the underdog winning.  What hasn't he overcome?  His dad puts out a cigarette on his toddler forehead--that's the least of it-- his mom gives him away to her nutsy psychiatrist who exposes him to drugs, a pedophile, a filthy home, among other horrors.  And Burroughs lives to tell the tale and to write about nearly all of it amusingly.  He is the real "boy who lived," the avatar of the worst returning to laughter, proof positive of Nietzsche's maxim: "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

(2) America continues to be the can-do nation, despite all evidence suggesting that pessimism might be in order.   Mr. Burroughs continues to exhibit an astonishing optimism about what people can overcome--and I'm sure he's right.  Self-help is one of the zanier forms of American individualism, and Mr. Burroughs remains a master of individualizing his own self-help.  An alcoholic who has quit, he's got no use for AA, the crowds and the affirmations dampening his drive to do things his own way.   Wherever you are, Mr. Burroughs, I hope you still have that golden pig head and are following the instructions engraved upon it.   Let me indulge in my own American hyperbole and call you our American Erasmus.  It's not too far off the mark.
Happy New Year.  Reading Burroughs ought to be a New Year's resolution.  More important, it's fun.


  1. There are very few Americans who know who Erasmus is, but I am one and thus applaud you.

  2. Ah, HAPPY NEW YEAR! There's nothing like folly. Folly, folly, fa lalalalala lalalalala.
    Hee hee.
    More anon.