Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

This memoir covers a boy briefly from childhood but mostly in his teens as his parents divorce and he winds up in the looney tunes household of the psychiatrist treating his mother who may or may not be exploiting her.  I initially did not know that the author was gay, which shouldn’t really make a difference.  I like to say that I enjoy reading books from all types of different perspectives and the gay perspective is definitely a unique one.  Perhaps I still have to deal with my own hang ups about gay people.  I like to think of myself as an enlightened person who supports gay rights and equal treatment of gays, but honestly, I do sometimes find myself uncomfortable with certain things like seeing two guys making out, although, honestly, like most straight dudes, I have no problem watching two women making out. 

 This book is peppered with instances of gay sexual relations which I skimmed over.  Cock this, cock that, whatever.  I wondered that if the author was a woman, I’d have no problem with it.  But at the same time, I believe a lot of gay guys would be turned off by reading about a man and woman getting it on, and you just have to respect that we can’t be completely comfortable with everything nor should we, so long as we just allow consenting adults to do whatever they like in the privacy of their own homes and non-gratuitous stuff in public.

It amazes me how certain so-called righteous conservatives can get so worked up about two men or two women kissing in public or a woman breastfeeding.  How the hell is this immoral or corrupting of anyone?  Anyway, I’m not sure you should get caught up on the fact that the author is gay or if an author is female or black.  Certainly, you encounter instances where you realize just how different it is to be gay, female, or black.  A black author may relay a situation where he felt someone was being racist.  A gay author might relay a situation where he found a dude attractive, or a female may relay how she may be threatened by a violent man, etc.  Other than that, this story could have just as easily been written by a straight female black person.

 While you could say the book is about a boy who grows up in a very strange environment suffering a psychologically damaged mother, you could also say that this story was all about the mother and the author is just witness to a rather sad story and the impact of a crazy mother on a kid.  The kid for all intents and purposes is abandoned by his father, then his mother, his peers in school, and the only friend he has left is the bohemian, wildflower daughter of the psychiatrist treating or perhaps exploiting his mother. 

 I have to say this over and over again, but why aren’t books written by people who have wonderful lives with loving parents and have loads of friends and great adventures?  There are three possibilities.  1. They are.  You just don’t get to read them, because the publishing industry is dominated by loners and losers who don’t like to read about social butterflies and their wonderful lives.  Or publishers do print them, but those who love to read are not inclined to identify with them and prefer books written by their brethren outcasts.  2. The socially “successful” people in life don’t have the time to sit down and write about their wonderful lives.  That job usually goes to the loners who tag along in their periphery.  People who have lots of friends and social activities just don’t have as much time to self-reflect and write down their ideas and feelings.  3. A little of both.  One possible remedy is when you have a really socially outgoing person who then encounters hardship and then becomes a loner and writer or the opposite.  Someone starts out a loner but then becomes a swan and then somehow finds the time to write about their swan lives.

 The last book I read was about dissociation, and I have come to the conclusion that dissociation and art and perhaps genius are deeply intertwined.  If life is grand, why think another thought about it.  Why escape to your special place to review life and wonder imponderables?  Why not just plot your next exciting excursion or reminisce a wonderful party or make out session?  I would perhaps be audacious enough to claim that self-awareness was not just the outcome of the social experience but rather also the outcome of dissociation.  Some mammal experienced ongoing suffering, and they left their bodies, and in doing so, they had that aha moment.  They realized that there was a person below them suffering, and they called that person a name, and they realized it was them.  So was born the ego.  The initial reaction was that the self-aware dissociating person became obsessed by this person below them.  They became possessive of this thing and treated it as a piece of property.  They wanted to not only coddle it but aggrandize it and instead of viewing others as a part of themselves, they viewed others as a threat or a resource to be exploited.  So initially when people suffer and dissociate, they become narcissists and egomaniacs.  They no longer relate to a group but rather only to the person they see suffering, detached from themselves but eternally tied to them.  This is where they start to self-destruct as we are social creatures, and without social stimulation and reinforcement and identity, the solitary creature becomes paranoid, anxious, depressed, violent, aggressive, cowardly, exploitative, and sociopathic. 

The key here is learning how and when to dissociate.  If you can somehow learn to tame that beast, then you can determine when and if you harmonize with a social group and get the rewards of social interaction and trust.  The key is accepting personal responsibility.  If you keep blaming others for your suffering and welfare, then you will never harness your habit of dissociation.  You dissociate as a result of an external agent that controls when and where you suffer.  You must them be constantly hypervigilant.  Whereas, if you assume power and responsibility for that suffering, then you also get to choose when and where you dissociate as a result of it.  For example, when I decide to go jogging, I’m happy to dissociate when the pain becomes unbearable.  I also try to avoid situations where I feel trapped like meeting with an antisocial boss or customer or if I’m in a bar and some annoying jerk sits next to me, I can choose to stand up and leave.  When my body realizes that I can control the environment and triggers of dissociation, it doesn’t have to be so vigilant and randomly dissociate at the slightest trigger.  I still have to work out those times where I cannot escape like a forced meeting with an antisocial boss or waiting in a terribly long line with no option to leave.  In these situations, dissociating doesn’t work, because a rather rageful and angry personality comes out that just want to fuck things up.  Instead, I can try to mentally reframe the situation, take deep breaths, distract myself, find humor, think about how anger will just upset my stomach and give me indigestion later, etc. 

 While there may be natural born artists and geniuses, I have to believe that a large percentage of them are born from suffering and subsequent dissociation where they retreat to their internal worlds where they can fill it with remarkable furnishings and landscape.  When they share this world with us, this is what we call art and genius.  Unfortunately, sometimes, it is actually banal and bland, and I would have to admit that I found this novel more like that.  When some people escape, they just recreate the existing world in their mind with fantasies of things going their way.  I have a friend like that.  He imagines winning the lottery, not $10 million but $1 billion.  I tell him that it’s not fun imagining such a ridiculous world and it’s more fun imagining something that could actually be possible which fires up more adrenaline.  For example, let’s say you win $1 billion impossibly.  What would you do?  You would wind up with tremendous responsibility for the welfare of the world and have to combat the existing political systems and use your wealth and power to fight the global banking cartel and engineer real systemic change.  Boring!  If you just won $10 million, you could just lose yourself in imagining what cars you would buy, what your mansion would look like, what cool toys you could buy, what great cities you could visit, etc.  The problem with memoirs is that it is not so much imagination but someone’s odd circumstances and sad stories, and since the crazier things get the more likely people dissociate, they tend to relay their life stories in a rather bland matter-of-fact way whereas they should relay it from an outsider’s perspective of, wow, holy cow, how crazy was that?  If I want to read about the wild crazy life of someone, I’d prefer to read a biography than an autobiography.  Unconventional and as sad as this guy’s story is becoming detached from his father and then his mother, I just felt he had a morose narration that left me bored and skimming most of the second half of the book.  I also tend to get bored with stories of teenagers since they all seem to be about the same awkward growing pains things, and I find that many of them, especially the crazy ones, seem to be pretending to be adults without actually having lived all that much to know what it really is like to be an adult. 

The title “Running with Scissors” I believe alludes to how good parents will give you good advice in life like don’t run with scissors and you trust them, because they are wise and loving.  However, what happens when your parents are crazy and untrustworthy.  What happens when they tell you not to run with scissors?  Well, you just don’t believe them, so you go through life running with scissors, and ultimately, you trip and stab yourself in the eyeball.  So what’s the lesson?  The lesson is, yes, you can’t trust your parents and their advice may or may not be good, but it means you have to do extra work to find out whom to trust and what advice to take.  Unfortunately, for people with bad and crazy parents, they tend to want to do everything the hard way and find out for themselves what is beneficial and harmful which is sort of sad, because it seems a lot of the times it means making awful mistakes, doing stupid things, hurting yourself more than helping yourself, and sometimes not even learning from mistakes.  But on the other hand, it makes your life rather entertaining in a sick way for everyone else.

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