influences: the best books series-the book that made me want to be a writer: Dry

Every now and then, a book comes along that really opens your eyes. Shocks you. Lights a spark deep down. For me, that book was Dry, a memoir by Augusten Burroughs. At age 14, it was the first piece of non-fiction I’d ever read. I felt uncomfortable while reading it. Writing had never previously gripped me in that way. Made me laugh. Made me cry. Made me cringe. Made me think. Solidified the desire to write.

10 years later, an anniversary edition was released and although I’m not one to re-read book- I read it again. I was still moved but this time everything resonated from a more visceral mature place. I saw the darkest parts of my adult self in the struggle.

I’ve read almost every book Augusten Burroughs has published. I’ve yet to read Sellevision, because I am too enamored with his non-fiction. And A Wolf at the Table reached out and choked me about 4 pages in, so it is still in a box in the basement.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to meet Augusten Burroughs. I spent about a week preparing for how to act around him. I sat in a booth with my friend, B, and rambled on about what I would say to him. I told her about how my ticket got me priority in the signing line, so I’d be standing right in front of him at some point. I’d read that celebrities don’t like to be acknowledged for one piece because they’ve done so much more than that. I knew I didn’t want to fan-girl out, or be obnoxious, or get up and babble.

I arrive in Menlo Park intentionally early and in my favorite sundress. I loiter in the book store where the event is to take place. I use their bathroom and ask them about the reading. They tell me I’m hella early. I know that, I think, and, I want to get a good seat.   I spend time reading the first chapters of select books until the seating area opens up. They start checking people in and I feel relieved that I’m not the only person who has arrived well ahead of schedule. They write my name on a yellow sticky note and slap it inside on the title page of the hardcover book. I’m also handed a match book and told to sit in the priority seating section.

While I wait, I begin reading. I have to re-read every few sentences because I am so distracted by the eclectic people around me. Finally, a man gets up on the microphone and welcomes us to Kepler’s books. And then he’s here. The man I feel like I’ve known since I was 15 comes swooping in, wearing a t-shirt, and a fringe leather jacket. And I want to tell him I have that jacket, it was my Dad’s and I wore it for most of 8th grade while I was finding myself. His glasses sit perfectly on his nose and I am in awe of his masculinity. Into the Q and A portion, someone asks about resiliency, he thanks them and replies, with a thorough answer about being “dropped off” at his mother’s psychiatrist’s house as a child, and how he grappled with feeling as though he feared he might die without his mother. He stated, “Parents are a luxury,” and tells of how he eventually coped with the abandonment and the crazy house and the fact that he might never get out of it. He cocks his head to one side and explains, “Writing helped a lot. And the reason that writing is useful is not so much reporting what happened but getting to the actual truth and sometimes the truth is the thing that hides behind the thing you think is true or have been told your whole life is true or that you desperately wish to be true or that you assume to be true. Sometimes the thing that’s really true is behind all of that and it can be tricky to find because you don’t think to even question the thing that’s true, you don’t think about it.” I think of all the things I think I know to be true. I think about why he changed his name. A person standing near the Sci-Fi section asks him about rehab and alcoholism and how he began to write afterwards. Augusten comments that rehab is like “alcoholic college,” and explains the necessity of replacing one addiction with something else. I admire the man for falling into a way to fill his emptiness and wonder what I accomplish through my own desire to write. He continues that writing became everything alcohol had been in terms of a complete escape of something else to focus on and “ignore my own life and just focus on the work.” He mentions how he would lose track of time. I sigh at the shared secret, of losing track of time. I think about how he relapsed and nearly died.

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“Thinking about writing is not relaxing. Thinking about it is horrible. Starting it is horrible. When I’m actually in it, I like it. But that’s like everything. Every horrible thing I’ve been through, when you’re actually in it, it’s okay. Even when it’s horrible-moment by moment it’s okay-it’s there-you can survive it.”

Eventually, they have to take the final questions. I marvel how the people with their hands still raised will wonder on their drive home, “what would he have said?” We clap and after a few minutes rise as a group and look to the man shuffling us to the signing line. Almost each person in front of me spills their guts out to him. Augusten graciously takes it all in and listens. The girl I was sitting next to is up, with her mom. “I’ve read all your books,” she says. “All of them,” the mom chimes in. The girl asks to take a selfie with him. I roll my eyes and think a selfie, with the #1 best-selling author and cringe for my generation. And then I’m up. Time hangs in the air above us. “Are you Emily?” I hear him ask. “Yes,” I say and add, “You’re my favorite author.” “Thank you,” he replies. I take the hardback and he thanks me again for coming to the reading. I walk out of the store feeling accomplished, knowing how surreal that all just was and how I can’t wait to do it all again.

Author’s note, if you enjoyed this piece, and would like to listen to an audio recording of Augusten Burroughs from April 7, 2016, comment and we’ll arrange it. Augusten Burroughs announced an upcoming tour in March 2017 for the paperback release of Lust and Wonder, dates to be determined.

Want to read his work but unsure where to start? My favorite order: Dry, Magical thinking, running with scissors, This is how, possible side effects, lust and wonder.

It’s amazing to me the things people measure out their lives in. For me it is books. This post is a part of a series of careful reflection in homage to the best books I have ever read.

influences- the best books series -the book that made me question everything-Ishamel: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit

 

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My heart is pounding as the line of people behind me continues to grow. I imagine they are shifting their weight, sighing, injuring their necks further as they stretch their noses to the center of their devices. None of that matters because the world has fallen away and I feel on-fire mid-conversation with my favorite Trader Joe’s checker, about literature. “What are some of your favorite books?” he asks me, as he scans my groceries. I ramble on about my appetite for memoirs, non-fiction, spirituality and self-help books. I tell him about Augusten Burroughs, he says he’s never heard of him, I tell him that’s okay and then fan-girl out a little about the cliff notes of the best-selling author’s life. I ask him the same question as he pushes a bag of honey crisp apples to his right. He leans back a little and rattles off some titles; I recognize the name of one and repeat it, curious. “It’s fiction,” he says, “but based on different principals.”

I went home that night and searched for the book online. What I found was a curious and smile inducing synopsis, “TEACHER SEEKS PUPIL. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” Days later, per a library pick-up request, I held the book in my hands, and thought of the man who at some point years prior did the exact same thing. I dug into it, excited to learn.

After a chapter, I was hooked. The narrator comes face to face with a gorilla. The language reminded me of the benevolence of Frankenstein’s creature. I read chapter after chapter imagining a twist ending. In certain instances of Ishmael’s comments, I responded with a subtle laugh. My mind felt cracked open at the insight and the metaphors and the world’s problems being placed on the grass in front of me.

Back at Trader Joe’s I stand in front of the blue eyed man as he scanned my items. “I’m reading Ishmael,” I hear myself blurt out. He asks where I am at. I tell him about the leavers and the takers.

The more I read, the more I needed to know. I felt enraptured, connected, and like I was learning something sacred.

The last couple of chapters threw me; unexpectedly the gorilla is becoming more vulnerable, cranky; harder to hold onto. Just as the narrator is learning the most the source of that knowledge is with the wind. I felt my heart pound and as though I too had lost something. On the last page I begin to cry.

I walked out into the cold, grocery bags in hand and run into him in the parking lot. “How’s that book you’re reading he asks.” “Pretty heart breaking,” I reply.

After reading Ishmael, I feel awake. Like I’ve found something. Like I’m enlightened. I’d compare it to your favorite memory of a college lecture or finding Jesus or the Universe or however you equate your spiritual existence. Or the first morning you woke up and felt different. I implore you, read Ishmael, even if you don’t care about religion or mythology or culture or sociology or species, especially if you don’t care, because you’re the taker this book was written for.

Author’s note, I’m reading The Story of B, the sequel to Ishamel and will follow-up with another review upon completion.

It’s amazing to me the things people measure out their lives in. For me it is books. This post is a part of a series of careful reflection in homage to the best books I have ever read.

Golden update: keep buying people books for Christmas

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On October 17, 2015, in anticipation of my Golden birthday, I wrote a list of goals I wanted to accomplish before I reach the age of 31. While I still have more time to work on this list, I have realized that after careful reflection, I have worked towards these things since this post and that deserves an update on progress or completion.

I’m not sure when I fell in love with books. It happened gradually. I’d find myself staring at the stacks at the library, in awe. Keeping them around my room just to have them. Wanting to take a year off from life and just read.

3 years ago, I decided on a new Christmas tradition for myself, buy everyone one book. One hand-selected, personalized to their life-book. It’s helped me really examine how well I know people. It has also helped me push really good books onto people.

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Christmas 2016
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Christmas 2015
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Christmas 2014

It’s made me appreciate even more the intimacy of literature and life lessons and that feeling of lighting up when you talk about your passions.

Here’s to many more years.

The Wilderness

“I’m ready,” I tell him, shivering. I turn to face my disciples. And then I step into the water.

It’s no mistake I found the heart of my spiritual conviction in reading the gospel of John. I fell in love with it, fell in love with Jesus. I read it and wanted to be like him, not Jesus, but John. I wanted to be like the disciple Jesus loved. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to be that close to Jesus.

I fly down a hill on my mountain bike and try not to crash. I anticipate each bump, each vein in the trail. My breath hits the air, it becomes apparent in front of the light. We stop for a moment and I hear the gentle growl that reverberation that terrifies me in the pit of my stomach. I hear it again a little bit every day.

I read books on my lunch break and edit photos and write and do anything other than think of Jesus or not dating or the men I’ve met. Or the way that ominous purr rolls over itself and creeps in and rests on my skin in the darkness.

I think back to the mountains. To the man with the beard. To waking up early. To the feeling of Jesus holding my face in his hands. To that undeniable certainty.

I feel so far away from Jesus lately. I keep it to myself. I talk to the man in the Clark Kent glasses. “I’m writing a play,” he tells me, “in Iambic pentameter.” I smile gently and feel crushed by another beautiful thing I have deprived myself of. I barely read my bible. I smile at the babies. I sob a little before putting on my make-up.

I want to quit. I think of the prayers I’ve been saying for my future husband. I think of how I feel when I talk to men now. How every male is suddenly a man. I cry at the spoken word poem they play at worship. ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ I stomp around campus in my security uniform. He tells me that he isn’t sure if his writing will glorify God. I tell him all creativity glorifies God.

“Do you want to keep in touch,” I hear myself ask him. He invites me to a movie. I tell him about creative balance. He smiles and I’m pulled up from the make shift baptismal.

I leave work and the clouds are purple. The tullies lean hard. I get my passport photo taken and make-believe plans. I think of the boy who ran up and wrapped his arms around the man’s legs. The way my heart nearly stopped for the display of love. A moment of silence for the beauty.

I feel genuinely terrified of my conviction and the ways I grasp at it. The way it floats around me. It’s not something that stays with me long and Eric would say that’s okay from the passenger seat of my car. I feel it deep down as I use my finger to move the glue over the flowers on the paper.  It’s the way Naomi’s hand grabs my wrist the moment before she tells me, “It doesn’t have to be hard.” It’s that baby cling. The wanting to be embraced. The early morning sob. The rest of surrendering it to Jesus. The way I tell her on a Sunday afternoon that I’ve never had to stand up for my faith. The way each new man equates to an unknown step down a trail.It’s morning and I cry while I make my coffee. I feel at peace when I realize that Jesus probably felt this way too.

It’s cold and I’m nearly crying and I tell her about the most important thing I’ve learned. I’m confused and hurt and I’m in it and this is my wilderness. This is the thing I was made to feel. This is it.

A home burns down. I walk across the café with hot chocolate. A friend gives in. A baby is all dressed up for church. I make a list of the books I’m buying people for Christmas. I feel alone in my daily re-commitment.

I confess to her the most beautiful thing. The thing that keeps me going. The fervor I felt when I realized that I finally believe He has someone for me. The significance of how three months ago this was something I kept trying to control.

I put pen to paper and feel how much the desire burns. I start to cry on the stairwell as I tell Pastor Larry I’m getting baptized today. I sit in the dark. I think of that Jeff Buckley sigh. I stop midtrial and look at the stars. I know the water is to the right of me. I pray to be in awe. I take a sip of chocolate and pull back from my writing. I shift gears. I sweat. I talk to the girl in the hat about creativity, she tells me I light up. I smile at the men putting up the Christmas tree. I feel restless. I seek new ways to occupy my time. I think of Matt’s voice. I’m soaking wet and I turn to look at Buz. I’m back in that room where I felt forgiven. I’m sitting in a tree stump. I’m smiling at a Godly man. I lean my head against the glass, baby in my arms. I watch the sunset. “Don’t let anyone tell you this wasn’t real,” his eyes closed voice echoes. All the potent places call to me from the wilderness. I pedal faster. I think of the ways I’m becoming like the disciple who Jesus loved. She cradles me in her arms and I sob.

Golden Update: Be more like Buffy

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On October 17, 2015, in anticipation of my Golden birthday, I wrote a list of goals I wanted to accomplish before I reach the age of 31. While I still have more time to work on this list, I have realized that after careful reflection, I have worked towards these things since this post and that deserves an update on progress or completion.

whatI’ve been having dreams of saving the world. When I’m not dreaming of the men I can’t date, I’m running, fighting, jumping down from buildings. Doing good.

I’ve always known that girls can do anything. What frustrates me about this is that not everyone else does. I’ve always known that acting on my desire to do what the boys do was unique but I didn’t see exactly how different it was until a little over a month ago when I began working Security at church.

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My first day in, I stood near the men and pulled my long brown hair back through my baseball hat. I eavesdropped on their conversations and fumbled with my ear piece. We prayed for the morning and walked out into the 7:00 a.m. air. I got partnered with one of the most experienced police officers I’ve ever met. One of the things I liked the most about the man, outside of his deep voice, and Godzilla-like stature, was his wife. I’ve yet to meet her, but she sounds like my kind of badass.

I walk around campus and feel so strong, so at home in stomping around, letting my gut lead me through. At the start of second service, a woman walks up towards the door, smiles at me, and says, “Oh, a female security guard, you know you’re the first one I’ve seen.” I smile at her, and think, Yes ma’am, that’s the point ma’am, but instead I just tell her to enjoy the service.

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Each man I work with asks me why I wanted to start working security. I tell them about CI and the best job I ever had and writing parking tickets and 6 foot wall jumps and safety escorts and martial arts and investigations and nailing interview questions but still feeling like no one wants to hire you.

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I dress up as Buffy for Halloween. I think back to college and how after watching the entire series, I wished I’d never seen it just so I could watch it all again for the first time. How I’d sit in English classes and say, “Well there’s this episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer…” How the show helped me process my world.

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I walk into karate for the first time after a long hiatus. As a first degree black belt, the students jump to call a salute to me. The bright eyed, brown skinned girls look at me like a hero. I smile because I had forgotten how it felt to be a role model, even just by the mere presence of being somewhere. I remember how 20 years ago, that impacted me, just by seeing the instructor whose dojo I was visiting. I see myself in their gi-tops and hair barrettes. I’m wrapping tape around my feet like Sifu Sue and trying to jump rope as quickly as she does. I’m six years old again and getting my sparring gear on. I’m practicing forms in a deserted dance room in college, and rewinding the video of her again and again to try to get my stance as low as hers. She’s showing me how to use my momentum to circle into a low stance and the kenpo punch. How to roll my body in a way that will help me really hurt someone.

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We do a partner workout in crossfit, a light skinned black man with the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen in paired with me. A horribly misleading workout, the kind that you think will be easy: 4 rounds-400 run while carrying a 10lb medicine ball, 50 wall balls, 50 push-ups. We shared the weight the entire time, switched the medicine ball carry halfway through. Dropped the wall ball and let him take over. On the second round my arms began to really give out on the push-ups but I was determined to do as many as he could, to carry the balance the way a man would. We were both dripping in sweat, and he reminded us of the round, how many we had left, as we got up from push-ups or came in from the run. I felt so good to keep up, and even better that he was impressed. I wasn’t even sure how my legs were still moving on the run. I started on the medicine ball throws, then slammed it down and told him how many I’d done. When he couldn’t do as many push-ups, I did more. We left sweat marks on the floor. BAMF-ed our way through.

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While working as an investigator, I learned just how much I intimidate people. My first case, I arrive at the employer’s site, a secluded space in San Francisco, and the receptionist asks me if I’m a lawyer. Injured workers cry in front of me. The witnesses tell me about the day their co-worker died. Stone-y eyed men pour their hearts out. I sit in my car and cry. The crazy ones try to rile me up. I drive through small towns and their stories echo in my mind. I get to UCSF and a researcher asks me if I’m the subject. I learn more than I ever knew I could about a human’s response to stress, work life balance, and the dynamics of feeling underappreciated at work. I realize how desperately people just need to feel heard.

In November, I walk around church again, SECURITY written on my back. It’s about 10:00 a.m. and an ittie bittie smiles at me as he walks down the sidewalk with his parents. I smile back excitedly and realize the significance of how I am walking through my life.

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Quitters never win

kindnes-1My hands cling to the metal and I make a beeline for the things I need. I place peppers in a bag. I’m finding the sweet ones, but the other part of me is looking for him. That 13 year old girl part of me just wants to know if he’s here so I can tell him that I’m reading that book he mentioned. And feel so special just by conversing with him. I walk towards the cereal and back across the way to where she is. And then I see him, black long sleeve shirt, beautiful brain, cozy kind eyes. “That’s him,” I say to my friend and give a description, “black shirt, little bit of a belly,” she cranes her neck turns her head back to me and smiles.

Near the 2 buck chuck someone else rings up our groceries. I raise my eyebrows at my friend as she stands at a checkout a few stations down. I grab my bag, walk over and wait for her. I try to shake the feeling of defeat as we leave into the cold air. My friend puts the receipt in her bag and asks, “Well, if you weren’t on your challenge, would you ask him out?” I pause for a moment and say that I would at least try to find out if he is single. She tells me I’m braver than she is. I put my groceries in my car and know that some day she will be compelled to be this brave.

I’m standing in her kitchen watching her throw things into a sauce pan. She’s not good at it but she doesn’t care, she is making us soup. I tell her more about the men I have been meeting lately out of nowhere. And how I’m processing their interest. I tell her about the part of the Andy Stanley book that said you may reach a point where you’re being approached and you need to turn down men. And how that’s the part I am dreading because I don’t know how they’ll react. Or if I’ll even be strong enough to do it. I think about all the things Jesus did. And how I want to be like the disciple whom Jesus loved. She stirs the liquid and we agree that I need to keep going.

Vanilla skies

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The hardest thing about not dating is the longing. There’s no rejection, there’s no resolution, there’s no closure, there’s no cycle-it’s this languid taffy pulling ache that is so palatable it makes you yearn and yearn and yearn. I thought it would be easier. Although, some days go by without incident, I am finding that most days I spend the whole time wondering about what could be in a very all encompassing way that really reminds me of my boy crazed youth. My feelings just build with nowhere to go but up (because I’ve never been one to bury my emotions).

So the task is to really just be okay with what is. And go back to a place of endless potential and levity.

In other news, it has been life changing to have a job built around creativity and the fluidity of technology and experiences. I feel so alive, so engaged in what I’m doing, so encouraged and an overall aura of gratitude. Hope your week is going well.

Here’s to love.