Addiction Memoirs and Self Loathing

I don’t know what is about addiction memoirs that I am drawn to. But I just finished Dry by Augusten Burroughs this morning, and it occurred to me that I’ve read quite a few of these types of memoirs over the past several years. Of course I’m drawn to memoir in general. My first non-fiction class pretty much solidified that on day one, but there is something about the brutal honesty of these stories of addiction that really appeal to me. I’m sure some people think it has to do with “redemption” stories, but I don’t find addiction memoirs redemptive. I find them realistic. There is no guarantee that these people will continue therapy or stay on the wagon. As I mentioned in my previous post about Mary Karr’s Lit, what I liked most about the book was that she’s a work in progress. This is also how Dry ends. And whether you’re and addict or not, well we’re all works in progress.

I did not read Running With Scissors, I listened to it on CD while driving back and forth to Kentucky while I was getting my MFA. And while this may sound stupid, I didn’t realize how disturbing that book was until I read Dry. As I was telling R last night, because of the way Burroughs writes, I don’t think the horror of his situation sank in till I revisited it in Dry. For example, he refers to his rape and relationship with a pedophile. And while I consciously remember all this from Running With Scissors, I felt it more when I read Dry. The book is funny and heartbreaking. I read it in three days and would highly recommend it.

Dry did call something to mind that I’ve mulled over and will probably continue to mull over forever. What’s the deal with self loathing and writers? Even as I ask this question, all these cliches come to mind. I remember all the questions I get from my students in intro to creative writing class: Why do all good writers commit suicide? Why are they all alcoholics/drug addicts?
Some of them find all of this sexy. They want to be the brooding, skinny, chain smoking cliche. However, whenever I think about the writers that I love that fell victim to their pain (Sylvia Plath, David Foster Wallace, Ernest Hemingway, Virgina Woolf, Anne Sexton and so on) I just feel sad. What could they given us if they had lived?


As I mentioned a few posts ago, I recently finished reading Mary Karr’s Lit. I discovered Mary Karr in an introductory non fiction class that I took as an undergraduate. I had never really thought much about non fiction but when I read Cherry, I was struck by how much poetry and non fiction have in common. The vivid imagery, the lyricism of her lines, and the raw emotion really struck me. I read the Liar’s Club and when she came to a local university a few years ago with Franz Wright, I listened to her read from her poetry collection Sinner’s Welcome.

I think the dangers in writing a memoir are many. They can come off as too precious, too much like a self help manual, especially of you’re writing about overcoming addiction through a spiritual journey, which is essentially what Karr is doing in Lit. I have to admit that about halfway through the book, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to finish. The prose was gripping, the tone seemed genuine, but it seemed lofty to me that Karr was going to claim that God had saved her. My athesist boyfriend dismissed the book before even reading it because of these spiritual revelations. However, he was mistaken and so was I. Karr is not shoving religion down our throats in this memoir, and whether you believe or not, you can take something away from the gritty prose that fills this book. It is heartbreaking but it is also relatable and I think that’s what drew me in and kept me reading (I finished the book in one day). There were a lot of places where she could have fallen into cliche. I mean she’s a writer, a poet, and an alcoholic. It doesn’t get more formulaic then that, but I believe her joy, her pain, her struggle, and her small triumphs. She draws you into her life and somehow makes it yours.

Her relationships with her family are documented in brutally honest words, but there is also tenderness. When she describes the moment when she has to move her dying father to a nursing home is devastating, made worse by the fact that a stroke has rendered him almost speechless. When moving her mother from her disintegrating house towards the end of the book, it is a reenactmentof her father’s pain. Her mother feels stripped and naked in the new, stark white condo and that vulnerability results in a painful argument between mother and daughter. Family is a central theme in this memoir and is closely related to alienation, so much so that they almost become symbols for each other throughout the text.

This memoir is not a mantra and it does not deliver some lofty message. It is a real account of a life that is still being lived. The verdict is still out on how this story will end.

Rainy Days

While I believe that rainy days are good for my garden, I would like to see some sun in the next day or two. I went out for a walk with Kweli yesterday morning as a sort of protest. I wanted to start a walking regimen and I’d be damned if the weather was going to screw it up. We had a nice walk but by the time we returned my sneakers were soaked through and Kwe was shaking his head to get the water out of his ears.

Yesterday I went to the store and then came home and cooked. Below are the fruits of my labor:

These are power spheres. They’re made up of dried apricots, dried apples, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, peanut butter, and apple juice. They’re delicious, easy to make, and a great snack.

This is honey wheat banana bread. Courtesy of my beloved bread machine. This particular bread is great with lemon curd or nutella.

This is sun dried tomato hummus. It occurred to me the other day as I bought hummus at the grocery store, that I had a perfectly good Cuisinart at home and that garbanzo beans cost about 88 cents…

After I returned from my conference on Sunday morning, RJ and I went to the Broad Ripple Art Fair. We purchased a piece of student artwork pictured below:

It is by a local artist by the name of Lisa VanMeter and this is the blurb she attached to the painting:

This is a multi-color woodblock print from a single block. The colors were printed in the reduction method on Mulberry paper.

We’re going to hang it in our kitchen where we have some empty wall space. I would like to continue adding the art of local artists to our walls as we continue to put our home together.


Another benefit to rainy days is that I don’t feel guilty about getting completely caught up in a book. I received Mary Karr’s memoir Lit for Christmas this year and it has been sitting on my coffee table since January. Today I read all three hundred plus pages of it in one sitting. I read Karr’s Cherry and the Liar’s Club and it was her writing that sparked my interest in non-fiction. She came to Butler a few years ago to read from her poetry collection “Sinner’s Welcome” and I got a chance to listen to her read her work.

Her memoir Lit is essentially about her journey into and out of madness. It’s a provocative and haunting read and I’ll have more to say about in a few days when I’ve digested it all…