Sunday, February 11, 2007

The beginning

My brother always loved my stories as a child. And my son loved them, too. “You should write a book,” they both said. I pondered their comments, and continued along, operating my automobile business and telling the kid stories every night when he went to bed.

In 2002, my brother Augusten Burroughs wrote Running With Scissors, a story about our childhood. When the book came out, I was quite upset because reading it made me remember how bad our upbringing really was. Many of the reviews portrayed the book as funny - hilarious even - but to me it was a dark story because it made me remember all the bad parts of my childhood, things I'd forgotten for 30 years.

I was stunned to read some of the things in my brother's book. For example, my brother told how Bookman molested him at 13. I had never known that. But I sure knew Bookman had tried to do the same thing to me, five years before!! I felt very bad, reading my brother's story. If only he could have come and lived with me, I thought as I read RWS. But at 21, my age when RWS happened, I was virtually homeless. I was on the road with bands or squatting in my girlfriend's apartment. I had no way to take in a 13-year-old brother. And I had no idea.

I was afraid to let any of my customers see the book, but I was proud of my brother so I put the book on our counter and cringed every time someone bought a copy.

They are never going to speak to me again, I would say to myself, every time someone bought a book. But that didn’t happen.

Instead, people told me how inspired they were. They told me about their own bad childhoods, and how impressed they were that my brother and I had come out of ours OK. That experience gave me the courage to write my own story. My brother's stories proved to be very inspirational to many people, to my great surprise. Even now, four years after RWS was published, people walk into my automobile business and tell me how my brother's book affected them.

I've heard similar things about my brother's book DRY. I don't appear in that story, but of course people in my area associate me with it.

My book is not a "bad childhood" story. My story is about growing up with Asperger’s syndrome – a high functioning form of autism - overcoming my limitations, and ultimately becoming a successful adult.

It’s a lonely story at first, because I didn’t have many friends. I didn’t know how to act, or how to respond. As a child, my best friends were all machines. When I got bigger, my understanding of machines led me into a career in electronics, and I found myself on the road with Pink Floyd’s sound company Britro, and then the musical group KISS.

I’ve told how I moved into a real job, as a designer for a major toy company – an Aspergian passing for Normal in polite society. But then it fell apart. I couldn’t pretend anymore. I quit my job and started fixing cars in my driveway.

Machines were never tricky. They never lied, and I always understood them.

But something happened when I started my business. I started to understand people, too. And one of the people was an insightful therapist, TR Rosenberg. http://www.strongbridgeassociates.com/ TR told me about Asperger’s and that knowledge changed my life.

My book is in the end a story of triumph, as I mastered the condition that held me down all those years, and I found fame, fortune, and happiness, at least to some extent, in the woods of Western Massachusetts.

Look Me In The Eye is being published this September by Crown, an imprint of Random House.

2 comments:

Polly said...

Finally getting a chance to read through your blog on this quiet Memorial Day morning. (my three guys are out seeing the third Pirates movie, gag. Even John Depp can't get me to the theatre for that.)
"I was afraid to let any of my customers see the book, but I was proud of my brother so I put the book on our counter and cringed every time someone bought a copy."

That is beautiful, John.

I'm so glad that you have accepted that you were not able to be there for him when he needed you. You have each other today and that goes a long way in making up for the past.

Chris said...

My wife says it describes me. I just read it and passed good book alert to stepson isbn 978-0-307-39598-6