Writing helps author ‘live with myself’

For Augusten Burroughs, Christmas has always been a time for catastrophe and nightmare. Yet – in typical Burroughs fashion – it also is his favorite holiday and even fodder for a future book.

“It’s a collection of Christmas stories called ‘You Better Not Cry,’ ” he said.

The best-selling author whose books include the memoirs “Running with Scissors” and “Dry” spoke to a crowd of about 150 at Kansas University’s Woodruff Auditorium on Tuesday. His appearance was part of KU’s Pride Week activities.

The author expounded on such topics as a troubled childhood that included more days missed from school than attended and battles with alcoholism that reduced him to bed-wetting and living in squalor. He also discussed writing, publishing, touring and being gay.

Ashlynn Horras, a KU sophomore and member of the student group Queers & Allies, said Burroughs is her personal hero.

“I love his books,” she said. “He’s had an unsupportive family and unsupportive relationships and dealt with alcohol addiction. He’s just come through so much and he does it laughing.”

Burroughs talked about his darker days in the throes of alcoholism and how writing and its power to divert his attention helped him overcome his addiction.

“I wrote all day and I drank at night,” he said of the early days. “I was distracted. I was thinking, ‘What is this thing I’m writing?’ “

He writes for himself, he said.

“Writing still serves a need for me,” he said. “It’s a very effective way of understanding what it is I feel and what I’m going to do about what I feel. It just helps me live with myself.”

Writing gave him something to do as he recovered from alcoholism, he said, and it helped him learn how to live sober.

“The thing they don’t teach you in rehab – and this came as a complete surprise to me – is that each day has 24 hours,” Burroughs said. “As an alcoholic, I’d only been aware of, like, four of them.”

“Running with Scissors” was made into a movie and released in 2006. Burroughs’ latest book, “A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father,” will be released later this month.

Burroughs mainly covered writing and books during his talk, but at an audience member’s request, he delved into sexuality and gay marriage.

“I don’t believe that allowing gay people to be married will destroy the institution of marriage, but if having gay people marry does destroy the sanctity of marriage, then the sanctity of marriage has to be destroyed,” he said. “Every person in this country has to have exactly the same rights.”