Oct. 23, 2008

Welcome Home, Children

by David Shumate

In the early spring I get together with all the people I've been
in my past lives. We sit around the table at my grandfather's
farmhouse—mashed potatoes, creamed peas, cornbread. There's
the Confederate colonel with his mustache and battlefield odor.
The medieval peasant from Portugal with insects in her hair. The
Irish boy who died from the fever at nine. There's the patient wife
of the fishmonger. The petty thief from Cathay who's already
stuffed his pockets with my grandmother's paperweights. My
favorite is the Hindu monk. His orange robes. The sacred paint
across his forehead. He's never reconciled his lust for women and
steals glances at the dancer from Babylon—my first life. Her long
dark hair. The thin veils draped over her shoulders. She loves
to lean across the table for the marmalade, exposing her breasts
for him to see. After dinner she excuses herself and walks into
the garden. He follows. I'm not sure if it's just a natural kind of
thing… One incarnation of mine seducing another…Or an act
so vile even Narcissus would have gagged.

"Welcome Home, Children" by David Shumate from The Floating Bridge. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 2001 that Apple released the iPod. The first iPod had a hard drive of five gigabytes, and when it was released, Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced that the little device could put "1,000 songs in your pocket."

It's the birthday of Augusten Burroughs, (books by this author) born Christopher Robison in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1965). He's the author of the best-selling memoir Running with Scissors, based on his teenage years. He said, "When I was 13, my crazy mother gave me away to her lunatic psychiatrist, who adopted me. I then lived a life of squalor, pedophiles, no school and free pills."

While he was growing up, his parents fought all the time. His mother ate cigarette butt-and-peanut butter sandwiches and had all sorts of psychiatric disorders. She used to beat his alcoholic father, who was a math and philosophy professor. He said that his parents argued so much that Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf was the "closest thing he had to a home movie."

He kept a record of all these experiences. His parents gave him a tape recorder as a gift, and when he was nine, he started talking into it. And he began keeping a journal as a teenager.

His parents went to therapy but still split up. And when he was 13, his mom sent him to live with her psychiatrist, Dr. Rodolph Turcotte. The doctor's wife ate dog food while watching television. Dr. Turcotte believed that God was trying to communicate with him through his feces. When Augusten needed an excuse not to go to school, the doctor arranged a fake suicide attempt.

Burroughs finally ran away and settled in San Francisco. He got a high-paying job at an ad agency, but he was addicted to crack cocaine and drinking heavily. Before he got to the office in the morning, he would spray cologne on his tongue to hide the smell of whiskey. His coworkers convinced him to enter rehab. After 30 days, Burroughs emerged sober, and within a couple of weeks, he had written his first novel, Sellevision (2000). The book was moderately successful, and he was encouraged to write about his childhood experiences. He said, "I thought my childhood was a disgusting mess so I never thought anyone would be interested in reading about it, even with a gallows humor." But his memoir, Running with Scissors, became a publishing phenomenon, staying on the New York Times Bestseller List for four consecutive years. It was made into a feature film in 2006.

He said, "The secret to being a writer is that you have to write. It's not enough to think about writing or to study literature or plan a future life as an author. You really have to lock yourself away, alone, and get to work."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show