S.F. Author Committed to an Insane Asylum Tells His Story

Categories: Interview, Lit

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Christopher Turner

"It was a sight you'd never want to see outside of a bachelorette party: two strapping men in dark navy blue uniforms emerged through the hallway, heading straight toward me." This is how San Francisco native Marty Maguire begins his promotional trailer for his eBook, American Psychonaut.

American Psychonaut is a short memoir, published by Thought Catalog this past Friday, detailing the story of why Marty was taken by the "strapping men" to a mental hospital and institutionalized shortly after he graduated from NYU and returned to his hometown of San Francisco to, ironically enough, pursue a specialized degree in psychiatry and neurology.

Recently we got the chance to talk to Marty and find out a little more about American Psychonaut:

SF Weekly: When did you know you wanted to write? Was it prior to your experience in the psych ward or because of it?

Marty Maguire: Writing my story was always something in the back of my mind, but it didn't emerge to the forefront until after my experience in the psychiatric hospital. I was so determined to succeed in school in order to make a career out of clinical practice and research because I was motivated by my own maladies -- ADHD, dyslexia, anxiety, depression. After my release from the psychiatric hospital, I dropped out of school and committed myself to finding the best possible treatment for my case. It was then that I began to write memoir. It really wasn't a conscious decision; all of a sudden I just found myself one day already doing it. Perhaps, having already dropped out of school, I simply didn't have anything better to do. I began to really believe in my writing project and develop new goals for recycling my past experiences into something positive and productive through creative nonfiction writing. I write to illustrate how psychological trauma can physically take its toll on one's health.

In the email you sent us, you pointed out that the video clip of your mother dressing you in drag in 1994 showed acceptance of transgender curiosities at a time when that wasn't so common. Say more about what it was like growing up in an environment with accepting parents when not very many other people were.

For the first dozen or so years of my life, I glowed with confidence and had a robust social life, despite being noticeably different than the other kids. I would prance and sashay around the living room all the time, hold fashion shows with my cousin during family gatherings, and do women's gymnastics balance beam routines on the armrest of our TV room couch. As you can see in the video, my mom very nonchalantly embraced and engaged in my unusual transgender curiosities. She enrolled me in ballet classes and supported me in everything I did. But then she had a mid-life crisis and completely 180-ed on me. She had her own medical issues which I believe physically changed her personality and attitudes. So it's a double-edged sword. On one hand, I'm grateful for those first dozen years of support. But on the other hand, I sometimes wonder if it would have been better that I never had that comfort to begin with because as the saying goes, you can't miss what you never knew.

Who are some of your biggest influences in your writing?

Being dyslexic and a painfully slow reader since birth, I am far from a bookworm. But I've enjoyed reading the likes of people like David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs, Armistead Maupin, Jonathan Franzen, and J.D. Salinger, among others. I'm also inspired by academics or scholars who use sophisticated analytical tools to assess pop culture--Lisa Duggan, Judith Jack Halberstam, and political commentator Melissa Harris-Perry. Finally, there's a blog by a guy named Michael K. called DListed.com and it's so clever. Even in telling the painful events of my stories, I still tend to gravitate towards humor writing and satire.

The full title of your eBook is American Psychonaut: The Prelude to the Great American Memoir, will The Great American Memoir expand on American Psychonaut or be a collection of memoirs, or tell a different story?

The plan was to start off with my involuntary psychiatric commitment then revert back to my childhood. The concept was to show this dramatic train wreck and make the reader wonder "how did things get to this point?" and to then answer that question by revealing the previous events of my personal history in chronological order to explain what went wrong and caused my downfall. Ultimately, I would eventually return to the psychiatric hospital, tell the story of what went on inside there, then wrap up with a couple pivotal events that happen after the psychiatric commitment that set me on a significantly different path in life. Who knows what I'll end up doing. But I do think in a perfect world, I would muscle through and create that traditional full-length piece of work because ultimately, while I have some great stand-alone stories that could work, I do think the sum of my stories is greater than its parts and crafting a coherent, full-length book would be more compelling for the reader.

Watch the trailer for Maguire's book below.

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2 comments
Adam Fitch
Adam Fitch

Awesome! Can you tell me where this guy was sent?? I'm a Social Worker in San Francisco and I'm not trying to plug a book, rather I'm looking for a place where I can send people with mental disabilities?

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