Isaac Fitzgerald on How We Tell Ourselves Stories To Get By
In Conversation with Maris Kreizman on The Maris Review Podcast
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On deciphering truth from fiction when writing memoir:
“My parents were married when they had me, just to different people” is how I’ve always both talked about my childhood and deflected it. For me, that’s the core of this collection. How we tell ourselves stories to get by. The stories that were told to me took me years, decades, to unpack and figure out which was true and which was part of something I may have heard as a child and that grew into something else. That is the complexity and that’s when you really get into yes, nonfiction/memoir but history in general, all we’re doing is telling each other stories.
People ask me how long did it take to write the book, and if I’d written the book when I was 25 it would be much different than the book that I’ve written, which I started basically in earnest at 35. I’m 39 now. But I’ve been working on the book maybe since I was 8 or 9. These were all stories that I was constantly trying to figure out. Where do I fit into this? And that has been the process of this entire book… I understand that this book is a dip into a conversation and those conversations are ongoing.
On how bars can be like church for him:
One of the lines in the book, and it’s the God’s honest truth, I may be the only son of an alcoholic father who liked him better when he drank. The memories I have of those moments are of real connection. And so I do realize that there is something different in that for me, and it took me a long time to examine it. What really helped was therapy. Through some incredible conversations with [my therapist] that deeply guided this book. She was the person to point out to me, “Isaac, do you realize you have this story of home, you have this story of church, you have this story of places that are maybe seen by most people as safe spaces.”
Those are the hardest ones for you. The stories of church, my home, are maybe not the safe spaces I thought they were. And stories about Zeitgeist and the Armory kind of are. For me, bars in general, feel like little escape hatches. And when I say bars I really do mean like quiet bars. I’m not talking about clubs. I’m talking about little slices of spaces where for me, what it means is you can slip away for just a moment. You can be anonymous for just a moment. But then when you find that bar like I did in Zeitgeist, it’s not just about slipping away or disappearing. Then you find real connection. Then you find real community. Then you find chosen family. I think that’s what happens when you have a home that’s not a place you get to go back to. I moved around a lot as a kid, so you find these touchstones that you know are actually permanent, and those spaces become the places that you get to go back and visit.
Isaac Fitzgerald appears frequently on The Today Show and is the author of the bestselling children’s book How to Be a Pirate as well as the co-author of Pen & Ink and Knives & Ink. He lives in Brooklyn. His debut memoir in essays is called Dirtbag, Massachusetts.