Not the most popular place these days…
Athens has long been a crossroads for refugees trying to make their way from the Middle East into Europe. So when I traveled there with my church pastor, David, this past February to explore the possibility of starting up a medical clinic, we had no idea what kind of summer was approaching.
At the time, it was clear that activity in Syria/Iraq (ISIS territory spans both) was worsening, so we predicted an influx of migrants seeking refugee status in the EU. We knew the numbers this summer would jump. But we didn’t predict anything to the level of what we’re seeing today.
Be advised that anything you read below this blog is from the days when my blog was largely a chronicle of my time in family medicine residency in Olympia, WA. Some of the posts are fun, some whimsical, some serious, some maybe a little helpful.
After residency I moved to Germany and live here still. I’m a practicing family medicine doctor and have long planned on working in international and relief settings. This is the primary reason for moving away from friends and family, and my decision has positioned me well to help with the current crises in Europe.
Can I, and this little clinic we’re building, do much to address these massive problems? Hardly. I understand that. But if lots of people do lots of little things, it can equal one big thing over time. So I’m starting with this little thing.
As such, from this blog forward, I’ll mostly be talking about the work we’re doing in Athens and the topics that relate to that work. Namely, cross-cultural medicine and global public health. If you care about these things, you may enjoy following along as I navigate through this project.
The media element of this project is just getting started, and it’s been awhile since I flexed my creaky “blingers” (that’d be blog-fingers). So bear with me.
However, already I’ve been met with scenarios for our clinic that I hope to present to you, SW101 nation, for input and ideas. This isn’t an easy challenge, with lots of questions that have no easy answers. So approaching this as a community is, I think, a much better way forward than going it totally alone.
So, if you’re willing to jump in with me, thank you, and welcome!
Hi Dr. SW101,
Enjoyed reading some of your blog posts both older and the newer army related ones today. Lots of smiles and chuckles, Thanks.
Laughter? In response to this blog? That’s TERRIBLE. This was supposed to be serious stuff. Like taxes. This is information. Data. Recommend re-read.
I’m curious to know why you signed up?
I signed up for the Army for one major reason and one minor reason.
The major reason was the craven want of money. I wish it was something more patriotic, but the primary motivation was an offer of a loan repayment grant and monthly stipend during my years in residency. The Army required nothing in return during my training years. Faced with sneaking my 6-member family into a 2-bd apartment that allows only 4 people, I took the money. Instead of the apartment, I was able to put my family in a cute 3-bd home on a quiet corner two blocks away from my training hospital.
The second reason was patriotic. Despite my vehement opposition to the war in Iraq, and moderate opposition to the war in Afghanastan, I was fully aware that primary care was severely lacking in the U.S. Army at a time when young Americans were throwing themselves into war. Irrespective of how I felt about those conflicts, I remain an American. News of my countrymen dying or suffering partially due to lack of good medical care was something I couldn’t tolerate.
I have always been taken with depictions of how our nation pulled together and sacrificed during the second world war. Back then, those war efforts were truly a national affair. Virtually everyone gave to the effort in some fashion. And, I think a huge reason for the wealth and power we have enjoyed for the past 60 years are a direct result of those sacrifices made by our Greatest Generation.
“Earn this,” CPT John Miller, dying from a mortal wound during the Battle of Ramelle, implored Private Ryan in the Spielberg movie. The message, as I took it, was our generation (and the Boomers before us) must understand that great sacrifices were made to allow us to live on the top of the world as we have as Americans. It remains our mandate to earn that sacrifice; it was made before we even deserved it.
So I signed.
I saw posts about officer training and an earlier one about trying to figure out the military scheme as a civilian. What got you in?
I have left my family in Germany and successfully arrived in tepid San Antonio, TX for 28 days of training to become an officer in the U.S. Army Medical Corps (pronounced ‘core’ not ‘corpse,’ though both work pretty well).
My blogging output has been at an all-time low since moving to Europe. Who knows why…this place is such a bore. I continue to hack away at my book, which never seems to get close to done – the literary equivalent of Sisyphus’ ever-rolling stone.
The other day a reporter contacted me to hear my thoughts on so-called “concierge” medicine. It was a timely query, since I’m considering a loose offer to join a concierge practice back in the States. In my email reply to him, I found myself writing my own little manifesto on the subject. A treatise, if you will. A declaration. A primer? A resolution, a promulgation…
Our family just returned from Disneyland Paris. We had a great time. As a doctor, however, I just couldn’t ignore the many health problems clearly evident in the thousands of images I saw of the world’s most famous mouse.
I can say with confidence that this will be the first and only time that I publish the health record of a patient without his/her consent. But then again, I’m not even sure this little rodent was my patient at all. Furthermore, I can’t vouch for my physical exam of our storied mouse – given his rather cavalier take on the idea of ‘physical’ – but I do believe we should all be alarmed at the probable health status of our big-eared friend.
Of greatest concern is what can only be described as HUGE feet. Unfortunately, this does not suggest enviable male endowment, as it is sometimes rumored in those with enormous paws. Rather, these feet are swollen. A close look at most pictures of this patient suggest that he in fact can’t wear shoes at all, but instead some sort of stretchy slipper.
The best explanation for feet this swollen is congestive heart failure. This is a situation where the heart has pumped against a dysfunctional circulatory vessel pressure for so long that the muscle fibers have becomes stretched out and weak. Eventually, the heart becomes incapable of pushing blood around the body effectively, causing pooling of fluids in the extremities, especially the feet. Judging by the thousands of pictures of him, most drawings were likely done after this patient had been on his feet all day. Let’s face it, an 80 year old mouse can only walk around smiling waving at kids for so long before problems arise.
CHF is progressive (meaning it just gets worse over time). Elizabeth Taylor just died from this, for example. Mick could use any of a number of meds to lower his blood pressure, and (arguable, these days) something to strengthen the contractions of whatever functioning heart muscle fibers he still has. He should also go with low-salt cheese, lean scraps and whatever else a billionaire mouse might eat.
The little guy also has disturbingly white hands. Leaving aside the perplexing question of how a rodent has human hands (and feet), what we’re probably seeing here is Reynaud’s phenomenon.
In itself, this is a circulatory system peculiarity that is not medically-concerning. However, it can be very painful. Mickey appears to be in the early stages of the process. Likely shortly after his portrait sittings, his hands turned bright blue, then eventually into a deep red. Throughout the process, he would be in quite a bit of pain.
Of course, I can’t be sure if he isn’t wearing gloves (assuming that garish white color IS his skin, frequent glove use makes sense). Gloved or not, we still have the problem of clearly HUGE hands, suggesting edema like that described above in his feet. Assuming, however, that we do in fact have Reynaud’s here, the concern is of an autoimmune disease in the category of lupus. “Lupus” is a reference to the facial rash often seen in the disease and how it mimics the fur-pattern of the red wolf. Given that wolves engorge themselves on mice whenever possible, this diagnosis is insult to injury for our poor little entertainer.
Furthermore, lupus typically causes joint and connective tissue pain. It can lead to heart problems, anemia, serious lung problems including emboli and hemorrhages, kidney damage and neurological problems. There is no known cure, although the disease can be managed usually to good effect with oral steroids (not of the Lance Armstrong type…we’ll get to that), but the Mickster here clearly needs to get them started.
Next, the rotund belly. This is the physical sign most associated with diabetes and other metabolic diseases (or could be another sign of his CHF). Termed by doctors as “central obesity,” this malady affects a HUGE proportion of American men, especially. To our knowledge, little else puts a person more at risk for big metabolic problems. Mickey lives at Disneyland, where he can expect to eat things like spun sugar, rock candy-encased apples (I presume of the sort that felled Ms. S. White) and shovel-fulls of sweetened popcorn. So, as a nearly 90 year-old mouse, he can be forgiven the “Gaston Gut,” as it were. Still, a strict diet is highly recommended.
Another thing: look carefully, and you’ll realize that Mickey’s head is larger than his entire thorax (body sans legs). Babies exhibit this phenomenon – watch a toddler reach overhead…only the hands extend beyond the giant head itself – but adults don’t. Mickey may have been born with something called hydrocephaly that was inexplicably untreated for 80 years. Maybe he was too busy as a child prodigy mouse, or maybe everyone thought it was “cute.” He may also be suffering from Cushings, an overabundance of the steroid cortisol. He has some other physical signs to support that diagnosis too.
But he also could be doping. By doping, I specifically mean HGH, or human growth hormone. Lots of athletes do (or did) it, like Barry Bonds (yep, I passed judgement…don’t care about some goofy trial) and probably Lance Armstrong. Here a note to Armstrong supporters: almost EVERY top-5 pro cyclist, and every one of Lance’s main competitors over his winning years, has been busted for doping of some sort. Except him. Savvy, not legitimacy, I say.
Anyway, HGH makes you huge, but it can disporportionately affect the bones, especially in the head. Of note, HGH isn’t bad in itself, per se. It stimulates muscle growth in a way that can be very helpful to geriatric patients, for example. And, as with many Hollywood elites, The Mickster shows his age about as much as Dick Clark who looks 40 but was actually personal friends with Moses. So, I think Mickey can be forgiven for taking a shot or two from the possible fountain of youth. But, unfortunately, that HUGE noggin gives it away…to me at least.
So, let me say that DisneyLand was a great adventure for our 4 kids. I, however, kept getting dragged into unnecessary endeavors like rides or shows even as I frantically searched high and low my latest, and sickest, patient. Sadly, I never had a chance to warn him of his predicament. So, the onus is now on you, dear SW101 nation. Find him. Tell him. He’s sick. He needs help.
Next Week: Goofy comes out of the closet and reveals that he has Marfan’s Disease…and everyone pretends to be surprised.
SW101: I’m sitting here today with Herpes Simplex Virus, type 2. It has agreed to answer a few questions for SW101 Nation. Thanks for joining us today, um, is it…Mr. Simplex?
HSV: “Mr.” Simplex. Sure. I’ll go with that. (rolls eyes, muttering “humans”).
SW101: Tell me, what do you regard as some of your greatest accomplishments, to date?
Mr. Simplex: We’re awesome, basically. We like to consider ourselves ubiquitous, yet cosmopolitan. We are particularly fond of the human idea of “make love, not war.” mmMM. Huge for us, that one.
Mr. Simplex: You got an ulcer on your nether-parts after a groovy night wearing nothing but beer goggles? Probably us. Any version of sexually active with any version of human being (we don’t like animals)? Excellantae! 30% chance we’ll be right there with you. Me and my posse are hanging out with 30-45 MILLION Americans. And that just in the, ah, “middle” parts of the human landscape. We got some cousins who live in the windy North quite happily. We cross paths from time to time.
SW101: Wow. Qute a party.
Simplex: Yep. And we’re inviting picking up around 300,000 new groupies every year.
SW101: How’s that?
Simp: We’re launching out all over the atmosphere much more often than people realize. Those blistery sores we cause? Well call ’em “pleasure domes,” referring to what they do for us as well as how our gracious hosts acquired them in the first place. Anyway, we don’t just blast out from the popping penile blisters. Usually, we send out early drones before the sore even forms. We’re terribly proud of this tactic.
SW101: Soo, when does the ‘party’ end?
Simplex: That’s the best part. Pretty much never.
SW101: Like, never?
Simplex: Oh sure, we take a break sometimes. Lots of times, actually. We hide most of the time. But once we’re in a body, we don’t really ever leave.
SW101: What do you hide from?
Simp: There’s two things we don’t like in this world, and the Great White Army is the main one.
SW101: Um, you refer to Tsar Ivan III‘s anti-Bolshevik Imperial Russian Army in the 1920’s?
Simp: What?! What kind of freak-show wonk are you? No! The human immune system. All the cells in that army are white. Or clear. Or something. Scary, those guys. They can blow us up, eat us, chew us up, spit out pieces of us so their comrades can eat the rest of us…it’s disgusting, really. It’s like a bad horror movie. Ugh! Look at that picture of the immune cell! Don’t you have any shame? I didn’t walk in here holding up pictures of car accidents, or guys who accidentally fell into meat grinders, did I? Why don’t we just sit around and ponder Charles Manson, and all his fabulous exploits? Oh, actually, that guy was pretty good for us, as I recall.
Anyway, where was I? (fans self, leans back weakly). Oh yes, when it’s up and running full-bore, the human immune system it a giant headache for us. We try to lay low. No sense in getting our heads knocked off. The good news is that it gets stretched pretty thin trying to cover all the problems that come up in those unnecessarily complex organisms of yours. It’s pretty easy to come out and play once the person is stressed, sick, too hot or cold or with some disease that naturally keeps the White Army back in the barracks, so to speak.
SW101: So, you hide in the nerves, right?
Mr. Simplex: (looks left and right conspiratorially) Yep. Broadly speaking. This is the secret to our survival, by the way. Our lair. Your nerves.
SW101: And, specifically?
Simplex: Well, you guys have no hope of actually finding us, so I’ll just go ahead and tell you. My guys hang out in the roots of the nerves that extend from the sacrum. S2-5, usually. In the ganglion. It’s nice there. Our version of what you’d call waterfront property, I’d imagine. Our cousins hang out in similar nerves in the face.
SW101: You mentioned two things you don’t like, what’s the other?
Simplex: Condoms. We hate ’em.
SW101: That bad, huh? Your great nemesis?
SW101: Surely you’re referring to the Israeli-Palestinian former leaders…both dead now?
Simplex: Dead? Really? I don’t think we had anything to do with that. We try not to kill our hosts…bad for real estate, as you can imagine. But yeah, them. They hated each other, but at the same time, they created lots of business for each other too. Get it? People don’t like using condoms, for some reason. But those that do are WAY lax about concerning themselves with us. Since we don’t just hang out in areas covered by those suffocating, smothering latex udders, we get around pretty well when condoms are in the mix. People jump into their illicit affairs, thinking they’re safe…and forget to ask anything about us.
So, it’s a love-hate thing. Overall, condoms are probably pretty good for business.
SW101: So, you hate condoms. What do you love?
Simples: Promiscuity. We’re BFF’s. Make love, not war, dude. Preferably, don’t even look down at what you’re doing.
It’s not personal, by the way. We’re just doing what we are meant to do…which is reproduce. Everyone who is living with us now should understand that. It’s one big happy family of organisms doing what they were meant to do…mate, and reproduce. It’s natural. When you’re mating…so are we. All I can say is, sorry for the inconvenience.
- Herpes – Are bleeding lesions around the genitals a sign of herpes? (zocdoc.com)
- Can a herpes outbreak cause one to cough? (zocdoc.com)
- Can oral herpes be transferred to the genitals? (zocdoc.com)
- Herpes – How long does itchiness last for those infected with Herpes? (zocdoc.com)
- “AIDS breakthrough: African study offers hope to women by helping prevent HIV, herpes” and related posts (taragana.com)
Q – I just discovered your blog and have had fun reading it, however, it seems that you have stopped blogging?
A – It’s true. I burned out a little. Well, that’s a simplification. Moving here (to Germany), emerging from survival mode from medical training and settling into a normal life opened up all kinds of new emotions in me that I didn’t anticipate. The most important of these was a distinct realization that I wanted to deepen and widen my relationship with my wife.
So instead of pounding out these blog posts, I’ve been cooking dinner once a week (“Daddy Dinners”) and spending the majority of my nights watching some show or other with my wife by my side as I run my fingers slowly through her hair.
I’m gradually putting together a new blog – “Lover, Daddy, Doctor” – that picks up where SW101 leaves off. But it reflects my new focus in life. I’d anticipate some humor, occasionally more intensity, less medicine. I’d even expect the occasional Bible verse to accompany an irrepressible proclivity to pepper my writing with a well-placed swear word (Hey, I’ve come a long way…plus I’ve long bet that God nods to honesty before Christian decorum).
To survive in medical training, you HAVE to make survival and success your number one priority. I would have sworn this wasn’t true for me, but it was. Failure anywhere along the training path is a conscription to a lifetime of insurmountable debt, even poverty. Now that I’ve survived, my genuine priorities have emerged. I love to write, so it’s natural that I would blog about this new direction in my life. But I’m not sure. This is personal. More personal than just the experiences of being a doctor trainee. Maybe the story of one guy’s quest to be a better man is better left to be pondered quietly in the heart.
So, I’m mulling my next “move”. Maybe I’ll just pick up where I left off and start up SW101 again (thanks, everyone of you who wrote in to ask where all the good times went). Maybe I’ll finally finish my book.
Ultimately, I just can’t tell you where I’m going because I myself don’t know. I DO know that I’ve successfully grilled tuna fillets, invented a mango/pear/mint salad that everyone loved, and I can broil Portabello mushrooms all by myself. I learned the difference between Goat Cheese and Feta Cheese. I know where the measuring cups are in the kitchen. I can tell you every character in Lost (and the top 4 theories about what the freaking show even means).
But what I REALLY know is that my wife looks at me with eyes I haven’t seen for 13 years. And this stirs my soul in ways that make most of the rest of my life comfortably superfluous. This blog got caught up in that eternal vortex…
When I know anything more than this, you will too.
“All that I am, all that I ever was, is there in your perfect eyes…they’re all I can see.” -Chasing Cars, by Snow Patrol
I enjoyed myself fully last night as I entered the world of ‘Avatar’, James Cameron’s new sci-fi epic that already handily broke a 1 billion-dollar landmark record of some kind. I’d watch the show again tonight if I could. I’d probably watch it every night for a week like my high school buddies did for “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” once upon a time.
You don’t have to care – or understand – the point of the movie to completely enjoy the stunning visual spectacle presented in wide-screen, 3D wonder. In fact, I’d advise constraining yourself specifically to the visual effects and skip putting any real thought to the message of the movie. In essence, just sing along with the song, but don’t think about what the words actually mean.
The story follows an ex-Marine named Jake as he becomes part of a mission to subjugate – or at least translocate – the natives on a strange new planet (a moon actually, but does it matter?). On the n0t-so-subtly-named Pandora, the “aliens” congregate around an enormous tree set in the middle of a seemingly endless forest. They stand about 11 feet tall, with blue skin and luminous yellow eyes and they all seem to carry bow and arrows and daggers. These blue and tall but otherwise disappointingly human-shaped beings generally seem happiest when attending their frequent tribe-wide drum fests – with a terminally simplistic 2/4 beat rhythm that sounds like it might have been pounded out on cool Senegalese drums the Anglo orchestra bought in bulk.
These earthy aliens have a sacred, mystical, spiritual connection to the forest where they live; generally behaving like any nature-loving tribe the Europeans successfully decimated a little over a century ago in North America. In a complete creative hiatus, at one point nature is even called a “mother”. Why not a father, or brother, or just skip the nuclear family reference to nature entirely? The descriptor ‘Mother Earth’ is so unoriginal, it ranks up there with Bless You and Dot Com.
Although 2 hours and something like 40 minutes, you can easily sum up the movie in one phrase: “Dances With Wolves”…but with pterodactyls you can ride.
Basically – Marine makes contact with natives through project financed by aggressive and ethics-challenged Big Business company. Marine plans on helping his financiers destroy said natives. Instead, he inadvertently falls in love with natives in general, and one curvaceous native in particular. He then becomes the enemy of his former bosses, ultimately leading the meek, dumb, dark-skinned simpletons to victory over superior white man.
I haven’t decided if this REALLY tired theme of the White Male swooping down into a primitive race, seeing their genuine good, and then becoming their Great Savior is completely racist. Some are saying it absolutely is. I don’t really think that was the intent. I just think it was lazy writing by a white male who deep-down believes that white men are still the best hope for the world. That they still run it, ultimately. But it is possible that white men really don’t have much to offer the world anymore – that we’ve had our time and made our mark. Maybe it’s time for some non-white, non-men to run the countries, write the laws, own the companies and save fictional worlds. Maybe the white boy has done about all he can.
Big Business takes a major hit in this movie. It gets portrayed as the denizen of all Evil in life. That said, it’s Big Business that has paid for every iota of scientific discovery that has occurred on Pandora. The science taking place on this moon (and taking place on our earth) is an elevated form of existence, no question, but in both worlds it mostly exists because of Big Business, either directly or through taxes. Scientists – and artists – need to accept the fact that to live in that enlightened world of thought and wonder and possibility depends on their benefactor’s mundane ability to sell widgets. Big Business is rarely genuinely evil. True, figuring out when to inject some profit-endangering humanistic principles into a business plan does takes some skill and is occasionally gotten wrong. But for the most part, if business didn’t make the poet, at least it feeds him.
The actual “avatar” is a living being made to look like the aliens, but controlled by the mind of a human. The human links to the avatar neurologically, so it can only be controlled by one specific human. Thus, the human lies in a coffin-like body-pod that connects him/her to their specific avatar. Upon falling into a coma in the pod, the avatar wakes up and the mind of the comatose human controls it.
The doc in me couldn’t help but get hung up on this part of the movie. First, all humans need to sleep. But since the avatar wakes up as soon as the human “sleeps”, and since controlling the avatar is a conscious process, the human never actually does sleep. For some evolutionary reason I can’t fathom, REM sleep is the foundation of all life. This inconvenient fact defies even the mighty pen of James Cameron. By the end of the movie, after staying awake vicariously with the characters, I felt like I’d been on call in the hospital for days on end (felt like I was back in residency again).
Also, the human lays in this coffin thing for hours and hours. At the least, he’s gotta pee himself on a regular basis, to say nothing of the inevitable bowel movement here and there. Plus, the main character’s avatar hooks up with the sexy female alien. Depicted as the first consummating night of an eternal love bond – thus likely a multicoital affair – envisioning the scene (and smell) inside the pod after this particular night left me a bit squeamish.
As mentioned, the power of this movie is in the visuals. It is a “looker” many times over. But the general message is tired, probably slightly racist, and denigrates the U.S. Military (or at least leads the audience to exult in the widespread slaughter of American soldiers/mercenaries). That said, perhaps our culture really should take the main theme of the story to heart. After all, we DID decimate the Native American culture, and based on my experiences on the Crow Reservation in Montana, I’d say we continue to. We’re also strikingly obtuse in our dealings with tribal cultures in the Middle East today. Listening to people from a different culture – rather than melting them with daisycutters and circling drones – has some merit.
But I do wish the movie had added a little post-modernism into the mix and eschewed the evil-good idea altogether. It didn’t have to pit the American Axis of Evil (big business + U.S. Army) against a pristine tribal culture practically perfect in every way. Historic Native American tribes were often duplicitous, aggressive, thieving and hateful (many still are today). They rarely trusted each other from tribe to tribe and may have been just as irresponsible had one tribe attained the raw power that the U.S. Government currently has. The Arab tribes we’re tangling with recently have a litany of faults and cobwebby dark corners too. But they are also a just, priceless, sacred, honorable people. This dichotomy exists in virtually every race in our world. Americans seem to hate this complexity in our fiction – it’s easier to hate one thing and love another and then watch them duke it out.
Thus, the conflict in the movie could have been between two parties filled with faults and frailties but ultimately imbued with genuine honor, honesty and a respect for the rights of others. Standing between them is something they both deeply need and want (trees, mineral ore…whatever). In life, conflicts almost always boil down to two parties who both have blood on their hands, but both are essentially good, honorable…and in the right. e.g., Palestine wants the land, Israel wants the land, both have been evil at times, both have been angelically good at times, and each have some form of legitimate claim to the exact space of real estate. Stick that conundrum in your avatar’s virtual peace pipe and take a deep drag, nature-brother.
Depicting this nuanced world may have weakened the sense of righteous rage as the Army went Operation Flatten Everything. It may have lessened the gloating release when the Ultimate Bad Guy finally met his ignominious end. But it would have made a better movie. It would have made the written story as complex as those fantastic visuals, and created a worthy counterpart to such a sparkling, wondrous vision.
For those wondering where all the blogs have gone – I was on a once/week or better output for over a year – I’ve been distracted (this is not newsworthy). Lately, the particular distraction has been my novel (this, maybe, is).
Yes, like every 3rd human on planet earth, I’m writing a book. And one not all that creative, I suppose, since it’s basically “Star Trek” but with minimized people in a tiny ship inside a human body.
Entitled “The Journals of the Micro Project,” I started writing the book waay back during my first year of med school to help me survive…med school. Anatomy and physiology, in particular. Then I just kept going, as I kept taking more classes. Then I started writing the story to help me make sense of my feelings about religion and international politics (since we were living in Israel), how the American social order relates to dreamers and idiosyncratic personalities…and even how I feel about the city of Jerusalem. Yeah, that all got in there. Possibly some funniness and mildly-believable sexual tension stuff too.
I knew about the likes of “Inner Space” when I started my story. But since I was using it to help myself understand and remember facts about medical science, I didn’t care about any sort of “hook” or “unique voice” or “poetic angle” so important to selling fiction. I wrote it for me…not to foist on the rest of the world.
Then I started hearing the cha-CHING of literary greatness when I learned that the average novel makes an author less than $5000. I figured ‘Daaang, I gotta get me some o dat action!” Immediately, I began working on crafting a novel that everyone would like to read and pay, oh, 2-3 bucks for. By ‘everyone’, I suppose I’m referring to Jr. High super-dorks with a left brain so big and a right brain so atrophied they walk in left-leaning circular arcs all day. But so be it! Friends are friends, even if they eat Captain Trilithium for breakfast.
Suddenly, things like verbs, quotation marks, PLOT, coherence and originality actually mattered. Whoah. Pressure. So, I put a lot of work into all the mechanic stuff during residency, usually at the Bayview Deli in downtown Olympia. The manager there gave me permission to hole up and write all day. Sitting in that cafe, looking through giant bay windows onto Puget Sound, studying its many moods – from glistening to tumultuous, from deathly still to rollicking and granular, from green to blue to silver to explosions of orange and red and purple – remains one of my life’s favorite memories. And that 2nd floor of the Bayview Deli remains one of my favorite places…making a respectable run at the Armenian Tavern in the Old City of Jerusalem.
As I sat there, pondering what kind of Eternal Being could possibly drum up the idea of a vision like the Sound, the distant snow-capped Olympic mountains and all the glorious splendor of trees, hills, clouds and wind that make up the southern edge of Budd Bay, I figured I was writing a freaking MASTERPIECE. Move over, Bill’s Faulkner and Shakespere. Make room for the New Guy. Who wouldn’t write a masterpiece when surrounded by such divine poetry?
But, like a tire iron to the face, I learned only recently about a similar story written by Isaac Asimov, which was based on a movie screenplay. I guess it was written in the ’50’s – when all anyone cared about were those evil Commies – but aside from that political angle, my story apparently bears many similarities (I am mortally afraid to read his book, lest I find that all my plot ideas have been used up). So, turns out that more than one person on the planet has, at one time or another, imagined what it might be like to travel around inside the human body.
If you want my opinion, he’s a damn inconsiderate un-original jerk, Asimov. Depending on your definition of “time”, Asimov pretty much totally ripped off my idea and then went back to the 1950’s and wrote the killer app (we’re talking sci-fi here…it’s an arguable point). And really, how many ideas did that guy use up on his stuff, anyway? Couldn’t he have left at least a science fiction crumb for anyone else?
Oh well. By the time I learned about the Asimov thing, I was too far in to quit. So, tired drivel though it likely will turn out to be, I’ve been putting some of the final touches on the book. All 150,000 words of it. It’s all I do with my spare time. I get home from work, play with kids, help with the dinner/bed axis, try to give eye-contact to anyone who is talking, chill in front of the T.V. for a bit, then I attack the book till 12 or 1 every night, even when I have to be up at 0630. The result? A sadly neglected blog, baggy eyes, and a book that now needs professional help (arguably, like its author). Once off to a good editor (bro, you’re up!), I suppose I’ll get back to some regular blogging.
But until then, dear SW101 nation, bear with me as I pursue this 8-going-on-9-year exercise in being told, “Don’t give up the stethescope, Dr. Delusion”.