Thursday, March 24, 2011

"Most Eager for Fame"

As much as I would like to firmly believe in the afterlife, I have to confess to some moments of existential doubt. This is not something I feel particularly guilty about…if nothing else, I figure I’m in pretty good company with virtually all theologians of note. And like them I’m usually able, albeit in a crude fashion, to reason myself out of these insecurities. That being said, I’ve always thought there was also something to be said for the Anglo-Saxon heroic ideal personified by Beowulf, that one lives on through fame, the deeds performed and the treasures won.

The limits of fame are that while deeds are easy to record, thoughts are not. It’s fairly easy to mythologize anyone based on their record. It’s much harder to know what they actually thought. So when someone asked me why I try to keep up with a blog (with admittedly varying degrees of success), I think that maybe the need to document my thoughts as well as my deeds is part of it. It’s part and parcel of my own shot at fame, even if fame for me is nothing more than my descendants reading this stuff and wondering why they ever let Great-Grandpa out of the asylum.

Along with the blogging, my hope is to write a few books before Grendel takes me down. One is collection of essays about life in the ER, focusing on what really happens, the daily grind, rather than just the glory and the pathos. A second explains how a public health approach is the best way to address health and health care in America. The third is the Great American Novel (or at least The Great Novel Within The Local Zip Code) about a guy who thinks he has special powers but is actually handicapped by living exclusively in the moment on “dog time.” The latter is very much still in the conceptual phase, and I fear I’ll only fully understand my idea after I’ve put myself on copious doses of antipsychotics for a few months and then go through an abrupt withdrawl. This means that I’ll have to wait to write it until I’m done practicing medicine, and given that The Teen has now decided he wants to be a veterinarian this project is clearly fifteen years and multiple tuitions away. (The Bride has read this and wishes it to be noted that she paid for her own damn graduate school, thank you very much.)

The process of writing the blog, let alone a book, has given me a much greater appreciation for those who write. Writing is genuinely hard work, and my personal schedule of working twelve hour ED shifts at all times of the day or night certainly doesn’t help. (I’ve noticed that since I switched to doing twelve hour shifts instead of eights my output has decreased dramatically, as most days you’re simply too tired or have too many tasks of “normal living” to do.) It’s no wonder that many authors are either professional journalists or copywriters who know how to write and to write fast, or academicians who are essentially paid to take empty time and fill it with authorship. Having tried even just this blog, I have a much greater admiration for people like former high school English teacher Stephen King who wrote his first book on a TV tray between dinner and bedtime. I also think that as a writer, I suffer from a normal upbringing. Being raised in a nuclear, upper middle class, reasonably functional family in the Midwest is unfortunately not great fodder for thinly disguised fiction nor inspirational look-at-all-I’ve-overcome memoirs. I’ve pleaded with Mom and Dad on this one, but they refuse to change their non-alcoholic, non-abusive, monogamous ways. They’re not much help at all.

Despite these handicaps, there are still untold numbers of reasonably normal people like me who want to have their lives on paper. Even within the ED crowd, I know a nurse who’s working on a book, and one of my former physician colleagues is compiling tales of patients with rectal foreign bodies he has seen entitled “In Through The Out Door.” It’s probably a good thing for him. Like most of us, he undoubtedly could use a creative outlet. And his personality most assuredly resonates with the topic.

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