Thursday, March 16, 2017

Righting the Writing

I'm still trying to write a novel. The outline and overall plot has evolved into a simplified version of what I have previously described on this blog. I still have more than one timeline involved, but I have taken my first scenario, involving the earthquake and subsequent landslide in the Columbia River Gorge and the Native American family caught in it and added a modern day timeline. Gone are the two subsequent sections -- the 'shanghai'd sailor' and the Netanya bombing character. I'm roughly 25% done, concerning word count alone, but feel like I'm missing some key elements that will propel me to the next phase of the story.

In the modern day timeline, I have a 29 year old male who is built from elements stemming from my experiences and a few key friends of mine. For the past three weeks I've been working in a hospital in Wisconsin, consulting physicians and some support staff with a new computer set up. I've had plenty of downtime, and I've tried to write but have found it hard, and have struggled to produce anything I want to keep. However, I've been able to comb through my hard copy of what I already have written and copy edit and identify sections that require re-writing. In general, such intense scrutiny before the overall work is completed, is something I try to avoid. That said, I've never attempted a writing project of this magnitude before. My gut tells me that I should back off of the hard copy scrutiny, as it has served to discourage me. I believe in the story, but through intense inspection I've been focused on a small grove of trees and lost sight of the forest.

In fact, even writing about writing and the inherent struggles should serve to weaken whatever block I've been working through. Working in a hospital for fourteen hours a day, in a three week straight blitz has not served to allow abundant inspiration to flow -- I recognize this, but time is growing short and I must manufacture a breakthrough.

As much as I think my intense editing and rewriting has been detrimental for my ability to continue writing this novel, I do think I learned something about my intentions concerning the core elements of the story -- of what I want to say and what I want the reader to understand. I've gotten lost, as I have subconsciously brought themes into the story, which serve to confuse and distract the reader -- hell, they distracted me! These disorganized, tangential elements are self-indulgent. My biggest obstacle lies in finding a compromise between telling the story I want to and avoiding overwhelming hedonistic digressions.

What kind of things have seeped into the story that I need to address before moving on? Let's see. In no particular order:


  • Stubbornness and harboring of bitterness and anger and what it means for family dynamics
  • Generational differences in worldview, especially concerning economics in the U.S. 
  • Hypocrisy that can occur with blind adherence to religious dogma -- especially the dichotomy that modern American Christians have allowed to prosper
  • Anti-science proclivities and the ridiculous, insidious nature from which it springs
  • Human-ness and its transcendence through time and cultures, no matter how disparate  

All but the last one I identified after re-reading and editing my initial work. The last one, concerning human nature and how very much alike we all are, in fundamental ways, is exactly what I am hoping comes off the paper when the reader goes back and forth from the two timelines. I include it in this list only because I do see it bubbling up in ways I had not specifically intended -- this pleases me, and is indicative of being on the right track, at least as this is concerned. 

Do I continue to build on the other elements I've built into the story? I think I need to, in some fashion with, perhaps, varying intensities. Thankfully, public reception of a novel, written by yours truly, will have little bearing on my career or ability to feed my family. And, moreover, I'm simply writing this for myself -- and in that lies the need to seek balance. I do want people to enjoy it, but that is not the supreme, guiding goal of this project. I have to be comfortable that the only person I really want to love it, is me -- and that is much harder to come to terms with than I would have thought. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

What we've got here is a failure to communicate -- About Failure

Failure is painful. Pain, in general, we avoid. However, like all things we can override our primal drive to avoid pain if we recognize its utility in a cost-benefit ratio analysis. In other words, no pain -- no gain.

Recently I was reading about a high-school teacher's experience concerning the differences between students in 1997, 2007 and now, in 2017. She had numerous things to say, but what stuck with me and, what was the primary driving force of her analysis, was that students today are overwhelmingly lacking self-confidence. She tied this to a fear of failure. They are unwilling to try anything challenging or new without a significant amount of one-on-one guidance and encouragement. Of course, in a classroom of more than thirty students it is impossible to give this type of attention.

While pondering this perspective I became overwhelmed with situations and dynamics that I have experienced and witnessed. Education, ideally, in my mind is a time where failure is a path to learning and growing in ways that initial success -- whether it be by accident or competence, disallows. I started my undergraduate pre-medical studies in my late twenties and because I had that goal of becoming a physician, I felt the pressure to not fail. There were individual tests I failed (not too many, thankfully) but the prerequisite classes for medical school matriculation were very important and a failure would be painful (and while it would be a growing experience I'm glad I didn't have to "grow" in that fashion.) Because of these classes and the rigors involved I came to appreciate my English, literature and writing classes very much. I had one writing instructor for many of my writing classes and after I got to know him I had a discussion concerning my paranoia about my GPA and what it was going to take to get into medical school, and despite my enjoying his classes very much I needed to know what criteria he would use for grading his students. I remember telling him I was concerned that if I tried to branch out, to take risks and write in styles, fashions and themes that I was not already comfortable with, that it would affect my grade. How sad is this? I love writing. I loved his classes and I became a better writer because of them. He was a Ph.D teaching at a University -- he knows how things work and what grades mean for advancement. Obviously, I don't know what he was thinking but I'd like to think that he would recognize the fallacy I'm trying to get into here: that failure is beneficial, provided lessons are learned. I did achieve high marks in all of his classes -- and I think I deserved them, if only because I put forth tremendous effort, which was easy -- after all, it was like a respite from all the chemistry and biology classes -- a chance to exercise the other, starving part of my mind.

I finished highschool in the 1990's. In many ways, in those days, I had a solid, if not misguided, sense self confidence. And while I didn't aspire to further my education at that time, in a rudimentary, incubatory fashion I learned how I wanted to live my life and who I wanted to be through many trial and error type experiences. Many of those experiences, at the time, felt like less like searching for truth than just having fun. And that, precisely is the elixir of youth.

I can easily point to many aspects of modern life that can work to subdue a young person (or, if we're honest with ourselves, all of us regardless of age -- us old fogies simply have the benefit of growing up in a social-media-less environment, among all the other things I'll point out.) However, taking a step back and examining what I think is an important aspect of the human experience will allow a proper framing of what these larger societal shifts and their impact on our emotional life.

Satisfaction and happiness are both dependent functions of an individual's expectations, in any given situation.

I buy a bottle of wine for $10 and I really enjoy it. My expectations were low. The situation was pleasurable. I am satisfied and happy with the purchase and libations.

I buy a $100 bottle of wine. It's okay -- I didn't spit it out. My expectations were high. The situation, while acceptable, lacked in pleasure, relatively. I am less satisfied and happy with the expensive bottle of wine.

And here is the key -- in a vacuum, with mitigating factors such as price, which lead to varying expectations, my enjoyment of the expensive bottle of wine, compared to the $10 bottle, may actually be superior. But it is the function of expectation which dictates which scenario I will prefer.

A child who views the lives of their peers through the filtered lense of social media is comparing their "low-lights" against other's "highlights." Growing from child, to teenager and into adulthood is difficult. It is an emotionally charged out of control train which can leave the tracks.

Pathways to successful careers less plentiful now compared to twenty years ago. Many students are paralyzed by what they see as impossible standards for success. Beauty. Brains. Money. Innate coolness. We see these projections of partial reality and our expectations function to decrease the satisfaction and happiness in our own lives.

We also have a President who refuses to acknowledge any deficiency regardless of how obvious. That man is not the only guilty party -- many people in positions of leadership, at all levels see their grip on power depending on their perceived infallibility. Allowing humanness to shine through, to acknowledge the struggle we all share is tantamount to failure. And, with this perspective, people beholden to such beliefs see failure as a finality of defeat. Temporary setbacks and learning experiences are indicative of incompetence. I see this larger trend in society only serving to exacerbate the spiritual flogging of our society.

The Scientific Method.

To explore our world and search for answers of mechanics and etiology, and of course, the ever juicy -- what if?

Experiments that do not work as expected, even failing to prove a hypothesis are valuable. A student who fails a test can take it as a sign he or she is just not good enough to earn a good grade. Or, they can learn, adapt and grow.

Just as science has been demonized and vilified due to its insistence to recognize facts, our young people have had their psyche and sense of self-worth beaten down with weaponized untruths.

People who do not believe in themselves don't believe they need to be treated well. They will not fight for themselves. Politically, they will prefer finger-pointing and blame-shifting rather than objective determinations, leading to leadership which uses these prods to stay in power. A tried and true technique.

But back to the high school students of 2017. Trite admonishments such as 'it is not how many times you fall down, it is how many times you get back up,' while containing wisdom are lost in the flood of inspirational posters and other catchphrases. And these students are not putting themselves in a place to fall down in the first place -- and this is the key dynamic that I believe the teacher was referring to. And I get it. I remember when I was a pre-teenager who wanted to get into skateboarding, being around the older kids and being scared to try things such as drop-in on a ramp for fear of failing. So I found places where no one else could witness my failings and I kept at it until I felt comfortable in my abilities around others.

Social anxiety has become the new 'nerd' in that it is acceptable to blame, or indulge in what is an honest feeling that I would guess (eschewing my solipsism belief tendencies) all of us have, to some degree or another. And like many other things, pushing through and, even when failing multiple times, persisting leads to self-confidence. This is important, as it is a genuine self-confidence, a manner of existing that doesn't necessarily require the bravado of arrogance or rotting pridefulness. Perhaps my upbringing, where I was endowed with a sense of self-worth, leading to a base foundation of self-confidence as a human being, independent of performance, allowed me to grow in a healthier (subjective analysis, to be sure) fashion than some others. Is that what younger people are missing -- is this what happens when life becomes so measured, metered, quantified, judged and evaluated that we come to feel that our self-worth is based on performance alone?

I don't know.

It seems possible. My ramblings and spontaneous musings while trying to write this are insufficient to fully explore this sweeping generalization encompassing a whole generation. In fact, sometimes when I take a step back, I truly think that us humans, through time are surprisingly steady. A small percentage of us fight for and achieve power. Most of us just want to have fulfilling lives, enjoying our family and a modicum of freedom which money can provide. Often I think that indeed, 'the kids are alright.' But, in order to not completely invalidate my musings I will assert that the innate and supreme fundamental human craving to communicate and ultimately feel understood is being fucked with through our means of mass, personalized communication. Loneliness and forced apathy abounds. I feel it too.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Still Searching For That Clinical 'Banger' For The Ending

In no way can I blame my parents for not forcing me to learn to play a musical instrument as a child. However, there are many times where I wish I did know how to play an instrument or at least read music. Many of my friends do indeed pursue music as a passion and even a career. I've often found myself wondering, in awe, how the fingers of a piano player or a guitar strummer can so effortlessly find their place with such precision movement. The closest thing I have experienced involves skateboarding; repetitive movements -- muscle memory that becomes subconscious in that a conscious decision to execute a larger "trick," or in the case of music, a "tune" or "song," is comprised of a symphony of learned behavior. It becomes automatic.

Skateboarding has also been responsible for much of the music I've loved. I grew up in an era which had 411 Video Magazine's monthly VHS offering was eagerly consumed. Each video started with this iconic tune:


The alarm on my phone plays this song. Something subtle in the meaning of the song, buried deep inside my mind, irrevocably lodged in there when I was a teenager gets me amped up -- the perfect alarm song. 

Of course, the songs during video parts are even more influential for me than the 411 theme. One of the first skate videos I remember watching was The New Deal's "Children of the Sun." Besides the 411 videos, it was the first video which I watched, and rewatched hundreds of times over. Dave Duren's part had a song from the Smashing Pumpkin's album "Gish" from 1991. Of note, this is before "Siamese Dream" took the alternative music scene by storm in the mid-nineties. 


The very nature of skateboarding, in sharp contrast to institutional team sports, has a propensity for it's participants to pursue artistic endeavors. Painting, music, graffiti, writing -- some of my favorites have roots in skateboarding. Shooting a basketball is an individual endeavor, but winning a basketball game is a group effort. Skateboarding has no team, it has no winners or losers! One may point to the many skateboarding competitions in contrarian efforts -- well, sure, a "winner" is crowned but these are judged on a subjective style interpretation. I would even argue that the staunchest competition skaters only do it for the money. And in this lies the most beautiful aspect of skateboarding -- it is an artistic expression of the skater. This is not expressly unique -- gymnasts, skiers, divers, and many others conduct themselves, at the base maneuver level, the same way. However, I propose that the culture and the manner in which skateboarding has evolved -- using urban architecture and utilitarian infrastructure in novel ways, sets it apart. The rallying cry for the past forty years of, "Skateboarding is not a crime" arose from the pushback (and in many cases, understandably so) of using the urban landscape in a manner that is a delight to my eyes. Inspiration is fertilized by tribulation. 

Bad Religion, Black Flag, Minor Threat, Tribe Called Quest, Wu Tang Clan, Buffalo Tom, Motorhead, Souls of Mischief, Nitzer Ebb, Sebadoh, EPMD, Bad Brains, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Pennywise, Ned's Atomic Dustbin, Stereolab, Fugazi, Superchunk, Seaweed, Tortoise, Slayer and my love of so many more are all rooted in skateboard videos. 

I used to always ponder what song I would want for my own video part. When I think about it now, I imagine myself with a highlight reel of clinical moments -- diagnosing that rare condition, calming the anxiety ridden patient and not mistaking the PE for pneumonia. And if I had to now have a song, I would still want to use that age-old trick where I get to choose two songs (think "Yeah Right" by Girl, who had most of their riders get a "B-side" with a different song) and they would be:



and 


The goal is to have more than one video part, of course. Too much good music out there. 



Monday, December 5, 2016

Paths to Pathological Apathy

I got the news that another physician had committed suicide a few days ago. Sadly, this is not surprising, but this time it was a person I knew. There has been a lot written recently about physician and medical student suicide and I will leave the numbers and such for other people. What I do want to address is what I perceive to be the underlying reason -- and again, many other smarter and more experienced people than myself have written about this, too. I feel like the suicide epidemic in our society, including physicians, but also other groups seeing huge increases (veterans and children) shares a common cause.

As I reflected on the latest bad news, a question that was asked of me in an interview came to my mind.

"What is the largest problem facing our society today?"

Of course, this can be taken in many different directions, and I've never been asked that before in an interview (although I love these open ended questions -- my main problem is staying focused -- which is hard when you have so many (good?) things to say!) and as such, I hadn't really thought about this. After a moment's reflection I said: "apathy."

At that moment I was not looking at 'apathy' as a component of the suicide epidemic, but just something that has been on my mind concerning the larger American public in general. But they are tied at a level that I hadn't been able to put together at that moment.

Now, most of my days are filled with people who are filled with passion -- and for this I am thankful. However, I'm not seeing patients these days and I get to select who I spend time with. But even with these people (those lucky enough to see me regularly) and myself feel powerless -- which is the spark for apathy. Many of us feel it in our jobs where the joy and satisfaction that comes from a job well done is often futile, and at worst brings repercussions.

Many veterans have written and spoken about the terrible disillusionment that came from the noble desire to serve their country and protect their fellow citizens only to feel like they were nothing more than a political pawn in a grand money making scheme. A dreadful sense of powerlessness descends and, especially in a rigid power structure like the military, apathy is the safest and most natural reaction.

Humans do not thrive when they are powerless, when they have no hope, when nobleness is usurped by corruption.

Physicians today, in America, especially young, aspiring or in-training physicians are choosing a path which has disparate material rewards per unit-of-effort put forth -- this is why many of our brightest young people choose finance, or even computer engineering. The time, debt and liability that comes with being a physician is unparalleled and unless we can find satisfaction in what we set out to do in the first place, apathy will set in.

I place no claim on understanding why everyone who commits suicide does so -- but one aspect of the act itself that is noteworthy is the inherent self-empowerment (in what could be called a perverted form, to be sure) that comes with such a decision. To what degree this element plays has to be varied and individualized.

Perhaps in future posts a more detailed exploration of what makes physicians feel powerless is warranted. Undoubtedly as the years go by I will have a better understanding, too.

It doesn't mean anything to the suffering loved ones to repeat the mantra that 'suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,' in the face of suffering -- I acknowledge that. But when a young life so full of promise and already acting as a conduit for good into this world is snuffed out, I don't have a lot else to say to the rest of us who are approaching this same threshold.

Friday, November 11, 2016

OMLH

I've avoided writing or posting about it. I've, mostly unsuccessfully, tried to avoid reading all of your writings or postings about it.

Like most people I had strong feelings throughout the election cycle.

For a long time I thought the Republican-come-lately's campaign was in cahoots with the DNC and HRC in order to ensure her victory.

Which says such negative things about the whole process, or at least, about my outlook on the whole process.

And in that incredible thought of mine -- that the election of our very President of these United States of America could be that corrupt -- is why I think our Reality Star just had his pilot reviewed and a new season approved.

I've spent a lot of these past six months travelling around the country. I've been up and down the West Coast, in the bible belt, Florida, the Carolinas and around the Northeast. I've met a lot of nice people -- many of whom were going to vote for Trump precisely because of his political exogenous nature. Most were highly disapproving of the essence of his character. Some went on and on about the supposed corrupt nature of Hillary, but most recognized her as a symbol of the establishment -- and this is key -- it is this element, not her gender which people voted against. This is my optimistic side speaking, to be sure.

The relative large numbers of third party voters speaks for this. And truly, I believe plain misogynists, willingly-ignorant fascists and racists, in whatever proportion they truly are in this country -- and in my first hand experience through face to face interactions is a minority, all but sealed the deal last night. It doesn't seem like many have lost when betting on the lowest common denominator of a fragile and fearful human psyche.

I do believe this nation is worse for the wear under the leadership of the 45th President.

We've seen disrespectful discourse of all kinds, striking at the tender and inflamed nerves of our society, once again highlighting the worst of us as a whole. As I've stated above, I do think that the most significant element of this outcome is the symbolic vote of non-confidence in the status-quo. But what a very painful and terrible price. This is a more dangerous place for women, minorities and vulnerable people of all kinds not because those who bought into the Tower Of Power are rapists and bigots but because it empowers those among us who are prone to the baser violence of human desire.

I've written in the past about various ways current event information is disseminated and the sea-changes therewithin. Mark Zuckerberg denies that Facebook's fake news and algorithm enforced "echo chambers" had any affect on the election. I assert that it did. I also put forth the idea that one who views Fox News as a legitimate news source is much more likely to find themselves gleefully mashing that "share" button. But is this my echo chamber speaking?

Verily, I say unto you: it is better you lose both scrolling fingers than spend one more moment in Facebook related despair.

I'm seeing and hearing much hypocrisy from a lot of people -- and one thing comes to mind and is worth remembering: the non-partisan nature of this type of behavior. It is simply human nature. And while, in general I agreed with the First Lady and HRC that when "they go low we go high" I see the fiasco during the primaries with Bernie Sanders as going very low and the leadership of the DNC had no intention of the primary process having any meaning other than the pre-ordained one. The people who were (are) itching for a major party to eschew big money and power were disenfranchised from the process before the real election even started.

Before, when I said that I thought that Clinton was using her old family friend to ensure her victory, is precisely why I now, with the benefit of hindsight, am not surprised with this outcome.

One last thought on the current state of FaceBook.



Thursday, September 29, 2016

Ender vs Roland; The Final Battle

Between work and residency interviews I have been travelling a lot in the past few months. Recently, during another drive up and down I-5 I tried to listen to the audio book The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, the first in a series of novels by Stephen King. In my teenage years I devoured Stephen King novels. I don't think I've touched one since. What I remember makes me think that most of his work should stay in the teenage years. However, I had a conversation with a friend who was excited about the series being turned into a movie and emphatically encouraged me to read the The Dark Tower series again. I was unsure whether or not I had started this series before, but after getting into the audiobook, I was reminded that I indeed had. I was also reminded why I didn't continue the series.

Wikipedia states that the King's work is inspired by a poem by Robert Browning, published in 1855. And, it is clear that his inspiration is reflected in the flowery, prose-like text. It is so full of adjectives and abstract descriptions of everything and everyone that I found myself having to refocus my attention every few minutes and try and see if I remembered where the story had gone. Similar to driving up and down I-5, where the miles blend together and the mountains between Redding and Ashland seem like just a passing moment. Was it just this way because I was listening to, instead of reading the novel? I was curious and it made me wonder whether I would, now, think differently of the style of writing if read versus heard.

I spent more time pondering how I write, and what styles I subconsciously adhere to (ending a sentence with a proposition is a style that I actually think is okay, seeing as how that "rule" stems from Latin grammar and the Oxford Dictionary people are on wax stating that this rule is not appropriate for modern English written communica.) I also recently listened to Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card, another novel I read as a teenager, but also one that has stood the test of time in fantastic fashion. In some ways, it translated to an audiobook perfectly. It also represents that type of writing that I would like to emulate (not the quasi-anti-semitism part) especially the action scenes that he penned. How does one go about writing an action scene that is engrossing to the reader? It is a difficult task. And one that I am struggling with currently. In a way, I'm hoping that writing about it will allow the words to flow and the action to become naturally apparent on the page.

In a world that loves hyperbole and is quick to label current events as "the greatest or worst of all time" how does one try to write an event that is awe inspiring? My personality, which is inseparable from my writing, defaults to a fact based narrative that allows the reader to assemble the story and magnitude in their own mind. When I describe a tremendous earthquake that causes half of a mountain to slide into a wide river gorge, pushing the river high onto the opposing canyon wall it seems impossible to understate the awesomeness of this scene. But writing it how it deserves to be described pushes me into using words that are commonly used in any sports article or (boo! hiss!) political news story. If Orson Scott Card was writing it he would simply describe what was going on, providing the facts that lead the reader to realize what a momentous event they were "witnessing."

I am a scientist now -- a scientist of the human condition, more commonly known as a physician. That is a limited description of a physician however -- the art of medicine is a thing for a reason. Being a physician allows for the marriage of science and humanities unlike any other state of being that I know of. I embrace this marriage and I like to think that this dynamic plays into my writing. When one side becomes more dominant I become uneasy, and I think that the The Dark Tower is, for me, too full of conclusions in the form of adjective overdose. When each character, landscape and interaction is given a paragraph of lengthy description I am unable to build a scene for myself. I want the building blocks, not a finished product for my mind's eye while reading fiction. And this is why I want to exchange my audiobook for another one -- good thing Audible had a bunch of free credits with my Amazon account.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Did the original Bridge of the Gods have a toll?

This is my first rough draft of the second chapter. Struggles remain with this story and in some ways I feel compelled to just get stuff onto "paper" so I can clean it up and reorganize while knowing full well that I may not even like what I have. The idea of writing about historical events in fiction is so very intriguing to me and in that sense, I really want to make this work. However, my thoughts of how to do so are divided and it is showing in the writing -- the action is happening too fast -- huge momentous action scenes, such as an earthquake causing a mountainside to fall into a river, creating a huge wave that sets a canoe on the opposite shore's cliffside is a crazy, Hollywood-esque scene. I start and finish it with a few paragraphs. In chapter two, I have a man tumble down a huge set of rapids, nearly drowning and then saved within a few paragraphs. Perhaps I'm writing short story yet and I just haven't come to terms with it yet! And that is okay -- I'm used to being told things by my subconscious that I may not really like. 

Chapter 2

            The early flames of panic began to lick the mind of Nuua-Slingit. His canoe was laden with pelts and grains and admittedly, a canoe the size he was piloting really needed two people to safely navigate. He had seen the rapids as he ported his canoe and goods while going upstream. He was now coming upon them as he headed back home, downstream. The violent nature of the rapids, with huge boulders and boiling pools of green water made the decision to circumvent the water an obvious decision. This was his first trip from his home with the Clatsop people on the coast at the mouth of his river, to the Walla Walla tribe, who lived on the same river but three weeks east, into the dry lands.

As he approached these rapids from the eastern aspect he was on the north side of the river and unbeknownst to him, there was no place to pull the canoe ashore, as there was on the south side. A rocky shelf that abruptly ended, plunging into the river was all that the north shore provided. He had frantically tried to grab the rock to slow the canoe but only earned bloody and torn hands. When it became obvious he would enter the rapids with his canoe, he jumped into the cold water and held on to the side of the canoe in hopes of pushing off into relatively quiet pool close to shore. As soon as the canoe hit the first drop it pushed the back of the canoe, where Nuua-Slingit was holding on, violently sideways. He was flung backwards. The last thing he remembers is the searing pain in his back and gasping for air as his breath was knocked out of him.

            The small village of fishermen on the south side of the river had seen this seen unfold – they had yelled to him but the river was so wide that Nuua-Slingit could not hear them. One of the men had run to a small canoe on the sandy beach positioned downstream from the rapids. He paddled out into the river to find what he assumed would be the body of the unfortunate sailor. To his surprise Nuua-Slingit was alive, but bleeding and not breathing. The man pulled his upper body into his canoe and turned back to the river’s south shore. Nuua-Slingit coughed and river water shot out of his mouth. He began to gasp for air. By the time the rescuer had circled around to head to the south shore, the debris of the destroyed canoe and cargo was slowly bobbing away from the rapids.

            Nuua-Slingit’s survival was looked at with awe by the people who lived in this small village. Hundreds of people had accidently gone through the river’s gauntlet in the people’s memory and very few had survived, most were never found. For the first day he was delirious, refusing water and food and speaking gibberish. The eldest man, who functioned as the tribe’s doctor for most of his life, stayed with Nuua-Slingit in the same long-house. Through observation, the doctor recognized, by pressing his ear to his chest, that breath sounds were decreased on the patient’s right.  Also, the rise of the ribs was not the same, with the left side moving more. He had seen this previously and had learned from his mentor to craft a dried lambskin tube and insert it into the throat and push until the tube was in the chest. By marking the tube intermittently while it lay on the patient’s chest he could tell how far the tube was inserted. The tube was inserted and the doctor placed his moth around the end of the tube protruding from the mouth. Matching the inhalation pattern of the agitated patient he blew hard into the dried lambskin tube. He repeated this until the chest rose symmetrically.

            The days turned into a week and the delirium continued to slowly fade. Instead of fighting the sips of water offered by the doctor, he eagerly took them. His appetite returned with vigor.

            Nuua-Slingit stood by the fire for many hours after the others had gone to sleep. He had improved significantly in the past weeks since he had been recuperating from his disastrous canoe accident, but still struggled to sleep from the pain while lying down. Initially, the pain from his body weight pressing against his fractured ribs was enough to find sleep while in a sitting position. That had abated, but still, the very act of breathing was enough to keep all but the most desperate slumber at bay. Rib fractures are notorious slow to heal, as they must remain in motion. Nuua-Slingit had broken his arm as a child and knew the pain of a fractured bone.

            Despite the pain and the growing fear of how he was to get home, Nuua-Slingit began to enjoy the sleepless nights as best he could. The doctor, who was busy during the day tending to his own family and the ailments of the tribe would often stay up and talk with him. Nuua-Slingit was a young man, all of 23 years old and recently married with a baby one the way. He supposed that the baby may have already been born, as he planned his return to coincide with the delivery.

            The doctor told many stories – stories of triumph and heartbreak with all the people he had treated in his life. Nuua-Slingit’s favorite topic was the stories of how the rapids had formed – after all, the fishing village was close enough to the water’s edge so that the whitewater’s roar was ever present. Also, as he grew stronger he began to feel a sense of pride, albeit somewhat misplaced, that he had survived his calamitous accident.

            Ten generations earlier, a direct ancestor of the doctor was one of the few survivors from the tribe that inhabited the small fishing village, which at the time was not so small. A great shaking of the earth powerful enough to cleave the towering mountain on the north side of the river struck during a warm summer day. There was still evidence of this landslide, as the shear cliffs that apparently were only on the southern aspect of the mountain peak were striking. No trees grew there. The doctor said that if one were to climb one of the surrounding mountains and gain a bird’s perspective, it became clear that a landslide had pushed into the river, creating a bow in what was mostly a straight and broad river, for dozens of miles on either side. The river was noticeably narrower at the point where the rapids were, and clearly, the rapids were nothing more than the collapsed mountain that deigned to bury the river.

            Proudly the doctor told Nuua-Slingit how his forbearer survived when no one else did. He was saved by the river itself, as he fished with his net in the river, in his canoe, when the earthquake occurred. The massive movement of soil, trees and boulders pushed into the river creating a wave of gigantic proportions, one that lifted the canoe high into the air and as the wave crashed over the land, destroying the village and all living things in and around it, his ancestor was behind the crashing wave and ended up being gently deposited on the steep hillside that overlooked the village and river. As the water receded he watched from the side of the cliff as his loved ones and all he had known were swept into the river in a swirling mass of logs, trees, animals and people. The river itself had saved him and this was why the people who lived here revered the river and made their homes as close to the river’s edge as possible.

            Nuua-Slingit delighted in his imagination of what life was like for people who lived long before him. In his village there were stories of an earthen bridge that traversed the river, and this was collaborated with other stories the doctor told him during the cool sleepless nights. The landslide had come to rest on the south side of the river. It had created a damn, with a lake quickly forming behind it. The former place of the village was now a part of the earth, swallowed up with no trace left other than the debris floating to the sea. The lake continued to grow and push against the damn. Over the years, with the lake now many times wider than the original river, it pushed out the dirt from under the damn. At this point, the damn had become a conduit between the northern and southern tribes, which before had to rely on boats to ferry people and goods to each other. The river bed downstream still had water in it, but until larger tributaries further down stream joined the river, it was only a ribbon of flowing water with a mud field on either side.

            The river is relentless and turned the damn into a bridge. The lake drained and a surge of water pressed towards the ocean, yearning to make up the lost time. The shallow rapids that nearly killed him were the collapsed remnants of that earthen bridge.

Nuua-Slingit was nearing full health and he set out to build a canoe that would take him home to see his wife and firstborn child.