Wednesday, April 27, 2016

While trying to fall asleep, which usually is not a problem for me, I've had my brain kindly bring up that one (take your pick) embarrassing episode from 9 years ago and I lay in bed just wincing at the memory. Or, perhaps its during a contemplative moment -- nevertheless, having these cringeworthy moments is a good way, provided they stay in check and an unstoppable avalanche of anxiety doesn't start to fall, to stay grounded -- to remember that all of us are vulnerable to doing stupid shit, at any time. Going back and reading old pieces of writing isn't so different. There are times I think, while checking out old short stories, essays, or whatnot, that "hey, you weren't a complete idiot back then." Most of the time, however it is very similar to that feeling of brain betrayal while trying to fall asleep. Right now, for instance, I went back to read the blog post detailing my plans for my first component of this project.  My main character, I say, is 3 years old. Well, I meant to have him at 13 years old -- and while this is not a big deal, I feel kinda the same as if I made a some faux pas at a big work party or something. And, while I don't edit or proof-read these blog posts as I would if they were being turned into a writing class (why I don't is a good question -- as presumably more people will read these things than a single professor) I may have to spend a little more time doing so. 

Well, here is my rough (read: 1980's skateboard griptape) draft for the first chapter. 

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Chapter 1


Even though the dull roar of the rapids and waterfalls ahead was still audible, the rest of the wilderness had grown quiet. The normally rambunctious wind was resting and the birds were caring for their own in their nests with quiet intensity. I was in the front of the 20 foot long dug-out canoe -- at 13 years old I was finally able to help my mother and father with the paddling duties. We were approaching the same spot where my father had nearly drowned 13 years earlier, as he was heading downstream on the mighty Columbia River as it passed through the sheer granite glacier carved cliffs that is the Columbia  River Gorge. He survived that accident and now was careful to seek portage before the swirling green waters became too treacherous and silently sped up in preparation for white water excitement. 

It was at this point that the hills began to shiver, which grew to full on shaking. It was disorienting at first -- to be rocking to the small waves of the river as we approached the shore and to reconcile the growing bouncing of the towering mountains on either side of river. We first heard the deafening roar before we saw the side of the northern mountain face begin to slide towards us -- with the tall David Douglas Fir trees pointing towards us instead of reaching for the sky as the earth sought to swallow. 

...

My name is Nuua-Chaahh and the day I was born my father was not there. He had been expected to return before the end of the summer, as he had all the years prior since he had begun trading with the Walla Walla tribe which was 3 weeks up river, on the other side of the mountains. My father did arrive soon after my birth. His delay was due to a near drowning while passing through the challenging rapids of the Columbia river as it passed through the Cascade mountain range in the dramatically glacier carved gorge. He was no worse for the wear but he was forced to stay with locals near the rapids while he recovered. I knew all of this not because I remember it but because it became lore and legend in our tribe, which sat at the sand dunes on the southern aspect of the mouth of the mighty Columbia River as it feeds into the Pacific Ocean. 

As I grew up in the shadow of my Father, like any young boy, who continued to annually travel east to trade with the powerful Walla Walla tribe I looked forward to the day when I could accompany him, and now my mother to visit the land where the hills were barren, only covered with the stubble of prairie grass and trees only found on the southern aspect of the rolling golden hills. I was used to towering evergreens and lush foliage of the northern Pacific coast where the living was relatively easy provided there was wood for the long house fire and men to hunt the seals, salmon and whales which formed the backbone of our sustenance. And indeed, this is what we traded with -- the oil from the whales, the pelts from the coastline fauna, the cured meat and of course, the shells. I didn't understand this at such a young age, but the Walla Walla tribe did not have many goods we needed -- except regional power and a chief with a daughter who was a year younger than I. My father started the relationship with the Walla Walla chief initially to gain power and prestige within his own tribe, however after a few years it morphed into an effort to have his first born son, your's truly, enter into matrimonial relations with the Walla Walla Chief's only daughter. 

The other young men of the Clatsop tribe yearned to reach the age where they could partake in the whale hunting parties that could take dozens of men in numerous sea going dug-out canoes out to sea for days at a time. I waited for the day I could accompany my parents to the dry side of the mountains  from where the sun was born every morning -- to the Walla Walla village. 

My father, Nuua-Slingit, had learned from the people that lived in the area of his near drowning about how generations prior there was a terrible earthquake that had caused the mountain to fall into the river. They described to places along the river where this had happened. The further east location was where the trees no longer grew and had caused large waterfalls to form from the mountain remnants. The area where he had to recuperate saw the river become much  narrower and thus swifter and the walls of the gorge were much steeper with the cliffs on either side turning the multitude of streams into waterfalls adding to the girth of the river as it headed to feed the sea. Nuua-Slingit would tell the story during potlatches about how the mountain created a damn, displacing the villages that were streamside, and how eventually this damn became a bridge, as the relentless river bored through the underside of the earthen barrier. This had collapsed into the waters many generations ago, adding to the already treacherous passing. It was this story that crept into the back of my mind as I saw the mountain crack in half.  

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I'm already becoming apprehensive about how to integrate the culture of the Native Americans I'm trying to write, along with the time period, which predates the Western naming of the regional landmarks. How far do I take it? Is it disrespectful to call the it the "Columbia River?" when this is obviously not a name that would mean squat to my characters? My instinct is to use these Western names in hopes that the reader understands that non disrespect is meant and that we have to use names. I have specific locations and events in mind that I'm basing this story around. 

Temptation lingers for the inclusion of footnotes; David Foster Wallace style. I've tried this in the past and couldn't control myself. It would make things easier and provide explanations that would only serve to weigh down the story itself. Perhaps I'll create some footnote ground rules for myself and explore that option. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Nathaniel's Sorrow

Character workshop
Act III

#1: Netanya, Israel -- but in the from of flashback, with main character in a coffee shop in Portland, OR while he tries to write a novel about his experience in Netanya, Israel during the Passover Massacre

Date: March 27th, 2012 (10 year after the Passover Massacre in 2002)

Place:

We will start the journey with the main character as he goes to his favorite coffee shop on upper Hawthorne, in Portland Oregon (I have a certain coffee shop in mind -- one that has a grand-opening this Saturday (congrats boys!)) to continue to work on his memoirs from his time as a medical resident who was working at Laniado Hospital as a Global Health Trip, when Hamas used a suicide bomber at the Park Hotel, where 30 civilians were killed and 140 were injured. This attack was the most deadly during the 2nd Intifada. Our character is not Jewish, and went to Israel for no particular reason other than being intrigued with their culture and heritage. He was a 2nd year Internal Medicine resident doctor when he went to Israel and was very overwhelmed when the attack happened. He was enlisted to help triage the victims in the parking lot of the hospital. It was a turning point in his life, and he has tried to put into writing his experience and what he took from the incident for the past few years, with little success. The 10 year anniversary is this very day, and he is determined to make much progress with his writing.

Laniado Hospital has a unique and interesting history. In short, it was founded by a rabbi who desired to build a hospital that would happily treat everyone -- a credo they still strive to honor to this day. Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam was in the concentration camps for years, and was on a death march to Dachau, where he was shot in the shoulder. He knew that if he requested treatment, he was as good as dead. He vowed to God that if he survived the march and the war, he would build a hospital that would treat every person, no matter creed, race or religion. This is where Laniado hospital comes from.

Ryan Moore works as a Hospitalist in Portland, and has since he finished his GME training. In the past 10 years he has married, had 2 children and is engaged in the community and with his family and friends. By all accounts he is well adjusted. And, he is -- except for the few occasions he tries to evoke the memories from the parking lot triage and the subsequent fear that followed while he worked the rest of his time in Netanya. This dynamic will be expanded on in the motivation and character section -- but the key is simple: humans are capable of adapting, growing and thriving in the face of adversity.

I'm compelled to use Netanya and Laniado Hospital during the Passover Massacre since I actually went and spent a month at that hospital as a medical student. I saw nothing like this while I was there, of course. I did here from doctors, nurses and friends that I made there about that event and what it was like during that time when suicide bombings were happening in Netanya. There were other suicide bombings in the town -- one at a busy, popular market that I spent quite a bit of time buying vegetable and such during my time there. I understand that there are terrible things happening to all of the different peoples in that area of the world, and this story is in no way an indictment on either side. I also realize that not aiming for an indictment of one side or another can be harshly judged, as well. So it is with trepidation I enter this particular gambit but I believe in writing what we know.  And with that, a doctor staring at his laptop in a Portland coffee shop while lost deep in thought is something I know.

Motivation:

As above, I do want this to be a feel goodish story, in that this isn't about politics, or an exploration of PTSD, or even concerned with redemption -- but about resilience and that, simply, life goes on. In some cases life doesn't go on -- an obvious statement, but such a universal truth, one that supercedes just about every other common human experience. I assume there are people who have lived without ever seeing the sun, or some other crazy common aspect, but those people, unfortunate as it is to live any amount of time without ever seeing the sun, sky or moon, will have or will die.

The process of becoming a physician, of which I am almost one, affords ample opportunity to deal with death and dying. There many people in our society who have not seen a dead body outside of the funeral setting. The funeral home goes to incredible lengths to make the corpse look as "undead" as possible. And I get it -- death is ugly and a tough thing to digest; but despite all of that, it is something that can be dealt with in a healthy way and I strongly believe denial is the most insidious pathological ways of digestion. Why is the United States so concerned over broadcast naked body parts relative to gun violence? This is an aspect of our society that has been explored by others with more wisdom that I have but it does speak to how we digest death in our culture. But this is also not what the story is about, either -- but is a component of why I wish to tell a story involving such a horrific real-life event.


#1: Ryan Moore

A 40 year old physician who grew up in Philomath, Oregon his entire life, went to undergrad in Vermont and medical school in California, and residency in Colorado and now lives in Portland, Oregon. He works as a hospitalist in a large community hospital in Portland, has a wife, 2 kids, a dog and a home on the western slope of Mt. Tabor with a fantastic view of the city, with majestic sunsets when its not obscured by cloud cover. He can walk to the basketball courts that are in the ancient cauldron that remains near the top of the volcanic cinder cone that serves, for the most part, a city park. He is quantifiably and qualitatively successful in most aspects of his life. As a character, he is really not going to be that interesting. I would be lying if I said this character wasn't broadly based on my life and self-perceptions -- kinda like a best case scenario for myself, I guess. He is a good husband, and a good father. He even picks up his dog's shit when he is on a not-oft-used path through the woods of Mt. Tabor -- when no one is around. It will be the story that is told, as he writes it while struggling, on the 10th anniversary of the bombing, to put his experiences into words.

Four years prior, he contacted a number of publishing houses in an effort to sell his story -- a story that was not written yet. Based on his previous publications, most of which were in undergrad (another way that he is the best version of myself -- he had sold a dozen short stories, one to the New Yorker, which was the aspect of his resume that allowed him to sell the unwritten tale. He had pushed back the deadline more times than Ryan would like to admit -- in fact, if there was an element of his life that smelled most like failure, it would be this -- an enduring inability to write his perspective of what happened that day.

We will meet Ryan as he is in a writing frenzy, at the coffee shop, on the 10th anniversary of the bombing and over 3 years post first deadline for content due his publisher.

We will start by reading a SOAP note for a patient he treated that day. A SOAP note is ubiquitous in the medical field and is comprised of 4 sections S = Subjective, O = Objective, A = Assessment and P = Plan. And it is as simple as that, but serves to allow efficient communication between providers of all kinds. Ryan is an Internal Medicine trained physician, and if there is one thing an IM doc can do, its write the best SOAP note. Each doctor has his or her own style, and some border on verbose, and some tend to write like a surgeon (which is almost nothing) but in general, the "story" of every patient treated by the physician is known through the SOAP note.

Ryan gets the idea that he will use this form to frame his experience. He will expand the standard form that one would find in an EMR, or paper chart in any given hospital, but will stay true to the style and format of the note, maybe with some clever (worried about cheese factor here...) twists and turns in the note.

As I'm writing this, I realize that the names of the victims are known -- they are real people. I can google these people and see their wikipedia page. They have families. Hmm. Perhaps I should alter the dates and the circumstances of the bombing? I'll have to ponder this aspect and how best to maintain respect.

#All the Patients

Considering the story will be about these people -- the story has a lot of work left to flesh out. I'm not worried, as just like Ryan, once I start writing fake SOAP notes, it will flow like water -- hopefully it won't be as bland as water... I must admit, this third act may end up being insufferable to any sane reader.