Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Writing Prompts

There are a number of writing prompts that can be used to overcome writer's block or just stimulate creativity. A popular one is timed writing. Just keep the pen moving, without analyzing, rereading, or editing, for a set period of time. Sometimes surprising things can come out of such an exercise.

Another trick is to go to a public place and write down the conversations you hear. I came up with a variation on that theme, which I call the channel surfing prompt. This works best if you have access to a large number of stations through cable or satellite dish. Put the TV on a station and as soon as you hear a complete sentence, hit the mute button, and write down the sentence. Go to the next station and do the same. I did this till I had filled up a couple pages with random sentences. Then I tried to pull out some of the sentences to write a piece of fiction or poem. I wouldn't say this was a wildly successful effort, but I think it has potential, and I will try it again. It might even be more interesting if I don't limit it to complete sentences. This is a work in progress.

Another prompt I have read about is to write a letter to someone--a friend, and enemy, a relative, one of your fictional characters (or have the character write a letter to you). As a variant, I am writing a talk-show style interview with my deceased mother. I'm not sure what, if anything, will come out of that, but it is stimulating a lot of memories.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Chieftains

The Chieftains

The two Chieftains rest,
surrounded by trees
along a creek,
Eyeless,
headlights gone,
wheels gone,
bellies on the ground,
they face northeast, toward Detroit,
like blind pilgrims facing Mecca in prayer.

They are relics
of the twentieth century, named
for Native Americans
who were extinguished
to make way
for industry and agriculture,
for Henry Ford and Cyrus McCormick.

The vehicles’ rusting chrome trim
once reflected
postwar American optimism.
Their substantial steel skins,
now pierced by hunter’s bullets,
are dulled and corroded by the elements,
the once glossy brown of the older sedan
rendered into a palette
of umber, burnt sienna, and russet.

The white top of the newer two-tone two-door,
which gleamed in the fifties,
is now a dirty eggshell.
The lower surfaces
show only muted traces
of the original copper red
amidst the rust.

Helpless against
destructive human impulse,
the windows of both are shattered,
like all abandoned fenestrated artifacts
of civilization.

Exposed to man and nature,
only vestiges of the interiors remain--
tatters of upholstery, rusted springs.
There is no trace
of the cardboard shelves
behind the back seats
which, baked by sun
through the rear windows,
had emanated a peculiar dry aroma.

Gone are the hood ornaments
from these namesakes of Chief Pontiac--
in 1949
an amber translucent likeness of the chief
which morphed into a sleek faceless airplane
in 1955.

The enormous engines,
stripped of some components,
lifeless under skewed hoods—
the straight-eight Silver Streak
and the V-8 Strato Streak--
are monuments to
America’s addiction
to fossil fuels.

One car carried me,
newly born,
home from the hospital,
the other to Little League games.
The Chieftains, like their drivers,
my parents,
roll no more
down life’s highway,
but rest,
forever rest.

Originally published in Children, Churches and Daddies, Vol. 158, March 22, 2006

Rejection Collection

Yesterday I mentioned I am collecting rejection letters. Here's a good one:

Dear Writer,

Thank you for sending your work to AGNI. It received careful consideration here.

We will not be able to publish your manuscript, but we wish you luck placing it elsewhere.

Kind regards,
The Editors

I received this via email two days after putting the submission in the mail. Some careful consideration! I don't know which is worse--instantaneous rejection or waiting for months before getting a response. The best part of this particular rejection was a P.S. offering me a discount if I subscribed to the magazine.

I could just publish my work here on the blog, but then I'd probably have an even smaller audience than I'd have in a literary magazine. Self-publishing removes the affirmation that at least one other human being, besides friends and family, thinks my work should be read be others.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Hole in the Head

The article which appeared in the paper had a grand total of one word (poetry) devoted to the writing group. The article focused on a film class being taken by local doctors. The whole project is called the Med Poets Society, and involves Notre Dame professors, or retired professors, teaching classes in the humanities to doctors. I took the writing class last year and the four people who took the class get together once a month to read our work to each other.

One of the things I wrote for the class was a poem about recollections I had while walking the halls of the building where some of my first year medical school classes were held. That poem has been rejected three times--once by The Pharos ("Although much poetry that we do not publish in The Pharos lacks poetic grace, imagery, or rhyme, your piece has much of that. Rather, several of our reviewers have trouble with the content and inferences"), and twice by JAMA, first because it was too long, and the second time, after I shortened it, because it read like "narrative prose." Yes, I'm collecting my rejection letters. Steven King wrote in his book On Writing that when he started sending short stories to magazines as a kid, he put a spike in his wall and hung his rejection letters there. He had quite a thick pile.

Anyway, one of the things I recalled in the poem was a movie, entitled Maganga, we were shown in class. It was about African medicine men, and showed an operation called trephination, or trepanation, where a hole is cut in the skull. This is probably the oldest form of surgery in the world, and has been documented in skulls 7000 years old. Some of the skulls show signs of healing, indicating that people survived. Indeed, some people underwent multiple procedures. It's still done in modern medicine, to drain blood clots around the brain and to implant various devices in the brain. What I find amazing is that there are people out there who are willing to have the procedure done electively for its alleged but unproven positive effect on "brain metabolism." Check out the web site http://www.trepan.com. There are even examples of self-trepanation with electric drills! You can't make stuff like this up.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

First Entry

Well, here I am. This is my first attempt at this blogging thing. I am a board (bored) certified radiologist, seeking fulfillment and enlightenment by trying to do almost anything but what I am trained to do. I build guitars and ukuleles. I take guitar lessons and have performed a couple times. I write fiction and nonfiction, which so far has been rejected by several publications, although I have had a couple poems published in the online and print arts and literary journal, Children, Churches, and Daddies. I make no promise to write in this blog every day. The last time I resolved to write every day was in a noteboook I just dug out of a drawer--the entry was made in 1977 as I was getting ready to enter medical school. It didn't happen then and it's not going to happen now. I am in a writing group locally--four physicians. I read in the paper Monday that we are going to be featured tomorrow. I have no idea what's going to show up in the paper. Guess I'll find out in the morning.

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