Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Dannie Abse's "X-Ray"

The August 2006 issue of the journal Radiology has an article in the editorial section entitled, "Radiology in the Arts: Dannie Abse's X-Ray," by Richard Gunderman, MD, PhD and Matthew Ripplinger, MD. Dr. Gunderman followed me as a faculty member at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.

I hadn't encountered Dannie Abse's poetry before. He is a physician who is now retired. He was a chest specialist, and wrote poetry throughout his career. His poem "X-Ray" begins by praising men of science, like Freud and Harvey, who would "open anything." He mentions others like Hodgkin, Parkinson, and Addison, who have diseases named after them--"physicians/who'd arrive/Fast and first on any sour deathbed scene." Abse goes on to talk about how he lacked such curiosity as a child and an adult:

My small hand never teased to pieces
An alarm clock . . .

He goes on to say:

And this larger hand's the same. It
stretches now.
Out from a white sleeve to hold up,
mother,
Your X-Ray to the glowing screen,
My eyes look
but don't want to, I still don't want
to know.

This poem resonated with me, because, although I took apart my share of alarm clocks as a child, I was the first to see my mother's chest X-ray which showed her lungs full of metastatic disease from what we would later find out was a kidney cancer. She had a cough that wouldn't clear up treated by her family doctor. By the time we got the chest X-ray it was too late, and in point of fact, it was probably too late to do anything when the cough developed.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Green Genius

After multiple revisions, I am sending off a short story called Parasomnia to the National Medical Fiction Writing Contest, sponsored by SEAK, which is also sponsoring the medical fiction seminar I'll be attending in November. The medical aspect of the story is that one of the characters is diagnosed with sleep paralysis.

In the process of looking for a magazine which might publish such a story, I bought copies of Asimov's Science Fiction, and Fantasy and Science Fiction yesterday. I've never read these "pulp" magazines before, but there's some good stuff in there. Robert Loy is pretty clever. He has a story in F&SF using classic movie monsters (Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, etc.), with liberal use of puns. Doh! Why didn't I think of that? He has a web site,Green Genius, which I'm endorsing without having read much of it, just based on the story in F&SF. For my buddy Eben: note that Loy is a policeman in South Carolina.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Of Adverbs and Semicolons

In an article in Writers' Journal (Vol. 26(2), Mar/Apr. 2006), Lindsley Rinard writes, "Mark Twain is credited with telling writers to kill the adverbs." I don't know if Twain ever said that. For all I know, it may rank up there with Twain being credited with calling Kauai's Waimea Canyon the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Although Twain visited and wrote about the Hawaiian Islands, he never went to Kauai. Whether he said it or not, minimizing the use of adverbs is good advice. Somewhere in a pile of papers in my office I have an interview with Elmore Leonard which appeared in the April 2005 edition of Esquire. He said something like if one of his characters was an adverb, he would have it killed, so I guess he heard the Twain quote or pseudoquote at some point, and took it to heart, or maybe he developed a hatred of adverbs on his own.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., writing in his book A Man Without a Country, said, "Here is a lesson creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college."

So now I resist the urge to use adverbs and semicolons whenever possible.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Alien Abduction

I know what you're thinking--this poor guy is obsessed with a robot and now he's going to start ranting about UFOs. Not exactly. I caught a few minutes of This American Life on NPR yesterday. The show had to do with sons getting to know their fathers. I heard a guy discussing his father's work as a scientist interested in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). It seems his father started a web site, looking for someone who claimed to be implanted with a probe by aliens, a fairly frequent story among UFO believers. He got lots of responses, but only one that was convincing enough to result in a face-to-face meeting and testing. The son went with his father and other scientists who met up with the alleged probee. The guy said he had an implant in his neck, which sent signals to the ETs. He drew diagrams and formulae on a blackboard, etc. He even had a little circuit board he claimed could pick up the RF signal from the probe. He stuck the device in his mouth and it made noises he said were caused by the probe in his neck. When the guy took off his hat, it was lined with aluminum foil to prevent transmission from his neck to the aliens. He also had applied aluminum foil over his chest. When the scientists tried to pick up a radio frequency signal, there was of course nothing. The guy claimed their instruments weren't sensitive enough. They gave him bus fare and sent him on his way.

This got me thinking that there must be a good piece of fiction in there somewhere. In addition I got notification of a medical fiction writing contest with a rapidly approaching deadline. I started poking around on the web, and found out that a lot of alien abduction stories have elements common to accounts of people with a condition called sleep paralysis, where skeletal muscles, except those controlling the eyes and respiration are paralyzed during the transition between sleep and waking. Turns out that people are normally paralyzed during REM sleep so they don't flail around and act out their dreams. In sleep paralysis, the individual is awake, but still paralyzed. There may be various hallucinations, including the feeling of someone else in the room, often sitting or lying on top of the paralyzed individual. This is probably the origin of stories of old hags, demons, incubi, succubi, and various other supernatural creatures attacking sleepers around the world and throughout history, and ETs entering bedrooms today.

For more about alien abduction, see A Different Pepspective.

Well, in any case, I've started a short story concerning alien abduction and how it is explained by sleep paralysis (or is it?). I hope it will be something I can pass off as medical fiction for the contest.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Reunion 2006

Here is a poem I read at the 35th reunion of the class of 1971 of Wawasee High School.

Reunion

Full circle we have come
to a gym such as this--
once the nexus, the heart
of small towns like ours--
a hardwood-floored temple.

In gyms such as this
we congregated
Friday nights
for the blessed rites
of basketball.

In gyms such as this
the sacrament
of vaccine
on sugar cubes
spared us
from polio's scourge,
from crutch and iron lung.

In gyms such as this
were Jonah Club Fish Fries held.
We shared fishes and loaves:
deep-fried cod
and Wonder Bread.

In gyms such as this
we gathered
for judgment,
costumed for Halloween.

In gyms such as this
we gathered
for drama, for comedy,
for music.

In a gym such as this
restless adolescents
became
robed angels, proceeding,
singing Adeste Fidelis,
mounting risers
to become
a living Christmas Tree.

Outside gyms such as this
our chariots awaited--
the cars of the fortunate sons:
swing low, sweet GTO,
Corvette, Camaro.
And the cars with character--
Mary Ellen's Dragon Wagon,
Susi's Studebaker.
And the mundane rides
of the rest of us--
Volkswagen, Falcon, Rambler.

In gyms such as this
we
sweat,
cheered,
danced,
laughed,
cried,
fought,
loved.

In a gym such as this
we gathered
for commencement--
the beginning to all
that lay ahead
and now lies behind,
beneath the dust
of three decades and a half--
an end to school,
a farewell to friends.

Friends,
full circle we have come
to a gym such as this.
Let us savor our memories.
Let us savor our remaining time.
Let us savor the night.

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