Me and writing go way back. It started in second grade, when Mrs. Freedman introduced me to the simple but ingenious "wordy gurdy." No idea what that is? Allow me to introduce you with an example: "sexually frustrated fish?" --> "celibate halibut." Seriously, we're talking hours of fun, decades before cell phones, Netflix and online gaming existed.
From the humble wordy gurdy, I moved on to poetry and such gems as "Snow is just fine flakes of ice... snow forms a setting, oh so nice." Don't be mean. I was in third grade when I wrote that, and in truth, it was better than the purple prose I tortured my teachers with through middle school and most of high school.
By college, rhyming couplets and pretentious short stories were gone, replaced by essays and "serious" journalism for The Brown Daily Herald. Maybe covering gymnasium renovations or multi-million dollar alumni gifts wasn't inspiring, but at least I learned to rein in my writing and to get to the point. Oh, and there was that one awesome interview with a notorious holocaust denier, who I got to rebut on the front page, point-by point.
Which reminds me to get to my point: creative writers follow many roads to many destinations. Some commit to the craft from an early age, deciding there's nothing else they can envision doing with their lives. Some of these talented souls become career authors, and luck has nothing to do with it; any successful writer will tell you it takes 10,000 hours of solitary, bleary-eyed work toiling away at a laptop (and reading a library of books in many genres) just to become readable. Others tap away at their keyboards in obscurity, forever revising the one golden manuscript that will change the world (if only it gets into the hands of the right agent/editor).
And then there are the non-committal, sneaky bastards like me, who take a safer route, passing through successful careers in a more... reliable vocation. For me, that path went through medical school to a fulfilling career in dermatology. Every day, I still get to craft metaphors for my patients. For instance, actinic keratoses (pre-cancerous skin growths) are "weeds," and we can treat them with liquid nitrogen cryosurgery ("plucking") or topical chemotherapy creams ("spraying weed killers on the lawn"). I get to talk about harmless "barnacles" growing on the hulls of my patients, or how when I'm doing a skin check, I'm looking through the forest for a bear (AKA melanoma) hiding amongst the trees (AKA seborrheic keratoses).
And yes, I still get to write, and to daydream about the day when a story of mine might get the chance to resonate with readers around the world. But here's the critical thing: I don't depend on my creativity to make a living or to support my family. If I did, I'm pretty sure I would have gone all Jack Nicholson/Shining in front of the keyboard a long time ago. Well, hopefully I wouldn't have become homicidal, but I would surely have grown to hate the mercurial craft I still love.
Thirty years ago, two roads diverged in a wood, and I -- I took the one more traveled by. I picked a career in medicine, with writing on the side. In truth, I've probably spent at least a med school's worth of time working on my writing, but that's another story. So far, it's worked for me.
No one thing destroyed the Roman Empire. Not marauding hordes of Goths and Visigoths. Not corruption, civil war, or overpopulation. Not disease or famine. Probably not lead poisoning either.
But all that lead sure didn't help. Those ancient Romans loved the magical, malleable metal. They used lead pipes to channel spring water into their homes. They cooked food in lead pots, drank wine from lead flasks and even used lead to sweeten their toothpaste. The wealthier the Roman child, the more neurotoxin they consumed, poisoning their vulnerable brains.
The Romans didn't know what kind of damage their technology was causing. They lacked the science to understand, and lead made life so much easier. Sound familiar?
Look around at kids today. At the way they barnacle themselves to Smartphones, iPads, Gameboys and X-boxes. At their overdeveloped thumb muscles, addiction to video stimuli, and aversion to downtime without technology. What does this kind of 24-7 screen dependence do to a developing mind? What will future generations say about what caused the collapse of our once flourishing civilization?
Yikes. Just thinking about it makes me want to drink some wine. Laced with lead.
Welcome to Gray's scratch pad...
Ever scratch your skin and get a red, itchy mark? Well, that's dermatographism: the physical embodiment of the writer's itch. Once you start scratching, you'll only itch more. I plan to use this blog as my scratch pad. If a topic resonates, feel free to scratch down some thoughts of your own.
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