Posted tagged ‘Why Write?’

Four Part Harmony Part I

April 17, 2011

        This post goes out to KC who asked if I’d share some of the thoughts from the recent ADK teacher session on “The Mandolin Case,” titled “Four Part Harmony.” Part I is today, and I’ll post one every Monday for a month to complete the series.

       Part I was “Why I Write.” I’m reminded of a college Philosophy exam. It had one question. “Why?”

       One student answered “Because.” He got an ‘F.’

        Another answered ‘Why not?’ He got an ‘A.’

        So I guess I’ll stick with ‘Why not?’ My motivations were multi-factorial, but they fell into three general categories.

        The first was simple enough; writing made me feel young again. Back in grade school the teachers would have us write stories, and I often was awarded a blue ribbon. After “The Mandolin Case” was released and so many people liked the book, it brought back those same feelings of validation I experienced so long ago. Stories made me happy as a child, and I guess adults don’t outgrow the desire to be accepted. My world accepted me, and it was fun.

        It’s strange, ’cause in my work as a Doc you do make a difference, but it’s my job. I have a moral, ethical, professional, and legal obligation to deliver the goods even when I don’t feel good myself. If you lose your muse in the Doc gig you’d better find it PDQ or else become mired up in a heap of big-time trouble. (Someone asked what my speciality was and I said, “Staying out of trouble, and I’m real good at it.”)

        As a writer it seemed different. I was under no obligation at all; I just wrote because I believed I had something to say and wanted to share it. When my book got good reviews it made me feel like the kid with the blue ribbons again. I’ve often said with art you toss your heart out there and see if people stomp on it, but they embraced it. I was both touched and humbled by the response.

        The second reason was a sense of immortality. We don’t have any real immortality except in Eternity of course, but somehow I could envision that my writing would allow my ideas and dreams to live on beyond my time. One of the dominant thoughts that drove me was one of my kids as old people in the nursing home reading to a grandchild on their knee. The child would ask, “Was great-grandaddy really like that?”

       They might answer, “Well no, I think he made that part up.” Then they’d flip to another page and say, “but now that scene at the Bomb Shelter is real ’cause I was there.”

        Already our family stories live on. My son is a helicopter pilot and a paramedic, and my daughter is a sophisticated University young lady. They were both raised in part by middle-aged bluegrass pickers. When they tell their stories, their young friends think they must have made them up, but the stories are true. Our way of life lives on in them.  

        Maybe a hundred years from now some kid will find my story on a dusty book shelf, read it, and decide we had such a big time that they needed to make art part of their life, too. Perhaps long after I’m gone a weary doctor will realize others have been there before and find some comfort in the pages.

        The third reason was practical; my survival. All I ever wanted to be was a simple and decent man;, a country doc with a wife, 2 1/2 kids, a dog, and a picket fence life who got to play some music on the week-ends off call. I found it wasn’t always so simple. When I began to write about Indie he showed me how to make it work. You remember his line? “It doesn’t take any special talent to be wicked. Anyone can do that. But to be a decent person requires creativity to the point of art.” I wanted to be decent, but also not be trampled on in this hyper-competitive modern world. Indie, through the process of writing about him, showed me just how to do it.

        I have several more projects in the works. but if I never got anything else done in the art world, that reward alone would be more than enough. Through writing I developed my strategy. Now if someone sets out to do me or my people wrong I just smile and wave a matador’s red cape in front of a brick wall. I tell ’em I don’t think I’d charge on through. 80% of them have the good sense not to, but 20% run headlong smack through the cape and into the wall and then get knocked out.

        When they come to they ask, “Why did ya go and do that?”

        My response is always the same. “I dunno. Read the book.”

        I’m as imperfect as anyone else, although I hope I was a decent man before the book. But writing took my life philosophy to another level. It yielded a hard-fought tranquility that is mine for the rest of my days. As Irene Lehman said, “When a man writes like that, there’s a reason.” Through the process of writing I solidified what was important and true to me and why it was so. And it was more reward than money can ever buy. As a writer, I found every little bit of me, and realized I liked me just fine, imperfections and all. If anyone out there is still searching, writing ain’t a bad way to find yourself.

        And it’s a fun journey.

        I’ll be back next Monday with Part II, “How I Became a Writer.”

Dr. B

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To Be The Best Dr. B I Can Be

April 5, 2011

        Someone asked me why I bothered to write. They said, “You’ve already had one successful career. I don’t like it when people think that entitles them to success in another discipline.”

        I thought about that. Well, for one, I think as far as big time success as a doctor, I didn’t come up with a cure for cancer, so I would view my mark on the world as pretty modest. As far as books, it delights me that “The Mandolin Case” made a lot of people happy and that my story led some new people to the music art form I love so much. But I assure you Mr. Grisham doesn’t lay awake at night and worry I might overtake him. That doesn’t bother me.

          It’s like why I still study the mandolin under Wayne and Darin. (Hey Jel, Darin and I are gonna start on the mando duet CD this month; I hope Wayne will sit in on a cut or two also) I ain’t trying to be them; God only made one of each of us. I have no illusion that I’m gonna be the next star of the mandolin world. I continue on because all I want to be is the best Dr. B I can be, and both my music and writing help me in that quest.

        It might not be modern or fancy, but it’s a good enough reason for me, and I guess that’s all that matters.      

Dr. B

The Rotary Club is Just Like The Old Hometown

December 8, 2010

        I did my first Rotary Club gig, and it was just like the old hometown. In fact, it is the hometown of my music pal Darin Aldridge.

        It came about like these things often do. Someone told their cousin about “The Mandolin Case” and they told their sister down at the bank whose co-worker needed to come up with the Rotary Club program for December and she thought, “Hey, maybe we can get the world’s only physician bluegrass fiction writer to come talk to us ’cause I read on his blog he’s off on Wednesdays and maybe Darin Aldridge would come by and pick a tune with him.”

        And they were right on every count. I bet it was the first Rotary Club meeting in the history of the organization to have “Cherokee Shuffle” as the opening song.

        It was all great fun. Some fellow sat in for the Prez and told a couple funny tall tales to kick it off. I was reminded of the words of my agent. “People don’t understand why all these writers keep turning up from the South. It’s because they come from a long line of folks who tell stories.”

        This guy was good. How was I gonna follow him? For Heaven’s sake I ain’t Twain. I looked out over the crowd and thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” I’m no professor or a scholar, although I could jabber a half hour as to the appropriate evaluation of persistent eosinophilia, but who’d want to hear about that?

        I decided to talk about why I write. “Maybe I’ve been a writer all my life,” I said. “I used to stay with my grandmother out on the farm and wrote up stories and got the little blue ribbons in grade school.” Perhaps I wanted to recapture some of my youth, although my track record is no better than Ponce de Leon’s.

        Like many teenaged boys I got interested in girls and guitars, decided being a writer wasn’t cool and put it aside for a while, but it always nagged at me to start back. I heard it in medical school, again in residency and then in practice; “You need to write a book.”

        As Jerry Clower used to say, “If you hear it three times its scripture.” The road from grade school blue ribbons to a novel is a long journey but I continued to plod along. I had no choice.

        I love people, and in an exam room I’m at ease to talk about constipation or any other subject, but I got a bit self-conscious in front of a crowd without a mandolin around my neck, so I called Darin up to play “Ragtime Annie.” It was in honor of Tag, one of the honest lawyers in “The Mandolin Case.” I got lost about half way through ’cause my mind drifted to what I needed to say next, but Darin banged out a big “G” run to get me back in the groove.

        I told them I was so pleased my writing had brought attention to my kind of music and about I’d become so interested in the Don Gibson theater and the Earl Scruggs Museum and how it has already led new people there, and how I believed it was gonna lead them to Cherryville, too. Darin and Brooke will host a festival there the first weekend of April that features several national acts like the Grascals, and it will attract visitors from all up and down the East Coast. 

        My agent told me not to read too much from the book, ’cause he’d heard so many writers drone on so bad they put the audience to sleep, but I did read my favorite passage. From Indie: “It doesn’t take any special talent to be wicked. Anyone can do that. But to be a decent person requires creativity to the point of art.” Sometimes docs see so much suffering and death that it’d either wear you out or turn you to drinking if you couldn’t ventilate it all though writing and music.

       A bunch of them bought my book. I was humbled by their kind comments. One was a banker. I bet he’d consider a branch in Harvey County, even if it is small. Another bought a copy for her Dad. He was in the hospital and loved bluegrass music. We all said a quick prayer for his recovery. One was a dentist. I can promise you this man is on a mission. It ain’t like he’s into cosmetic dentistry for Hollywood stars, drives around in a Porsche car, and whines to reporters about his lot in life. An elderly lady (I define elderly as anyone eighteen months older than me) told me she was named after Old Dan Tucker. The raconteur bought one to take down to the Chamber of Commerce, and I gave him some extra postcards. He said he was gonna mail ’em out and tell folks there had been a Tommy Bibey sighting in Cherryville, N.C.

       As I packed up my gear I thought a lot about why I write. I don’t care if I sell three thousand or three million, although my agent can’t understand why I see it that way. It just isn’t a competitive venture for me. And let’s face it, Grisham ain’t laying awake a night worried I’m gonna overtake him. One reason is because through my writing I came to understand myself. Flaws and all, I like me okay and accept myself for what I am; every bit of me. 

        Along the way I’ve met some very bright people. Some of them were writers, and every so often one will be upset they haven’t sold enough books to suit ’em.  I don’t say much about it, but it seemed to me where they went wrong is they tried too hard to show people how much smarter they were than everyone else. 

        I wrote to try to understand how we are all alike. And as best I can tell, we’re all about the same. At least that’s what I figured out as I wrote.

       The Rotary Club was just like the old hometown. If you live anywhere within a couple of hours drive of mid North Carolina, and you’re in a sweat as to what to do with your turn at the Rotary Club program I’d love to come and resolve it for you for the day. If Darin is free I’ll bring him too.

        And if you meet on Wednesdays and have sweet tea and banana pudding like that Cherryville crowd, count me in.

Dr. B