Monday, January 24, 2011

a needle in a haystack

Last Thursday I awoke before dawn, walked the dogs in the snow, in the cold, in the stillness...and watched the sun rise as red as a ruby before the clouds rolled in. When I arrived at the train station it was empty…I mean DESERTED. My footsteps echoed down the corridor leading to Gate #1. I found a seat by myself (not a difficult task) and I read for a couple of hours, interrupted only by the jostle of passengers coming and going at each stop…and by the swaying and rocking, the groaning and grating of the train on the rails.

When I arrived in NYC and ascended from the platform into Penn Station it was as though I’d stepped out of an oatmeal and brown sugar world and into a Barnum and Bailey extravaganza, a kaleidoscopic onslaught of color, light, sound and perpetual motion…and the circus wasn’t even in town. It was a typical weekday afternoon in the heart of the city…captivating, energizing, and entertaining.

In NYC people appear to draw their energy from a variety of wireless electronic devices, all of them powered by something from Starbucks. No one appears hesitant or disoriented or lost…the way I felt. In fact, a sense of detachment and empowerment and self-possession reigns there. People appear calm and confident despite what, to an outsider, can feel like an alien world with its own bizarre rules of engagement. Nevertheless, I fell in step with the crowd…and made my way to the Writer’s Digest Conference for the weekend.

This is the problem. I loved the practice of medicine. Above all I valued patient care…until the system intervened to impede meaningful engagement with patients. How? By attaching productivity quotients to reimbursement--the mandate to see more patients faster. By creating unworkable systems for diagnostic coding and billing that inevitably led to misapplications which were met with allegations of insurance fraud and abuse. By substituting frustration, exhaustion, anxiety, and dread for the free flow of compassion that good doctors feel for their patients. Shall I elaborate? (Be sure to read my next book…)

And now look what has happened. I loved the process of writing my novel…not that it was an easy and carefree way to spend three years but with it came a sense of accomplishment, of fulfillment, of merit. But now, I’m up against the system again…or so it seems after having attended this conference. The publishing conglomerates have shut the door on midlist authors. They pace about impatiently while agents search desperately for a proverbial needle in the haystack—the next blockbuster. The money maker. We were warned that coming up with a bestseller is about as likely as winning the lottery. The odds are not good. This explains why self-publishing and e-publishing are gaining such momentum, provided you are computer and/or business savvy.

Writing is an all-consuming passion. Most writers have neither the inclination nor the expertise to take on the publishing industry…an industry that seems to be shooting itself in its own foot…discouraging and defeating the very writers it depends upon, not to mention obstructing the flow of quite fine literature to the reading public.

The goal of health care reform, it seems to me, should be to restore proper authority and autonomy to the physician. The goal of the publishing industry should be to enable and empower the writer. Neither appears likely.

So...what is your goal? And what is it that discourages you?
“Books are the bees which carry the quickening pollen from one to another mind.”
--James Russell Lowell--
In my next post I may try to explain how creative energy constantly renews itself.

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