I Bailed On My Medical Practice

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Honestly, I was never cut out to be a pathologist.

It’s true that I have a strong eye for pattern recognition of rare tumors. And I’ve got enough OCD-ishness to avoid most of the million tiny and galactic mistakes that haunt pathologists without OCD traits.

But I lack the bluster for the job.

It turns out that bluster, the gift of feeling and sounding 100% certain when you’re only 99, is the key to tolerating a profession where people’s lives are in your hands.

And that gift of pseudo-certainty makes surgeons and colleagues think you’re good, even if you’re not.

The people who thought I was an outstanding general pathologist were the few pathologists who consulted with me on most of their own tough cases. Plus maybe every cytotechnologist I ever worked with.

And my wife and kids who are completely unbiased.

When the stress from outside work escalated and combined with on-the-job stress, I reached critical mass inside. I was done. Cooked.

It was a Thursday night.

On Friday I walked into work and told them this would be my last day as a pathologist.

That was June 27, 2014, about a month ago. Since then, I’ve learned a few things.

When I’m not smothered by life-and-death stress, the world shines for me.

Sitcoms are funny. I’m still shocked.

Nobody dies if I’m an imperfect human.

The scowl wasn’t permanent. My daughter said my eyes look younger now.

The other day I caught myself smiling at a tree in our backyard. Do normal people do that?

I no longer have to open fresh colons, remove the feces by hand and hunt for invisible lymph nodes for an hour breathing toxic fumes.

The last 26 years of practice are over. The 13 years of prep and training are history.

My goal is to become an indie writer before the neurons fly south.

I didn’t quit pathology so I could write full-time. I’m not that brave.

I quit because I couldn’t go on.

But I love to write. More than anything.

And like you, my human flaws qualify me for this job.

M. Talmage Moorehead

If you’re interested in intelligent design, weird artifacts, genetics and psychology from the perspective of a nineteen-year-old “Hapa Girl,” my in-progress novel may be a fun read. The protagonist, Johanna, is a genius geneticist with a younger brother who struggles with depression. Her evolving story starts here.

It’s an experiment called, Hapa Girl DNA, a tightrope of fiction and nonfiction. “Hapa” is the Hawaiian term for “half.” Johanna is half Japanese and half Jewish. In “writing” her own novel as she lives it, she ignores some big fiction rules, partly because she’s allergic to dogma and partly because she’d rather enjoy the “writing” experience than worry about material success.

But the “rules” are essential knowledge to anyone crazy enough to break them.

If you’re a fiction writer or just curious, you could download my free e-book on fiction writing, the second to last chapter of which gives my specific take on many of the dogmatic rules of fiction writing. Downloading that 19,000 word pdf file will place you on my list of interested people who will be politely notified when my traditional version of this novel is done – possibly before the next ice age. (No spam or sharing of your email address. I haven’t written to my list yet and it’s been over a year.)

Next time you’re writing emails, if you think of it, please send my blog address (www.storiform.com) to an open-minded, highly intelligent and beautiful friend of yours. Thanks. I appreciate it. They might not, but you never know. 🙂

Talmage

173 thoughts on “I Bailed On My Medical Practice

  1. Fascinating post. I’m a physiotherapist (physical therapist) as well as a writer. Some years ago a General Practitioner friend stated that he envied physios sometimes. I was quite surprised, but he went on to explain that we actually get to make our patients better, and that he often felt like a fancy referral service – refer for pathology here, refer for surgery there, refer to physio, refer to neurologist…etc

    And we do. We get to spend time with our patients, we get to diagnose, (in conjunction with our doctor colleagues), and we get to actually treat them and encourage them, and watch all the steps they take towards getting better. It’s a great feeling to say “You don’t need me any more,” and watch them walk out of our door and send them off to live their lives.

    Sometimes nothing can fix them, and that’s more challenging, but we have time to get to know them, and at the very least, improve their physical function even a little.

    Best wishes for your new career. Enjoy the trees 🙂 And I hope you really enjoy your writing!

    • Thank you. I’m glad your work is fulfilling. Sounds like I should have gone into physical therapy instead of medicine. Hindsight’s 20/20. 🙂

      Best wishes to you, too! Keep writing! The world needs to hear from upbeat people like you! 🙂

  2. Good for you! The universe is opening a new door for you – so exciting! I, too, bailed on a stressful position almost 15 years ago … no job lined up, but within two weeks (without even looking for a job), I had my dream job that I still hold today. I love what I do! Not many can say that. So I commend you for leaving your “crappy” job (pun intended!) to find your true calling. Yay! 😀

      • I write user and administrative manuals for a software company. A perfect job for me!

        And yes, I have faith that the situation will improve. It’s just a matter of time before we wipe out all the misinformation about our natural plant. I survived without pills before, I can do so again if need be. I’d rather go the natural route anyway.

        So is the link not appearing? I’ll have to check my gravatar.

        Thanks! 😀

  3. brandymichelle1974

    To you: thank you on behalf of Ask Our Moms for liking our post about Robin Williams. I, along, with my BFF, wish you the very best of luck in your journey as an author. I have no doubt that you will make a success of it.

    For what it’s worth, although I am not a physician, I understand the desire to want to make a change and to live your dream: a different life–perhaps one that is less stressful. Or–at least the eustress of embarking upon a new journey.

    Take care and wishing you well.

    Brandy (Meme)

    • Thank you for understanding where I’m coming from. I hope you’re able to follow your dreams in life. A person can accomplish much more good in the world when the journey is exciting rather than miserable. When people need you and you’re too stressed out or depressed to help them, it’s a colossal loss to both of you. But when joy is in your heart, you always have something to give.
      You along with your BFF take care, too! 🙂
      Talmage

  4. Lost of a doctor, a healer, is always a lost to the world. I love my doctor who is a general family doctor. Everytime I see him, just before I leave his presence, he always gives me a great man hug. I love this man. I am concerned about you. Go to my blog, read my poem under my commentary on the lost of Robin Williams. The poem is a true happening from my own life, over thirty years ago. Continued blessings in your own journey in finding finally…..your true way to yourself. Go back into medical pratice as the healer you are as a general family doctor. There are many out there, that need you and your skill, your knowledge and your heart.

    • I’m 58 and too old to go back and do another medical residency. If I were to try, and if by miracle I got a position, I’d be right back in the inferno of life-and-death that recently brought me to the end of my tolerance for stress-induced misery. I’d be at least 63 when I got out. Then I’d find myself working for a big organization where I’d be required to rush through a certain number of patients per hour. I’d be blamed for anything I did that wasn’t perfect, whether it was my fault of not. I’d be sued if a disease ever killed anyone and a lawyer thought there was a way to blame me for the death. I’d be despised by idealistic people who consider it morally reprehensible to take monetary advantage of sick people in their hour of need.

      As a practicing doctor, I’d be back in the class of people who our president publically stated are apt to cut off legs and tonsils for an extra buck… basically sociopathic predators who physically assault patients for money. That’s not an attractive group to want to re-join in today’s cultural climate. Trust me.

      I’m not depressed now, but if I went back into medical practice, I’d soon be. Medicine is a cruel profession for creative, sensitive, caring people. To be happy, a doctor needs alligator hide and the gift of unrealistic self-confidence, the kind that makes you sure you’re right whether you are or not. I don’t have that gift. I have the gift of self-doubt. I have to earn whatever self-confidence I’m able to get the slow hard way.

      But I can see why you would worry bout me, and I do appreciate it. I’m still dealing with the stresses coming from family issues, and if those things take a turn for the worse, I’m not going to be a happy camper.

      For now, I’m enjoying a life with relatively normal levels of stress. The happiness of it sometimes makes me wonder if I’m a normal person… somewhere deep down. 🙂

      I’m hoping I’ll be able to do some good in the world with my writing.

  5. Absolutely fascinating post… My Dad told me during high school and again after graduating from college about how he loved his work and that was the most important thing to find in life (he was a general surgeon), and I took those words to heart. He retired mid-60s suddenly (my mom and all of us hilariously found out via other people/sources). The reason he said was simple: new partners, new era of business and he no longer enjoyed his work life. And he couldn’t have made a better decision. Admire what you did ~ an incredible example for your family. Cheers!

    • My Father-in-Law is a retired Family Practitioner who loved his work. My dad’s life centered around medicine. He was triple boarded in Radiology, Anatomic Pathology and General Surgery. He did the surgery residency in his 50’s. When he wasn’t at work he was at home reading medical journals that he would stack on the floor against the walls around his bed, filling his small bedroom. He wrote papers for medical journals, taking pictures of the specimens at home. Our garage was full of glass jars containing organs from autopsies he’d done. I remember seeing him in bed with a brain on a board in his lap. He had cut the brain in half, separating the left and right hemispheres. I’ve never opened a brain like that. He showed me the pineal gland and said he wasn’t quite sure if it was the pineal gland or a small tumor that may have killed the patient. I was five years old, so I might have misunderstood, of course.

      Medicine was once an exciting, fulfilling job, I’m gathering. Today, nothing could be further from the truth. I would not wish a medical career on my worst enemy. It was a living hell for me, much of the time. I always felt like a reject and a failure, despite being quite good at getting my diagnoses right and my work done on time. Leaving medicine feels like I’ve been cured of a fatal disease.

      Your blog is unusually beautiful and interesting. Your pictures from your trip to China are breathtaking and educational. This line that you wrote stands out for me:

      “Humans have a pretty incredible stretch of capabilities, and while the ideal of accumulating great material wealth is an overriding dream for many…it is usually those who seek a simpler route that find a greater sense of happiness.”

      Here’s a link to your spectacular site: http://dalocollis.com/

      Thank you for the magic and hard work you’ve put in over there! 🙂

      • It seems that medicine has evolved much since our father’s time. My sister is an OBGYN, and while she loves parts of it ~ she is unhappy with the business/legal issues that are a part of what is now medicine. Doctors use to seek to help and cure, and from what I gather that no longer is part of most work environments. She plans to get out of the OB side, for reasons similar to what you state. I’ve told my Dad, with hindsight being 20/20, I am happy I didn’t make the grade for Med School 🙂 Congratulations and thanks too for the nice words about my site. As the above quote implies, happiness is not that complicated (which is perhaps why it is so difficult to find!).

        • Almost all the doctors I’ve known were in medicine to help patients. But the environment today puts med students and doctors into “survival mode,” a place where a person becomes the one needing help, no longer fully available to give it.

          Many of us were taught that our own happiness is not that important. “It’s all about helping others.” It may be true that happiness can’t be found in a direct search, and helping others can bring joy, but misery takes away much of a person’s potential to help others. So I’m with you: A search for happiness through simplicity is what we need most.

  6. Me

    Every now and again, in my normal daily life, I discover my ‘new favorite thing’. On Sunday it was a sweet and salty popcorn that I had never tasted before.

    “The other day I caught myself smiling at a tree in our backyard. Do normal people do that?”

    I have a new favorite thing.

  7. You are a brave man, I can relate with your detailed description of the stresses you dealt with. Welcome to a normal life without the stress. Enjoy the fresh air and time with the family, everyday the beauty and smell of it get better with time and you passions for writing will flourish.

  8. First, congratulations on saving yourself. May you catch yourself smiling at more and more ridiculous things with eyes your daughter loves.
    Second, thanks for visiting my site and choosing to follow along.
    Third, Write. Write. Write.

    • Thank you.

      Here’s something from you blog that made me want to ask you who you work for, and what they’re “all about.”

      I Don’t worry. Take care of yourself. Sending Light and Healing.
      “I honestly don’t know what to do with that. It’s a completely new experience for me. And I’m afraid to trust it..”
      http://aminddivided.com/

      It sounds like the people at your new job are pretty amazing. And they recognize your value.

  9. melbourneworrier

    Thank you for writing with intent. I very recently bailed on my stressful job and I am free of that existential feeling that was vibrating through my cells telling me “I shouldn’t be here, doing this”. And now, ‘the world shines for me’ too. I look forward to reading more.

    • Good on you for bailing from a job that vibrated anxiety through you cells. I don’t know how many times I’ve had that feeling at work that says, “I shouldn’t be doing this.”

      Hey, I really like your blog. And I wouldn’t give up on you either. I know what those word can mean. 🙂

  10. I wouldn’t call that “bailing”, but rather “discovering” what makes you happiest. As for me, I’m at the other end of that spectrum! I’m a singer/songwriter/musician/artist (etc.) but it doesn’t pay the bills, so I’m going into Psychology (probably mental health counseling, or even criminology) so that I can have a shot at buying a real home and car.

    Great story. Thanks for sharing it. :0)

    • I’ll bet you will be great in psychology. My son is a talented singer/songwriter/musician. He’s done a masters in psychology and discovered that he’s got a natural talent for connecting with the patients. If I had to choose a field of patient care right now, it would be psychology… but not psychiatry.

      Thank you for your encouraging comment. 🙂

      • Thanks for your feedback, M. :0) I’ll bet you’d make a great psychologist as well- you’re a talented writer. Usually, that’s indicative of being a good “people person”. I hear you too; I had considered psychiatry but really am not sure I’d want to go to actual med. school. Don’t get me wrong! I love medicine. I don’t think I have what it takes to do a year of chemistry and physics though…heheh. (Calculus almost killed me!) Also, I prefer more of a homeopathic, holistic approach to medicine rather than prescription-based solutions. I do have a slight interest in forensics, even forensic pathology. I’m betting your job was anything but boring!

        • Sorry it took me so long to reply. This theme, “Oxygen” has issues with comments. I’m going to see if I can switch to another wordpress theme without losing all the comments.

          Thank you for the compliment, by the way! I used to be a people person before medical school, residency and 26 years of practicing pathology. That kind of put me into a shell. I’m starting to get out of it now that I quit.

          I would not wish a medical career on my worst enemy, but it’s true that a few doctors I’ve met over the years claim to enjoy some parts of their work. Very few of them.

          For me it was living hell.

          If I were to choose a profession for a young person, I’d try to find one that supplies a “want” rather than a “need” or a “right” of the public. It’s difficult to feel great about saving people’s lives and getting paid for it. People consider that kind of thing to be living off of the misfortune of others like a parasite.

          People hate doctors and think it’s morally reprehensible that anyone should be charged money for the health care that keeps them alive. They feel that healthcare is part of their “right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It’s no use to argue a big-picture perspective of innovation due to capitalism. Capitalism is a dirty word to many who live under the unparallelled prosperity it seems to have provided. When a person is dying and someone can save her, it never feels right to have money changing hands. It’s difficult to argue with any feeling, especially that one. I wouldn’t try.

          I appreciate and understand the unfortunate and painful living circumstances of medical doctors. They have been uniquely screwed. They are blamed for the long waiting times in their waiting rooms while being clocked by bureaucrats who hold the purse strings and demand high numbers of patients be seen per hour. It is almost humanly impossible to keep up with the explosion of vital information that doctors need to know. They don’t have time for family. They’re on call at home much of the time, constantly answering phone calls and driving into work. They don’t have time to organize and take political action to protect themselves from the constant predation of ambulance chasers of both the patient and lawyer varieties. They have to constantly struggle to keep up with new government regs. They have to be inspected routinely by officials who don’t know medicine. They have to spend the rest of their lives sitting for multiple-choice exams in the never-ending process of recertification, overseen by bureaucrats and politicians, some of whom have managed the miracle of finding a way out of actual medical practice and into the test-giving business. I haven’t even scratched the surface of the hell it is to be a doctor.

          The old saying is true, “you spend the first third of your life trying to get into medicine, and the last two thirds trying to get out.”

          I hope you make a wise decision with your life. I certainly didn’t. 🙂

          • I certainly appreciate you sharing your riveting story with me! I hear you- loud and clear. I used to want to get into medicine, but you know, as my life goes on, year after year, I’m more compelled to “get my hands dirty” with the poor and “hopeless”- people who have simply given up. I want to remain on the street level and my “dream career” would be as a sociologist traveling here and there, doing experimental case studies with social groups- particularly those who are outcasts. (Which brings me back to what I’m most passionate about- helping others.)

            I think you’ve had a great career- even though it was sucking the life out of you- you seem to have given your all. Contrary to what you’ve disclosed though, I do feel that you (and others who work in the “life and death” department) very much deserve a paycheck! It’s just not feasible to think that doctors (and coroners, pathologists, etc.) should be able to work for free. A job is a job still, and outside of Jesus- I don’t know anyone who’d be willing to work extensively, healing and helping others for free. No doubt it’s morally conflicting, but you certainly deserve to be paid. You can never get back all that you’ve given over the years. Perhaps you’ve seen too much. ;0) Still, you should allow yourself a good bit of dignity and acceptance for all the good that you’ve done in your time. (And think of all of the lives that would be different right now had it not been for your intervention. You’ve made a significant impact in the medical world.)

            Thanks again for sharing your story here with me! I’ll certainly take it to heart and choose my career wisely. (And will NOT go into medicine.Psychology is as far as I’m willing to go!) 😉 Take care of yourself!

            • You’re kind. I appreciate your perspective and your encouragement. You’ll make a great psychologist. Please take a look at the suicide stats associated with that profession, however. I’ve heard rumors that they are extremely high, but I don’t remember if the source was trustworthy.

              Helping other has always been my life’s goal, too, but fear drove me into pathology and away from the other specialties. Now that I’m free of medicine, I’m out of “survival mode” and feel like my old self again. 🙂

              Good luck. If you have any questions that I might be able to answer, please ask. It’s what I live for – and I can tell you totally understand that. 🙂

              • Well, I tell you, I think it’s highly admirable that you had the guts to venture into pathology to begin with. If a man stumbles out into battle- risking life and limb to save his fellow soldier- that man is seen as a hero.

                What you did every day of your life isn’t much different. The battlefield looks different, but the stress levels and job requirements on many levels are very much the same. You should be commended for your courage, and unwavering commitment year after year in the work that you did. On that note, I’m so glad that that chapter of your life has closed (at least “work wise”) so that you can now reap the benefits of simply living. I hope you enjoy the rest of your summer! It’s been great getting to know you. :0)

  11. I loved reading this and other posts – and I love that you smile at trees. My friends know that daily reading scripture and writing keep me sane. It is so much easier to greet the day when I know that I will be able to reflect and write. Best of luck to you. And thanks for stopping by The Noontimes – it has given me the chance to meet you. Stay well.

  12. What a beautiful read. I also abandoned a power career, though mine was not nearly as useful to humanity as yours. In fact mine was bordering on useless, one of my reasons for declaring “sod it all”. Thanks for stopping by my blog, I’ll be reading your future posts with great interest.
    Elizabeth

  13. I am starting to think there is not a happy MD left in this world. That is such a horrible shame. I wonder if my daughter starting seeing what was to come? I’ll never know. She didn’t tell me but I have learned many things since her suicide. I’m glad you got out…..out before you took the path some physician’s do when they can’t stand it anymore. I’m glad you are happy and can enjoy life again. Our world is killing our physicians. It takes some OCD, perfectionisim, and all those things to make it and get through med school….but those very things can kill you too.

    • I’m so sorry you lost your daughter to suicide while she was in medical school. I left you a message on your blog that may seem a little crazy, but the bottom line is, I blame the medical school system for torturing doctors in training. Residencies are equally bad. The whole system is abusive and needs to be radically changed.

      We just had an MD commit suicide this year in our town. Everyone was shocked and felt terrible. He was an OB-GYN doctor who was loved by his patients, a third-generation OB-GYN doc. His clinic was started by his grandfather, taken over by his father, and then taken over by him. But he was driven out of practice because he couldn’t make financial ends meet with all the medical money going to middle-persons such as insurance companies and lawyers, plus Kaiser bringing in all their OB-GYN docs, taking their contract away from him. I have several friends who quit medical practice in the early stages of their careers, one was a former psychiatrist, another a former family practice doc. With all the lawsuits and the constant life-and-death stress in the air, it’s a miserable life. Medical students talk about it all the time. They feel trapped by that stage of education, at least I did, and others in my class did.

      I’m so sorry for you loss. I wish there was something I could do to help you cope with the painful feelings you have now. I think that getting them out there on your blog was the right thing to do.

  14. Well, if normal people don’t smile at trees, then I am not normal either. G/L on your writing. I’ve now published about 5 fiction novels and I think I’ve made enough to pay for a few reams of paper LOL. Being independent and self-publishing is a lot of work. And with a full time accounting job that can require long hours and a teenager at home, I have very little time to write. I hope you find your niche. Once again, good luck!

  15. This was interesting to read since I recently left clinical practice myself. Was difficult to do, but it was time to make a change. I pursued a degree in public health and the plan was to continue on the research path when I got sidetracked by my writing. But soon I’ll need to reenter reality, and I’ll seek a non-clinical position. Good luck to you. Thanks for visiting my site!

    • Good for you for getting out of the jet stream. I hope you’ll like non-clinical work and research. I did a year of research, taking a break from med school because my senior elective in a small pathology research lab was so much fun. After that I made the terrible mistake of getting back on track to become a pathologist. I should have realized that my happiness doing research was an important message.

      I’ve decided that writing will be my new reality. It’s not that I’m confident about writing and selling books. I’m not. I’m more confident about selling my house, which will take years in the local real-estate market. I may lose it if I can’t pay the taxes. It’s just that I don’t have the option of being a pathologist anymore, and I’m too old to re-tool for research. Plus I love writing!

      Glad you’re making an informed decision about your future, Carrie. 🙂

      • It’s funny, because I tend to think that if I’d chosen pathology instead of pediatrics (path was my 2nd choice), I wouldn’t have gotten so burnt out. Could’ve worked behind the scenes, so to speak. I even thought about doing another residency several years ago, but I decided I didn’t want to be that much of a masochist!

        • I chose pathology largely because I was afraid to do a clinical year of “internship,” and in those days pathology was the only specialty that didn’t require it. I think I would have been equally burned out in any specialty. But pathology seemed so stress free from the perspective of a medical student. The attendings behind those scopes looked 100% confident. Everything looked black and white to them – so it seemed. Since they didn’t allow residents to sign out any cases during residency, it wasn’t until I was out in practice – working for a real winner of a guy who left me alone to do all the work – that I realized what the stress level actually was. I quit working for him, but thought I would adjust. That turned out to be another thing I was wrong about.

          If writing doesn’t work out for me, it won’t be the first time I’ve made the wrong career choice. But at least this is an enjoyable mistake at the very worst. (Pathology taught me to always look for the worst possible outcome, and to expect it much of the time. I’m trying to unlearn that.) If I have a great time writing and don’t sell any books, nobody dies, nobody sews, I won’t have exposed myself to more years of toxic fumes (formaldehyde and xylene), and my family won’t have to deal with a stressed-out Dad all the time. (Gramps now, not Dad.) But I’ll probably do OK as a writer. Maybe not in fiction, but there’s non-fiction, and I love writing the truth as I understand it. Fiction or not.

  16. shananf

    I am currently deciding if my Honours Science degree and eventual Masters in SLP or something similar is the right path for me. Writing is something I’ve always loved and it makes me happy so I’m strongly considering moving my life in that direction but I’ve been too afraid. This has been amazingly inspirational to me so thank you for writing and sharing your experience!

    • You’re welcome. I wish I had realized that choosing a happy life for myself could have been largely unselfish. My six-figure income as a pathologist didn’t protect my children from the depressing influence of a miserable, anxious father who saw himself as a victim of his job. On the other hand, the income kept my family out of poverty and placed them in a neighborhood without much crime. As a writer, could I have made enough money to keep my family out of poverty? Statistically the odds were low at the time, but in order to believe those odds, I had to believe I was average. I didn’t think it through rationally. Plus I’ve always felt, in the back of my mind, that it’s wrong to think of myself as better than anyone else in any way. Other people were allowed to be talented, but not me. (I was under the influence of my own twisted views stemming from a legitimate fundamentalist religion.)

      Today, with the indie writers making headway, the odds of a writer avoiding poverty seem to me to be better than they were 30 years ago. That’s something worth consideration. And if you are not “average” as a writer, the odds don’t have the full force of logic behind them for you, because odds deal with averages, stereotypes and broad generalizations.

      I understand fear. I’ve got several yards of DNA devoted to it, I’m sure. I’ve always tended to make decisions based upon relieving my biggest immediate fear. Most of those decisions turned out to make me unhappy and more chronically afraid of life. Fear is not all good or all bad, of course. But it shouldn’t always be the major factor in decision making. It tends to blind us to the views of logic and reason. And love.

      I don’t know anything about speech-language pathology, but I bet you’ll make the right career decision. Good luck! 🙂

  17. I hung up my slide rule about 8 years ago. There were, in 49 years of engineering, only a handful of days when I woke up and thought, “Oh, boy, I get to do something interesting in my field today.” Thanks for following 8 Great Storytellers! Keep in touch.

    • Glad to hear you’re close to hanging up the profession. So far I’m thrilled that I did. 🙂 Gearhart is beautiful. Glad you’re coming back this direction.

      I had a feeling that normal people smiled at trees. Thanks for confirming that!

  18. I actually am in awe by how enjoyable the comment banter is. Lots of deep places poked by your blog. Well done. That is the essence of the writer. Further, your engagement of their comments. It’s like watching a movie (the latest one coming to mind is the outstanding film Begin Again, grab the matinee with your wife) where you think it’s over as the credits begin to run, and the most satisfying parts come when people are rushing to get to their cars. See it. You’ll understand. Let me know. 🙂

    • Thank you for the huge encouragement. I’ll have to watch Begin Again. I need to get out more, anyway. Speaking of which, I’ve got a black Lab here who wants a walk, ASAP. 🙂 Thank you for being so nice!

  19. Reblogged this on harmonyspearls and commented:
    Meet MT, who is brave and honest. I’m in awe of the truth, and I think many of us who’ve worked in medicine understands. It’s good to know that the tree can make us smile. Preaching to the choir, MT. 🙂

  20. MT, I totally relate to this on so many levels, the bravado and the fear of that 1/100th of a % that maybe you didn’t get it right, and still having to act like you did. Thing is, you know, we are human, as you mentioned in your blog Love, Lies, Opposable Thumbs.

    I took care of the terminally ill for 10 years starting at age 18. I was a BABY, but at the same time, it was my dream and my whole life’s reason for being ended in ten years, but of course, that time lives on in me and influences me — the people, the horror, the honesty of death and the people who faced it. There will be posts from time to time on my blog about those amazing people. I just understand the place you were for the people I cared for, and the friends and family since. Bravo for a job well done, I believe in my heart you saved lives, you gave the best of what you had.

    Talk about the “survival of the fittest” you had to find yourself or the most precious parts of your life would have grown old without you participating. You know?

    Anyhow, I worked another 10 years on a surgical unit as a secretary, that was fun, highly interesting, and bravado on display all the time, and yet that glint of fear that others took as being cocky. Sigh. Medicine, the gods of medicine, we maidens of medicine. I miss it so much, but now I work in chocolate, and while the stress level is high, at least I no longer sit while the patient pukes her brains out, and I hold them close, while discreetly brushing their hair from their pillow.

    Now, I dream of doing what you do, and I of course am writing, but still working, because I’m not brave enough, or even wealthy enough to stop. But, I do smile often enough.

    I’m reblogging your blog. I don’t do that often, this being only my 5th month blogging, but I love it. It’s brave and honest. I love the honesty part the best.

    Thanks for stopping in at my humble writing abode, I hope to see you around.

    BHarmony

    • Thank you for being there for those sick and dying people. That takes a special person. I’m glad you smile often.

      I wasn’t brave enough or wealthy enough to quit. I just couldn’t handle the combo of job stress and family stress, both of which were growing. I had no choice but to quit.

      Now I’m learning everything I can about writing. I’ve always love it. Now I get a chance to find out if I can do it professionally. It’s exciting and fun. And nobody dies if I fail. Whoohoooo! Talk about freedom to be a human being!

      Thanks for reblogging that post of mine.

      I love this quote from your blog: “And God said, ‘Love your enemy,” and I obeyed Him and loved myself… Khalil Gibran”

      http://harmonyspearls.wordpress.com/

  21. Ok, I was about to write this deep appreciative clip on how I admire you for leaving your practice but then I scrolled all the way down and saw your pork rind comment. For sure you are meAnt to write not dig through colons. 🙂

    • Thank you, Idure. That means a lot. There’s nothing I would enjoy more than writing things that made people laugh. Back before I postponed my life to become a doctor, I used to be funny. Some people said. Well, a few. OK, there was just this one girl who laughed 7-up out her nose, but still. 🙂

  22. Hello MTM,

    Thank you for stopping by my blog at tendheartmusings. I appreciate your visit 🙂 I was reading through your lovely blog and I found your intro intriguing. I am glad to read that you followed your heart and chose what give you happiness and adds meaning. As someone who is going to attend medical school starting next month, I am curious as to what about Pathology was stressfull? You mentioned, ‘My job was killing me’. I realize that everyone is different and has their own path but I’d love to hear your side of things though. Perhaps I’ll keep it in mind for the future 🙂

    Wishing you the very best in all your endeavours,
    Himani

    • Frozen sections are the most stressful part of pathology practice. If you don’t have routine technical assistance on frozens, which I haven’t had for the past ten years, you must do a highly technical task with your hands, and do it quickly because the patient is under anesthesia and the surgeons want an answer within fifteen minutes. The surgical team is standing around waiting for you in another room with their arms folded, quite often. So you do the technical part and you’ve got a frozen section slide which is low quality by definition, and may be almost impossible to read in terms of margins if there’s fat on the tissue… you’ve got no time to look anything up, you’re not at your desk with your computer and books, and if you tell them it’s benign and you’re wrong, the patient may die. If you tell them the margins are clear and they’re not, the patient may die. If you tell them it’s malignant and you’re wrong, the patient will likely have unnecessary surgery that will, at minimum, cause unnecessary tissue trauma, but can lead to chronic pain, edema, and even death. In the frozen room you have very little history if any, and you can’t have a normal conversation with anyone who knows the history because the surgeons are available only over a squawk box or telephone, and they have the subconscious belief that anything they tell you will bias you, so they act as if it’s better, more “pure,” if they keep you working in an information vacuum…

      I could go on. But that’s just one small aspect of pathology. There is also the constant possibility of missing that one HSIL cell on a Pap. The one that the tech didn’t dot. The one that goes on to kill the patient in five years, at which time all the previous paps will be reviewed in a legal battle in which the cell you missed will be found and you will be publicly labeled as incompetent for missing it. (This hasn’t happened to me, but it’s not uncommon at all, because of the nature of cytology and the fact that it is inherently difficult for the human eye.)

      And there are all the daily biopsies and organ resections that make the bulk of your day’s work. Miss a melanoma and you’ve very likely killed someone. I’ve seen and heard of many of them being missed over the years. Diagnose ductal carcinoma-in-situ (DCIS) of the breast as merely atypical ductal hyperplasia (ADH) and years later you may see the same patient with invasive breast cancer killing her… Cancer that you missed, and everyone in tumor board sees that you missed it because the slides from five or ten years ago are alway available, always hanging over your head. (I’ve seen this scenario recently. I wasn’t the pathologist who made the “undercall” of DCIS, but I’ve sent cases to national experts and had them call something DCIS that other expert reviewers of the same slide didn’t even call atypical, let alone DCIS.

      My advice to people who want to become doctors is basically, if you have thick skin and are able to feel self confident when you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll be fine. Otherwise, there’s a high risk that you’ll hate your life until you find a way out of medicine. There’s an old saying, “Doctors spend the first third of their lives trying to get into medicine and the last two thirds trying to get out.” This is true for many of the doctors I’ve known over the years. In academics, they do everything they can to rise out of the position of having to deal with patients. In private practice, there’s no way out. Your debts own you. Your family expects the big paycheck. You’re stuck.

      I remember deciding to go into pathology. The attending pathologists looked so calm and confident sitting there dictating diagnoses. In pathology residency, they don’t allow you to sign out a single case on your own. You have almost zero patient care risk/ responsibility/ stress. It wasn’t until I got out of residency and went to work for a guy who told me “pathologists eat their young” (and later demonstrated it) that I began to understand the stress. He went golfing and working on his entrepreneurial endeavors with his histo lab, leaving me alone to do everything. I quit right away and should have quit pathology and medicine entirely. But I had a family. And although that was probably the most job-stressful 3 months of my life, I wasn’t burned out yet and my family was not yet a source of major stress. So I kept going for another 25 years.

      Now I’m free. I wouldn’t wish pathology or any field of medicine on my worst enemy.

      • Oh wow. Thank you so much for the information, MTM. I really do appreciate the time and effort you took to explain things. It definitely makes sense how it gets stressful with all that is involved under the given time constraint and over the years, how it only adds up. I am happy that you’re out of that tough situation though..cheers 🙂

        I have worked at the office of family physicians, pediatrician, surgeons and internists over last five summers partly to gain experience/exposure and partly because I love clinical setting over anything when it comes to work. Hence the choice to go to medical school to get the training and learn the skills so I can come back to health care. Through a couple opportunities of job shadowing, I did get the opportunity to see things behind the doors but pathology is something I wasn’t aware of. But I do feel a little enlightened now, thanks to you.

        I wish you the best on your writing and life journey, may it bring you abundant joy always!

        Kind regards,
        Himani

  23. Aliluna

    Yes, people do smile at trees on their back yard 🙂 Or as in my case smile at flowering tress in their mother’s back yard.

    • Thank you. My son and daughter were both home-schooled for many years. I think it gave them self-confidence and independent thought processes.

      Have you read, “Signature in the Cell,” by Meyer?” http://www.signatureinthecell.com/

      It’s about the theory of the intelligent design of life, written by a Cambridge graduate with excellent credentials. If it were a shorter book and more “readable” it might change the world. It just might anyway.

  24. I’m a speech pathologist by trade. When I was going through school, I just knew that I wanted to work in the hospitals. Then that internship came around and I found out rapidly that hospital stress was not for me. I admire any and everyone who can put up with the enormous issues that are thrown at them all day and all night. In my defense, I found that I was much more tuned into school speech than medical speech.

    Congratulations on returning to who you are inside and finding the strength to leave what was probably slowly killing you behind.

    • Thank you for the heart-felt congratulations. It makes me feel normal when someone like you really sees what’s going on inside hospitals and understands why it’s stressful. I’m glad you got out of that environment.

      I like this quote from you when you were in high school and had written a poem that the committee said was excellent but too jaded for high school people:

      “Why color the truth?”

      rhonwynalyna.wordpress.com

    • Thank you, Carol. I’m trying to decide whether to bang out a few nonfiction books before I finish my novel. My wife thinks my nonfiction stuff is better than my fiction. I could use my pathology background more in nonfiction, I guess.

  25. Hey, thanks for following our blog. I am a psychologist who has not completely walked away from my profession, but I have cut back to doing part-time low stress work after being a full-time practitioner and then an administrator. I can relate to the experience of walking away from a job in order to preserve one’s sanity. I look forward to reading more of your blog….

    • Thanks for understanding, Sharon.

      I can relate to this part of your story right now:

      “I couldn’t stand the thought of Epiphany living the rest of her life in a cage at the Humane Society, or getting euthanized.”

      I quit pathology and have no income. No problem, but… The thing that faces me now is having to give my dog, Halo, back to the breeder because her food is so expensive. (She has food allergies.) The rest of us will be fine, one way or another, but not Halo. I’m going try to sell an ebook or something to pay for her food.

      Otherwise, quitting pathology was all good. I wouldn’t wish medical practice on my worst enemy. I haven’t felt this free of worry and anxiety since I was a kid. A happy life beats a big paycheck, it turns out.

  26. HI Former Pathologist and now Brave Dedicated Writer,

    I quit medicine a lot quicker than you and for other less than voluntary reasons, but like you I had been told I had too much talent and yadda yadda not to be a physician…Also like you all I wanted to do was write. A great deal of other stuff happened in the meantime that got in the way, which you may or may not know from having visited my blog, but it never stopped me from writing — slogging sometimes, but keeping at it for 40 years — poetry and articles and even novels. (I am curious which Wagblog post got your attention, a writing post or an art one? It matters only a little as I am dedicated to both pursuits almost equally).

    Your blog is terrific, I love your self-reflection and your continued pursuit of better writing. Also your intense dedication to other people’s blogs, and responsiveness to comments. That is rare. Your blog seems to be one of the few that is not out to win a “I’ll lke you, like me back” popularity contest.

    I will be back to read more. I promise.

    One thought on your post about telling not showing? I think you show what you yourself can see, hear, or sense in some way with your own senses…but tell when it is essentially a mental or internal process. Of course there are times when you can concertize an abstract, and that is wonderful, because any time you can make the abstract or intangible concrete you reach readers better than when you use vague, nebulous abstractions. But at times you simply have to. I am mostly a poet, despite my forays into novel and article writing, and my first advice to poets is write as concretely as you can about EVERYTHING, find a tangible, touchable, smellable, audible or visible image to convey anything you want to say and you will touch the reader far more quickly than if you use easier words like “soul” or “revelation” etc.

    Just my musings. Thanks for the follow.

    Pamela Spiro Wagner

    • Hi Pamela! So you were part of the medical torture chamber, both as a doctor and as a patient in the seclusion room. Which was worse for you?

      This caught my eye on your blog: “When I was at New Britain General Hospital in the spring of 2014, the security guards stripped me naked and left me in the freezing and barren seclusion room…”

      And, of course, that amazing poem “ON NOT SPEAKING”. Not speaking up in my own defence is a chronic problem for me. That’s why the title caught my eye. And then, as I mentioned, reading that part about pathology almost made me cross the double yellow line.

      Thank you for the idea of “showing” those things can be seen or sensed and “telling” the internal thoughts. That makes perfect sense. Screw the slush pile readers, I’m doing it your way!

      My son, “skullcage,” writes beautiful rock music and I sometimes give him my thoughts about lyrics. I will tell him what you said about concrete things being more moving than nebulous “deep” sounding words. I used to write the most lame poetry, so I kind of decided I ain’t got the knack. “Write as concretely as you can about EVERYTHING.” Hearing that and feeling it click inside my mind makes me want to try to write a poem. Thank you.

      Thank you also for the compliments about my blog. I love connecting with creative people. All my life I’ve wanted to meet someone (in addition to my son) who is a creative person. Suddenly I have! It’s a dream come true! I always suspected that creative people wouldn’t consider me “too nice,” and only interested in boring stuff. I was right! WoooHoooo! 🙂

      • Hi MTM,

        Actually I never made it out of med school, cracked up in my second year. But of those barren torture chambers known as seclusion rooms I have seen far more than my share. Alas…And other much worse barbarities; which is why I am moving out of the medieval state of CT to VT in three months. Not that there isn;t barbaric psychiatric practices in the Northeast Kingdom but there are fewer people to deal with!

        Glad I could help out with the concrete ve nebulous problem, I feel very strongly about this, esp wrt poetry, Too many poet wannabes make the abstraction mistake and write weak ineffective poetry because of it. But no one ever told me I lack for strong opinions either! 8)

        Hope all is well and that the writing is going swimmingly!

        TC

        Pam

        • Thanks. I’m glad you got out of the med school mistake as soon as you did. I’m guessing that your symptoms were exacerbated by the stress of med school. I ran into a brick wall during my first year, and dropped out for a year. I think now it was depression, although at the time I thought it was just a combo of the stress of med school together with the diagnosis of prostate cancer that my dad received at that time.

          Yeah, things are going fine for me here. My wife is worried about money, though. She’s an RN who hasn’t worked for about 30 years and isn’t finding any job offers. I wish I knew more about how to sell indie writing. I could at least tell her a specific plan. She thinks I should write non-fiction. I certainly love blogging and that’s been non-fiction, so maybe she’s right. She tends to be right more often that I am.

          I hope you like Vermont. Less crowding sounds like a positive change to me. I’m always amazed at how different the people are in small towns. They smile more, talk more comfortably and seem to have more empathy.

  27. 39 years is enough of doing anything for someone—something—else, even if it was rewarding wealth- and fame-wise. The neurons will fly south if a necessary organ doesn’t decamp first, that is. So getting out of that contest while you still have some time, time for yourself, left is good.
    Do write, blog, paint, whatever. Subjectivity does rule, but objectivity still counts, step back ever once and awhile and just listen.
    Thanks for the follow, and I always ask why. Why? Because bloggers are as alone in a crowd as teachers—my other post-corporate vocation—a little feedback is always welcome

    • Man, I just spent a half hour writing to you – accidentally clicked in the wrong area and poof, it’s all gone. Unbelievable.

      I liked your post on the straitjacket. Relationships are difficult sometimes. I had a girlfriend once with whom I argued daily. We soon hated each other, but it was still difficult to break up. Then I started dating my wife and realized I’m going to have to blame her for the rest of my life for how well we get along. Dang. But it’s truly all her fault. She doesn’t push my buttons. Even though I’m this emotional person with lots of anxiety and she’s a rock… even though I’m constantly analyzing ethereal stuff and she’s not interested in any of it, she manages to appreciate me and put up with my faults. She’s not tickled pink with my leaving medicine, of course, but she’s here, making the best of everything. I blame her for all the good things. And even though I’m not a fundamentalist Christian anymore, I still blame God for the good stuff that goes down. Like getting me the hell out of medicine before it killed me.

      I like your artwork, too. http://ehjohnson3.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/a-well-tailored-straitjacket/

      • You say “Relationships are difficult sometimes.” Relationships are difficult always. The big question is, is there enough gain to make them worth the losses. A good relationship—so I’ve heard—is creative; there is something from nothing gain for both parties. Were this true, it would be a good working definition of love. Relationships that are just quid pro quo, the ones friction doesn’t end in flames, cold entropy does.
        Your wife sounds like a keeper; make sure you appreciate her and put up with her faults in kind. Love does not conquer all; work (the quid pro quo stuff) and art (self-esteem via individual creativity) are needed as well.
        Thanks for the liking of both the text and the art. My process, if you are interested: The illustration comes before the text in my posts, sorta. I write stream of consciousnessly and illegibly in a cheap journal until a picture coalesces in my head. I quickly sketch that, scan it and then work it out with a computer program. When it’s two-thirds done, I begin to write again, also in the computer, an ekphrasis which rambles, following many google trails, way out of original context. After a couple of edits—to both text and art—I give up and post both.
        Good luck with the writing: art, arbeit and amour.

        • You have an interesting process. It is certainly worth the great effort you put in.

          I’m sure my wife would agree that relationships are always difficult. 🙂 Not that it makes any sense at all, or is even a tolerable statement, but maybe my wife is the exception that proves the rule. But yeah, for sure nobody’s perfect. I’m not even sure that the concept of perfect is perfect. Flaws seem to be part of real perfection, at least in art and people.

  28. “When I’m not smothered by life-and-death stress, the world shines for me.”
    That says a lot as well. I know few people who have the gift of separating the former from the latter. Because they’re smothered, they have trouble seeing the brilliance around them. It hangs over them like a cloud.. you are able to see beyond the clouds and know there’s sunshine waiting out there.

    “The scowl wasn’t permanent. My daughter said my eyes look younger now.”
    A friend once told me, “Lisa, you used to smile a lot, but now your whole body smiles.” The eyes don’t lie…

    Congratulations on taking that brave step…

    “The other day I caught myself smiling at a tree in our backyard. Do normal people do that?”

    Ha! Who wants to be normal?! As Sheryl Crow sings, “if it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad….’

    I love your writings and the thought-provoking comments that others leave here. I predict unbelievable success for your new passion for writing! z

    • Thank you so much, Zeebra.

      I love your blog (http://playamart.wordpress.com/), your art and writing:

      “Just south of the equator on the Pacific coast, the days and nights politely share 12-hour shifts”

      It sounds like Ecuador is a perfect place for an artist.

      It’s amazing how different the world looks now that I’m not practicing medicine. The thought of writing for a living fills me with joy. Especially in those properly caffeinated moments when I believe I can do it.

      Thank you again for the strong encouragement! 🙂

  29. Hello! Wow! I commend you for walking away when you knew you’d had enough. People don’t always do that. Instead they just stick it out, day after day, knowing that they couldn’t be more miserable. But you took the plunge. I personally, am glad that you did. Thank you for visiting my blog and following. It is my pleasure to return the gesture as I am now following you too! I look forward to getting better acquainted with your work! 🙂

      • Hello. You are welcome! 🙂 The poem by William Ernest Henley on my blog is indeed inspiring. I have poetreecreations.org to thank for it. I had never come across it before I saw it posted on that site. I love to share inspiration….you’re welcome.

    • That sums it up.

      Following a passion full time is so new to me, I’m still floating on clouds. Now I’ve got to bring a little self-discipline into this.

      Here’s a quote from your blog that I really appreciate: “American patriotism is specifically about a principle that states “all men are created equal.””

      Here’s a link to your blog, to make it easier for folks to get there from here: http://stayinginstep.com/

    • Thank you, Miranda. It feels like I’ve been released from prison.

      From my perspective, I wasn’t brave. Merely trying to survive.

      BTW, did you notice how that well-informed expert on evolution gave me a thrashing in the comments below “How to Prove Darwinism to the FDA”? WoooHooo! Guess I had that coming. 🙂

      • Miranda Stone

        I just went back and read that. Good on you for acknowledging that he is well informed and makes excellent points. I live in the Bible belt and am surrounded by people who believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old. I’ve long given up on debating evolution with such folks, and I appreciate those who take the time to point out the scientific basis of the theory, which I consider fact. I think the most important thing is that despite our different views, we manage to have respectful conversations. 🙂 (Oh, and like you, I was once a religious fundamentalist, so I can understand both views.)

        • I owe a lot to my background as a fundamentalist Christian. Often I wish I could still believe that the Bible is infallible. If only I hadn’t read it so much! If only 9/11 had never happened.

          But even still, I don’t feel 100% sure that the Christian fundamentalists are wrong about the Bible. My current belief is always just the weight of subjective evidence and how it compels me to interpret things.

          • Miranda Stone

            We’ll just have to agree to disagree on the veracity of the Bible, but I think it’s wonderful that you’re questioning. I don’t think we should ever accept anything on blind faith alone.

            • Yes, I agree with you. I probably didn’t say what I was trying to say clearly about the Bible.

              I no longer believe it’s infallible. I used to for many years. Most of my life, I guess. But not now.

              I’m just saying that I don’t feel dogmatic in my current state of disbelief.

              I’ve been wrong so many times about so many important things, that I would be the last to tell a fundamentalist Christian to alter their belief system.

    • Thank you. I’ll take happiness over a big paycheck. Anybody would, really.

      Nice of you to say I’m brave, but is a crab brave for jumping out of the boiling pot? It was self preservation for me.

      I like your blog: http://ofopinions.wordpress.com/

      And this quote from your blog: “I don’t write merely to write. I write to reach out. And yet, I also imbibe (well, I have imbibed for two months) the comfortable contradiction of reaching out without expecting anyone there.”

      A lot of us can relate to that, I’ll bet. When people start reaching back to you and sharing their stories and themselves, it’s a powerful experience.

      • I would say it is very, very brave of you to take such a step rather than give in and succumb to self-loathing and despair. I wish I could find that courage to not just quit what I am doing right now but, to actually go after what I want to do.

        Thank you so much for liking that thought. I came up with it unexpectedly while writing that post. I was glad, though, because now I am developing it into a song for a songwriting class!

        • What is it that you really want to do?

          I didn’t figure out that I wanted to write until I was in my 30’s with two young kids, a stay-at-home wife and a mortgage the size of a destroyer. I came close to burning out about ten years ago at age 48 when I worked at the VA, but hung in there for another ten years. Since then pathology has continued to increase in complexity and stress while family life has done the same.

          I kind of wish I’d run into the emotional brick wall sooner. Or listened to the obvious signs and symptoms of a terrible career choice when they were happening during training.

          For instance, my first year in residency, I used a special scope in the research wing to take microscopic pictures of some slides for a conference. I covered the scope up when I was done, but left just the back three inches uncovered where the light bulb was located so things would cool down properly. It rained that night. The roof leaked exactly above the four-inch spot where I’d left part of the scope uncovered. One of the attending pathologists let me have it for not covering the scope.

          You can’t use this kind of stuff in fiction, because it’s too far fetched. Yet it really happened. One of many signs that I might have listened to if I’d been a little more in touch with reality.

          Hey, thank you for your kind and supportive comments. I hope you make the right career decisions. Maybe you already have. Most sane people move gradually from one source of income to another. I would have done that if I could have.

          • I don’t think anything is far-fetched for fiction, especially if it actually happened. There is a tendency to compartmentalize and set parameters for fiction too much, just because it is peopled more by MBAs and less by storytellers. I watched this TED Talk called “The Politics of Fiction” by Elif Safak and it has truly changed my life. It has given me the strength to be faithful to only my imagination and not be restricted by culture, language, gender or other social realities.

            I have always known I wanted to write. I have a Masters in English and for the past three years I’ve been trying to teach and research as a “day job”. But, it isn’t working out. I was never interested in academics, but since I couldn’t afford film school and got the opportunity to study literature in a good place, I grabbed the opportunity. I don’t regret those years, as I learnt a lot about books and literary criticism. But, that enterprise has no interest in helping creative writers(unless they specifically take courses on it) and has concerns I couldn’t care less about. I’ve tried to care, but it hasn’t worked out. I still go for job interviews and continue with my research but I’m planning to take up creative writing more seriously. Writing this blog is slowly giving me the courage to.

            • I’m proud to get a comment on my blog from a person with a Masters in English. Thank you.

              I’m trying to become a writer for average readers, and so all my views about writing are bent toward reaching them with a page-turner that they can’t put down. I’ve gotten the impression that such a “commercial” bias makes a writer a lower form of life in the sophisticated eyes of some academics. It’s a relief that I haven’t been getting any of that sort of feedback on this blog.

              Of course, I doubt that writing with the goal and dream of huge readership turns anyone into a soulless hack, but I’ve been wrong before. And I’ve often called myself an infallible hack because I have strong opinions but no publications (Well, one research paper about platelets, but anyway).

              You lack interest in academics… does that mean you’re not interested in teaching and literary criticism, or do you mean you’re not interested in writing literary type fiction?

              When I think of creative writing, I think of stories with wonderful round characters who live plotless lives through polished, poetic prose with emphasis on rhythm and beauty of language. I’m no expert, but I get the impression it would be nearly impossible to earn a living writing that way. I could be wrong.

              I’m going to google this TED Talk called “The Politics of Fiction” by Elif Safak and listen to it. Thanks for telling me about it!

              When I hear you say, “I’ve tried to care, but it hasn’t worked out.” it reminds me of a lyric from Dylan: “Sometimes it gets so hard to care. It can’t be this way everywhere. I’m going to let you pass.”

              It sounds to me that you are on the right path, moving at the right speed in the right direction. I would gently suggest that you make sure there is a large enough audience for your work. Artists and writers and soldiers deserve the best pay, not the worst.

              • You would be surprised to know that the concern of English Studies is slowly shifting towards Cultural studies. So, the wider definition of literature, “anything that is written,” is now the purview of research. For example, my work is with popular song lyrics and I have done courses on comics, ‘literature and film’ etc. I know people who research women’s magazines, Victorian penny dreadfuls and just about anything that is written. A friend of mine largely based her research on how-to-write ebooks!

                I have great respect for this field and having spent so much time here, I understand its importance. My problem is that I do not have the required attitude for it. This is serious and consuming work, often with very little pay. I have spent hours going through albums carefully, and a lot of extremely sexist popular music criticism to not gather much that could be relevant. Making up my own material rather than conducting research under deadlines comes easier to me.

                See, writing is anything and everything. Do not think that there are infinite levels to it. Yes, that is a construction of literary critics and marketing execs, but what is important is getting the writing done. The categorization will follow. The biggest disservice that a writer, or any working human being, can do is not take pride in their work. If you do not respect it, how will you care?

                I wish you the best of luck with your writing. I enjoy reading your blog. I am sure your fiction will be tasteful too.

                • I just listened to the TED talk that you recommended.

                  It’s here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zq7QPnqLoUk

                  Interesting. Thanks for pointing it out to me. At one point she said that it’s probably bad advice to “Write what you know.” It tends to draw a circle around you and limit you. I think she’s right. And I think that there is also value in knowing what you’re talking about, which sort of means there’s value in writing what you know. It’s a matter of degree, like most things, I guess.

                  She spoke about fiction being managed by business as a political message tool. It’s true. If an author wants to get published by a traditional house in the US, the bias should not be to the right – so I’ve heard. She didn’t like the way she’s been categorized as an “international” author and expected to write about an unhappy woman from her home country. That would bug me, too. That woman is an amazing speaker, by the way. Really enjoyed listening to her.

                  Thanks for the window into the world of academic English Studies. How times change.

                  I agree it’s essential to take pride in one’s work. I sometimes feel that there are those who would like to decide for others what sort of fiction is worthy of pride. With this attitude I disagree. I think that each writer should be free to value her own work as she see fit. Young Adult, Romance, Literary Fiction, Science Fiction, uncategorizable fiction. Value it yourself. And listen to the average readers.

                  I’m struck by how compelling a story can be without any of the usual qualities people think of as good writing. I would be proud of anything that had the magic to pull me in and hold my nose in the book. I’m such a troglodyte I don’t even mind spelling errors and extra commas. Not a bit.

                  Hopefully I’m wrong, and you might tell me so, but I’ve gotten the impression that there is a tendency for academics to consider their value judgements more worthy and more valid than those of the average reader. If so, I’m not buying it.

                  If average people value fiction that academics consider tasteless for some reason, I’ll probably go with the average person’s opinion. I’m an average reader at best.

                  You say that you don’t have the attitude for your field. Man, I can relate to that. You’re a creative person, not a research/ deadline person. My job never allowed me a moment’s worth of creativity. I’ve only been away from it for a month, so I’m still in the honeymoon phase, emotionally, but so far I’m a new man. My soul is finally able to breathe. I can’t help wanting that for you.

                  You mention that the pay is often small in your field. Good for you for saying such a thing openly. So many creative people have a notion that money is dirty. Make it a major consideration in your life and you’re a sell-out. Well, I know that a big paycheck doesn’t make you happy if your job is killing you. But I also know that money is not dirty. Poverty can make a person’s life stressful and depressing. Depression is the opposite of happiness. Can money buy happiness? No. But it can cure any depression that might be caused solely by the stress of poverty. That opens the door for happiness in some people’s lives. Trouble is, the rat race that money pulls some people into can steal the happiness back. So we have to learn to say no, I guess. “No I won’t become a workaholic even though I love my work now.” That sort of thing.

                  And if we’re going to make enough money to avoid poverty as creative persons, in my ignorant view, it seems we need to consider the average person to be the relevant authority on the value of our work. As much as possible, anyway.

                  I wish you the best of luck, too. I hope you transition smoothly into a full-time creative writer with metric tons of readers who love you.

                  • Academics, in general, is very limited in terms of its audience. Mostly, for people who are actually in the business and even then, they mainly skim through the work that is done. Thus, academic work in literature has no bearing on the readership of any book. However, there is something called Reader Response Theory(which means exactly what it says) and “Death of an Author” which talks about how it is possible for a piece of writing to be read without considering the author’s voice or background in it at all. These theories are interesting because they go to show how the “average reader” exactly is. Independent of any labels or tendencies you may put on them. The Great Gatsby sold by the ton after Fitzgerald died. Would we call it a literary book or a popular one? What academics, or even popular critics have to say have very little bearing on the future of any book. What matters is that the book has enough reach so that the reader can decide if they want to pick them up.
                    Thank you for your thoughts on money and depression. I wish more aspiring artists thought of money in those terms. Where I live, I only have to look around and see just how much money can mean. There is no glory in thinking you are above it. It is different to not be motivated by money. I, personally, am not but, I can never say that it is a nobler thing to be. It is just that the things I want to do in life do not have a predictable pay package.

                    • Interesting! I’ll have to read about “Reader Response Theory” and “Death of an Author.”

                      The differentiation you make between not being motivated by money and the notion that there is no glory in thinking we are above it will require more careful thought on my part. Thank you for pointing this out to me. I need to let it simmer in my mind.

                      You would know the validity of this and I don’t, but I get the sense that the best of popular fiction gradually becomes classic literature after several generations. Or at least this: many of the old literary classics were popular in their time. Is this a misconception?

                    • You are absolutely right. While there was valid “popular fiction”(steamy novels, adventure novels, violent novels etc) that would never be dinner table conversation, most now-classic writers like Dickens wrote to please the masses. This concept of creating contemporary art for a superior and exclusive audience is largely French in origin. Of course, France had a huge variety in culture and their popular taste have always encompassed every literary form. For example, in one of the most wonderful cases of piracy, one of the volumes of Voltaire’s Philosophical Questions was such a popular book before the French revolution that there was great intra-continental piracy to meet the demand. Voltaire himself participated in it.
                      In my opinion, anyone who writes thinking that they are writing for a highly intelligent group of people(or vice-versa) are fooling themselves. As long as they write with a human connect, their work could appeal to anybody, anywhere.

                    • Thank you. I’m learning so much from you! I appreciate the education you have and that you’re willing to share it.

                      Now I’m going to blame the French. 😉

                      I’d better get to bed now. It’s 1:10 AM in the shade.

                      I like your take, “Anyone who writes thinking that they are writing for a highly intelligent group of people are fooling themselves.”

                      That’s really got the ring of truth to it!

  30. Eve

    “But happiness is a bigger deal than stuff.”

    Amen, brother. You always speak my language. Thank you for appreciating the value of finding joy.

  31. Great and inspiring post. It takes a lot of courage to leave the familiar sometimes. Glad it worked out well and you feel like it was the right decision. Also, loved the detail about you daughter saying your “eyes looked younger now.” Looking forward to keeping up with your writing!

    • Thank you, Alex. Thank you for pointing out the eyes detail, I almost left it out. I guess my main motivation for writing this was to make the point that it wasn’t courage on my part. I came to the end of my emotional gas tank. But I’m thankful I did, because I’ve got a more normal baseline of stress in my life now and it feels amazing. Freedom from fear and anxiety is powerful.

  32. Congrats. I walked away from my full-time job two years ago because like you said, I couldn’t do it anymore. There has been a lot of downsizing and we’ve made many different choices than we would have before, but it was absolutely the best thing to do. I wish you luck with your next step!

  33. Sue

    Ok so I have read a few if your posts and I am usually left with the “I should comment on that” feeling but also feel like I need time to digest the content. Then I read the comment string that ended with your “organic pork rinds” and I’m laughing (in my head – it’s 6am and my husband is lying next to me trying to pretend that we’re not old and wide awake at 6am) and decided “oh what the hell”. Man that took a long time to type with one finger.

    Anyway- love the honesty and life in your writing. I never gave pathology much thought from a stress stand point – I guess I thought it would be pretty cut and dried. Yes or no without any “maybes”. I love that you are smiling at trees now. I also do that but I’m probably not the gauge you want to use for normal.

    I have to shut up now and get to the farmers market so I can purchase all my colon-healthy fresh vegetables so my future pathologist doesn’t swear at my colon section. I turned 50 this year and the dreaded colonoscopy is on my horizon. Gross is all I got to say about that.

    Glad you are here- looking forward to more of your posts!
    Sue
    PS – thanks for following me first so I could find you. 🙂

    • Hey, welcome aboard, Sue! Thanks for laughing at something I wrote. That’s such a great feeling!

      I enjoyed your writing and humor and photos on your blog:http://suedegroot.wordpress.com/

      This is a choice quote from your blog: “Personally, I like to lay on my blanket in a comatose state, with a jar of peanuts, a bottle of Spotted Cow beer, and a trashy novel. High class, all the way.”

      I love humor. Someday I’m going to take a stab at writing it, maybe.

      Yeah, pathology is a contact sport. Miss a melanoma diagnosis and you’ve killed somebody. Call something a melanoma when it’s only a Spitz Nevus and you’ve caused a person to unnecessarily go through the terror of dealing with death. And to top it off, if you send those tough cases to several national experts, you’ll sometimes get opposite diagnoses from them. It’s not an exact science, but it’s gradually improving as new stains and other things are developed. And as it improves, the bottomless pit of information a pathologist needs to remember continues to grow like cancer.

      Cheerful paragraph. Sorry. Now what were we saying about organic deep fried pork rinds? 🙂

      Thanks for being there so I could follow you, Sue.

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