Antarctica’s Pyramid

Today, the impossible happened. My short story is in “print” on Amazon. Here’s a (free) link: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/ykr1kg8ifs.

I started writing Antarctica’s Pyramid for you a few months ago, and before I finished, along came a wonderful person from Australia with an open invitation to writers (in a Facebook group) to join her in a collection of short Utopian stories to be sold on Amazon. I added my story to the list, and bam, two writers panned it.

One of them wanted me to retract it from the anthology. He said that writing short stories is “very difficult.”

I couldn’t argue, so I retracted it. It’s an old pattern in my life. If someone doesn’t want me around, I leave.

But after I left, the woman in charge of the anthology said I should stay. Three other writers agreed with her.

So I did something I don’t think I’ve ever done before in my life. I re-joined a group that I’d quit.

It felt weirdly empowering.

Maybe I should have tried this when I was 13 and quit my little rock band, Friction, so the local church would let me into their private school.

Naah. Religious fundamentalism, imperfect as I suspect it is, miraculously freed me from my childhood habit of lying. My sense of self-respect improved dramatically after that. For me, discovering the inherent value of always telling the truth has been one of life’s more valuable lessons.

No matter what intellectual doubts and misgivings I now have for both religious and scientific fundamentalism (especially the latter), I have to thank them both for teaching me some decidedly valuable habits, concepts and life lessons.

It’s too bad no one seems to teach rational, intuitive morality without an “infallible” underpinning, such as an ancient book, a set of “science-settling” journal articles or a personal claim of infallible authority. It’s not that I don’t see the huge value of teaching human morality from any and every possible perspective, it’s just that if and when the “infallible” rug is pulled out from under most or all of these moral (or amoral) paradigms, I fear that humanity will be left with the typical moral and behavioral fall that often accompanies the loss of a fundamentalist worldview. As in, “pastor’s kids are the worst” when they lose their faith.

I guess what I’m trying to do, actually, is to discover and promote what’s known to be morally right without pretending I’m infallible or that I’ve received a message from Someone who is.

Though, as a scientist, I firmly believe that there is an intelligent source of the original information contained in Earth’s DNA codes. And if a Mind can understand genetic code, He/She/It can easily understand any human language. So talking to a Higher Power as if to a friend makes total sense to me and I do it a lot, not expecting special treatment or anything that would interfere with my free will or anyone else’s.

But whatever, right? Nobody wants to be preached at. Myself included.

So today’s miracle, as far as I’m concerned is this: The anthology, Utopia Pending, containing Antarctica’s Pyramid, my longish (15,928 word) short story, is now for sale on Amazon. “But wait, don’t buy it!”

Since you’ve been encouraging me with “likes” and kind comments all these years, I thought you might want to read the whole Anthology without having to pay for it. (The software does ask you for an email address, but as always, I encourage you to unsubscribe after the download unless you’re sure you want to be on another mailing list.)

Here’s the (free) link again: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/ykr1kg8ifs.

If you want to read it but don’t want to give away your email address, drop me a note at cytopathology@gmail.com and I’ll get the whole anthology to you another way. No sweat.

Here’s a blurb about my story, Antarctica’s Pyramid

After 21 years of secretly exploring and raiding an ancient Antarctic pyramid under orders from the rogue elements of the NSA and US Navy, Tom, the Commander of a tiny undisclosed base located a mile above the iced-cover pyramid, meets a covertly ranked special agent sent, to his surprise, by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Tom begins to learn just how special this agent is as he finds himself scheming to extract what’s left of his life from the NSA. In a nail-biting weave of danger, conspiracy, and ancient wisdom from within the huge pyramid, Tom and the agent must somehow escape the clutches of the primeval builders as well as the modern Cabal. But if they do somehow succeed, where could they possibly go to hide from the global tyrants of 2018?

OK, now that I’ve tried to talk it up, I feel like I’ve done something wrong. Sheesh, the guilt baggage some of us carry, right? It’s nuts!

At any rate, the other stories are definitely fun and interesting. There’s probably something for everyone’s taste.

Feel free to download the e-book and see which stories you enjoy most.

Use the above link to get the whole thing for free, but here’s the Amazon link if you want to leave a comment or something.

By the way, if you do make a comment on Amazon, it totally encourages their AI to promote the book by putting it in front of other readers. So, thank you very much if you have time to leave a comment / rating on Amazon.

Take care and have an extremely Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah and every other conceivable form of seasonal joy and happiness!

Your pal (baggage and all – haha),

Talmage


“Come back, I need a hug.”

My six-year-old grandson drew this fine young scorpion. I made up a bedtime story to go with it…

Roachie the fat-tailed scorpion felt sure he was ugly. The other insects stayed away from him during recess. Mysia, the sparkling green Christmas beetle who sat next to Roachie on the first day of class, now sat way near the front with the orange ladybugs.

The desk beside Roachie’s desk was empty. No one wanted to sit beside a scorpion.

One morning in class, the teacher, Miss. Grissel, read a long poem that said, “beauty is truth.” Roachie sat and listened to the whole weird thing, wishing he could hold still in his chair like he was supposed to, but after a while it was just impossible…

 

Ode on a Grecian Urn
BY JOHN KEATS

 

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

 

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

 

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

 

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

 

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

 

“If beauty is truth,” Roachie thought, “does that mean I’m a lie?”

Just then a fierce Gila Monster appeared on the playground, licking the air with her bright pink tongue. She caught the scent of the mostly-insect classroom and waddled across the hot sand, accidentally crushing the swing set with her enormous white belly.

Miss. Grissel passed out in fright and lay on the floor.

The insect children rushed into the supply closet and shut the door.

Roachie stayed in his seat. He didn’t know why, but he wasn’t afraid at all.

“It’s just a lizard,” he said to himself.

The Gila Monster came closer and looked into the classroom with her huge dark eye filling the window.

Roachie felt silly and climbed out of his chair, stood on his desktop in front of the big lizard and did the scorpion dance. He waved his arms high, snapping his claws and letting his ugly tail arch and quiver the way his mom said never to do.

The Gila Monster’s big eye opened wide in surprise. She jerked her huge head away from the window with lightning speed and took off running across the sand as fast as any plump lizard could ever go.

There was a noise from the supply closet. Roachie turned as the door opened and all the beautiful insect children came piling out cheering his name and calling him, “Roachie the Brave.”

He grinned and took a silly bow, then turned back to the window and laughed. “Come back,” he said to the Gila Monster who was now far, far away. “I need a hug.”

 

The End

Morrill Talmage Moorehead

 

 


I made a video, wheeee!

Here’s my third video. The first one needs to be redone. It’s embarrassing. The second one was an attempt at humor. It’s blessedly brief. This one (below) is a retelling of my short SF story, A Tall Blond Alien Girl.

It’s square so you can see it OK on a phone. Sound suffers on phones, though.

Thank you for your patient interest in my stuff.

Morrill Talmage Moorehead, MD


The Cowboy Angel Rides

“Move away from the screen, son.”

A deep voice boomed at me from behind my chair. I jumped and almost spilled my coffee, leaped to my feet and turned to face the intruder in one slick, spastic move.

It was a guy. He stood seven feet tall with his skin glowing like a halogen light bulb in a dark room. He wore a glowing cowboy suit that reminded me of an old movie my mom likes, The Electric Horseman.

But how’d he get in here? The hinges on my bedroom door squeak like a coffin lid. An empty potato chip bag was still right up against it. My room’s only window was painted shut six years ago. You’d need a crowbar and a hammer to open it.

I should have seen this guy’s reflection on my computer screen. I should have seen the light on my desk and the light on the wall in front of it. But no, somehow he got in here like he’d popped out of thin air.

“Dude, you scared the Irish out of me. What’s with the glowing makeup and all the lights?”

“I’m an angel from E8.” He exhaled with a tired-sound. “I’m here to discuss physics. But, kid, you’re spending entirely too much time indoors on that thing.” He glanced at my computer monitor.

“What kind of angel are you? A Baptist, Catholic, non-denominational, or… wait, you’re a Mormon, right?”

His eyebrows went up a little, but he didn’t say anything.

“I’m just wondering. You could be a silver version of that Mormon angel, whats-his-name. Greer says the Mormon World Corporation is, like, totally into the ET thing. So I’m just putting one and one together. See what I’m saying? Except you should probably be gold instead of silver. Them Mormon angel statues are always gold.”

“I’m not a statue.”

“Ah, but you’re a Mormon.” I smirked and nodded, agreeing with myself.

“You’re out of shape. You’re poisoning yourself with carbohydrates. Your body needs sunshine and better sleep.”

I could see this was going to be a one-sided “adult” conversation. Unless maybe I forced things in another direction.

“How do I know you’re not a demon?”

“Do you believe in demons?”

“No, but I didn’t believe in angels a minute ago.”

I could see half of my clock on the wall behind him. The second hand was frozen. I hoped it just needed batteries, but I kind of knew better.

“And anyway, why would an angel single me out for a message? How’s that going to be fair to everybody else? All them people out there needing a message but never getting one? Is that fair? Does fairness even matter where you come from?”

He stared at me blankly.

“Where are you from, anyways?”

His gaze dropped to the floor beside his huge cowboy boots. He spoke quietly as if to someone else.

“You sure we hit the right coordinates? Check the date. This kid’s talking religion, for Shiva’s sake.”

It was clear that I’d disappointed the man already. I do that a lot with people. With angels, too, apparently.

He nodded to himself with his lips moving, then his eyes came back to me looking like a beat cop trying to endure tough talk from a superior. “Ok, then.” He looked me up and down with a perplexed expression.

“What are you, really?” I asked. “And don’t feed me no angel crap.”

“You need to get outside and walk,” he said. “Sunshine, fresh air, exercise, human interaction. You’re isolated in here. You’re destroying yourself.”

“Talk to the hand, dude.” I didn’t put my hand up, of course, that’s totally lame.

“What?” He shook his head in disbelief. “Listen, for reasons I can’t fathom, the Desk thinks you can help us.” He looked at the computer screen behind me. “Those damn simulation games destroy free will.”

OK, he wasn’t Mormon. Those boys might take a hit off a meth bowl to get you talking shop with them, but they don’t touch four-letter words. Uh-uh.

I glanced over my shoulder at Grand Theft Auto where I… uh, where my character just stole a hundred large from Wells Fargo and crashed the getaway car on a sidewalk loaded with pedestrians. Multiple fatalities, of course. I needed to scram fast to avoid the cops and more boring jail time. But the whole screen was frozen now, so maybe it wouldn’t matter.

You know, I worked a long time getting those sick Grand Theft Auto muscles all over me. And the rad gear? Along with some respect from the community, know what I’m saying? None of that came easy.

And this beyond-white-male dude thought I was going to just turn it off and walk away?

Right. None of that was going to happen.

The pushy talk coming out of his mouth was irritating enough, but to be honest, I felt kind of paralyzed by the fact that a guy like this even existed in the first place. And in my bedroom, you know?

But here he was, bigger than life.

Then it dawned on me. I was having a psychotic break — my first hallucination on the grand tour of shame and misery for the rest of my life. All it would take now was one word about this to my shrink and I’d get tagged schizophrenic, like my Uncle Saul.

He’s in his mid-forties and never been laid. The shrink’s scarlet letter is not working out so good for the man. Sad part is, hell, he seems perfectly normal to any chick he meets, right up to the moment they find out he comes attached to the word, “schizophrenia.” Then it’s all, “Bye-bye Saul. I’ll call you.”

“Dude, you’re a hallucination.” I turned away, sat back down in my chair and hid my face in my hands. I could feel tears coming, but I knew I shouldn’t let myself be a victim. That only makes things worse. You got to believe stuff happens for, like some decent reason that don’t have to ever make sense.

My bedroom door squeaked open. “Call your mother in,” the cowboy said. “Ask her if I’m real.”

I thought about it for a second. Ordinarily, I never let her in my bedroom. Calling her in here now would look suspicious. She’d figure out something was weird and then talk the truth out of me, right down to the details of this hallucination. Then it would be official. “My son’s turned idiot like his uncle.”

But can a hallucination open a door?

I didn’t know. I bounced my bare heels on the carpet, up and down like double bass, trying to figure out how to do this right. Then I noticed the carpet was still damp from last night.

“Hey, Mom? Fritzie peed on the floor again. Check it out, there’s this gross wet spot in here.”

I spilled a little beer is all, but Mon’s not going to know that… Unless she gets down and sniffs it.

Which she totally will.

Man, I’m dumb. Here comes another lecture on the evils of alcohol. Yes, I know what a liver is, Mom. But read my lips — I do not care!

Mom showed up at my door, took one look at the big shiny dude, and ran off screaming, Jesus. She’s very religious that way.

“OK, so you’re real.” I didn’t want to let on that it was a gigantic relief, but it was. “Why can’t you just talk to me like a normal human being instead of getting all up in my face with this bossy attitude of yours, huh? Tell me that.”

He nodded solemnly. “I suppose you’re right. The powerful never listen, do they? But you really need to control the acidic tongue. It will destroy you.” He sat on the side of my bed and crossed his legs like a girl — well, totally not like a cowboy let’s just say. And his butt, get this, it didn’t sink into the bed at all.

“What’s the deal, you aren’t denting my bed? You gotta be 200 pounds plus.”

“Good observation. But never make personal comments, it’s rude.” He looked at my blankets and quick as a slap sunk nine inches into my extra-soft memory foam mattress. “Now then, I used the term, ‘angel’ with you because I thought you could relate to it. But actually, I’m more of a…” He glanced out my window at the evergreen trees in the vacant lot next door. “Have you heard about the third ontology? Irwin’s code theoretic axiom of quantum gravity theory?”

I shook my head. “Sounds perfectly boring.”

“It’s not.” His eyes moved to my computer monitor. I scooted my chair out of his way and looked at the screen with him. The bank-heist fatalities vanished, and up came a YouTube video showing some physicist dude with my dad’s pompadour haircut and the exact same hairline. It was weird. Even the eyebrows and eyes were similar.

“The shapes represent themselves in the code,” Max said, “carrying meaning without the need for a translation.”

Somehow, that made sense now.

“The rules of the code are non-arbitrary, they come from a natural mosaic tiling language called a quasicrystal. The symbols are what they represent. We use geometric symbols in a geometric language to represent geometric objects. The hardware, the software and the simulation output are all one-and-the-same.”

“Dude, this is an information dump, don’t you think?” Not that I couldn’t understand him. It was just that understanding this kind of stuff felt totally weird to me. I’m normally not the sharpest pencil in the box, to put it politely — like if a teacher ever said I was average, I’d take it as the biggest total complement of my entire scholastic career. But it’s not apt to happen, seeing as I quit going to classes over a month ago. I’ll be old enough to officially drop out next year.

Max started the video again with a chuckle. “Guess I was a bit verbose there, sorry. Remember this part, though.”

And without skipping a note, Klee Irwin kept right on talking. The man’s got a set of lungs.

“…there is physical evidence and argument that is very rigorous that reality is not a deterministic algorithm playing itself out… the general consensus among scientists is that reality is non-deterministic.”

“Let us discuss how in the world there can possibly be a language as the substrate of reality without some notion of a chooser of the language and an actualizer of the meaning of these geometric symbols. Because there needs to be something that interprets or actualizes meaning in order to say that information exists.

If we like, we can just start with the axiom that God exists. But that’s not what science is about.

Science is about going deeper and constantly questioning where that comes from, and going all the way down to the bottom. So God may or may not exist, but if he does, I want to know how does he exist?

So we don’t need to make it religious.

We can say, well alright, abstractly maybe there’s this kind of universal collective consciousness, it’s not like a human consciousness, maybe it’s more like a force in Star Wars, maybe it’s more like Chi in Chinese medicine. We don’t know what it’s like, but we need something that is everywhere and that may be the substrate of everything, and [something] that is capable of actualizing this geometric information that we conjecture, and making the syntactical choices in this mosaic tiling language in 3D that we are working with here at Quantum Gravity Research.”

“So what’s this all about, Max? Really. You don’t need some dumb ass like me trying to spread this stuff around for you.”

“No,” Max said. He adjusted something on the jewel-studded lapel of his cowboy jacket and leaned toward me whispering, “We want you to oppose him.”

“Me? That’s really dumb. You think I could go up against this genius dude?”

Max nodded. “You can now.”

I scratched my head. “What are you saying, then? Klee Irwin is wrong?”

“No, he’s right about everything. Too right. That’s the problem. A simulation only works when the people inside don’t know it’s a simulation. If they figure things out, it all becomes little more than a lucid dream and they quit playing.”

“You mean like, mass suicide or something?”

“Yes, that could happen. Or worse. What people do here matters to their character and personality in Reality. Take Hitler, for instance. What he did has tarnished his soul. He may never want to come back to Reality. He may never be morally fit to come back home.”

“But I thought he was dead.”

“Hitler’s dead, but the soul of the man, the person from Reality is still cycling. He lives somewhere in Long Beach, California. But there’s a larger problem. Someone we all dearly love has put an enormous amount of time and effort into building this simulation for us. We asked him to do it. And now we’ve got over a trillion, trillion people in Reality who feel sure they need this experience. They want to know who they are apart from the physical presence of the Great Surfer.”

“Dude, you lost me. The great…”

“He’s a Surfer. That’s all you need to know.”

“You talking about God?”

“He dislikes that term, but, yes, from your perspective, that’s as close as you’re apt to get.”

“And what if I refuse to go up against this physics dude. He’s just out there trying to tell people what in the freaking world the truth really is about this place. These lives we’re living.”

“That’s no problem at all, son. We totally respect free will. There are thousands of scientists and educators already set up to oppose him. We’ve been working on it for centuries, you could say.” He shrugged. “To be honest, I have no idea why the Desk singled you out. With your background and this lifestyle?” He looked at my computer screen and shook his head. “They had a reason, though. They always do.” He touched his lapel and spoke softly to the floor again. “It’s a no-go, Swadhisthana. The cowboy angel rides.”

“Now, wait a sec. Just let me–”

He tipped his hat and disappeared into thin air.

My computer screen came to life. Writhing, mangled, moaning people all over a bloody sidewalk. My ride was still functional. I could probably get away before the cops showed up. I started to reach for the game controls but stopped. It wasn’t interesting anymore. The sirens grew louder and louder as I stared at the scene. I didn’t care about the sociopathic muscle man I’d become. He wasn’t me. Never was.

I stood and looked out my little window at an old cedar tree that I bet somebody planted more than a hundred years ago. Maybe I could sit in the shade and figure out how in the world I’m going to explain all this to Klee Irwin. He’s going to think I’m nuts.

But the dude should know all the problems he’s causing, right? And all the people they’ve sent on a mission to stop him.

Maybe my mom will back me up on the cowboy angel part. The guy was real.

the end

Morrill Talmage Moorehead, MD

Gates of Eden by Bob Dylan (Robert Zimmerman)

Of war and peace, the truth just twists

Its curfew gull just glides

Upon four-legged forest clouds

The cowboy angel rides

With his candle lit into the sun

Though its glow is waxed in black

All except when ‘neath the trees of Eden

The lamppost stands with folded arms

Its iron claws attached

To curbs ‘neath holes where babies wail

Though it shadows metal badge

All and all can only fall

With a crashing but meaningless blow

No sound ever comes from the Gates of Eden

The savage soldier sticks his head in sand

And then complains

Unto the shoeless hunter who’s gone deaf

But still remains

Upon the beach where hound dogs bay

At ships with tattooed sails

Heading for the Gates of Eden

With a time-rusted compass blade

Aladdin and his lamp

Sits with Utopian hermit monks

Sidesaddle on the Golden Calf

And on their promises of paradise

You will not hear a laugh

All except inside the Gates of Eden

Relationships of ownership

They whisper in the wings

To those condemned to act accordingly

And wait for succeeding kings

And I try to harmonize with songs

The lonesome sparrow sings

There are no kings inside the Gates of Eden

The motorcycle black Madonna

Two-wheeled gypsy queen

And her silver-studded phantom cause

The gray flannel dwarf to scream

As he weeps to wicked birds of prey

Who pick up on his bread crumb sins

And there are no sins inside the Gates of Eden

The kingdoms of experience

In the precious wind they rot

While paupers change possessions

Each one wishing for what the other has got

And the princess and the prince

Discuss what’s real and what is not

It doesn’t matter inside the Gates of Eden

The foreign sun, it squints upon

A bed that is never mine

As friends and other strangers

From their fates try to resign

Leaving men wholly, totally free

To do anything they wish to do but die

And there are no trials inside the Gates of Eden

At dawn my lover comes to me

And tells me of her dreams

With no attempts to shovel a glimpse

Into the ditch of what each one means

At times I think there are no words

But these to tell what’s true

And there are no truths outside the Gates of Eden


A Case for Positive Emotions

I cherish and love the scattered moments of joy in my life. Joy comes to me primarily when I’m helping someone in a unique way, as long as I’m not ruining the quality of my life at the same time. I did this for 26 years as a surgical pathologist and cytopathologist. It was a typical “success” trap where a good income is your jail cell. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

I’ve learned several useful things over the years from a broad spectrum of professors, writing gurus, and my own wall of anxiety (arising from a genetic SNP, a single-nucleotide polymorphism in my DNA that codes for my type 2 dopamine receptors).

I’m hoping to eventually work as a team with a few spiritually enclined writers who are warm-hearted, open-minded and want to make a difference in the world. Write to me here (cytopathology@gmail.com) if you think you might be interested in co-authoring something with me — fiction or nonfiction.

Here are the high points of several things I want to help you explore with me…

If you’ve read, The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle, you know why it’s almost magical to isolate the most fundamental parts of any complex skill you want to master. The myelination of relevant axons and dendrites extending from the neurons of the cerebral cortex is the fundamental target of world-class mastery. To develop any extremely valuable skill, you have to break it down into its simplest components, things that can be practiced in a precisely repetitive way. This exact repetition is the holy grail formula because “neurons that fire together wire together.” That is to say that myelin, which can increase nerve conductivity speed by 300 percent and is produced by the oligodendroglia, is wrapped around pairs and groups of neural extensions when they fire at the same time in response to mental and/or physical activity.

If you want to master shooting a basketball, for instance, you stand close to the basket in one unchanging spot, hold your feet, knees and legs still, keep your head and shoulders stationary, grip the ball exactly the same way each time and shoot at least a hundred baskets per day using only your arms and hands. The isolation of arms and hands means there are no extraneous neurons firing and being wrapped with myelin. You’re developing a pure shooting bundle without extraneous fibers that would take away from the accuracy of the shot.

Decades ago I did a few hundred shots this way every day for several months. It transformed my terrible shooting. Later I practiced the isolated shot from various distances and had a few 3 on 3 games where I was a holy terror. I still sucked on defense, though. Some great basketball players, like Michael Jordan, practiced more complex shots this same way, bringing in the legs in a fade-away jump shot, for instance.

Believe it or not, the same principle applies to a person’s ability to feel positive emotions in daily life.

Anxiety and depression are epidemic today, at least in the US. This is partly because we believe that positive emotions come to us passively as the result of favorable life circumstances such as having plenty of money, living in the right place, having trustworthy close friends, exercising our bodies, avoiding certain addictions, and finding a higher spiritual purpose in life that leads to altruism and belonging.

All these worthy goals and several others have been studied and shown to have a statistical correlation with happiness. To various degrees, the correlations appear to be causal. For those who manage to build these wonderful circumstances into their lives (through years of intelligent effort and work), there’s an increased probability of finding happiness (or the positive emotions that define it).

But there’s another path to positive emotions. This stems from the fact that emotions are, in a very real way, like a skill that can be broken down into simple repeatable components, practiced and mastered.

When the neurons of your semi-limbic prefrontal cortex (in the left cerebral hemisphere) develop a heavily myelinated superhighway as a result of your dedicated, disciplined, daily repetitive practice of conjuring up specific good feelings, positive emotions start to flow more freely in your daily life.

With the human body, brain, and mind (because of the diversity of the underlying DNA code) once size never fits all. Iron pills, for instance, are medicine to a person with iron deficiency anemia but will become toxic to a person with hereditary hemochromatosis. I lost a wonderful friend and mentor to this disease not long ago.

So everyone will have to discover a way of practicing positive emotions that works for them.

In my efforts to increase my neuronal capacity for feeling positive emotions, I use slow breathing which shunts blood to the prefrontal cortex. At the same time, I visualize a few carefully selected positive visual images of past moments when I felt a specific positive emotion. The very last time I surfed at Rincon in Ventura, four dolphins catching a wave came close to me. They seemed to be a family of four, one of them quite small. I’ve always felt like this was God’s Universe saying goodbye to me as a surfer. I’ve never caught a wave since then, though I tried once. I picture those dolphins sometimes when I’m breathing slowly and saying the word, “love” to myself. I felt the love of those marine mammals coming my way. I can still feel it to this day.

With other mental images, I try to isolate and practice feelings of joy, love, excitement, purpose, hope, courage, compassion, thankfulness, awe, faith, trust, bliss, contentment, the sense of mastery, and the feelings of humor or hilarity.

The thing is, this principle applies to writing, too. You just have to figure out how to break things down into the simplest, most precisely repeatable components.

In Archer and Jockers book, The Bestseller Code, their computer program has discovered that best-selling novels contain scenes with powerful emotional highs that are regularly interspersed among the emotional lows of the main characters, caused by problems that we know from The Story Grid, by Shawn Coyne, create narrative drive by progressing in complexity, intensity and scope while staying relevant to the main thrust of the story.

The upward waves of Archer and Jockers’ bestseller graphs help me understand the remarkable success of the late Blake Snyder’s book Save The Cat, a screenwriting method that seems to dominate Hollywood movies now, despite being too formulaic for many if not most novel writers. Among Blake Snyder’s highly specific recommendations is the “fun-and-games” section of the story where things must go remarkably well for the protagonist in the early scenes of a movie. Creating this rule of thumb that ensures an early emotional high in a story allows a more dramatic emotional fall for the main character and the audience or readers when things go south as they must in any story.

My insight on this point is that if you want to master popular novel-writing, you should isolate, practice and develop a special skill for creating moments of positive emotion involving a spectrum of good feelings. Then you can place positive feelings throughout your novel at evenly spaced intervals, as Archer and Jockers’ computer highly recommends.

I would suggest that you also ask your beta readers to grade each page or paragraph with regard to the subjective pull they feel while they’re reading your story. If you want to get mega-nerdy, graph the Beta Readers’ data and see how it correlates with a graph of the main characters’ emotional ups and downs.

You’ll probably find that your readers score your paragraphs highest (for page-turning pull) when your characters are involved in a conflict. Like it or not, it’s a fact that no one can take their eyes off a train wreck or a street fight. We’re human.

Which brings me to the most important message I have for you as a writer.

Human minds seem to be designed to learn from stories. Western culture swims in stories from cradle to grave. Among writers, the competition to create commercially viable stories has led us to overload stories and society with the negative emotions and actions of conflict. Incidentally, our popular music does this, too.

In essence, we are practicing to become the world’s gurus of quick anger, hatred, fear, resentment, revenge (especially PC-moral-outrage revenge that justifies “winning” at all costs), and an empathy-free sense of heroism built on top of despair, loneliness, abandonment, heartbreak and an endless parade of new categories of victimhood, one for each of us to embrace.

Despite the fact that most of us live in “developed” Western countries with relatively super-rich lifestyles where, at least in the US, the real danger to our lives comes from carbohydrates, bad air (including cigarettes), and automobile accidents, we are suffering an epidemic of debilitating anxiety and depression, at least in the US and Europe. In Europe, depression among woman has doubled since the 1970’s.

As an aside, I think it may be time to stop watching and reading the so-called “news.” It’s owned and controlled by five companies with a single agenda that has nothing to do with their pseudo-war over politics where the “left versus right” versions of truth bear no resemblance to one another.

Instead, the real agenda of “the news” seems to have everything to do with transforming the citizens of powerful democracies into easily manipulable pawns who are emotionally possessed by political outrage, hatred, and fear. If this isn’t obvious to you yet, please ponder it in the back of your mind and force yourself to watch or read some of the “fake” news coming from sources that appear to support the politics you oppose. It makes no difference which side of the aisle you’re on, if you make a small effort, I think you’ll see that there are not two opposing political sides at the level of the few elites who own and control the news.

But I digress.

As fiction writers, we have the opportunity to make a deliberate effort to write stories that help humanity myelinate a more balanced set of neuronal pathways. We can do this by learning to create scenes where the positive emotions of our characters equal or outweigh the negative emotions.

Fortunately, we have good evidence now from Archer and Jockers’ computer analysis that creating emotionally balanced stories increases our odds of coming up with a bestseller.

Morrill Talmage Moorehead, MD

By the way, if you’re looking for a co-author, I may be interested in teaming up with you. Send me an email (cytopathology@gmail.com) about yourself and what you’re thinking of writing — fiction or nonfiction. I’ll give it my thoughtful consideration and let you know if I can do the project with you.

As you may know, I’m one of 19 certified Story Grid editors in the world, so I do a little SG style developmental editing (on short stories only for now). You can read about that over here: https://www.storyscopemd.com/.

 


Don’t Shoot Me in the Head

“Just don’t shoot me in the head,” I told the agent.

She pulled her gun away from my forehead, about an inch away. The right side of her mouth was smirking beyond the gun’s thick black handle.

I’d been a parapsychologist researcher at the Institute of Noetic Sciences for ten years. It’s an exciting place that was co-founded by the late astronaut, Edgar Mitchell, and now puts out some of the world’s best peer-reviewed “paranormal” science, over a thousand papers and counting. “Paranormal” will become normal, it’s only a matter of time.

My niche is the prospective study of near-death experiences. When someone is dying of natural causes and wants to become part of scientific history, we bring a level of objectivity that only prospective studies can capture. The weirder your findings, the more you need to document them. We’ve reported some incredibly strange things.

I looked into the cylinder of darkness that extended up the gun barrel and realized for the first time that I’m not afraid of death the way I was ten years ago. By now I’d seen enough to know that this life isn’t the end of consciousness.

On the other hand, I didn’t want to die and have to stop my research, or worse yet, die knowing that Brodsky would take over my work. The little troll is about as objective and rational as a two-year-old.

Despite having him breathing down my neck, I’ve been making observations that even the cult of reductive physicalists will be forced to accept someday. In light of my work and a hand full of others at the Institute, science will soon have to do a 180 and put intelligent consciousness back where it belongs, at the center of nature, not in the peripheral, illusory realm of an epiphenomenon.

I had another reason, though, for not wanting this agent to shoot me in the head. I wasn’t sure, but there seemed to be a chance that if my central nervous system was splattered across the mirrors behind me, I might miss out on my own near-death experience. My research subjects always tell me that their NDE was the most euphoric, meaningful and transformative event of their lives. I wanted to taste that richness myself, even if I didn’t live to document it for science.

“I’ve never heard that one before,” the agent said. “Think about it, though. Being shot in the head is probably the least painful way to go. Through the frontal lobes and down through the brainstem?” She angled her pistol to indicate the trajectory of her first bullet.

“Pain doesn’t concern me,” I said, realizing my words were a lie only after I’d said them.

“You’re a masochist?”

“I suppose so. That’s a good explanation.” I looked down.

She put the gun back to my forehead. “You’ve got me curious.”

When parents attach curiosity to dead cats in an effort to protect their wandering toddlers, it’s for good reason. Curiosity is the Super Glue of the mind. I now knew that this agent wouldn’t shoot me until I’d explained myself, so I asked if I could sit on the floor, and without waiting for consent, I took the liberty of squatting and then sitting on the cold, immaculate tile floor in front of her. Although she’d confronted me alone in a men’s bathroom, this particular one sparkled and had a floor that looked cleaner than the dinner plates downstairs in the establishment’s five-star restaurant.

I pulled my fake cigarette out of a coat pocket, put it in my lips and drew in a mouthful of staleness, inhaled and blew a nearly invisible puff of water vapor out the side of my mouth, politely away from her. I’ve never smoked real cigarettes, but this electronic device is often invaluable during interviews with NDE subjects. It seems to relax the atmosphere in the lab, showing the nervous hanger-on that I’m not judgmental or particularly binary. Whatever the mechanism, I’ve learned that if you want an NDE subject to give you the full details of a near-death experience without the editing and polish that we tend to see on the internet, you need to let these people see you for who and what you are, weaknesses and strengths alike. And you can’t just tell them or assure them that you’re OK, you need to show them that the person listening to them considers their concerns of sanity to be utterly irrelevant.

In the tradition of Scheherazade and the thousand tales that kept her alive, I decided to forgo the buildup I had planned, and instead opened with Mr. Santiago’s records.

“A couple of months ago, Jesus Santiago, a 72-year-old Hispanic male, came to me with less than three months to live. It was stage IV lung cancer, small cell, the worst. He’d lost his right lung. The hilar and mediastinal nodes were positive, bilateral adrenal mets, and we’d found a small brain metastasis in his cerebellum on our control MRI. Chemo hadn’t touched his disease, so he looked like a skeleton sitting there talking in drooping skin.”

The agent gave me a disgusted look. 

“All the greats who walk into my lab are like him. Just wanting to contribute something to science before they pass on.”

“So you sucked him in with a newspaper ad?”

“It was a Facebook ad, actually. They’re remarkably selective, despite this recent privacy thing.”

She sat down on the floor across from me, her head framed in one the Beverly Wilshire’s lavish urinals, and her gun arm dangling across her right knee with the pistol pointing casually at my testes.

Have you ever closed your eyes and had someone dangle a heavy knife over the bridge of your nose? You can literally feel it. This was much worse than that, but the same sort of thing.

She thrust her chin out, which meant, keep talking.

“We put Mr. Santiago in as much gentle cryo as he could tolerate and started draining his blood into a sterile plastic receptacle. You wouldn’t believe how stingy the Red Cross is with those things. I had to petition the manufacturer… But anyway, that’s essentially how we induce a near-death experience… through neuronal hypoxia, or perhaps it’s a shift from glucose to ketone bodies, we can’t rule that out yet.”

She pursed her lips in a deliberately bored expression.

“It usually works the first time,” I went on. “Every detail of the procedure is timed and controlled to make things reproducible in any lab around the world, should another researcher ever develop giant gonads like the ones you’re targeting with your pistol there. I don’t suppose you could point that thing at my chest?”

She sat like a marble statue with black lipstick.

“Anyway, Mr. Santiago slipped into the twilight zone while we recorded his flattening brainwaves and watched images of blood flow vanish from his brain via real-time fMRI. Bless the geeks who invented that machine, it’s a miracle of technology, really.”

There was a thump on the bathroom door. I looked over hoping no one would walk in and rescue me before I was done with the story.

The agent didn’t so much as glance at the door.

“Make it fast,” she said. “Looks like we’re passionate lovers this time. I’ll do the talking.”

I abbreviated things a bit, but pointed out that when Mr. Santiago’s EEG went flat, his heart had stopped and there was no discernible evidence of blood flow or glucose uptake in his brain, we cooled him further and set the timer to let us know when to bring him back. Four minutes is my routine to avoid permanent brain damage.

A half-hour later, Jesus was fully with us again, eyes wide, telling us of his dead relatives, the brightness of the scenery, the loving euphoria he’d felt in that realm, and an odd message he’d been sent back to this life to tell me.

The agent rolled her eyes.

I put on my game face and said that Mr. Santiago had gone on about how the work I was doing could transform the world if it ever penetrated the minds of the religious zealots in charge of science. He said that universal and personal consciousness need to be brought into the fold of real things worth studying. In this way, and in no other, he said, would humanity someday learn to overcome fear, aggression, and hatred, eventually to replace these destructive things with normal compassion, affection, and some degree of genuine love. He looked iffy on the love projection.

“How sweet,” the agent said, her eyes still stone.

Then I told her that the NDE client had warned me that there would be three attempts on my life by the CIA. He was apologetic as he described all three in detail and told me that the third one would come from a woman who went by the name, Angie.

“I assume that’s you?” I asked.

She didn’t respond.

“He told me to tell you that a being whom he referred to as God said that everyone who’s ever lived must experience life in a brain like yours, a brain without the capacity for empathy. He said to tell you that you won’t be trapped in this condition forever, so don’t lose hope.”

“You have inside connections,” the agent said. “It’s funny that the CIA would want to kill you.”

“I have no connections. Mr. Santiago told me to let you know that your mother is sorry for burning your fingers… when she caught you with matches? You were five, staying overnight in the Stardust Motel. He said you’d pretend not to remember. Is that what you’re doing?”

The agent drew in a breath and held it.

“Your mother was like you,” I told her, “stuck in a brain with little capacity for empathy or compassion.”

“I’ve never told anyone about the matches,” the agent said with a fresh hint of perplexity in her flawless young face.

“He also said you have a small mass the size of a garden pea in your left breast. Your nodes are still negative so you’ll need to have it removed as soon as possible. It’s malignant, high-grade with a high mitotic rate. My advice would be to have it removed at a large center where the surgeons and pathologists know how to handle margins properly. Many places don’t.”

She transferred the gun to her left hand, put her gun hand up her blouse and examined her right breast.

“I don’t feel anything,” she said.

“It’s on the left,” I reminded her.

Her hand moved to the other breast and in less than a second her eyes became fearful.

“It’s still pretty small,” I said. “Completely resectable for a cure, I was told.”

Tears suddenly fell from the outer corners of her eyes. She put her gun away, reached over and loosened my necktie, untucked my shirt and kissed my lips, deliberately smearing some of her black lipstick on my chin with her fingers after the kiss.

The bathroom door clicked open a moment later, and a red-haired man with keys on a ring and a Hotel logo on his lapel stepped in and looked at us with humble surprise.

The agent looked up at him and must have changed her ruse to take advantage of her tears. “We just found out that our little boy has a brain tumor. He’s only five years old!” She burst into heaving sobs, only to regain composure in a moment and say to the man, “I’m sorry. This was the only place I could find to break the news to my husband in private.” She leaned forward, put her arms around me and buried her face against me. Her crying sounded genuine.

I closed my eyes and kept my mouth shut the way she’d told me.

The man fumbled with his keys, apologized for the intrusion and said he’d leave the out-of-order sign up for as long as we needed it. He said he totally understood and would pray for our son. Then he closed the door and locked it.

“Thank you, sir,” the agent sputtered to the locked door.

I kept my eyes shut as we held each other for what seemed several minutes. Then she stopped crying and looked at me again, staring into my eyes at close range. I wasn’t sure if she might kiss me again or pull her gun out and shoot me.

“I don’t know how any of this is possible,” she said. “I’m trained and talented at spotting lies. You’re telling the truth if I’m any judge at all.” She sat up and put her right hand over her left breast on the outside of her blouse this time. “And here’s the physical evidence.”

Her face looked pale now.

“On the practical side,” I said, trying to sound cheerful, “you’ll always know exactly where to find me if you need to shoot me.” I intended to chuckle but couldn’t. “But please,” and this part I said soberly, “whatever you do, don’t shoot me in the head.” I looked around at the urinals, over at a triad of privately enclosed stalls with marble walls to the ceiling, and managed a chuckle.

“Shoot you?” she said. “God, no. I’m going to protect you, Doctor Salinger. For the rest of your life and probably mine.”

That makes three agents protecting me now. Two men and one unusually attractive woman. Physically attractive, at least. Perhaps my research would survive the CIA’s strange opposition to it.

We helped each other up off the floor and hugged, this time without her tears. When I broke the hug, she asked, “Did Mr. Santiago’s God mean that my brain could change in this lifetime?”

I looked at the floor.

“Or do I have to wait for the next?”

 

 

Morrill Talmage Moorehead, MD


Toxic Self-talk Cloaked in Objectivity

When I was 13 years old, Jack, the brother of my band’s bass player, told me about a book, “How To Be Your Own Best Friend.” Since then, I’ve known the importance of avoiding negative self-talk.

But knowing and doing are vastly different. I went ahead and indulged in “analytical” negative self-talk without realizing what I was doing. Now it’s an ingrained habit, and here’s how it all happened to me.

I pride myself in being objective and value it beyond almost everything else. This ingrained mindset came from my blessed atheist Dad and his constant intellectual influence. He was a medical doctor with Boards in 3 specialties, including pathology, the field I wound up in and finally quit, thank God.

Of course, objectivity is the only way to overcome your blind spots as you search for truth.

And while it may be humanly impossible to be truly objective, it’s a worthy goal, sort of like getting the perfect truth onto a patient’s surgical pathology report despite the fact that human error in the laboratory is known to be beyond eradication.

So with Dad’s influence on top of the influence of the fundamentalist Christian religion I joined at age 14, with all its “infallible” messages that I zealously devoured, learning how despicable and abhorrent it is to take any credit for the talents that God has given me, I did two things that, in retrospect, were psychologically, socially and professionally stupid.

  1. I developed a blind spot to my own negative self-talk by accidentally hiding my self-criticism behind a veil of false objectivity.
  2. I swallowed the evil notion that it’s uniquely displeasing to God if I should ever credit myself for anything good I’ve done or will ever do. Along with this came the concept that it’s pleasing to God if, at the end of each day, I searched for my “sins” and felt maximally guilty while begging in a pathetic inner voice for forgiveness for anything negative I had done that day. The perverted logic was: “the closer you get to God, the worse you’ll look in your own eyes.” Which meant that the guiltier I felt, the more God liked me. Sort of like the publican and the Pharisee in the temple? (Luke 18:10)

I swallowed the Guilt Cool Aid almost every night of my life for years, probably decades before I was able to see the absurdity of an intelligent, loving God wanting this kind of self-destructive prayer.

To be fair, it’s pretty obvious to me that the Christian fundamentalists I’ve known over the years have done a million times more good in the world than harm. Unfortunately, that’s the “baby” and most of the sacred doctrine that seems to produce the good deeds is the “bathwater,” at least as far as I can tell now.

So in a perfect world, we would look up to the glowing example of all the fundamentalist Christians that I’ve known, rather than despising them for their odd narrow-mindedness and essential hypocrisy that being human brings. And I think the often-mentioned crusades, used to put down Christianity historically, should instead remind us of the hundreds of millions more who were killed in the name of fundamentalist Marxism.

I guess rational thinking is required, no matter what belief system you choose.

And I’ll admit, there are arrogant people out there who have pathologically unrealistic self-confidence, a dogmatic, controlling attitude towards others, and an unshakable belief that they are always right about everything they think, say and do.

Such people would probably benefit from a dose of the fundamentalist Christian self-talk poison that I swallowed. It would be medicine to them and maybe bring some relief to the “little people” they steal from, abuse and kill.

But few of us (besides politicians and world bankers) are arrogant and dangerous to such a degree.

Most of us are more attuned to reality, more vulnerable to guilt, and could probably benefit by improving our self-talk or at least learning to recognize when it’s destroying us from the inside out.

If you’re half blind to this venom the way I am, the challenge is worth accepting. There’s much to be gained.

For instance, just this morning I heard my inner voice, the person I assume is me, saying that I’m lazy. It flew past me at first. I didn’t flinch or even notice it. But in a few moments, its echo caught my attention and I finally recognized it as negative rather than objective. I stopped my train of thought, backed up and ask myself if I would say such a thing to someone I loved and cared for, someone like my son or daughter.

Hell no, I wouldn’t! I love my suddenly adult kids unconditionally!

So I literally talked to my subconscious mind.

This is a little off the beaten path, but here’s an accurate and helpful glimpse of the human inner landscape as I see it…

The subconscious mind needs to be treated like a beloved dog or perhaps a domesticated dolphin. It needs simple logical explanations spoken in easy words with clear messages delivered with honest supportive emotion.

I apologized to my inner Labrador Retriever.

My subconscious mind is not an inner child, by the way. It’s been around the block with me, rejected by its peers at every job I’ve had, considered a failure by loved ones despite objective success, considered a weak pathologist by surgeons despite the fact that the opposite was objectively true, at least to the few pathologists who worked closely with me and could judge the quality of my work intelligently.

This morning I told my dog-like subconscious mind that it had done plenty of hard work all of its life.

I reviewed the evidence.

I pointed out several of the many people we’d helped together over the years when nobody else was willing to do the extra tedious work – the extra hours it takes to find one or two pre-malignant cells on a pap test where thousands of normal cells hide the rare villains and dozens of normal pap slides hide the few abnormal cases. The extra hours it takes to review other pathologists’ surgical slides for them, slowly and thoroughly, to search the literature to find better diagnostic accuracy, to search and find the missed positive lymph node or the focus of residual cancer that the faster pathologists tend to overlook again and again.

When you do this for pathologists who are also your bosses (as they’ve always been for me), they don’t necessarily appreciate your help or take a liking to you for saving their cookies. At an emotional level, they often seem to resent you. And they virtually never thank you for finding their mistakes.

It’s human. But diligence helps cancer patients survive, and it takes a non-lazy pathologist to stay at the scope and do this work when there’s no extra external compensation, only lonely hours away from home and a reputation for being slow.

After this unusual inner monologue, I felt better. A little stronger and more open to sharing the whole story with you.

I hope it helps you recognize the inappropriateness of “objective” inner criticism when it’s not really objective at all. And I hope that next time you catch yourself being cruel to your inner best friend, you’ll apologize in detail and really mean it.

Morrill Talmage Moorehead, MD