Saturday, July 12, 2008

Almost Famous

Out in the running community, I used to be anonymous. I used to run my miles as if no one’s watching. I likewise blog as if nobody reads what I write. Now I guess I can’t claim that anymore. Okay, I admit. I’ve been discovered. Thanks to Tom and Amy over at the Runners’ Lounge, who interviewed me for their Open Mic series, I am now almost famous in the blogosphere.

Now I say I’m only almost famous because I think there’s still a substantial portion of the blogging community that don’t know who I am or what I do – namely, those that don’t run or have an interest in running. I’d like to think that I can be famous someday because that would mean that there would be more runners than non-runners, which would translate to a healthier, friendlier and more peaceful world for everyone to enjoy. Yeah, that would be nice.

Although I’m flattered by all the attention my blog is getting as a result of my interview, and I truly appreciate all the support and kind words from fellow runners and blog readers, let the truth be told that this is not the first time that I’ve had a brushup with fame and became almost famous. The last time this happened was five years ago, in a totally different venue at a different stage in my life (before I was a runner), but interesting enough, also involved my talents with expressive speech.

The background to the story is that during my college years, despite a heavy coursework concentrated in the pre-med sciences, I always found time to read and write creatively. I was especially enchanted with the ways syllables and words blend together so beautifully in different forms of poetry and made every effort to learn about the subject matter as much as I could. I ended up graduating with a minor degree in writing seminars as well as several published submissions in different local and national poetry and creative writing journals.

While in medical school, because of the extra work and demands on my time, I found it difficult to keep up with my poetry writing. Luckily, I made a pact with myself early on in that first postgraduate year that no matter what, I’d do a poetry reading every six months to a year at various venues around the city to make sure I wouldn’t totally slack off on thinking and writing creatively. For the most part, for the next six or seven years, I was pretty good at keeping my promise to myself. Although I found it pretty daunting at first to read your own work at the microphone in front of a room filled with poetry critics and enthusiasts, I knew deep down that my work was personal to me and didn’t really much care what everyone thinks about it. The feedback I received were generally positive and after the first two or three, reading my poems became less of an issue than the time I had to write and revise my work.

One of the interesting caveats though is that I would never tell or allow any friends or family to attend my readings. The reason is because I did not want the fear of having any potential conflicts or connections between the audience to my poems to influence the way I write. Although many people have complained about this policy, I hold adamant to my belief that poetry at its best is personal not commercial. If I were interested in writing about something that appealed to the masses or to influence their thoughts in a particular way, I’d be a commercial jingle writer for an ad agency. At least if I were to do that I’d get paid for my services! So, no, I’m not much interested in sharing my poems with anyone that may know me, no matter how much they may holler and scream about it.

One of the greatest moments of my life as a poet happened five years ago when after one of my poetry reading sessions at “Amateur Night” at the upper west side coffeehouse I used to frequent, the poetry editor of a very prominent national literary magazine (think Times, Newsweek, New York, etc) came up to congratulate me on my performance. He told me that out of the six poets and twelve poems he heard that night, my two selections completely stole the show. Then he totally surprised me by offering me a full-time position on his editorial staff. I was flabbergasted and didn’t know what to say. Was there a chance I could quit residency and go poetry? Wow, wouldn’t that be so much fun? Fortunately, I came to my senses a few seconds later and graciously declined the offer, explaining that my participation in the show wasn’t to be discovered or seek employment, but just to seek some general feedback on some of my latest work. Besides, I was under contract at the hospital to finish my residency training in general pediatrics. His eyes lit up some more when I told him that I was a full-time physician in training. “Wow, how’d we let talents like you slip into the grips of medicine…such a shame, a total shame!” To this day, I still remember his exact words.

After that, we talked a bit more on the subject of poetry. He shared his views on where he’s trying to lead his magazine. I filled him in on how my medical career has influenced my writing. Before leaving for the evening, he gave me his contact information and told me that someone might be calling me in the upcoming weeks. I assumed he was just trying to be friendly and forgot all about the encounter a couple of weeks later when I received a call from someone on his staff who wanted to meet me for an interview! Apparently, my double life as a doctor/poet so interested him that he wanted someone on his staff to write a full feature article on me and my writing. Over the next several months, this staffer and I met several times and went over every aspect of my life, including my childhood growing up in Hong Kong, my high school experience learning to write under the tutelage of Frank McCourt, and my college years, when I submitted and published some fiction for the first time. The piece that he was preparing for the magazine was simply amazing, with pictures, stories and poems that had never been seen by anyone but me before.

Unfortunately, like the biographies of all the great poets of the 20th century, this story does not have a happy ending. A month prior to the submission of my feature article for review by the magazine’s literary board, the editor and all his staff were abruptly let go from their jobs. Apparently, the whole magazine was downsizing. Although my staff member was supposed to hand off my article and all his other work to the new staff taking over, everything got lost in the transition, so that all I have left now are some memories of how once I was almost famous.

Honestly, I’m not bitter about the whole experience, because I don’t think I’d be a professional poet no matter how much fame or exposure I got. Besides, I’d never have become a runner and blogger if my poetry career had really taken off, so in that way, I’m glad everything turned out the way it did. Who knows, maybe one day, long after I’m gone, someone will dig up stuff that I had written during the prime of my life, decide I’m pure genius, publish all my great works in an anthology of some sort, make lots of money and bring me fame and popularity that way.

So until then, I’ve got some time. I think I’ll go for a run.

Have a good weekend everyone!


Xenia said...

Wow! Of all the double lives you hear of people leading, I don't think I've ever heard of the doctor-poet combo. Very cool.

Congrats on being almost famous. :)

runner26 said...

Very, very cool!!!

Jamie said...

Wow very cool double life!

The Laminator said...

Thanks for the compliments, ladies!

sRod said...

A doctor, a runner, a poet, and a poker player. What next? Are you also a dog whisperer? That may be too much.

Has anyone ever called you a renaissance man?

MissAllycat said...

My claim to fame will be that I started reading your blog *before* you were famous. :)

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