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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Keep Them Breathing.

Coming up for air again - I took a CPR/First-Aid course on Tuesday and man, that was an eye-opening experience.

There's a lot of information to digest but one thing I kind of noticed is that there are a lot of parallels to draw between First-Aid and being a Writer.

In First-Aid, the first and most important thing you can do is Take Charge. When a medical emergency goes down, someone's choking, someone's passed out, oftentimes people stand around watching, unsure of what to do. Being that person to stand up and say 'okay, I know First-Aid' - to be able to take charge of the situation and make people feel comfortable that you know what you're doing (even if you've never had to actually use your training) is paramount.

As a writer, especially as a freelance writer, there's no room to say 'yeah, I'm shaking in my boots here'. An opportunity comes up, you step up, shake hands and make everyone around you feel confident that you can do the job.

In First-Aid, much of the initial problem lies in figuring out what the heck happened. How did this person go unconscious? Why aren't they breathing?

In Writing, it's figuring out why your story isn't working, where your A-Plot went and why your characters all sound like you (but with better hair).

Yes, I know, it may seem like I'm reaching here -- Writing sure don't seem quite as 'Life and Death' as CPR and First-Aid, but you better believe that someone's life is on the line - most likely your own.

In production - as a few pro writers have been kind enough to share - once that train is rolling, it doesn't stop for anyone. Money is being spent every minute and if you're not ahead of it, you're under it.

The very basics of CPR and First-Aid are simple: Keep them breathing. Whatever it takes, keep the brain getting oxygen for as long as possible until help arrives.

In Writing it's just as simple: Tell a story. Whatever you do, where ever you take it, make sure it's got a beginning, a middle and an end. Usually in that order.

Of course, like so many things in life, the Devil's in the details.

In CPR and First-Aid, sometimes keeping someone alive is going to mean that you're going to feel someone's ribcage crack and break beneath your hands (believe me, they were quite explicit about this point). You're going to see those mouthfuls of oxygen you pushed into their lungs come out back at you... from both ends. Sometimes preceded by (or followed by) the contents of their stomach.

In Writing, sometimes meeting that looming deadline is going mean that your back will start to calcify into a hunchback position as the veins in your wrists wither and narrow - causing your hands to FREAK THE FUCK OUT in spasms for no apparent reason. Your sleep time will all but dissipate and any hope of maintaining a regular, healthy diet will be buried under the next 3am round of corn chips and Red Bull.

Finally: In First-Aid, once you've stepped up to help someone, you're there. You can't (legally) leave them until Paramedics arrive and give you the A-O.K. In short: Congrats! You've saved someone's life (or... not) -- hope you don't have to pee any time soon.

In Writing, once you're on a project you're there. You're there 'till it's done... or you're fired. So, yeah - as someone once told me: "If you don't like a project you better find something to like about it real quick".

All-in-all, the CPR/First-Aid course kinda freaked me the hell out. In a good way. I have to say that I have an absolute fuck-ton more respect for Paramedics and especially for the Volunteers at St. John Ambulance. The stories our teacher shared with us - true, unvarnished stuff... man - it's the kind of things that I really haven't seen on TV (and probably won't - tho' Nurse Jackie might go there...).

Stories about having to kneel over an unconscious patient and vomit behind them after having them throw up in your mouth. Or having to try and do CPR on a one-year-old kid who just slipped and fell off their dad's shoulders, landing head-first on the ground - trying to keep the dad (and themselves) calm but knowing that the kid's a goner.

Wow... yeah... it was a powerful day. I hope I never, ever have to use this training - but, all things considered, I'm really glad I took the time to learn it.

Also, really, really glad I had to be a writer... 'cause, well, I realized I'm not so much for the cradling/preservation of severed appendages/eyeballs, etc.


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