Friday, June 15, 2012



Great Minds Think Aloud

You’re kidding me right, did you make the title of this blog up just for me, I’m so honored. I’m not sure how great my mind is, but it is certainly loud. I have a brain that never shuts up. Some of it may be because I’m dyslexic and the two sides of my brain don’t communicate as flawlessly with each other as “normal” people’s brains do, so they get into arguments. It’s like having an old Italian couple who use my cranium as a rent controlled apartment or something. Another part of it is I have a kind of schizophrenic life, during the day I’m a very serious cancer doctor, a Radiation Oncologist, and in my spare time I paint paintings or make movies or write stuff or just play around with my kids. It helps keep us/me balanced, (I’m never absolutely sure there’s only one of us in here.)

Okay so I’m supposed to tell you about my book, The Uncommon Thread, well, it is a collection of columns that I’ve written in the JOURNAL: of the Mississippi State Medical Association for the past five years or so. Why did they let me write experimental goofy stuff in a scientific medical journal? Because it’s Mississippi, and the literary tradition runs deep, also the JOURNAL has a wonderful perceptive editor, Dr. Luke Lampton, whose own literary tradition is second to none and has worked with folks like Walker Percy, Shelby Foote, Willie Morris, and Eudora Welty over the years as the editor of The Magnolia Gazette. Luke gave me the free rein to veer around a little and find my audience. Which it has, and is now one of the most popular and universally recognized elements of our JOURNAL. 
It isn’t really written just for the doctors. I get comments from wives, patients, office staff, all kinds of people, about whatever story I’ve let out of its cage this month. They could be anything. Some of them are true. The stuff about my family all is, the stuff that represents my opinion on science, religion, or communication is…taaaah daaah…opinion, and the stuff that looks like a made up story or an obvious lie probably is. But there’s the seduction. The readers know I don’t have Kafka’s pet roach Gregor in a bottle of formaldehyde, but they follow because they want to see where I’m going. Who else is going to take you elephant hunting with a typewriter instead of a gun?

Some of it is sad. My life is sad. My patients are ill and some of them die. If you don’t like that part of it, don’t read it. That kind of goes for the whole book, there is something in there for just about everyone and something in there that’s going to aggravate most folks too. Sometimes, they’re the same thing, and that’s okay with me. Here’s the story of how things came about:

It started with me agreeing to be a temporary fill-in for the author of the column Una Voce . Dr. South, had been elected president of the Association, and was going to be writing The President’s Page for the next twelve months, so she reluctantly agreed to let me write one column to fill in for her. She was going to get a variety of other contributors (hopefully some of them sane) and try to keep her column intact for the year she was in office. It didn’t work out that way. 

One column led to a second and then a third and still no one else was stepping up to take over, so I just kept writing. The more I wrote the more things seemed to get out of control. Una Voce was supposed to be the one voice that represented the practicing physician, but always writing about medicine, and noble callings, and compassion, and all the preconceived crap that doctors are supposed to write about bored me stiff. So I didn’t. 

Poor Una Voce, a madman was at the wheel and the columns veered from here to there uncontrollably. They became their own little living things. If I tried to re-write one it would morph on me, and turn into something completely different. Being the creator that was no longer in control was a very fun, place to be. 
I started to think of my little creations as fluid rather than form. I just let them do whatever they wanted for almost a year and when that was over, I was done. I wrote a farewell column, and went back to work on other projects. 

But things didn’t work out that way, Dr. South was diagnosed with cancer, and so, as she went through her surgery and the treatment that followed her surgery, Una Voce and I careened along. The stories continuing to find their own direction down a jagged and imprecise stream of conscious. 

“What in the hell is this?” My left-brain (and sometimes the editor) would demand.

“Don’t ask me to explain it,” my right-brain would beg, “just read it. Then you’ll feel it.”

“But what are they supposed to feel?” My left-brain would counter. “Readers want things to relate to one another. They want to know what to expect.”
Everybody wants a common thread.

So to make the two sides of my brain knock it off and give me some peace and quiet inside my own head, I tried to come up with an explanation of what it was I wanted to do, and this is what I said: 

“What is it about our lives that prepare us to be physicians? Is can’t simply be our education, and it had to be there before medicine was our vocation? It happens all around us every day we practice, and I don’t think it will stop when we retire. We are what we are because of the millions of tiny incidents in our lives that build up like threads woven into a fabric. That fabric of what we are is what allows us to function as the physicians we can become. It is like taking thread to make a cloth, then taking that cloth and making a garment.

Medicine we think of as a white coat, but it just looks white because each thread, although it’s a different color, shines with promise and adds to the whole. 

I want to show it all, the threads, the fabric, all of it. Not just the coat.”

Dr. South understood what it was that I was doing while she was gone, probably better than I did, and it was she that came up with the name for my new column and this collection.

See, it isn’t the common thread that I wanted to show in the first place. It’s the uncommon thread, the infinite number of uncommon threads that we weave together to become the people we are.

What it’s about
Hardcover, $25
ISBN: 978-0-9852671-0-0
Nonfiction/Essay Collection
205 pages
China Grove Press, June 20, 2012

For the past three years The Uncommon Thread has been one of the most popular regular features of the JOURNAL: of the Mississippi State Medical Association. 

Only a state with a literary tradition as rich as Mississippi’s would dedicate a regular column
to literary exploration as part of its monthly scientific medical journal. A strong literary commitment is not something new for the JOURNAL; The Uncommon Thread sprang fully formed from its progenitor Una Voce, which now continues under the pen of its founder Dr. Dwalia South.

But, for two years a madman held Una Voce captive while its true author was serving as the president of the Association and then engaged in both her own and her husband’s battles with cancer. By the time she recovered and returned to restore sanity to her own column, the editors were stuck trying to find someplace to put a stream of consciousness gadfly that somehow continued to charm at least as many readers as he antagonized.

Thus The Uncommon Thread was born. So, try a story or two, if you don’t like them, read a few more. 

Because, in here, you never know what’s going to show up next.

Author blog:
@RussellScott3 IsoLibris Russell Scott

R. Scott Anderson, M.D.
Author Biography

Russell Scott Anderson M.D. is a Radiation Oncologist
who serves as the Medical Director of Anderson Cancer Center in Meridian, Mississippi. He is a former Navy diver who worked in operations in the Middle East, Central America, and in support of the Navy’s EOD community, SEALS, the US Army’s Green Berets, the Secret Service, and the New York Police Department at various times during his time in the service. Dr. Anderson received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, and his M.D. degree from UA’s School of Medicine in Birmingham.

The father of seven has written the family oriented literary columns Una Voce and The Uncommon Thread in the JOURNAL of the Mississippi State Medical Association as Scott Anderson M.D. for the past five years. He has also written as screenwriter R. S. Anderson on several feature films, and author Russell Scott on his debut novel Time Donors Wanted (IsoLibris, 2011, Murder Mystery) and forthcoming novel The Hard Times.

Three of Dr. Anderson’s stories in The Uncommon Thread collection were nominated for the small press Pushcart Prize award. Having spent some years in San Diego and Virginia Beach, the author lives once again in the Southeast and has settled for the past twenty years in the state of Mississippi with his wife and children.

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