Beam Me Home, Scotty!: 08, Sergeant Survival

It’s still Shawn Coyne’s Middle Build.  It’s still Christopher Vogler’s Approach to the Inmost Cave.

It’s not exactly Jane’s best day.

Still motionless, Jane looks at McCoy. “I know you.  And not from TV.”

McCoy chuckles. “Of course you do, Jane. I’m your old friend: Survival. Some people say I have my own spot in the brain, the place where fear and uncertainty meet. But I like to think of myself as the ‘Kirk of the Subcortex,’ of everything below all those officers and their SOP’s. I’m the whole point of this dog-and-pony show down here.”

“What…do you want from me?” Jane asks.

“Oh, come on, girl! I’m an old 68-Whiskey (68W) medic, like yourself. You know what all of us 68W’s want: to bring our folks back alive. And since I’m in your brain, Janie, that means bringing you back alive, whether in the middle of the desert or in the middle of the wacky fantasy this doctor’s got you in.”

“I…I just want this PTSD to get better.”

“Oh, don’t we all, darlin’?  But when the old man has to come out and settle things down? We’ll leave the ‘gettin’ better’ for another day, another time.”

“Mr Scott?” Jane asks, looking at him. “Aren’t you…”

“Sorry, ma’am,” he says. “True, I’m the Officer-in-Charge, but at times of ‘freeze,’ whether back then or now, my only real job—to keep communication open with the Bridge—breaks down. We can hear them, but they can’t hear us. That’s why you remember terrible times as so hazy, strange. I’m in Communications, not Medical. When it comes to survival, the Sergeant Major here is in charge.”

“And without guidance from the Bridge,” Sergeant First Class (SFC) Sulu Sr. says, “I’m left with only two choices for physical reaction. I fly into a panic or rage, just as Joe did.  Or I freeze.  Just as you are doing.”

“And after a while,” says SFC Uhura Sr., “there’s little adrenaline left, and the Engine Room crew of the brainstem has to resort to the calming-chemical system.   But now it’s not about calming. It’s about slowing everything done as much as possible, to preserve energy, to keep the body alive.”

“Plus, ma’am,” says SFC Chekhov Sr., “as you can see, I’m not filming. During freeze, no time-based memory is made. Any so-called memories of the situation become incoherent. They don’t fit together in time. What takes seconds can feel like hours, and vice versa.”

Jane looks back at McCoy. “What do you want from me?”

“Simple enough, Jane,” says McCoy, no longer smiling. “I want you to stop this ridiculous game you’re playing. Scott here already tried to invite you to head back to reality. You seem to be having problems with diplomatic suggestions. So we’ll cut the diplomacy. You need to get the hell out of here.”

“But…” Jane says.

“No ‘buts,’ Janie-Jane,” McCoy says. “Up to this point you’ve kept to yourself all the war shit that’s stored down here. Until now I’ve been willing to give you a break and not torment you too much about it, because you had at least been cooperative with our little co-pact of silence. But we both know what this place looks like and sounds like when you start thinking about the war too much, and I ain’t having it. We survived once. We ain’t going back there, no way, no how.”

“What…”

“You got hearing problems?” McCoy shouts, walking up to the guardrail. “We are not going back to the War, not now, not ever. So I’d suggest you wake yourself up right about now and drop five bucks for a whiskey and tell your fine VA shrink ‘thanks, but no thanks,’ and stare at the lights of Omaha below until you get your ass to sleep, before…”

“Before what?” Jane shouts.

McCoy steps back. His eyes narrow.

“It is time to be done. Now.”

“What does Kirk have to say about this?” Jane shouts. “I want to hear from him.”

McCoy steps back even more. Then he begins to laugh.

“Oh, Sister-Sue,” he says. “Are you f-in’ serious? Kirk?”

He turns to the rest of the Transporter Room crew. “Our fine lady wants to know what Kirk has to say about this?”

No one moves. He turns back to Jane

“Mr. Scott,” he shouts, staring Jane in the eyes.

“Yes, Sergeant Major,” Scott replies.

“A request, sir, if I may.”

“Yes, Sergeant Major?”

“Might you be so kind, sir, as to turn on the intercom so that Jane might be able to hear what her fine Colonel Kirk has to say about this?”

“Certainly, Sergeant Major. Glad to…”

“Oh,” McCoy says, turning to Scott.  “But, sir, please. A moment first?”

“Of course, Sergeant  Major.”

McCoy turns back toward Jane.

“A change of costume, Jane. Shall we?”

With that, McCoy pivots 360 to his left.

But when he faces Jane again, he is no longer McCoy.

He is an eleven-year-old Iraqi boy, shirtless, shoeless, dust-covered.

“Hello, Miss Jane,” the boy says, looking directly at her.

Jane doesn’t move.

The boy turns toward Mr. Scott.

“Now, Mr. Scott,” he says. “if you will.”

The boy turns back toward Jane.

“Ahmed always like to hear from the Colonel.”

The boy then smiles.

 

Beam Me Home, Scotty!: 07, The Freeze

We’re still in the Middle Build of Shawn Coyne’s Story GridObstacles continue.

According to Christopher Vogler, in the Hero’s Journey, after one has slogged past obstacle after obstacle to get to one’s goal, one reaches the Approach to the Inmost Cave, the preparation for the dark place where all hope is lost (before hope can be found.)

Ask any combat vet:  dark, it is.

 

As soon as the lights go out, a loud click is heard, and the low, generator lights come on.

But no one in the Transporter Room moves.

Sergeant First Class (SFC) Chekhov Sr. stands with his camera dangling to his side, making no attempt to look at the file cabinet.

“Oh, no,” Joe says.

“Yes,” Scott says, looking up at him. “No turning back now.”

“Sir,” SFC Sulu Sr. says, turning toward Scott.  “It’s…it’s no good. The worst has happened. There’s no place to go. There’s nothing to do.  All the training, it…it doesn’t matter any more, Sir.”

Joe begins to back away from the guardrail. “Oh, shit. No, no…”

SFC Uhura Sr. begins yelling into her headphones, “Push more adrenaline! Adjust the heart rate, the breathing! There’s got to be…”

Jane looks at Joe. “What’s the matter, what’s…”

“No more, Uhura,” Mr. Scott yells. “No more. It’s too late.”

Joe drops to his knees. “Oh, God, not again, no, no…”

Jane yells down, “What the hell is going on? What…”

Scott snaps his fingers.

Jane suddenly sees a figure rushing out of the darkness, down at the back of the Transporter Room. It’s a soldier, a sergeant, a medic like herself. He runs directly up to the guardrail and looks up at Joe, who is still on his knees.

“Get back, soldier!” he shouts at Joe.  “There’s nothing you can do. Get back!”

Joe grabs his head and screams, “Top!”

And then disappears.

Before Jane can say anything, another figure rushes out of the back of the Transporter Room, this time toward her. It’s another soldier, a nurse. She too runs up to the guardrail, just below Jane.

“There nothing you can do, Jane!” she shouts. “He’s gone. There’s nothing you can do!”

Jane opens her mouth to speak, looks directly at Scott—and then freezes.

“Yes, Jane,” he says. “No turning back now.”

Scott turns to look at his soldiers, still motionless.

“You know what to do,” he tells them.

Without a word, all assembled in the Transporter Room back up, forming an open path into the darkness at the back of the Transporter Room.

Jane’s eyes follow the path back. At its end, at the back of the Transporter Room, stands a figure.

“Attention!” shouts First Sergeant (1SG) Spock Sr.

Slowly the figure steps forward, into the dim lights, until he is clearly visible to Jane.

It is Leonard McCoy. Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Leonard McCoy. Looking right at her. Smiling.

McCoy turns toward Mr. Scott.  “Thank you, sir,” he said. “I’ll take it from here.”

Looking toward the other soldiers, McCoy merely says, “At ease, folks.  The old man’s got it.”

He then looks back at Jane.  Still smiling.

Jane was not.

“Hey, Janie,” McCoy finally says.  “Long time no see, girl. Fancy meeting you here.”

Beam Me Home, Scotty!: 06, Battlemind

Complications continue.

At the sound of the alarm, First Sergeant Spock Sr. (1SG) yells, “Incoming!”

At that, the entire Transporter Room crew is in body armor and Kevlar helmets, rushing into action.

Mr. Scott activates an intercom.  “Bridge, this is Scott!  We’ve got an incoming alarm. Advise!”

Sergeant First Class (SFC) Chekhov Sr, apparently not filming the scene with the camera on his shoulder, begins leafing through his file cabinet. “It could be this,” he shouts, “or maybe this, or…”

SFC Uhura Sr. barks through her headphones, “Engine Room, alert the gut, the heart, the lungs. Get ready to move, and then…”

SFC Sulu Sr., muscles tensed, gets the body ready to take action.

And all the Emotions rush toward the sound, screaming at each other, some saying, “Grab it!” with others saying, “Get rid of it!”

“Stand down, everybody,” yells Mr. Scott.

All eyes turn toward him. Then a familiar voice comes over a loudspeaker.

“All OK, folks. Building security out there in our workplace is just testing the fire alarm system. No problem. We’re good. Back to work. Kirk, out.”

With that, all the crew visibly exhales, but none appears particularly calm.

“What, in God’s name,” asks Jane, “was that?”

“That, ma’am,” Scott says. “was a trigger.  That’s ‘Battlemind.’  Every combat veteran knows it well: after getting back home in your country, the sudden body rush you can feel when you drive below an overpass or see a garbage can along the side of the road. Or hear a sound like that one.”

“We get the first physical impressions of anything like that down here in the Transporter Room,” says 1SG Spock Sr., “and when we do, we move. It’s above our paygrade to figure out whether it’s ‘real’ or not. We take our cue from Chekhov Sr, and if it seems like something dangerous, our job is to prepare ourselves, no questions asked.”

“And did you see, ma’am,” says Scott, “that it took me a bit to get in touch with the Bridge? My job as the thalamus is to connect to the reasoning and evaluating parts of the brain to evaluate a stimulus like that, but that takes time. We’re soldiers down here, and if there’s a potential engagement, we all become infantry.  We act.”

“That’s why,” 1SG Spock Sr says, “combat vets like you and Joe will have immediate reactions to the smell of diesel, the sight of an overpass, the sound of an alarm. It’ll take a moment or so to come to your senses and realize what’s going on.”

“OK,” Jane says. “that I know.  Happened to me, especially when I got back. Still can happen at times, in fact, Fourth of July, the usual. If that were all I’m having to deal with, I’d make it work. But you know that’s not what is keeping me up most nights, making me hesitant to get too close to people. It’s much more specific, more real-feeling. Why does that keep happening? What happened to me in my brain? And how can that get better?”

Scott inhales deeply, then exhales slowly through his mouth.

“OK, ma’am,” he says.  “As you wish. That I can show you.”

Scott looks at 1SG Spock Sr.  “Ready?”

Spock Sr. slowly nods.

Scott then looks at SFC Sulu Sr. “You?”

Sulu Sr. swallows. “As ready as I’ll ever be, sir.”

Scott looks back up at Jane and then says. “All right. Here we go.”

He snaps his fingers. And the lights go out.

Beam Me Home, Scotty!: 05, Officer Candidate School

As author-editor Shawn Coyne of The Story Grid often opines, nothing kills a story like too much exposition. You want facts, go to an encyclopedia.  This is a story, for Heaven’s sake. Get on  with it.

You may have been muttering this to yourself. In this episode, you’ll see that you’re not alone.

“Pardon?” Jane asks. “Officer Candidate School?”

Scott smiles. “You think the Cortical Crew, with all its complicated language and processes, pops up from nowhere? Think about it: what are you except the sum of all you’ve seen, heard, experienced? Long before you were aware of anything you’ve learned, we’ve been hard at work down here.  Let me show you.”

With that, Scott snaps his fingers, and immediately columns of light form throughout the transformer platform, transforming into multiple balls of light bouncing around the Transporter Room like pinballs.

“Move!” shouts First Sergeant (1SG) Spock Sr.

Sergeant First Class (SFC) Chekhov Sr brings the camera to his shoulder and begins filming, while simultaneously leafing through the file cabinet at his side. SFC Uhura Sr begins relaying orders via her headphones. SFC Sulu Sr keeps his eyes on the lights, readjusting his position as they bounce to and fro.

The Emotions jump into the fray, corralling some balls of light, as they knock others into a void. As they guide the remaining balls together, a more coherent mass of light forms, its edges beginning to become discernible.

Then SFC Chekhov Sr shouts, “Got it!”, at which point Joe, up in the Mezzanine, shouts, “Hey, what’s that?”, pointing to the left.

Over to the side appears a one-way escalator, moving from the Transporter Room area to the Mezzanine.  And standing at the top, in full dress uniform, is a smiling Major (MAJ) Chekhov.

“Just because you all cannot come down here,” says Scott from down in the Transporter Room, “doesn’t mean that the opposite is true. Watch.”

And as Jane and Joe do, the light-form takes a humanoid shape and proceeds to ride the escalator to the top, at which point MAJ Chekhov points it toward a far door, and then both slowly fade away.

Joe and Jane turn back toward Mr. Scott.

“Day and night, awake and asleep, dreaming or not, we are always working,” he says.  “Processing information from outside the body and from inside it, forming the officers, the very bases of your memories, your experiences, your physical processes.”

He turns to his soldiers.  “At ease,” he says, at which point all assume a comfortable parade rest, and all, including Scott, look up at Jane and Joe.

“So,” he says. “That’s the full story of how we work to get PTSD better. It’s not just the Bridge and the Cortical Crew. It’s all of us, conscious and unconscious. We’re proud to serve.”  He clears his throat and takes a step back. “So, any questions?  Are we done?”

Jane’s eyes widen. “You serious? That’s all you have to tell me?”

Scott and his soldiers merely stand there, looking at them.

“Uh, Jane,” Joe mutters, “Say, why don’t we head back now, huh? I mean, we’ve got a basic idea of what we came for, and . . . ”

Jane looks right at him. “Joe, if you’ve had it with PTSD treatment because of your bad luck, that’s fine. But I’m here to figure out how PTSD can get better. I don’t even have a decent idea of how it forms!”

Scott clears his throat again.  “Well, ma’am, if that’s what you’re wanting, we can help. But we’ll have to show you. And if we have to show you, you’ll likely have to feel it.”

Jane looks down at him. “Trust me, I can handle it, Mr. Scott.  Let’s go.”

Scott nods and then snaps his fingers.

With that, a single column of light appears on the transporter platform. Immediately it transforms into a ball of light that flashes all around the room and then bursts open.

With it comes a sound. The sound of an alarm.

Beam Me Home, Scotty!: 04, The Transporter Room

Life’s complicated.  Ask the brain.

The middle part of any story—as Shawn Coyne calls it, the Middle Build—should put complication after complication in the path of the Hero to keep him/her from reaching the final goal (and to keep the reader turning the pages).

As you’ll see in this episode, the brain is more than willing to do its part in this endeavor.

So much so, with this episode I introduce in the Beam Me Home, Scotty! page  above a “Cast of Characters” page.  Should you ever forget who’s who and what’s what, you can check it out to remind yourself of all that has to be accounted for if we are to understand combat trauma—and even more, how to move forward from it.

So, on to complications.

Jane and Joe turn to see over the guardrail, down in the Transporter Room, none other than Mr. Scott.

Chief Warrant Officer (CW5)  Mr. Scott, that is.

“Surprised that I’m a CW5?” he asks.  “Come now! I’m just a techie, like most Army warrant officers. Started out enlisted, from the earliest days of the brain’s development, and worked my way through the ranks until now I’m the Officer in Charge (OIC) down here.  Welcome to the Transporter Room, and welcome to Command Central for all the first-line logistics and military intelligence in the brain.”

“And your job would be…?” asks Jane.

“I’m the thalamus,” he answers. “In some ways, I am the Transporter Room. Every sound, sight, sensation you receive, from outside your body or inside, transports here first. My job is to make sure that every sensation that ‘beams in’ gets processed and then moved on to where it needs to go. But I’d be nothing without my Senior Crew, senior, that is, in rank and in ‘age,’ in how long they have been functioning within the brain.”

At that, four other individuals appear, all non-commissioned officers (NCO’s). Once again they look very familiar—yet very, very not so.

“Wow,” says Joe.  “Talk about a time warp.”

Indeed, the senior NCO of the four—a much older Vulcan—stepped forward.

“Greetings,” he says. “I’m First Sergeant (1SG) Spock Sr. No biologic relation to my “son” up on the Bridge, but we serve similar functions. Like him, I keep track of things, but here it’s not of reason, but rather of emotions.  I am the amygdala, in charge of coordinating all the basic, wordless bodily impulses that push us toward something good or away from something bad.”

“And I,” says an older Russian stepping forward, a rolling file cabinet at his side, carrying, of all things, a movie camera, “am Sergeant First Class (SFC) Chekhov Sr. I am the hippocampus, the brain organ that is the deepest, oldest keeper of memory. I’m the one who must first identify sensations as either known or unknown. I’m the one who holds together all the most basic memories that make you ‘you.’”

“And I am SFC Uhura Sr.,” says the older woman who steps forward, pulling off her headphones. “Like my so-called ‘daughter’ up on the Bridge, I am the ‘communicator.’ But down here, rather than communicating with the world ‘out there,’ I communicate with the body ‘in here.’  I am the hypothalamus, who through chemical signals to the enlisted specialists and privates down in the Engine Room—the Brainstem—gets the body either to rev up or to settle down.”

“And I,” says the final older NCO, “am SFC Sulu Sr.  Like my so-called ‘son,’ I am about movement. But down here, I am about automatic, ‘muscle memory’ movement. I am the cerebellum and other structures that coordinate action that doesn’t need conscious reflection, action that simply does and responds.”

“But even then,” says Mr. Scott, coming back forward, “we couldn’t do our jobs without the help of my Junior Crew, the emotions. These aren’t complex feelings like envy or warmth. Those are officers up in the cortex. As 1SG Spock Sr said, these soldiers wordlessly identify which sensations should be approached and which should be avoided. Without them there is no thought, no reason. Without them, there is no life.”

At that, six other soldiers, of varying ranks, appear next to 1SG Spock Sr.

“As the amygdala,” Spock Sr. says, “I am actually a center for one of the most powerful basic emotions, FEAR.  But working with me are emotions like Staff Sergeant (SSG) RAGE, the attacker of what is to be avoided, as well as SSG LUST, the one who keeps the race procreated. Then next to them are Sergeant (SGT) SEEKING, the basic emotion that pushes us into the world; SGT PLAY, the basic emotion that pushes us to seek out our own kind, and then…”

“Well, what do you know ,” says Joe, leaning on the guardrail.  “There he is, kid. The cause of all our combat pain:  SSG RAGE.”  He turns to Jane. “So how many times, kid, have you screwed up your life with his…”

“Not so fast, sir,” says Mr. Scott.  “While it’s true that many of you combat veterans are more than acquainted with RAGE, don’t think that the sergeant is your problem. He’s just as important as the rest of my Junior Crew for getting the job done that makes you everything you are.”

“And just what job might that be?” Jane asks.

Mr. Scott smiles, looks at his subordinates, and then looks back up toward Jane and Joe.

“Glad you asked, ma’am. Welcome to the brain’s Officer Candidate School.”

Beam Me Home, Scotty!: 03, The Mezzanine

Three days in a row.  On a roll.

Technically, we are coming to the end of what Shawn Coyne calls the “Beginning Hook.”  In terms of Christopher Vogler’s Hero’s Journey, we’re “Crossing the First Threshold.”

Put simply, there’s no turning back now.

After this episode, GI Jane ignores the warnings of her new mentor (see below) and of her old Ally, GI Joe, and demands to move forward to learn how she can “escape from the Villain,” i.e., get better from PTSD.

Oh.  Yeah.  So PTSD must be the Villain, right?

Perhaps.

Before reading, however, beware:  no story is told from a neutral viewpoint.  Every narrator has a point to make. Note that the Officers—the Reasoning Ones, the Cognitive Ones— have tried to keep Jane on or near the Bridge, assuring her that they can get her where she needs to go. Jane hasn’t bought what they are selling. Neither has Joe (though, admittedly, he remains far less ready to see what else might be out there).

So just what else might be out there?

Let’s continue. 

At the bottom of the steps, Jane and Joe find themselves on a large mezzanine, overlooking a larger space on a floor below.  As they approach the mezzanine guardrail, they recognize the lower area immediately as the Transporter Room.

“Maybe we’ll meet Mr. Scott?”  Jane asks.

“Possibly,” comes a woman’s voice behind them.

Jane and Joe turn to find a surprise bigger than any they’d met so far: before them is not just any woman—but rather Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Deanna Troi.

She smiles. “Yes, I know. Wrong version of Star Trek. But remember: the brain will surprise you.  Remember my job on ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’?”

“You were an ’empath,’ right?” Joe says. “Like the ship’s shrink?”

“Correct,” she replies. “So think of me, of this area of the brain as the body’s ’empath.’  Below the cortex lies a layer of brain tissue with many different names and functions, but our basic job here is to maintain an eye, a ‘feel’ on what is going on in the body. I’m a ‘mezzanine,’ with a full view of the floor, of the brain structures below, but I’m not like those structures.  I’m closer to the Bridge and the Cortical Crew in rank and function. Yet if you want to know about what really goes on in the brain, from this vantage point you can gather whatever information you need, from looking right down there.”

“So why not go down there ourselves?”  Jane asks.

LTC Troi shakes her head.  “Doesn’t work that way. Regulations against fraternizing: here on the mezzanine, as well as in the cortex, while our jobs are basically unconscious, in some ways we can become more conscious, more available to the conscious Bridge. But down there, in that Transporter Room and beyond? That’s an unconscious that can never be fully known by the conscious mind.”

“That’s where my combat experiences are, right?” Jane asks.

“In great part,” Troi answers.

“So that’s what we’ve got to learn about, down there, right?”

Troi looks at Joe.

“What?” Jane asks.

“Kid,” he says.  “You know I don’t get into psychobabble. But I have spent too much time with so-called therapists, and I can tell you:  what’s down there, you really don’t want know about.”

“And even if you do,” Troi says. “You must realize: everything you learn from here on can’t be unlearned. The brain doesn’t play games. Or necessarily follow orders.”

“I was a soldier,” Jane tells them both. “I want to know if PTSD can ever  get better. When I start a mission, I complete a mission. No matter where it takes me.”

“Well then, ma’am” comes a familiar Scottish brogue behind them, though at a distance.  “You’ve come to the right place.”

Beam Me Home, Scotty!: 02, The Bridge

We’ll keep plugging along.

For the Hero’s Journey, after our Hero receives “the call,” there is usually a second thought or two.   Christopher Vogel (and the late, great Joseph Campbell) calls this “The Refusal of the Call.”

Yet the second thoughts need not be expressed directly by our ever-brave Hero.  Just like in the old cartoons where the steer-skull in the desert warns the hapless Popeye or Bugs Bunny, “You’ll be sooooo-rry,” the archetypes known as The Threshold Guardians take over the reluctance function.

Joe and Jane turn to look at each other. I’m nowhere to be found.

But instead of being on a plane, they find themselves on a very familiar bridge of a very familiar ship.

A familiar voice then speaks behind them, “Welcome, soldiers.”

They turn, and before them is a man both familiar, yet quite unfamiliar. For standing there in the combat uniform, the ACUs, of the United States Army, is Colonel (COL) James T. Kirk.

“I know,” he smiles.  “Always shocks everybody.  Welcome to the USS Enterprise, and welcome to the brain. You see, here in the brain, you get both what you might expect and what you never would expect.  Think of us as a Joint Operation Command around here, and for your tour of duty at least, you’re working with the Army. And welcome to the Bridge, the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain behind your forehead, the center of all your conscious activity. As the senior officers in charge, I and my team are more than glad to welcome you to our Command.”

At that, four other individuals appear around him, again looking quite familiar except for the green uniforms they sport. Each smiles as well, and in turn they introduce themselves.

“I’m Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Spock,” says the Vulcan.  “As second-in-command, I am the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the logic center of your brain, the part that tries to make sure we do what makes sense.”

“And I’m Major (MAJ) Uhura,” says the women seated at the console. “As in the Star Trek series, I’m the communications officer. In your brain, I’m the orbitofrontal cortex, the part that picks up on the subtle communications of others, that gives us our feel for the people around us, how to respond to them.”

“And I,”  says the Russian seated before them, “am MAJ Chekhov, the ship’s navigator. In the brain, I am the sum of all the conscious memory processes throughout all the brain, pulling together all the various types of memory so that we can decide what to do, how to feel.”

“And I,” says the man seated next to him, “am MAJ Sulu, the ship’s pilot, the premotor cortex. Strictly speaking I’m in a different part of the brain, back a bit from the Bridge, but I am who makes the conscious decisions to move our arms, our legs, to take action once we all decide what to do.”

“And I?” says the Colonel. “I am what I guess you could call “The Decider,” not so much a particular part of the brain, but rather the sum total of all its functioning.  I’m you, your conscious sense of Self. And as I said, we’re here to serve and to answer your questions.”

“It’s just you guys?”  Jane asks.

“Oh, no,” says LTC Spock, pressing a button before him. “Look behind you.”

When they do, the screen that usually displays what is outside the Enterprise lights up with multi-camera views of soldiers throughout the ship, carrying out their duties, seemingly without a hitch.

“That’s our Cortical Crew,” Spock says. “The cortex, the brain’s outer part. They are the nerve centers and pathways, all officers, who make sense of our perceptions, form our language, create complex feelings, all serving as the “military intelligence” we need to decide and act. Their work is automatic, unconscious, the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) of the brain that we learn through the years, that become the basis for what makes us “us.”

“So, you see, Jane,” Kirk says, “there are plenty of us officers available to answer your question:  “Can PTSD ever get better?”

Jane raises an eyebrow. “You know, Colonel, I’ve already learned much of this from my nursing training. None of these conscious processes has ever been that helpful with my combat experiences. No one else has answers?”

Joe clears his throat. “You know, kid, I’ve done this therapy stuff before, and as crazy as this sounds, this place is looking a little too familiar for comfort. I’m not sure either one of us wants to know the answer to that question.”

Now Kirk raises an eyebrow. “Well, yes, there’s plenty more to the brain than the cortex. See that staircase over there? If you walk down it, you’ll see more the ship has to offer.  Joe’s right, though: you might not like what you find.”

Jane frowned. “I’ll take my chances.”

She headed down the stairs. Reluctantly, Joe followed.

Beam Me Home, Scotty!: 01, Introduction

I promised myself I’d keep going, so here we are, the first segment of the presentation,  Beam Me Home, Scotty!:  How Star Trek Can Help Us Make Sense of the Brain, PTSD & Combat Trauma.

Yes, it’s hard to stay brief.  But I’ll struggle on.

In the Hero’s Journey, the first two stages are The Ordinary World and The Call to Adventure.  Here they are, all “four minutes” or so of them.

Keep me honest, folks.

So, why should we put Star Trek and combat trauma/PTSD together?

The brain itself tells a story, you know. Every morning, our bodies get up, face the obstacles of the day, and the brain—the organ in charge of our survival in this world,—asks us, our heart, our lungs, our muscles: So, my friend, will our hero make it today, or not? Now that’s a story’s end each of us wants to know.

So why shouldn’t we tell such a story with more familiar characters whose mission—to go boldly forward into life—is one that each of us would like to participate in?

Imagine, if you will, that you are now watching me lean onto a guardrail, looking out over Boston Harbor, over at Logan International Airport, the planes landing, taking off.

Now watch that scene change, as you see me making my way down the aisle of an airplane, the attendant’s voice overhead announcing the full, “red-eye”, overnight flight from Los Angeles to Boston.  See me come upon the open middle seat, between a woman in her late thirties and a man not much older than I—acquaintances, clearly. Notice how they welcome me into their midst. Catch how I put my shoulder bag under the seat in front of me. See upon that bag the familiar logo, the initials “VA.”  As you do, hear that someone else has noticed those initials as well.

“Oh, Lord, don’t let Joe see that!” the woman sitting at the window whispers, a smile tempering the warning.

“Too late,” the man on the aisle says, with a tempered smile as well. “That’s all right, sir. I’ll let you off easy—this time.”

As we prepare to taxi down the runway, I do tell them that yes, I have worked for the VA before. I’m a psychiatrist, heading to Boston for a training about combat-related PTSD.

It turns out that they are both combat veterans, former United States Army:  the woman, Jane, a former 68 Whiskey (68W), a combat medic, two fourteen-month tours in Iraq early in the conflict, now an advanced practice nursing student in Atlanta—”sorry, Doc, not psych; critical care, probably, definitely not peds.”

The man, Joe, a former 35 Papa (35P), a Vietnamese language specialist who in an extended tour of duty during the Tet offensive found out that being picked out by the First Sergeant because you’re the best at what you do means that maybe you won’t in fact be sitting next to a radio all day translating messages, as they told you at Defense Language Institute; who, as a result, has been no stranger to VA mental health. He’s now a part-time English instructor at various community colleges in central Ohio because, well, you can periodically lose your cool and piss people off, and the Department Chair will still take you back. After all, “who else can you get to teach Composition 101 and actually read the crap those kids write?”

“We’re actually both advocates for veterans health care,” Jane says, “heading off to a planning meeting in Boston about mental health services. Joe’s not exactly a fan of VA’s psychiatric services, I have to tell you, but me?  I’ve never been one much to talk to anybody about Iraq. Yet even with all my own training, I’ve always wondered: can PTSD ever get better?”

I smile.  “Of course.”

Joe, still pleasant enough, yet clearly skeptical, rolls his eyes. “Well, that’s news to me, good sir. And just how do you make that happen?”

“Well, glad to tell you—but you’ll have to use your imagination.”

Jane laughs.  “Like the kids shows on PBS?  Hey, I’m game.”

Joe rolls his eyes even further.  “Sure, I’ll do it just to prove to you both how wrong our good doctor is.”

“OK, then,” I say. “Let’s just sit back, close our eyes, take a few deep breaths, and see what happens.”

So we do.

And the scene changes.

Back to Work

Well, finally made it to northern Indiana.  All of us appear to be in one piece, even the cat and the chinchilla.  After a move, one finds solace in whatever one can.

Lots of thoughts along the way, especially given that my two younger children, ages twenty-one and eighteen, both enjoyed long periods of iPhone listening on the way from Nashville to South Bend.  Currently my goal is to get the presentation down to one hour; the original presentation at Fort Campbell was just over that.

Interesting, the differences between storytelling as a verbal art form and as a written art form, especially since Beam Me Home, Scotty! is not your usual “story.”  I’d had some excerpts to share, or so I’d thought before the move.  Now I’ve got work to do.

As all who have followed me over time know, brevity has ne’er been my strong suit. There are times for more words, times for fewer. “One hour” is certainly going to fit into the latter category.

I’d thought of looking at archetypes, but I believe it will be better if I simply get to work making excerpts.  Let’s see what the coming days bring.

At least they will not be bringing endless trips to Lowe’s for moving supplies. “Brevity” will be more than an acceptable price to pay for that relief.

Author’s Interlude

Busy weekend of packing  (I know, you wish you were here), but sipping the AM venti soy latte (a triple today, for obvious reasons), and sharing some thoughts from a Starbucks porch, listening to (what I think, believe it or not, is) Dolly Parton.  Well, no, now it’s a jazz trombone.  Probably a whole blog post just right there in that transition.

This past Thursday I was given the honor of presenting the current “version” of Beam Me Home, Scotty!: How Star Trek Can Help Us Make Sense of the Brain, PTSD & Combat Trauma to a group of my fellow providers, both active-duty and civilian, at the monthly Grand Rounds for the Department of Behavioral Health at my for-the-next-couple-weeks current employer, Blanchfield Army Community Hospital at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. (And here’s the required disclaimer: no, that doesn’t constitute any endorsement by the United States Department of the Army. It does constitute that  the Grand Rounds organizer was delighted that she had finally found someone willing to fill in the hour in the middle of a hot July that everyone else had managed to finagle the annual leave (wisely) to escape.)

I viewed it as an opportunity, two actually.  One, I figured it would force me to get the current draft more solidly in my head, even if it were not yet in print.

More importantly, though,  I hoped it would help me see if the story so far, as Shawn Coyne puts it, “works.”  In fact, early in his book, The Story Grid, he recommends his starry-eyed pre-authors take the audacious step of actually sitting down with a couple of people before one gets oneself too enamored with a project and then, over a cup of coffee (ideally paid-for by said author), actually speaking the story. He readily assures his readers: quite soon you’ll know if the story works.

Probably the more coffee that is drunk, the worse the story. One has to do something, after all, with all that time anticipating the dreaded question: so, what do you think?

My results?

Opportunity One:  Success

Opportunity Two?  Well, it appears at least for quite a few people:  Success as well.

(Although given the strictly-enforced prohibition against drinks in the hall, I should not over-interpret the anecdotal data when empirical data was lacking.)

Still, I was relieved, and quite grateful for the feedback that I received.  So grateful, in fact, I had to go back to basics.

In other words, what “worked”?  The Story?  Or The Story-As-Presented?

The world of therapists, medical and non, is the world of introverts. As some of you who have followed the blog for a while know, I’m certainly among the former. However, as some of you who have followed the blog for a while know, when push comes to shove, I can play a pretty darn respectable extrovert on TV, if so needed.

Perhaps that is why I was attracted to a televised adventure series for a metaphor?  Perhaps.

People asked me whether I’d ever studied acting. I had to smile. There are plenty of reasons, after all, to become good at acting. Julliard and the Actors Studio ain’t the only ones.

Yet my colleagues’ question got me thinking:

Let’s go back to Shawn’s most basic question, the one I’ve been exploring recently:  What is the Genre?  And to do so, let’s go back to his basic of basics, Genre’s Five-Leaf Clover.  Borrowing from the work of story structure’s modern paterfamilias, Robert McKee, and the latter’s colleague, Bassim El-Wakil, Shawn asks the five questions every author must ultimately answer:

  1. How long will the story will last?

  2. How far will we need to suspend our disbelief?

  3. What will be the style, the particular experience of the story?

  4. How will the story be structured?

  5. What will the general content of the story be?

Notice #3.  Think “packaging.”   Literary?  Theatrical?  Cinematic?   Musical?

Time to rethink this.  (Don’t worry:  not musically. Although, true confession:  there’ll be a few folks who’ve known me “since back then” who’ll even now be wondering whether I’ll be able to hold to that promise. We were all wild and crazy in our younger years, after all. Enough said.)

As I’ve written before, ultimately this story cannot be a book, short or long; dramatic, comedic, or literary.  There has always been a practical reason.  Even more, though, there has always been a more nagging, ethical-interpersonal one lurking behind the scenes.  Time to make both clear.

The practical one remains:  I have no rights to make one red cent from the project. CBS owns those rights, and CBS has not granted me them. Their rights, their rules. I cannot even publish an e-book on something like Amazon’s Kindle: they’re a business as well, and they don’t do free books. Can’t say I blame either one. Business is business.

This is an educational, public-service project, plain and simple.  Notice, CBS:  educational, public service.  Seriously.

The ethical-interpersonal one, though, has always been the more challenging for me. I can assure you that I’ve yet to meet a combat veteran who, once s/he has come to know me, would have begrudged my making money off the project.  After all, that is exactly what I do every day: I am paid, at various times by sources private and public, to serve combat veterans as they try to pave their roads back home.

But I can assure you: every combat veteran who first enters my office has a question at least somewhere in his or her mind, whether at the forefront or in the back nether-regions: Are you another one just doing this for the paycheck?

Is it ever going to be just about me?

Never forget: at least in the United States—and I suspect in Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand as well, throughout the whole world, in fact—combat veterans are used to being “thanked” profusely for their “brave and special” service and then given a number and asked to take a seat along with everybody else.

Life (and creative projects) is/are problematic enough. Let’s take unnecessary ones off the table, shall we?

Education, public service.

So with that freedom in mind, what if it were that, indeed, the story “worked”as much for its medium as for its message?

Well, why don’t I get more data and see?

So here’s the deal: as I continue to put this “Big Idea nonfiction story” together, why don’t I, at least for a while, put it forward  in sound and work on it with you all in that medium?   I guess, in an odd way, I’m going to put on a “one-man show,” although not in the usual sense (or at least I hope so).  One-person shows, after all, usually tell a story about the narrator. I hope instead to tell a story about those whom the narrator has seen and heard—and the brain that those far smarter than the narrator have “seen” for him.

A few people have said that “the show” has worked so far. So now, you be the judge.

As a result, let’s hold off about Villains (what I’d previously promised as this post’s topic), for there will be several points in the “performance” in which that discussion will make more sense. Instead, to buy me some time (packing, remember?), let’s talk a bit about characters. And archetypes.

See you next time.

 

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