Brando Skyhorse cancelled last night's workshop session because, according to an email, "I've been sick for the past several days." Let's all pause and send healing energy. Sounds a bit lame, but I can't remember the last time I regretted a cancelled class.
Two weeks ago, our class assignment was to write five, 100-word stories, or a ("a" or "an"?) 100-word beginning to five stories from five different periods in our life (each period had to be at least three years apart), and to be prepared to use them for a writing exercise. Last week, we learned the writing exercise was about "compression." "One of the biggest challenges in writing memoir," said Brando, "is compressing stories down to their bone meaning." We were given ten minutes to write a one-page story based on our five 100-word stories. My stories were about:
- The impact of my sister, Karen's, death
- Lunch with my parents at Sam's Club
- The one and only time I gambled in Las Vegas
- A former partner's suicide attempt
- How QVC saved my life
GO -- ten minutes:
"I know that compared to the rest of the word, our problems are a drop in the bucket," said my mother, "but by God, these are our problems and this is our bucket."
We were in the parking lot of Sam's Club. It was Wednesday -- free lunch-time sample day for seniors, and seniors were permitted to bring one guest. I was the guest. One month earlier, my sister, Karen, had died from complications of multiple sclerosis. No member of her immediate family had been with her the moment she died, perhaps only Marcia, her healthcare worker. Karen had hated hospitals as much as my mother and died ostensibly alone, curled into herself.
The last time I had been in the hospital was six years earlier when my partner at the time attempted suicide, slashing her wrists, swallowing a full prescription bottle of klonopin, and chasing it all down with a dozen cans of Bud Light. The night after, sitting across the table from her in the psychiatric ward, I asked her why she did it. She replied, "Because you give me so much grief. Didn't your mother always tell you that you had the Midas touch except everything you touch turns to destruction?"
Not everything. Three years later, I would be in Las Vegas with an extra $100, determined to gamble, but not knowing a damn thing about black jack or hearts or roulette or whatever. I walked the Parisian Hotel casino floors and concluded that roulette looked the most easy -- black, white, red and corners. I watched. I studied. I traded my $100 for ten $10 chips. I played corners haphazardly, picking numbers associated with my debit card pin number. The dealer handed me chips that weren't the same color as my $10 chips. I stuck them in my pocket. A waitress in an emerald-green mini-skirt began serving me shots of B&B and wouldn't let me pay for them. I heard, "She's hot," and noticed the crowd around the table. I kept playing the number seven -- the number of people in my blood family. The dealer continued to hand me chips. A tourist in a proverbial cowboy hat said, "I'm playing her corners, too," and spread out seven $100-dollar bills on the table. Then I heard, "Uh-oh, she's gone cold," and I backed away from the table. I gave one of my chips to the dealer and another to the waitress. I was directed to a window that looked like a bank window Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid would jump through to rob the safe. I cashed in. I won $650. Not everything turns to destruction. Some drops are worth the gamble. Some drops are worth something.
[And I have no idea in hell how to tie in QVC except I know that Rachel Ray's insulated lunch bag in purple paisley is only $19.98 or two easy payments of $9.99, shipping and handling included and that price will go away at midnight. I probably would have appreciated having one during that lunch at Sam's Club.]