Wednesday, July 7, 2010


When I got to the yoga studio yesterday, I was surprised to see that iron security "fences" had been installed on the windows and door of the nearby quilt shop.

There had been four burglaries since the first of the year, ten quilts stolen in all.


Okay. Apparently, one was worthy $2,500. But, still.

Here is the moral dilemma of the writer: Instead of being appalled that anybody would steal...anything, the writer becomes obsessed wondering who in the world would break into a quilt store four times and steal ten quilts--and why?

We considered this before class. Nobody came up with anything that made much sense. One person did suggest that they might put those little chips in them so they could be traced.

"What if they traced it to a nursing home and some old person was all wrapped up in it," someone observed. "What would you do then?"

And therein lies one of probably a gazillion stories you might write, starting with this weird little incident. What if...

Years ago, in the eighties, when Laura Ashley dresses were all the rage, I happened to be in London during the store's big July sale. Prices were astonishingly low, and I got into major frenzy--grabbing dresses, trying them on, keeping some, abandoning others, getting more to try. When, finally, I had decided which ones I wanted and went to the check-out to pay for them, I went to take the smaller purse (with money, credit cards, and passport in it) out of my big shoulder bag, but it wasn't there.

All I could figure was that someone had reached under the dressing room partition and taken it from my (stupidly) open bag, which I had set on the floor while I tried on the dresses.

Which meant the thief had to be a woman. Plus, it was an upscale store in an upscale neighborhood, there was a security cop keeping an eye on things. Which meant she had to look enough like the other women in the store to escape notice.

It got weirder.

It was too late to go to the embassy to see about replacing the passport, but when I called the next morning, prepared for a major ordeal, I was informed that the purse, with passport, had been turned in at the Victoria Station Lost & Found. I could pick it up any time.

Predictably, the cash (about $300 in sterling, francs and guilders) and travelers' checks were gone. But the passport was there, so was my credit card. When I travel, I always make a little index card with money conversions on it for handy reference. The index card was still in the purse, torn in half by the thief and put back in its place--as if to say, Ha! You won't be needing this anymore.

This detail thrilled me. It seemed worth the lost cash and the hassle. I knew I would get a story out of it--and, in time, I did.

I wonder where people who aren't writers put the things in their lives that make them angry or dispirited or sad. Or happy, for that matter? All that build-up of emotion. Where can it go? How do they make sense of it?

Those quilts. Was the thief a kind of Robin Hood, stealing the beautiful quilts to keep frail elderly people warm? A pissed-off kid, maybe belonging to the middle-aged lady who own the store? The lady herself, collecting insurance to pay bills for a sinking business? A jealous customer who botched the quilts she tried to make herself? A quilt dealer who...

Like I said, there are a gazillion possibilities.

Pick one. Begin.