|I remembered my grandmother’s stories of the Depression, how she dug up her lawn and planted a garden, canned the harvest, and fed her family each winter.I made a plan: I would spend one week a month working on the novel, the rest of the time on the proposal for my brother’s biography. If something hadn’t broken by 2009, I would turn over my garden, build a fence to keep out the rabbits, fox, deer, and ground hogs. Raise chickens. Shoot a deer. Things were so serious in economically-stressed Michigan there were new courses at the Rec and Ed Center on how to butcher animals. I’d buy a freezer. I already knew how to can and preserve. After all, people had done that for all millennia. That’s plan B.So I travelled to my brother’s mountaintop in New Mexico and spent a week interviewing him. His story was more intriguing than I had known.But even then, my characters for The Christmas Cookie Club took on voices and lives of their own, threatening to spill out from their one week a month cage.By November my brother and I had an appointment with Peter Miller, a literary and film agent with a reputation for being a deal maker. He insisted on seeing a five-year plan for my writing and I confessed to a number of unsold novels, and the started Christmas Cookie Club. The Friday after Thanksgiving, dressed in New York City cool we met Peter who informed my brother he’d have to hype his celebrity outside his field.
My brother couldn’t imagine anything he’d hate more.
Peter turned to me and said The Christmas Cookie Club was a very viable possibility. How much did I have completed and could he see it? I told him that it would take another six months. As it was only half way done, a first draft of about 40,000 words. He shrugged. “Too bad.”
I figured, what the hell, edited up the pages I had and sent it to him. He told me I had the start of an iconic novel about Christmas and friendships and it would sell millions of copies. I could sell it in January and it could be out in time for the next Christmas.
By then you could see the signs in the stock market. The economy was crashing and Bush was desperately trying to rescue something. Anything. Wall Street, the banks and the mortgage companies had spun out of control and caught us all in their vortex. One last chance before plan B was activated.
From Thanksgiving on, I wrote every day, 60 hours a week. There were no weekends. On Christmas morning, which is also my birthday, I wrote the acknowledgements, so grateful for my life and so full of the possibilities for my novel tears of joy, fear and exhilaration flooded my cheeks. On New Years Day, I started the final rewrites. I sent it to Peter on January 12.
By January 23, three editors were bidding for the book. The auction was stomach clenching, thrilling, unbelievable. I was in a dream, but with a pounding heart, so I knew it was real. Or maybe not. Maybe it would all vanish as quickly as it occurred. Like a tornado leaving the rubbish of disappointment. But Peter’s voice, pitched with excitement and anxiety as he juggled the politics, literary protocol, the hopes and then ire of the editors, made it real.
A few days later a three-book deal was sealed, and the contracts were flooding in from foreign publishers. One daughter said, “This is the phone call you’ve waited for… for twenty years. Do you realize how weird your life is?”
My son said, “I always knew this was going to happen, Mom. It was just a question of time.” And then said. “Your life is a roller coaster.” He paused, “My life is nice and calm. The kids and I are watching Willy Wonka and cuddling.” I still don’t know if he was relieved or jealous. Or if I was relieved or jealous.
My other daughter said, “This might be one of those be careful what you wish for situations. Your life has just changed.”
I laughed as I tied the drawstring on my garbage bag and placed it in the garage to be driven up the gravel road to the dumpster. Exactly what I had done a decade before after being on the Oprah show and receiving similar forecasts. For decades I had shuffled my writing between my children and my patients. But I kept going.
I had hit my lottery. It’s never too late to make your dreams come true.
Yet there I was with my garbage bag. There I was planning to do my nails that night. There I was figuring out how to go through my house and declutter it, and planning to hit the gym and swim 50 or so laps. All the usual tasks that are so much my life from day to day.
But my friends, my family still struggled. All around me were signs of the continued collapse: stores with fewer goods on shelves, and closed stores. More people – including entire families– with signs asking for help stood by the exit ramps. Fear and confusion escalated. What happened? We were doing okay, weren’t we? Our houses and our retirements increasing in value?
Then, foreclosures skyrocketed, the stock market jerked slowly upward and precipitously plummeted. As a nation we were suffering.
When I was with friends, we fantasized about winning the lottery. Being graced with a huge stroke of luck would vanish all worries. What a glorious thing! All our worries would be gone! We could buy what we wanted! We could take a vacation. Go on a cruise. Open a cupcake store. Winning the lottery, not even the big one but an extra $50,000, would solve the paying the bills problem, the house underwater problem, the kid’s college tuition problem, the health cost problem, the no pay check problem.
The lottery has become our chance for a way out. We are a classed society. And because of the myth that we’re not, we blame ourselves for our situation. We watch the barrage of rich celebrities whose problems are solved in half hour segments and glamorized by the plethora of flashy, fancy, expensive consumer goods, convince us that maybe love doesn’t solve everything, but enough money does. In a materialistic society, our quest for goods is fuel for the economy; we’re judged and judge ourselves partly by money, by class, by how well we succeed at keeping up with the Joneses or the Kardashians.
I decided to write a sequel to the Christmas Cookie Club with the friendship group playing the lottery together and examine how being rich changed their lives, influenced their friendships, and escalated conflict between the old friends since only half decide to play.
The idea of being born under a lucky star persists. It’s what we think when our peer, our sibling suddenly jumps ahead: how’d she get so lucky? Why not me? We try to make lady luck come to us by magic: don’t walk under a ladder, don’t break a mirror, cross your fingers, wear your lucky bracelet or blouse to get that job, use potion number nine. Play the lottery with special numbers (your birthdates, the numbers you dream, the number pocket dialed on your cell phone) to win big.
More often we make our own luck by hard work, but the rewards of hard work are escalated by serendipity.
No question, having money makes things easier and diminishes worry. It’s wonderful to easily pay your bills. It provides a safety net in a culture that is careless of its people. It allows you to manipulate the system, get the help—physical or psychological—that you need.