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  • Jan Flynn

I Answer a Writing Prompt

And learn I might be the world’s oldest spoiled brat

Image by photosforyou from Pixabay

I rarely respond to writing prompts, which is silly

Maybe it’s because I spent years posting prompts on the whiteboard, trying to transform my students into willing writers when I taught middle-school English.

Maybe it’s my perverse Puritan work ethic thing. I mean, writing prompts are terrific — for everybody else. When I do them I feel a little, I don’t know, smarmy? Like I’m cheating?

More probably, it’s my pointy little ego. I’ve got lots of stuff to write about! I’ll summon my Muse all by myself, thank you very much.

You don’t got to show me no stinkin’ prompts.

That attitude is just as dumb as it sounds. As with so much else in life, in writing, I am often my own problem. I am ready to break through the egoic crust.

Luckily, there is the talented and witty Karen Schwartz

In addition to her many fine stories on Medium and Substack, Karen Schwartz offers a series of prompts she calls her This or That challenges, or ToTs. Each one proposes to uncover something specific about the writer: your level of personal development, for example, or how tolerant you are.

The rules are simple, not easy. You get two choices in each question, and you have to pick one — the one that describes you most closely.

The honest answer, that is. No fair hedging with “both” or “neither.”

When I came across this one, I thought: perfect.

So here goes.

  1. You’ve won $100,000. Are you saving it or spending it?

I’m spending it, and here’s why. With that kind of dough, I can have experiences that — at my age — are better than money in the bank. I can take my whole family on one of those luxury small-boat cruises, or better yet, to one of the de luxe dude ranches in Montana or Wyoming where everyone can participate in my cowgirl fantasies. In total comfort. And with the perfect wardrobe.

Trust me, I can blow through that hundred large in fine style. Interest rates go up and down, but nobody can take those memories from me, as long as I’ve still got my marbles.

2. Are you more likely to go camping in the Colorado mountains (glamping if your physical body requires it) or stay at the Ritz Paris in France?

Really, I have to choose? Okay, I agreed to play by the rules. I loves me some Paris, but my adult kids live in Colorado and spending some time with them in the glorious Rockies would be, well, glorious. As long as it’s definitely glamping.

3. Do you prefer an “All-You-Can-Eat Entrée” Buffet or an “All-You-Can-Eat Dessert” bar?

Dessert bar. Entrée buffets are too much like school cafeteria lunch lines, minus the grumpy ladies in hairnets (usually). There is only so much glutinous mac ‘n cheese a body can withstand, and even the fanciest buffet never fails to offer at least one steam table full of something unidentifiable swimming in evil-looking liquid.

Desserts are harder to ruin. They withstand fluorescent lighting better. Even when they’re not great, they’re at least sweet, and they’re nearly always something you wouldn’t bother to make at home. And if there’s one of those ridiculous fountains of molten chocolate? A guaranteed good time.

4. Would you rather be a pampered poodle in a two-story condo or a wild horse galloping in an open field?

I don’t enjoy being stuck inside, I’m certain I don’t like canned meat and I doubt I’d like kibble. If I were a poodle I’m sure I wouldn’t be the objectionable, bug-eyed kind that yaps and snarls, but I’d probably have to encounter that type while Mumsy and I take the elevator to the ground floor so I can poop on the sidewalk, which doesn’t sound appealing either.

So gimme land, lots of land, under starry skies above, and turn this cayuse loose. I pick horse, hooves down.

5. If you could choose only one, would you choose fine dining with your favorite author or to volunteer at your local soup kitchen?

Oooh, so tricky. I know what I SHOULD want. But screw that. I am not turning down a chance to dine at the French Laundry with Neil Gaiman.

6. If a genie granted you one wish and only one wish, would you use it for yourself or a loved one? What would it be?

Cruel! Any genie worth their wish-granting dust would insist I can only make a wish for myself. But since I’m a fan of genie legends and have written a genie story myself, I know how devious they can be.

I can’t think of a wish I’d make for myself that a genie couldn’t twist. Long life? I could end up as a bristlecone pine tree on some forlorn mountain. Wealth? I might have to trade places with Elon Musk, which neither I nor my husband would enjoy. Power? See: Elon Musk.

So, I’m going with a wish for a loved one. I have a beloved older sister with a rare, terminal, utterly debilitating, and godawful neurological disease. Please fix that, genie. And no funny stuff.

7. Do you prefer giving or receiving massages?

Receiving. Duh. I sure don’t pay to give massages.

8. Would you rather earn $20 million by inventing something or earn $1.1 million by winning a Nobel Peace Prize?

This seems too easy. I’m no math whiz, but I’m clear on $20 million being better than $1.1 million. Also, if I were to win the Nobel Peace Prize I’d have to do something arduous to earn it; it’s not like they hand that out just for being polite when I call my Congressman. And who says I can’t invent something that promotes world peace? An Acme Everybody-Calm-The-F-Down Ray Gun?

I’ll take the $20M, thanks.

9. Would you like to receive a free lifelong supply of Gourmet ice cream or free rolls of toilet paper?

Is there a trick here? If I choose the ice cream does that mean I could run out of toilet paper?

Not as long as there’s Costco, which I’m betting will outlive me. Ice cream costs more, and I never get excited about toilet paper.

So, ice cream. You may rotate my three favorite flavors: coffee, salted caramel, and strawberry-balsamic. Thank you.

10. And an easy one: would you rather be healthy or wealthy? You can’t have both.

Anyone older than ten knows this one: healthy. I may have given up my genie wish, but no amount of money could make me want to trade places with my ailing sister.

So what have we learned? Am I indulgent?

As I prop my $1700 Tony Lama boots up on the railing of my glamping cabin after a long day in the hand-tooled saddle of a perfectly trained Tennessee Walking Horse, and raise a glass to my happy loved ones — including my miraculously revived sister — while I regale them with Neil Gaiman’s witticisms from the time he and I dined at the French Laundry, and we all gaze out at the lowering sun glinting off the peaks of the Rockies, knowing that after a sumptuous dinner in the dude ranch’s elegant cookhouse there will be a flight of my three favorite ice cream flavors (flown in specially from my personal supply), I will graciously smile as everyone insists on toasting my spectacular health with a chilled flute of Veuve Cliquot.

Did I forget to mention the Veuve Cliquot?

You bet your Tony Lamas I’m self-indulgent. And damn proud of it.

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