Friday, February 11, 2011

Getting High in Vegas

By Rebecca Forster


Oh, puhleeessssee. You were expecting a torrid tale of my exploits in Sin City? If you were, the best I can do is confess to losing twenty smackers at the roulette table. For me, that’s the slippery slope to ruin which just shows what kind of risk taker I am.

No, I’m talking about really getting high in Vegas; like 23 stories high above the Strip.  

Instead of looking up at the crazy, cacophony of a skyline and fighting crowds of gamblers, kids and hot babes on the ground, I spent three days in The Mandarin Oriental where the lobby on the 23rd floor. The place is as unique to the Vegas Strip as a showgirl sans make-up because it has no casino. There are yoga DVDs in the bureau, water bottles are left at turn down instead of chocolates and strains of Asian inspired music float through every elegant nook and cranny of the place. Here in The Mandarin Oriental (in Vegas of all places) there was heavenly calm.

The elevator doors opened onto a lobby glowing pink and blue and white as the huge windows filtered the frenetic neon that blankets the Strip below. An art wall of golden, bulbous bullets seemed to undulate to silver and copper depending on where I stood.  A choir sang classic Christmas classic in a nod to the season. I was a cloud walker; a Stratos dweller. * This was Zen. This was cool. This place was removed from the action, above the fray, a respite in an otherwise bizarre world of sight and sound. Standing in that lobby, I had an epiphany about writing.

I could not write about THE BIG PICTURE, THE AWESOME PLACE, THE APOCALYPTIC LANDSCAPE if I was down in the roil and boil of it.  What I needed to do was focus on the impression of the big picture, to write the far-reaching novel through the point of view of individuals; characters who would be affected by, and react to, the monstrous setting I had chosen to make their background.

I had a myriad of character choices. On the streets below were kids celebrating 21st birthdays and drinking themselves into oblivion, newlyweds on a honeymoon or tying the knot with the blessing of Elvis’s reincarnation. There were middle aged couples reliving the music of their youth or hoping to recoup their fortunes at the gaming table. There were homeless people and hucksters and men looking for love and fortune and women doing exactly the same thing. Each one of them represented a unique point of view. From that point of view I could write a million stories but I could not write one story about the place, Las Vegas. My imagination kicked into high gear only because my perspective changed.

Too often writers try to impress readers with the broad strokes of their brush when, in reality, success comes from the fine flourishes. Story is the key to an interesting read and story revolves around an individual in a place, not a place surrounding an individual.  What would we make, after all, of Gone with the Wind if the Civil War were not seen through Scarlett’s eyes or World War II if we had not experienced it through the personal struggle of George the VI in The King’s Speech?   

So, when I find myself drowning in a setting too big to tame or a thought too full to organize, I’m going to get high, look down and identify whose story I’m telling.  Then I will take that elevator back down and step into the fray. I will follow that character through the landscape and let their story unfold instead of forcing it into place. Or, maybe, I’ll just treat myself to another trip to Vegas, check in at the 23rd floor, sit in the Sky Bar and let my imagination wander. That works, too.

* For those of a certain age, think the original Star Trek episode 5818.4 is where Kirk finds the Stratos dwellers at odds with the Troglytes; the elite live in luxury and the rest of civilization toils below.