Friday, April 19, 2013

Visible Ink: Reading of Patient Works 2013

What a gratifying treat to be able to travel to Manhattan not for medical treatment or pow-wows, but instead to see a piece of my writing staged by Broadway actors. For real? For the second year, the judging panel of the Visible Ink Writing Program hosted at Sloan-Kettering chose my submitted piece – “The Guru in the Elevator” – to be one showcased along with 17 others in a night of beautiful performance.

I was thrilled last year and again thrilled this year, especially to be part of the program’s fifth anniversary reading of works. The evening brings together prose, poetry, playwriting, music, dance … followed by a reception of cheeky hors d’oeuvres and sweet delicacies – pretty much all of my favorite things colliding.

My beautiful entourage.
My entourage included Craig, my parents and sister. We had roped-off VIP seating right behind the program’s venerable founder and my extremely kind and wonderful mentor, author Judith Kelman – recently named NYer of the week by NY1. Each of the front rows was marked off for those authors whose work would be showcased that night. It was an honor to be among them.

Working with Judith who pushes me to be a bolder, tighter writer and helps me to brainstorm and focus has been instrumental for me. The program does exactly what it intends to do: empowers and heals. Fox5 NY covered the event and put together a great package showcasing the performance and the program itself. 

All 700 writers that currently participate in the program have been a patient at Sloan-Kettering at one point or another, but not all stories performed that night focused on cancer. There were funny stories and poignant stories, heart-wrenching videos and interpretative weavings of letters of love. It was a wonderful mix, each piece performed wholeheartedly by actors with Broadway credentials kind enough to call these annual readings of patients works to be one of their favorite gigs.

With my mentor, Judith Kelman. 
As evidence, the adorable, animated actress who played the Turkish woman in the kitchen in my piece last year, played me this year and she couldn’t have done better at the part: one that didn’t showcase me in the best light (it’s okay, I crafted it), but was as truthful as can be. It was an honor to have her portray me. Craig’s alter-ego was spot on as well – perfect at the deadpan, unwavering stubbornness that drove me wild on that day that I wrote about.

What made me the happiest were two things: 

To have my family there with me to celebrate a joyous occasion – not huddled around me in mask and gloves waiting to throw the puke bucket toward me.

To have been a part in making people laugh. The actors and the photomontage the director created in the background brought my words to life displaying the right emotions in the right spots. It’s a pretty surreal thing when the words you write get translated into motion. To be honest, I couldn’t even take it all in. I just watched wide-eyed and gape mouthed, fueled by the chuckles from the packed house and filled with humility and pride thinking about how that real, truly shitty day the story was based on could possibly have turned into such a positive, proud, and humbling moment. 

The performance was professionally videotaped, and I'll post a link as soon as it is edited and published. Below are some photos from the performance and the text of "The Guru in the Elevator," which was also published in the fifth anniversary Visible Ink Anthology. You may remember it is a chopped and reworked version of a blog from last summer. 

From the evening's program: 

"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." 
- Vladimir Nabokov 

With my stage version: Actress Karen Wexler

Craig with the actor who played him, Joe Ricci

That's "us" with our elevator guru. 
The Guru in the Elevator
By Karin Diamond

A year ago, I was recovering from an allogeneic stem cell transplant: uncomfortable, irritable, nauseated and in pain.  In other words, a bitch.
This morning, I was particularly tired and weak, not eager to make the trek to the Upper East Side for my daily clinic appointment.
Every couple has sticking points, and that summer, ours was cab-hailing. I begged every night to call ahead to schedule door-to-door service. A certain man was confident that getting a cab would be a breeze.
We awoke and dressed. The tension was seething between us as I ate my toasted waffle with a side of six pills and a spoonful of chalky anti-fungal rinse.
I covered my face and nose with my paper mask, snapped my fingers into my plastic gloves – the picture of fashion. Shuffling on my stick-thin legs, I made my way through the streets with my husband, Craig, eyes peeled for an available cab.
Finding a morning taxi at the hub where the Long Island Railroad, New Jersey Transit, and a slew of subway stops dump means fierce competition. Getting a taxi to stop for someone who looks like she’s carrying a communicable disease makes beating the challenge near impossible.
I was losing patience and my energy was fading. Craig stood on the corner – arm out – as cab after cab whizzed by or other people cut in front of us.
 “We should have called ahead, ” I said. “We’re never going to get a fucking cab here.”
Craig stood, unwavering, as I nagged. He wouldn’t even acknowledge me. My angst and frustration were rising to dangerous levels.
Fifteen minutes passed.  No cab. 
“We should start walking,” I yelled through my mask.
“Be patient,” Craig said.  “We have plenty of time.”
            “Things wouldn’t be this difficult if somebody wasn’t so stubborn!”
I felt a bout of rage coming on.  I was hot, then cold, then nauseous and woozy. I was still getting transfusions, my body wrecked by chemo. I hadn’t taken a normal shit in days.
“I’m going to the Penn Station cab line,” I told Craig.  The Station was a long avenue away, but there were guaranteed cabs there. With that came a guaranteed line of people waiting for those cabs, but I was in no mood to be reasonable.
“That’s ridiculous, Karin.  Just wait.”
My mind was made up.  “I don’t know what you’re doing, but I’m going to get a cab.” I started on my way, thinking this was a good way to get him back, because obviously, the whole New York City cab inefficiency problem was Craig’s fault.
I weaved at a fast clip through the throngs of people pouring out of Penn Station. I had only recently found my legs, but that morning I got my sprint back; spurred by determination to prove a point.
My sunglasses were steaming from the air coming up through my mask.  My hands started to sweat and itch.  I pushed on toward the crowded cab line.  Then my cell phone rang.
What!” I snapped at Craig.
“Where are you?” he said. “I have a cab. You need to get here.”
I could hear the cab driver in the background yelling at Craig.
“Are you coming?” he urged.
            I did what seemed reasonable at the time:  I hung up.
Shuffling up the street, I dodged men selling framed Justin Bieber prints, bootleg movies and peace pipes.
Soon, I started seeing stars and thought I might pass out. My cell phone rang again.
“What?” I said, knowing very well what.
“Where the hell are you? I can’t hold this cab for long,” Craig said.
“I’m coming!” This time I kept our connection open so that he could hear my labored breathing as I lumbered up the block.
The cab driver was screaming: “Get out of my car!  Get out!”
“Please.  She’ll be right here.  Look.  Here she is!”
I collapsed in the back seat and the cab driver sped off, still yelling. 
Neither Craig nor I spoke a word, but a lot was said. I didn’t feel well but admit that I amped up my breathing and moaning for dramatic effect.  Craig’s eyebrows furrowed, his back was rigid as a plank.
The cab driver let us out at the hospital entrance and peeled away in a cloud of city smog.
Craig walked 10 feet ahead of me, as if our anger would implode us if we got too close.  I labored behind, so he had to hold the elevator door.
A man stepped in the elevator car with us for the ride. He was in his mid-fifties, easy, breezy and relaxed. I wanted to hiss at him.
He regarded me in my mask and gloves “I used to be like you,” he said.  “I was a transplant patient fifteen years ago.”
La dee fucking dah, I thought, sneering through my facemask.
Turning to Craig, he said, “You want to smack her yet?”
What? Who is this guy? I was shocked at his remark.
The elevator door opened. The three of us stood in the vestibule.
“A year from now she needs to take you on a vacation for having to put up with all her crap,” the stranger said to Craig.
I stood there like a doofus, knowing that this man remembered the many days on his own drug-fueled, post-transplant, emotional crazy train and could tell I was conducting my own engine that day.
“Do you know what happened today?” Craig asked, breaking into a smile.
“Yes. I do,” the man replied and walked away down the corridor.
That broke the spell. We both let our guards down and looked each other in the eye.  We almost smiled.
One year later, we did take that vacation, one rich in the natural beauty of Acadia National Park – a far cry from the previous summer’s concrete jungle confines. We left our attitudes and stubbornness behind.  No cabs to catch in Maine, only crates of lobster and fresh blueberries to contend with. 


  1. As always........YOU ROCK!!!!!!!!

  2. Oh my, haha, I love this piece. It feels like you're writing about me and my husband. Thank you for making us smile:)

  3. Turning to Craig, he said, “You want to smack her yet?”
    Loving your blog!