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  • By Susan Welsh

General Hospital, my friends from Port Charles, and it's 3 o'clock somewhere. . .

It’s 3:00 and I’m brewing coffee for my afternoon get-together with friends from my favorite soap opera. The theme song from General Hospital plays as glamorous frames of handsome men and beautiful women scroll across the screen. The residents of Port Charles flash sly smiles, strike sexy come-hither poses, and brood and smolder with intensity— hinting at the mischief and mayhem they’re all capable of in one soap operatic hour.

My Port Charles coffee break is the carrot at the end of the stick—something I “earn” by writing assiduously and coaxing forth what author Elizabeth Gilbert calls “Big Magic” in her book of the same name. It may look like I’m merely watching television, but simultaneously I’m also studying quintessential writing techniques employed brilliantly by the show’s creative team.

I watch for plot twists born of sizzling conflict, and climaxes that hover at the edge of a commercial break or at the last minute of the day’s episode— fabulous cliffhangers that keep an audience hooked. I await the “frisson” I invariably feel when my protagonists face imminent death or life-altering destruction at the hands of their evil nemeses. I’m breathless every time resident mobster, Sonny Corinthos almost gets shot, or does get shot, or the Cassadines mastermind yet another nefarious plot to destroy Port Charles, or possibly the world.

I listen with delight as resident villainess Helena Cassadine delivers a line like this: “They don't keep people like us in hell, dear; we'd end up running the place”— dialogue dripping with the kind of acerbic wit that could have been penned by the likes of Dorothy Parker. There’s a plethora of similarly biting lines delivered by recovering alcoholic, tougher-than-nails attorney Alexis Davis. The lines that drop from her mouth echo the hard-boiled style of Raymond Chandler: “I never said I was better than you, just smarter and classier. You're clearly a better athlete, and you have much better survival instincts. Kind of like a cockroach.”

Sadly, soap opera viewership in on the decline and the threat of General Hospital going the way of Pine Valley and Llanview is very real. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday. . .and if that day comes, I may be forced to take my afternoon coffee/writing break with real people, in a real cafe, in a real town—not the actors and actresses who play my friends on tv. I’ll have to deal with imperious baristas and aggravatingly overpriced coffee in an attempt to find a new way to refresh, reboot and reset from writing—and dare I say, it may be a bit boring? Without the international intrigue of the WSB (World Security Bureau), the antics at the annual Nurses’ Ball, or the formulas for world domination and destruction embodied in the Cassadine’s carbonic snow— producing weather machine or Chimera canister, where will I get my vicarious fix of pure escapist pleasure to take me out of my own writing head?

I’ll have memories. Like the archived history of my own life, I’ll carry the images and emotions of five decades worth of vicarious living. General Hospital could very well evaporate from the 3:00 airwaves, but I’ll ALWAYS have Port Charles. . .

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