A Fictional Character Cut Off Eleven Inches of My Hair

A Fictional Character Cut Off Eleven Inches of My Hair

So I’m writing this scene about this woman, and some scissors spontaneously appear on a coffee table because she (let’s call her Rita) and my lead gal have embarked on a, shall we call it, craft project (this one doesn’t involve liquor, though most of them do). Meanwhile, I plug along attempting to hone my own craft (dialogue between the ladies that sizzles and whizzes and pops like a late night summer ping-pong game in a muggy Midwestern garage), when my lead walks to the kitchen for a glass of water.

Moi, as narrator, and Vous, as almighty reader, follow her, and a sentence later, when she returns to the living room, Rita’s extra long, glossy, gorgeous braid – her signature trait – has been amputated, and now sits on the coffee table beside the scissors.

Shaking, Rita looks up, runs two trembling hands over her now-bare neck, and says,

“Apparently it’s time.”

In no way had I planned to have scissors in that scene, or have my lead gal grow thirsty or step away just as something both symbolic and corporeal unfolded, but, this was the result. What a treat, to be surprised alongside my characters. What a treat to fall into that precious, subconscious trance.

When teaching an introductory composition course, I remember watching my students plop into chairs in the computer lab and begin pounding away at the keys. I was confused because I’ve never sat down to begin writing anything by ferociously pounding away at the keys. I called their attention. I invited them to slow down, to think, to feel, to write with purpose. Unintentionally, my muddled message ended in a proclamation: 

“People, typing is not writing!”

But I think that was far too simple a statement to capture any real truth.

Sometimes, the FINEST, most EXTRAORDINARY scenes flow from such a subconscious place it seems as if they’re typed via Ouija board.

Now, two chapters distanced from the chop-chop scene, this is what I know:

Rita cut off her hair as a sign of courage – a declaration that she isn’t going to hide anymore, that it’s time for her to be seen and heard and embraced as she is – now, today, despite the consequences. (And, as the author I can tell you, there could be some consequences.) Finally closer to fearless, Rita decides to donate her abundant hair, in hopes it has a second life where it doesn’t provide cover, but comfort.

For the next several days, while waiting in the Starbucks drive-through, and to pay for my goodies at World Market, and for the water to boil at the stove, I find myself playing with my own long hair. At my desk, as I track the subplots in a new TV movie assignment, I somehow weave a dozen messy braids from my scalp down my back. My husband greets me with a Bob Marley impression. 

Apparently it’s time. I aspire to be like Rita. I will embark on my own CHOP-CHOP, in the spirit of Fried Green Tomatoes, and everything else holy:


The next week, I did it. I cut off eleven inches of my mane. And you know what? I felt like I already had. Even my mom noted how I wasn’t fazed in the least. I think I had already gone through it, hunched over the keys.

I drove home from my appointment with a Ziploc bag of hair in my purse and mailed it off the next day. After such a positive experience, I’ve decided to continue growing and chopping and growing and chopping throughout my life. They say it takes (on average) five donations to make a single wig.

So it appears I’ve struck the age-old “chicken-or-egg” situation: Does life inspire art or art inspire life? Today, I’d say they’re equal. And for this, I’m equally grateful.

And feeling a little lighter on the dance floor, too.

Write Well or Perish

Write Well or Perish

Some years ago, when I spent most of my time on the edge of the country, just a few miles from falling into the Pacific, so very far from these cozy cornfields that hug me today, I often found myself agonizing over my craft. There was this crippling anxiety that if I didn’t scribble down the tips I stumbled upon along the way, I would lose them entirely. Simply, I had yet to develop and trust my own writerly instincts.

Those days, when I read or heard or observed some little lesson worth remembering, I compulsively added it to a messy, handwritten list I labeled, “Write Well Or Perish.”

Now, for the first time, as I remain buzzy from twelve glorious days at what I affectionately call “book camp” (and several dozen teaspoons of Dimetapp for the cold caught at what I affectionately call “book camp”), I’m sharing an excerpt from this haphazard list. Prepare to feel simultaneously inspired, infuriated, defensive, and reflective. Here we go….

Why start here, NOW, in this very place, at this very moment?

Oftentimes, in the beginning they WANT something, in the middle they learn they NEED something, and at the end they EARN something.

Avoid FLAT adjectives.


Write killer opening lines for every character.

Comedic characters must be weighted by dark underpinnings.

People rarely say what they mean.


The villain is the hero in her own story.

No matter how sweet or innocent your leading character,  make AWFUL things happen to them. Drag that perky bride through mud. No one gets through life, or a story, unscathed. 

Empower the setting details to contribute to character, theme, and plot.

Surprise your audience and your characters, or better yet, yourself.

Be subtle, concise, and nuanced.

SHOW, don’t tell, unless you should really just tell and get it over with and move on.

Every sentence must do one of two things— reveal character or advance action. The best sentences do both.

In a movie, you have two hours to say something to the world. What do you want to say?

In a screenplay, you must know why pages 10, 30, 60, and 90 are important.

Does your story have a PROTAGONIST, a MAIN CHARACTER, or a HERO? This distinction can matter. As the author, you should know.

Always “cut” leaving the reader/viewer wanting to know more. Cliffhangers, loose ends, lingering suspense, building tension, unanswered questions, “a smoking gun in the drawer,” call it what you like, but it MUST always be present.

Beware of the word “think.” Having a character “think” in a visual medium does not work.

Do not rely too heavily on the almighty montage.

Before you become too in love with a premise, make sure you didn’t overlook a “quick fix” that any real person would use to solve the main conflict.  (For instance, if you’re writing a crime thriller and all your protagonist would have to do to solve the conflict is call the cops, make sure you give a specificcompellingbelievable reason s/he cannot.)

Use flashbacks and voice-over narration sparingly.  (It is seen as a storytelling crutch.)

Never kill your darlings. Stash them away for another day. 



A LOT of the amazing giants in writing are/were alcoholic, suicidal, depressed, reclusive, loveless, alienating, chronically pissed. Maybe it’s okay to just be really good….

For self-preservation, always have multiple projects going at different stages of development.

Be aware of genre conventions, the marketplace, and trends. Then do whatever you want, anyway.

Be economical. You have only 120 pages of real estate in film, and only so much patience in print.

No one knows enough to only write what they know. Write what your friend, brother, and neighbor knows, too. BE A SPONGE.

By Act Three you should instinctively know what your characters would do and say.  Act Three should write itself.

The most important thing about a writer is her VOICE. You cannot spend too much time finding yours.

Study your favorite stories. How do they work? Why do they work?

Archetypes usually work. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Roll it somewhere new.

Know how you write ALONE before collaborating.  (Two driving permits doesn’t equal a license.)
As insignificant as they seem, typos really do matter.
Everyone has a story. Some are just better than others. (THIS IS FICTION! Embellish!)

Good ideas germinate. One of the few perks of being a writer is that you can walk around looking like a lazy sloth and call it work. Take advantage of this.

If “to write is human,” and “to edit is divine,” then strive to be divinely human.

And lastly, for now, the best writerly “lesson” I’ve picked up along the way: Come up with a heap of bad ideas. One is bound to emerge as decent and decent ideas are hard to come by.

Now, happy writing, happy reading, and, as my dear dad reminds,

“Get to work, and be grateful to do it.”

Hunting for HILPOs

Hunting For HILPOs

We writers can learn a lot from beagles. And of all the wise beagles in the world, my favorite is my dear friend, the celebrated canine treasure of Columbus, Ohio, MOE the BEAGLE.

(Sorry, Snoopy.)

Moe is always curious, always hungry, and always greets each day with boundless enthusiasm, despite his advancing age and a recent, rather painful, knee surgery. But, most of all, what writers can learn from Moe and his kin is to HUNT.

Unofficially, my hunt for literature’s most precious and elusive creature, the hilpo, began in 1993, long before I was aware of its meaning or power, and even longer before I refined and streamlined my hunting tactics. I was a third grader at Beechview Elementary, a quaint public school that sat at the end of my neighborhood street.

I grew up in one of those middle/upper-middle class Midwestern subdivisions where most everyone really was relatively pleasant and well-adjusted. Come college application time, most of us struggled to describe our “greatest challenge thus far,” since, regardless of our varying races, religions, and talents, there was a unified wholesomeness to growing up in a place where people shared crock pots, snow blowers, and pediatricians.

A former classmate posted this on Facebook. Can you find me? I’ll give you a clue: My hair consists of two wedge-shaped blonde-hued bushes on either side of my face. (Hot!)

But what appears Pleasantvillian peachy from the outside is not usually the case once one peels back the velvety skin. Deep down in our core, none of us were entirely rotten, though we had our bruises and our mealy spots, and that’s where the real humanity of suburbia dwells, is it not?

So, maybe my shameful mealy spot was self-inflicted, and maybe in 1993 it wasn’t so much a spot than a region, but it didn’t have any real bearing on my reputation as a perpetual “good kid.” No one knew what I did. No one knew that during 1993 to 1995 I concealed a dark, nefarious, top-secret behavioral tick, punishable by law. Okay, maybe not law, but you could certainly be fined for it. No one knew, that is, except for Beechview Elementary’s librarian, Mrs. Lancaster.

Half-blind, hard of hearing, and humorless as she was, Mrs. Lancaster was on to me from the get-go.

What I did was not plagiarism – not even close. Even then, at nine years old, the idea of plagiarism seemed condemnable by death. Despite ones’ temptation to mimic the literary genius of another, the written word was innately sacred to me, the idea of taking someone else’s unnaturally sinful. I could never, ever rob someone else of their craft. 

I just wanted to hold on to it. For inspiration. For remembrance. Forever.

So, yes, Mrs. Lancaster, twas I. All of those rainy weekday afternoons from 3:18 to 4:30 pm you spent in your librarian apron flipping through and refiling easy reader chapter books only to find dozens and dozens of missing, carefully torn-out pages, well, today your whodoneit mystery is solved:

I done it, and I done it a lot.

My chronic habit was truly petty kleptomania: I was just over four feet tall and bird-boned, and the objects in question, well, you can’t get more petty than the occasional, gingerly removed sheet of paper. But to this very day I feel badly about it, robbing future readers that way. And here’s why it really mattered: I took the good pages. The gem-filled ones. I took the ones that made me laugh or cry. Though I didn’t know how to articulate it at the time, I wanted things to be hilarious or poignant, or nothing at all, and if they could be both hilarious and poignant, that was a great read, a read worth keeping.

Sometime between selling lemonade as a source of income and having a mouth full of braces, I stopped tearing pages and starting scribbling down the lines that made me laugh or cry. By acknowledging my affinity for the rawness of guttural laughter and reflexive tears, I discovered what kind of a writer I wanted to become. I wanted to move people – move them to laugh or to cry, and, if I could master them separately, maybe someday I could incite them both simultaneously.

I knew this was a tall order, so while most of my middle school peers collected beanie babies, pogs, Troll dolls, and other mid-’90s fad collectibles, I filled a hat box with my elementary school robberies and new post-its, index cards, and notebooks, each brimming with hilarious or poignant lines I found along the way. Maybe they were spoken by Bridget Jones during her date, or Bilbo Baggins before he fought the dragon, or my mother as she helped me prepare for my band concert. Atop each snip-it I wrote: “Hilarious/Poignant,” which soon evolved to one, all-encompassing word that would grow to be used quite regularly in my writerly circles: “Hilpo.”

Note: There are no steadfast rules for detecting the hilpo.

Naturally, what may be a hilpo to one, may not reach that status for another, as we each walk the planet with a unique set of emotional and intellectual triggers. But in general, it’s fair to say that if something is funny or poignant to you, it will be to another, and it’s worth testing.

The hilpo’s habitat is everywhere, and I’ve found the sooner you make a habit of hunting every day, in every location, the more efficient you will become.

For instance, during an October hike down Temescal Canyon, I heard a young woman exclaim, “This path smells exactly like my Autumn Leaves Yankee candle!” which I promptly texted to myself, as I happen to love crafting characters who say obtuse, silly things of this kind.

While spending an afternoon with a friend’s four year-old, I was asked, “Why doesn’t Santa give hungry kids food instead of toys? If I were hungry, I’d want a cheeseburger, not a Barbie.”

While trying on clothes in a fitting room, I overheard a teenage daughter tell her mom, “Yeah, I thought he wrote that song about me. But Lexi said it was about Jesus, and when I confronted him he admitted it. I guess it makes sense. I wouldn’t die for him.” bahahahaaaa

My brother, Michael, the kindest person I know and an impromptu hilpo extraordinaire, once told me that whenever he travels via Southwest Airlines (who has a choose-your-own seat policy) he tries to look as antisocial as possible so no one sits next to him. When I asked him what exactly that meant, he said, “I don’t know. Mostly I just cross my arms and do Sudoku with a pen. I mean, really, you’d have to be an arrogant asshole to do Sudoku with a pen, don’t you think?”

Now, some of these may not strike your fancy, but they somehow struck mine.

So, what do we do with them?

In my experience, sometimes a character grows out of a hilpo. For instance, “What kind of a guy does Sudoku with a pen?” Other times, they prompt a “what if” question that leads to a hilarious or poignant scene or subplot. Like, “Maybe she thinks he visits campus to bump into her, when in actuality, he’s going back to school in preparation to enter the seminary and become a priest.”

The heart of the hilpo hunt, however, is not to use the lines in a direct or indirect way in our writing (though it is a bonus when it happens). The true purpose is to exercise our ability to observe, to take in, to be a sponge of our surroundings and its peculiar inhabitants.

In our homes, our grocery stores, our bus stops, and our parks are hundreds of hilpos waiting to be hunted – nuggets and fragments of characters worth meeting and stories worth telling.

Simply, in our society today, you don’t need to lead an exotic life to have access to thought-provoking, hilarious, and poignant ideas. They are all around us, so hunt them with passion, rigor, and insatiable curiosity.

(Like Moe.)

Writing, Baseball, and Objective Correlative

Writing, Baseball, and Objective Correlative

I usually find writing prompts futile. (This is likely rooted in some residual frustration with a few lazy English instructors who relied too heavily on “What does your character wear to bed?” Cosmo-esque “character-development surveys.”)

This time, however, the exercise was worthwhile, not because it achieved what it intended, but because it inspired this rumination. Hurrah for fringe benefits.


What sits on the mantel of your protagonist’s home?

This, I imagine, is an inorganic way to attempt to accomplish two things:

1.  Help focus the development of your character through defining a concrete detail about her life. This detail could reveal something about:

a. Her current turmoil (i.e.: The gun her newest ex-husband gave her just before disappearing last week sits on the mantel inside a decorative cigar box.)

b. Some backstory element relevant to the live action (A chipped candy dish filled with seashells she collected as a girl sits on the mantel, and after twelve years in landlocked Kansas, she finds herself eyeing them more often.)

c. Her hopes for the future (On the mantel in her library, among the thick, esoteric texts she devoured for her PhD, sit books by Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary, ripe and ready for a child to enjoy someday, should that someday ever arrive.)

2.  Discover an objective correlative to employ throughout your work.

T. S. Eliot popularized the phrase in his 1919 essay “Hamlet and His Problems,” explaining:

“The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an ‘objective correlative’; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.”

I disagree that it’s the only way, but it certainly is a good one worth exploring further.

When employed expertly, the objective correlative (in the form of symbolic objects or a series of events) contributes far beyond SCENE development or the creation of MOOD, as it can also reveal otherwise unknown or misunderstood insights into the character/story. In this instance, Writer is god, wielding a series of deliberate details to achieve a desired outcome.

Good writers do this so well you’re unaware of their employment.

Poor writers hit you over the head with clichéd objective correlative equations: “Get it? Stormy clouds + pile of crumpled tissues + wilting flowers + cold coffee + Coldplay on repeat = the protagonist is having a bad day and I didn’t even have to come right out and tell you!”

So what we’re really talking about here are emotional algebraic equations made of particular objects, all of which possess some degree of both a universal and personal charge. What do I mean by this? And how does it relate to baseball? I’m getting to it. I promise.

Prop masters, set designers, and interior decorators are fluent at tapping into an object’s “charge,” and, since writers are creators of worlds, too, I think we should work to become better at it. On the most simple linguistic level, it refers to denotation VS. connotation, in that every object possesses some (mostly) universal charge, while its deeper meaning varies person-to-person, allowing limitless opportunities for irony, juxtaposition, and surprise in our work.

I’d argue that the most sophisticated/successful/interesting objective correlatives are specific and original to the character and the world in which she plays. While these isolated symbols and equations work to evoke a particular emotional response, they also create a type of intimacy with the reader. For instance, other characters in the scene may not understand why Harry, a prudish accountant, keeps a photograph of a ’50s pin-up in his wallet, but we do because of the heart-wrenching anecdote provided earlier. And when Harry’s wallet is stolen, we share in his relief that while his driver’s license, three credit cards, and six hundred in cash were taken, the pickpocket left the dog-eared photo.

One of my characters, Claire McCoy, refuses to wear a watch. She doesn’t like time or, more accurately, how quickly it seems to be passing her by, and she doesn’t value punctuality in the least. Having properly set this up, when she’s given a watch as compensation for a task she’d rather not do in the first place, the reader senses her discomfort with the tick, tick, tick of its inner workings, further revealing her inner workings.

To most people, a worn photo of a ’50s pin-up is not priceless, nor is a watch tormenting, but it is to Harry, and it is to Claire, and because we understand this, we feel with them.

Other times, a strong objective correlative references a universally charged object, but in a fresh way. And this is where baseball comes in for me.

Because the protagonist I’m currently developing doesn’t really have a home, at least not in the traditional sense, when presented with the “What’s on the mantel?” writing prompt, I thought about my own home, because while I love writing, I quite like home décor.

While my home features several items that a set designer or prop master or interior decorator may call a “charged object” (i.e. a retro rotary phone, a glowing green banker’s lamp, a collection of witchy glass bottles), one that attracts particular interest among our guests are all of the baseballs incorporated into our homescape. This hadn’t occurred to me until somewhat recently when a visiting pal walked through playing “Eye Spy” and located a worn baseball or baseball-themed item in every room. (Note: We live in a small Victorian house. It didn’t take her very long.)

“Over there you have them piled in a vase, like Martha Stewart does with her lemons. And there, by the fireplace is another huddle of them, and in your office, on your bookshelf….”

The Lopez Indians and The Cleland Tigers take the field on our groom’s cake.

So what does this mean? How are the baseballs in my house “charged” to me? If my house were a fictional setting, what would this incessant inclusion of baseballs say about the protagonist who lived among them? Let’s speculate:

Baseball’s universal charge:

Americana, summertime, childhood, nostalgia, athleticism, heroes, fun, competition….

Baseball’s personal charge:

Grounding, earthy, textured, symmetrical, harmoniously colored (we have creams and reds throughout our home), my particular summertime, my particular childhood, my personal nostalgia….

A favorite showcase at Fenway (a favorite park).

Really thinking on it now, I have to admit that the baseball is one of man’s most perfect simple creations. You want to throw it when it finds a home in your hand. When it’s tossed your way, you want to bat it and gaze at its flight. I like to think that the creation of the game was inevitable — that if you found me on some strange island and handed me a baseball I’d look at my fellow dwellers and say,

“Someone grab a log. I want to see how far I can hit this thing.”

Then, after a few whacks at it, we’d decide some people should be responsible for retrieving it. And the game would begin, a natural inevitability granting joy through play. What makes me so LOFTY and WHIMSICAL about a baseball?

This particular object’s charge is rooted in my particular experiences with it, and around it, and because of it.

So this charged object thing, this objective correlative thing, it can be beautiful, can’t it? Specific anecdotes and tangible objects can help to define us, as they reveal where we’ve come from, what we fear, what we treasure, and where we hope we’re headed. And once we unlock this relationship between “physical thing” and “personal experience” and how it can encapsulate a person’s core qualities, the sooner we can wield this knowledge to achieve a desired outcome.

In this way, we can think of objective correlatives as ACCESS POINTS, the purposeful intersection of a concrete item and an emotion. So, if you haven’t already, add this to your writer toolbox, and use it wisely, for its power is great.

Now that that’s been addressed, I’m going to close with the TOP TEN ways my interest in BASEBALL has informed my WRITING – what similarities I see, and what can be learned from my favorite pastime and applied to my favorite pursuit.

1. Baseball players and writers both have slumps. (We signed up for it. Learn to weather the storms.)

2. Recruitment is a crapshoot. (Any MLB scout or literary agent/editor/publisher/film producer will tell you that finding the next great talent or bestseller or blockbuster is not a science. If you’re batting .600 it doesn’t mean you will once you make it to the show, and if your work has undeniable literary merit it doesn’t guarantee the potential readers/viewers will appreciate it.)

3. Timing is everything.

4. Your triumphs and failures are often quite public.

5. Writerly muscles and athletic muscles must be flexed regularly to stay in shape. (Spending too much time away from the field or the page is dangerous.)

6. In both endeavors, you must learn to trust your instincts.

7. If you worked hard, you look worse at the end of the day.

8. People who don’t appreciate baseball and/or what you write will find it incredibly BORING.

9. You need discipline. (Especially during what feels like the “off season” — winter/before inspiration strikes.)

10. They’re both games for dreamers.

On taking care

On taking care

It’ll rain today. 

I know because the knuckles in my right hand ached as I pet Louisa, whose nose was at my nose a few moments before my husband’s alarm sang. I know it’ll rain because when I opened the front door to check if he’d need an umbrella the smell of worms hit my cheek. And as I stand now at the sink to rinse a butter knife, the clouds in the window are heavy and gray.

This is writers’ weather, people.

R E J O I C E  and  be  G L A D .

He was finished showering. I could hear the water stop. I could hear him step out of the tub, the faucet turn on. He was brushing his teeth, which meant no coffee before he left. I’ll make a cup just for me.

He leaves the bathroom.

He enters our bedroom.

The footsteps stop.

He says, “Oh, good morning, Louisa.”

Footsteps resume. 

I listen for everything because I was raised by a woman who did plenty of talking, but listened intently to the habit-forming behaviors of her man and children.

Never quiet, never passive, but always listening because what she heard informed her care. 

I listen for everything because writers must listen, too. 

(Besides, in this crooked old Victorian house, you can’t help but listen. I remember the ad mentioned “with vintage appeal.” If accuracy was valued, it would’ve read: “Heavy brass sconces are affixed to paper-thin walls….”)

So I’m at the kitchen counter with the clean butter knife, about to slice his sandwich in two – chicken on wheat, last night’s dinner reincarnated, the entree of his comforting lunch that will interrupt his stressful day – and I picture them, THE WOMEN, the long line of caretakers washing all of the butter knives at all of the sinks, slicing all of the sandwiches at all of the kitchen counters.

They’re each linked, a construction paper chain drenched in Elmer’s and glitter, and I am the most recent addition, the last little loop, untested and unknowing and twisting to study them, still the recipient of their care, still in awe.

THEM: the crafty ones, the thrifty ones, the creative ones, the ones with the kisses, the ones with the wild hair, the ones with the slippers, the ones with the soapy hands and strong shoulders, the ones with the attention to detail, the ones people thank too late and too seldom but often through tears.

The ones who are made of STEEL, but happen to live inside, protected from the rain.

MaryAnn and

Mary Frances and

Maria Alicia and

Audrie Laverne.

Kate and Diane and a huddle of

aunts and teachers and principals

and neighbors and other women with such loving intentions:

Teresa and Betsy and Debby and Ruth and Cheryl. 

How many sandwiches did they cut, for their man, their girl, their boy, and that little blonde one, too?

The thousands of sandwiches one consumes in a Midwestern childhood flush with cold cuts and leftovers and fat bakery bread.

The blessings, the wholesomeness, the care

The dirty plates left on the coffee tables, the paper plates left on the patios, the Ziplock bags left in the backseats. So many, so often, so important, so banal.

I’ve heard we’re most profoundly in touch with ourselves when we feel connected to our ancestral pasts.

But it can also be an affliction – too tall an order for too short a day pulsing with a parade of uniquely modern to-dos. And, truth be told, I’m typically so very hell-bent in getting out in that rain myself.

But, today, this is not the case. Today I don’t feel the chain anchoring. Today, it lifts. It nudges, it reminds, it tugs, but only in the right direction – to listen better, to care softer, but most of all, to get on with what must be done.

The paint problem

The paint problem

The fine sirs Merriam & Webster provide seven unique definitions for the word “PREGNANT.”

Currently, I like to think I embody them each.

  1. archaic: cogent (at the very least, I must be cogent, so let’s pray yes)
  2. abounding in fancy, wit, or resourcefulness :  inventive (naturally, I think so — not my place to speculate if others agree)
  3. rich in significance or implication (yes yes yes; stakes are high on all fronts)
  4. containing a developing embryo, fetus, or unborn offspring within the body (confirmed! baby girl on the way!)
  5. having possibilities of development or consequence :  involving important issues :  momentous (certainly feels this way)
  6. obsolete :  inclined, disposed (ditto)
  7. full, teeming (double ditto)

But there is a problem with feeling you’re cogent and inventive, teeming with ideas and ambitions, while pregnant and disposed, with everything seeming so very rich in significant and implication.

In no time at all, you run out of paint.

My explanation requires I describe a recent dream — one I can only assume was directly inspired by my newfound hobby of scrutinizing paint swatches for our baby girl’s room.

(Sidebar: Incidentally, the nursery-to-be is currently painted pink. But too pink. The room was supposed to be my closet. My happy, too-pink, far-larger-than-necessary closet. Apparently the sole, current Lady of the House is already being dethroned. Naturally, I couldn’t be happier about this. As my parents move from the home I occupied from ages twelve to eighteen, I’ve re-inherited my girlhood sporting equipment, craft supplies, novellas, porcelain knickknacks, and a shockingly extensive collection of embellished berets. Surely Cameron shouldn’t be the only one subjected to these odd Abbey relics.)

Back to the dream. And because dreams are boring to hear about and even worse to read about, I’ll summarize it in two sentences:

I dreamed I didn’t have enough paint. Lots of walls, plenty of blank canvases, and not nearly enough paint.

No need to inform me that my sitcom bffs (Doctors Frasier and Niles Crane) would scoff at the simplicity of this dream. Me no care. That’s what’s nice about my dreams. While the fictitious characters occupying my waking mind can be maddeningly mysterious and elusive, my most memorable dreams are obvious ones. Nothing a freshman Psych major couldn’t decode in the time it takes her macchiato to cool.

The canvases, of course, are the various beautiful, demanding things vying for my attention. They matter to me, and I hate to keep them waiting.

The paint is my energy, my focus, my time — those infuriatingly finite resources we all attempt to allocate with thought and care.

(I’m fighting the cliche that I’ve spread myself too thin. Please fight it, too. Horrible expression. Especially as your waist expands daily, and you’re feeling particularly, profoundly grateful.)

Anyway. Between gawking at the stark canvases and depleted palettes, I discovered something reassuring — an acknowledgement that may put you at ease regarding the blank (or near-blank) canvases in the wings of your life, too: 


Moving forward, there are three options:

1. Get better at cutting canvases.

2. Get better at manufacturing paint.

3. Get more comfortable with filling the canvases more slowly.

I dedicated myself to working on all three, and then this funny thing happened: Cameron became really good at brushing his teeth. 

(And all of his stuffed animals’ teeth, but that’s beside the point.)

After months of giggling and sticking out his tongue while we struggled to ensure the bristles grazed all four of his little darling dental quadrants, bam. He’s a pretty proficient little brusher.

It happened like all of his seemingly insignificant mini milestones have happened: over time and all at once, reminding me that raising a toddler and writing a novel requires tremendous attention to the minutia. The joy is in the minutia. The work is in the minutia. Managing and monitoring the minutia IS the privilege and the job.

As a parent and a writer, no one on the planet could possibly have your radar, your instincts, your intuition, your innate, unflappable investment. No one could possibly care the way you care, because no one could care so much. People want to know if he’s walking, if he’s talking, if the book’s done, if the contract’s signed. It’s too much to expect them to relish and agonize the million complicated, glorious, surprising mini milestones in-between.

Watching Cameron gleefully brush his tiny perfect teeth tonight reminded me that I’ve never before written this novel, or been pregnant while caring for a toddler. I’m a toddler at this book, a toddler at being a pregnant mom. Most days, I write a bit, care a lot, and kiss my boys more than they could ever want. Most days, I bet I graze three quadrants. I’ll get there — to my page count, to my due date — over time and all at once.

Meanwhile, as I pray this baby arrives full-term, as Cam did despite my body indicating an increased risk for preterm labor, I remind this baby, “We’ll wait for you. We’ll be patient. Please stay as long as you like, as long as you can. Sweetheart, we can’t wait to meet you, but we will wait to meet you.”

Maybe I can grant myself more of the time and space to grow at my own pace, as we grant Cameron, “our wonder boy,” and my expanding belly. Maybe we, as artists, as parents, as prospective parents, as friends, as advocates, as risk-takers, as innovators, as young adults, and old adults, and everything in-between, maybe we can all grant ourselves a bit more patience.

Art and artful living takes time, and, as my marvelous agent, Victoria, reminds, “Good beats fast.”

Whatever you’re working on — a project, a home, a business, a family, a compromise, a partnership, a change of heart, a shift of perspective — know we can’t wait to observe its beauty, but we will wait, with hope, with encouragement, with patient, poised applause. 

Paint on, dear ones.

Early motherhood is…

Early motherhood is…

Early Motherhood Is...

Adaptation: Domestically, spiritually, professionally, molecularly. “Everything will change,” they said, months ago, and we responded as we should, with closed lip smiles and pleasant, clueless nods. But hours later, after Anthony and I walked/waddled home, and sipped our teas, and watched our show, I stared through our bedroom skylight, admitting, quietly, internally, that I mostly liked everything the way it was now; I hoped not everything would change. What I didn’t understand was that many things would stay the same, but I would change, we would change, in wonderful, mystifying ways, and this would make all the difference.

Body: His belly grows as mine deflates and it’s all quite gradual and rewarding and strange.

Colors: Pastel and muted, neutral and gray, black and white, and primary red, yellow, blue.

Doing: “I’m a doer now,” I proclaim to my mother, while the coffee brews, and the dishwasher hums, and my phone dings, and I scribble a note. “I’m not proud of it, I’m not glorifying it at all, it’s just a fact.” And it’s a bittersweet fact, I realize. It was lovely to be so less focused. So less industrious.

Endurance: Going to bed at 2:45, to be awoken at 3:22, and greet his little face like you missed him.

Family: Our small one of three, and the parties of five from which we came, and the big, extended one that sends piles of clothes and toys and books, and the friendly one, the one we chose, Cam’s “aunts” and “uncles” we so adore.

Goals: For the first few months, I say it under my breath, a promise from Abbey Lopez to Abbey Cleland: “Tomorrow you will write.” But “tomorrow” doesn’t mean the day directly following today. Tomorrow is abstract, and — for now — that’s okay.

Husband: Four month old Cameron is fascinated by the sparkle of my ring. “Daddy picked that out,” I say, “It’s pretty, isn’t it?” I give the baby a teething ring so he won’t gnaw on the diamond, and it occurs to me that my Anthony is someone’s dad, and my eyes fill with tears. I’m so often happy about Cameron, but at this moment, I’m so happy for him.

Indecision and Indifference: Wanting visitors and then not wanting visitors. Wanting lunch plans and then not wanting lunch plans. Daydreaming of a date night out then cancelling, happily.

Judith: Missing your pal, but your hands were full – quite literally, as always now – when she called you back, and it’s been three days, but you’re very, very tired, and you want to be alert enough to listen. You want to have your coffee in-hand. You want to hear her laugh.

Kisses: A fit, a sea, a storm, a shower, a parade, a party, a marathon of kisses. Cam’s parents kiss him A LOT.

Love: One that’s so personal to the three of us, so sacred, so small, so big, so extraordinary, no one must feel it, too, but they do — I know they do! I’ve witnessed it. It’s the most unique, universal thing, this love.

Marvelling: Anthony and I live a parallel life now, shoulder-to-shoulder, marvelling at our wonder boy.

Numbers: Dates and times, ounces and inches. Phone numbers, sizes, and prices. Count the diapers, count the onesies, count the months, count the blessings.

Owing: Everyone you know a phone call, a visit, an email, a thank you note.

Perspective: You sense you should probably apologize to your parents. For what? Nothing in particular. Just “everything.” Just a big catch-all sorry-if-I-ever-didn’t-get-it apology. Meanwhile, you will definitely regret calling your book “your baby.” It’s a BOOK, dum-dum. You would not die for it. Somedays (to break up the days you find yourself pretty fricken clever), you don’t even like it. Not at all.

Quick: “I might have time for a quick call. Or a quick cup of coffee? Maybe a quick stop at Target? We are in dire need of a quick grocery run. Whatever it is, it can be done, but it must be done quick, quick, quick! Oh wait. He’s awake. Maybe I’ll just snuggle him for a bit. Byeeeeee!”

Repetition: Asking, “When did he eat last?” on repeat.

Sounds: Snaps, zippers, Velcro, water splashing, singing toys, carseats click-click-clicking, and eventually, finally, precious giggles.

Temperatures: Hot scalding water to sterilize, and lukewarm water to bathe, and cold water in the extra tall tumbler to stay hydrated while pumping. Thermometers to monitor him, and thermostats to monitor his house, and it is his house now. This is so clear.

Unity: Admiring your parents and friends-con-kiddos on an entirely new level. You vow you’ll never judge a one. (And you know, eventually, when pushed, you will. But not nearly as harshly as you ever could before.)

Voices: Escalating voice modulations, and soft, quiet hums, and cheery song-singing, and soothing whispers, and late night, breathy, “I love you! I love you!”

Worrying: About the rational and irrational in equal doses.

X Factor: As in the unknown, as in I don’t know — how could I know? — but I’m the adult now, so I must know.

Young (and Old): While you hold this tiny, very new human, you may feel old and wise, but caring for him requires you to be so active and spry, you must be young, too, and while he’s new, you’re new. New mom, new dad, new family. All very shiny and new! But this baby in your arms is your baby, charging you with teaching him just about everything, so surely you know something, which makes sense. You’re old, you should be knowledgeable. And it’s not like your energy to care for said baby bubbles from some bottomless spring. You’re exhausted. And your back is sore. It doesn’t hurt now, but a foggy conversation replays in your head during which you vented to someone — who was it? — that your back was aching. Forgetfulness + backaches = old. Ah yes, that’s it.

Zebra: At the Zoo, and on PBS Sprout’s Zou, and in each of our alphabet books (four titles to date), the “Z” is for Zebra, and we like how his stripes go ziggy and zaggy and that’s how we ride in the stroller sometimes, too, all ziggy and zaggy, like the zebra’s stripes, and this is all quite important now. This ziggy and zaggy zaniness of our life, how we swerve into the fun and away from the fear, and zooooom on, so long as we’re together.

A writer’s letter to her unborn daughter

A writer’s letter to her unborn daughter

Dear Daughter,

I’ve been thinking about you quite a lot lately.

Sometimes the thoughts are grounded and specific: I wonder if she’ll like baseball, or beg us to take her camping, or love Anne of Green Gables, or arrive with spiky black hair, or want to study medicine like her daddy, or plan elaborate Halloween costumes months in advance.

And other times it’s far more abstract: I wonder how she’ll feel about her home, her name, her family. I wonder what kind of a life she’ll lead. I wonder how I can be her most reliable guide.

Today, these accidental ruminations came to me while cutting vegetables, and later when I intended to think about my protagonist, and later yet, when I attempted a nap moments before Cameron awoke from his.

It’s an odd new development, because I’ve never been one to daydream – brainstorm, problem-solve, analyze, yes, but not daydream – and I’ve already found it riddled with danger.

How quickly a meandering freeform daydream can turn dark….

What ifthe unleashed thought began today, something prevents me from sharing an insight she may someday need? What could I possibly offer, right here, right now? What rough observations collected over these thirty-two years of hard lessons, unexpected revelations, and sweet, small victories might have been buffed and polished into a shareworthy gem?

In a (cleaner) sentence:

What do I need this girl, my girl, to know?

It’s difficult to hush a question like that, especially if you’re already having trouble sleeping, and if your laptop lives on your nightstand, and if, you know, you’re me.

So here it is, Sweetie. For now, here is what I need you to know:


I’ve found it’s crucial to have individual passions and purposes that you pursue with curiosity and gusto and pleasure alone. It’s a great gift that I love to read and write and watch baseball and films.

Emotional self-reliance is a noble pursuit.

To awake excited about something that has little to do with anyone else is a sort of freedom, and one people don’t talk about or celebrate nearly enough.


During your life, you will come across a handful of people who will believe in you. Not in your talent, not in your beauty, not in what you may be able to do for them. These people will not be related to you, nor will they see you as a pawn, a lever, or a stepping stone. They will believe in you, and the pure, unbiased nature of their faith will restore you when you lose your own.

When you meet these people, you will be changed.

Each time I’ve met one of these folks, I’ve felt a visceral spark somewhere in the vicinity of my chest. You may observe your own bell, and when you do, pay attention.

These people are your best guideposts. Be good to them. Do not lose touch with them. And should they fail you in some way, be forgiving. These random folks – people who have likely never met, and who you may not even particularly like on a personal level – arrive to nudge you along on your intended path. Should you outgrow them, your dynamic can become uncomfortable. Be grateful, and promise to serve others as they served you.


I hope very much that you’ll find a partner in this life, whether that looks like marriage or not. (Though robbing me of taking you wedding dress shopping would be a horrible mistake. I live for that shit.)

Your father is my adult life’s greatest blessing, and my daily (often hourly) source of joy and comfort.

I’m now going to state the obvious thing that everyone (even beloved Jane Austen and Nora Ephron) fails to point out:

The most important thing in partner selection is that you like them very very much.

I like your father’s secretly wicked sense of humor, and his always-clean hands, and the way he methodically scrutinizes minor decisions and can be sort of charmingly lasses-faire about seemingly bigger things. I just enjoy him immensely, in most every way, most every day. Seek that.

In my experience, the secret to fulfilling romantic love is not so much about how they make you feel, but how you feel about them.


At some point, Sweet Girl, something will inevitably happen to you, something unexpectedly tragic or upsetting, and you may feel that no one understands. You may also feel that you somehow “have it worse,” and you will wallow in the unfairness of it all. This is okay – for a day, a week, a month or two.

But it is not a suitable or sustainable lens through which to see the world.

The universe owes you nothing, and you really have no idea what it’s like to be anyone else. Actively listening to others helps, so does reading good fiction and watching good films, but really, we’re all on our own, figuring it out as we go.

Of course, as your mother, I would like to protect you and Cameron from everything that could ever cause injury – from a bee sting to losing a loved one to the grief of a dashed dream – but I know this will be impossible, and detrimental, too. What I can do is help equip you to weather these storms with your chin up and your eyes and heart as open as you can manage, and promise to remain an ally and advocate for as long as I live.


Be on the lookout for what symbols speak to you.

Every woman should know what color ignites her power.

I like red, and the numbers ten and sixteen, and oddly-shaped keys. Masculine, cologne-inspired scented candles put me at ease. I like fat, fluffy afghans, black coffee, yellow and white flowers, canvas totes, and Edison bulbs. I virtually only wear Minnetonka flats, four-inch-tall pumps, or slippers. I prefer ivory to white, black to navy, and gold to silver. I’ve grown to appreciate massive TVs and micro desserts. I’m hyper-picky about my stationary, but not what car I drive.

The better you know yourself, the more your decisions will bring you long-term happiness because you’ll have curated a life that provides you particular comfort.


This one’s very simple.

You will never regret being kind.

When in doubt, offer the hand, drop the note, sit longer, listen better, apologize sooner, give more, take less. If someone repeatedly tramples your spirit, take note, act accordingly, and find someone more deserving and appreciative of what you have to offer.


Throughout every stage of your life, you’ll likely have some fluctuating thoughts and feelings about the exterior casing in which you walk around. I say this because I’ve yet to meet a human who doesn’t. This is okay, but I encourage you to not spend too much time navel-gazing (literally or figuratively).

In my belly, right this minute, you are a tumbling, kicking, rolling queen.

You feel healthy, vital, capable. I’ve found myself subconsciously humming Tiny Dancer. Today, that’s you. Once you’re out and free and not-so-tiny, I hope you’ll grow to appreciate how you can move in your body, through dance, through athletic feats, even while tackling everyday chores. Someday, should you find yourself “with child” (one of my favorite awkward phrases), I hope you’ll marvel at your body’s miraculous, peculiar evolution.

Some people really struggle with harnessing their body’s potential and accepting its flaws. Women in their sixties, seventies, and beyond often regret the self-loathing hours/years(!) they were convinced they looked awful during their physical prime.

On this note, I hope, too, that you won’t be so severe that you find no pleasure in expressing yourself through the clothes, makeup, jewelry, shoes, or other window dressings that may speak to you. Some days I revel in adorning myself until I resemble a glittering, gaudy Christmas tree. Other days, I feel more liberated in my bare skin and glasses and Harrison High Tennis sweats.

My point?

No one likes everything about their bodies, and no one can have it all. Nourish yourself with good, wholesome foods and products, treat others with kindness, and please, please don’t take anything superficial too seriously.

Life will be far more fun if you believe you’re beautiful.


Happens to everyone.

Wallow briefly, then refuse to be defined by something so common.


When you find yourself with a true, loyal, caring friend with whom you can laugh and cry, treat them like the precious gem they are. Should a gem you used to celebrate and appreciate proudly become a wretched pebble in your shoe, kindly part ways. Maybe your friendship ran its course, maybe you learned something, maybe she’ll miss you. Who knows. The stubborn stragglers, the ones who accept you and your flaws, this is your tribe.

Defend them with everything you have – every time, with ferocity and conviction.

That’s how a tribe works.


It’s important to remember that the world in which you’ll enter has been shaped – thoughtfully, lovingly, deliberately – by the sacrifices and advancements of those who came before you, particularly other women and people of color. It is my hope you enter a world of greater equality for our sex and all people, but equality is never a given. Never forget this.


You may find that the world will reward you for being confident, but not too confident. Clever, but not too clever. Accomplished, but not too accomplished. Stylish, but not too stylish. (You get it.) So who sets these wavy, capricious lines in the sand? Everyone. Meaning while you’re beguiling many, you’re offending some.

Meanwhile, it’s become common in Girlworld to assume that if someone doesn’t like you, they must be jealous of you.

In my experience, this is often not the case. I’ve experienced jealousy very few times in girlhood and womanhood and have disliked many, and I’m absolutely certain some people do not like me and jealousy has nothing to do with it.

Here’s the rub: some people are simply not going to like you, and that’s entirely a-o-k, and entirely not your business. Trite as it is, the important thing is that you like you, and that while you continue to acquire skills and aptitudes and confidence and a slew of other darling traits, you keep a level head.

My best pal, Judith, sagely preaches, “You be you.” It’s my belief that almost always when a person is most authentically themselves – confident when confident, raw and vulnerable when raw and vulnerable – they are not only their loveliest, but also their most impactful.


I know this is an impossibly tall request, but please try not to worry too much.

(My own wise, elegant mother, your darling Grandma Sal, a proficient worrier herself, reminds me of this regularly. And on the Lopez side, you have your gorgeous Nonna, whose heart is so big she can worry about your upcoming exam, your roommate’s sister’s toothache, and whether the coffee stain in your duvet will come out with equal enthusiasm. While I pray you inherit your grandmothers’ uncanny beauty and grace and generosity and intelligence, I’m sorry to inform you that you are genetically predisposed to go to that scary, worst-scenario place — an impulse you must stifle before it suffocates.)

Truth is, most everything works out, and when it doesn’t, the human spirit, in an almost predictable, nearly mundane way, shines with resiliency and resolve.

What I mean is, it’s not at all unique to look back on your most trying experiences with gratitude for the lessons gained.

Besides, worrying’s a waste. No one wants to have horrible things happen to them or those they adore, but worrying does nothing to prevent it. Be street smart, eat well, move often, and express rational concerns in a way that may best resonate with your intended audience.

That’s all you can do, Honey. I know it’s unfair, but it’s true.


Mix it up: read a new author, visit a new restaurant, take a new class, get a new haircut, buy some new sneakers, explore a new park.

Do not get a tattoo. Do not quit your job. Do not abandon a commitment. Do not break ties with a quality friend or lover.

Those decisions require — and deserve — a clear head.


When my mind and heart are torn, I go with my gut. It’s easy to forget that we’re animals, equipped with innate instincts that often function as our finest decision-making barometer.

On less important pickles, flip a coin.

When the winning side shines, your immediate reaction will reveal what you truly hoped for while it was still up to chance, suspended in air.


(25 films to watch before your 25th birthday)

A League of Their Own

Little Women

Fried Green Tomatoes

Now and Then


Miss Representation

The First Wives Club

Steel Magnolias

Set It Off

Thelma and Louise

Sliding Doors


Ever After


If These Walls Could Talk



The Trouble With Angels

Real Women Have Curves


Iron Jawed Angels


The Upside of Anger

Sister Act

My Girl


Reading is far more intimate and time-consuming than taking in a film. I would never recommend titles until knowing you and your interests.

But someday, likely sooner than I like, you’ll see me with more dimension.

What I mean is, you’ll see me not only as your mother, but also as a flawed, complex, well-intentioned human with gifts and shortcomings, and around this time, I hope you’ll willingly read my more significant works, and I hope you’ll find something to enjoy in them.

(And if you don’t, I hope I’ve raised you to have some tact.)


Please picture me now. I’m sitting in my office. The curtains are pulled. It’s 2am. On my desk, beside my keyboard, sits a cold mug of tea, a soupy carton of Whole Foods peanut butter ice cream (that’s got to be because of you – before you I never ate peanut butter ice cream in my life), and a heap of (mostly pink) baby cards. I’m surrounded by unwrapped gifts for you. I mean entirely surrounded, as in, I can hardly move my chair from the desk. These gifts were selected by our family members and my girlfriends. They bought them because they’re already invested in you becoming a healthy, happy, stimulated, clean, well-read, well-cared for, well-dressed little girl.

In a few minutes, I’ll walk up the stairs, carefully, quietly, so not to wake your brother.

After brushing my teeth, I’ll take the medication that helps ensure you and I don’t meet for another month(+).

In bed, I’ll sleep on my side, facing Daddy, with my hand resting on my round belly. Before I close my eyes, I’ll whisper, “Good night, Baby,” and sigh with gratitude that you are you, and I am me, and sweet, wonderful, curious Cameron is sweet, wonderful, curious Cameron, and Anthony is my Anthony, and that we get to share this life together, the four of us, who will soon all call this house “home,” where we’ll learn and play and read and feast and laugh and cry and dance and toil and experiment and make mistakes and forgive and hug and watch television.

I will wonder, fleetingly, what you will look like, smell like, sound like, what it will feel like to again hold all that newborn budding potential in the crook of my arm. See, I already love you. I’m already in your corner. I already feel like your mama, and you couldn’t be more wanted.

As I drift to sleep, I will finally admit that while I haven’t done much daydreaming these last two decades, it’s likely because I fulfilled my lifetime quota as a girl. What’s happening now is too familiar, too natural, too much a result of muscle memory. From three to thirteen, I probably daydreamed as much as I jumped rope, took groundballs, studied for spelling exams, sharpened pencils, and relayed my day’s events to anyone who would listen (thanks, Mom and Dad).

We haven’t met yet, and you’ve already provided me with a remarkable gift: the invitation to revisit the purest, least complicated chapter of my life.

Girlhood, when done right, is a time of boundless curiosity, exploration, experimentation, fun, and learning – a time when everything is still possible. What a privilege and adventure to usher you through this era, with love, with intention, with gratitude, with as much patience as I can muster, and, of course, a healthy dose of glitter. (You choose the color.)

Really, really look forward to meeting you.