How A Fictional Character Cut Off Eleven Inches of My Hair and a few other strange impulses I can’t seem to regret

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 spontaneously embark 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 next to 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, I’ve since learned, the FINEST, most EXTRAORDINARY scenes flow from such a subconscious place it seems as if they’re typed via Ouija board, more than written from the ever-analytical mind. Either way….

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: “TOWANDA!”

The "Before"

So the next week I did. 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, feeling sick when those fictional scissors zipped through Rita’s fictional mane. There’s no “second takes” with something like that.

The moment had been fully experienced on the page. Mine was just an echo action — a “real world” ripple of the actual real deal.

I drove home from my appointment with a Ziploc bag of hair in my purse and mailed it off to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths the next day. After such a lovely 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 old puzzling “chicken-or-egg” adage: Does life inspire art or art inspire life? After this experience, I’d say they’re equal. And for this, I’m equally grateful.

And feeling a little lighter, too.

As writers and human beings it’s helpful to draw some lines, plant some stakes, set some ground rules. Only experience gained over stretches of mistakes and near mistakes, can teach us what instincts to chase down the rabbit holes, and which ones to quiet, calm, and quell. (This is one reason I feel age is vastly undervalued in our workforce and culture as a whole, though I’ll get on that soapbox another day.)

Snip

I still find it utterly unnerving to abandon my pretty color-coded outline while writing, but that’s where the MAGIC lies: betweeeeen the bullet-points. Since crafting this scene, a scene that no doubt would make the movie adaptation if there ever were one (please, Towanda, please?!), I’ve vowed to “writer woman up and never again say no to allowing this magic to unfold.

Almost Done....
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
When it calls, I’m going to listen, and should it sound like a half decent idea, I’m going to give it some space on the page, and should it fill that nicely, I’m going to build it a goddamn house so it can roam and play into whatever the story and my subconscious allows. That, my friend, is a vow – a promise to make a home for something spectacular to sprout. 
 

“Apparently it’s time.”

This discovery led me to a few other things in this life that warrant an unconditional “YES.” The list will grow longer over time, I’m sure, but here’s a start….

1. If you have a random opportunity to go to Europe or Hawaii.

2. Brunch with friends. Even if you have a looming, gray-cloud-of-a-deadline, brunch. Brunch with friends always helps. It is never wrong. It is never wasteful. It is always productive. It is part of the good life. Never say no.

3. Making (exuberant, heated, primal) LOVE with your significant other. (No one dies thinking, “I spent too much time having sex with my husband.” And if you think you might, may I suggest some serious soul searching?)

4. Coffee meetings. They’re usually under one hour. Just go. Who knows what good could come of it.

5. Holding a baby. When someone asks if you’d like to hold their baby, what they’re really saying is: “For a few moments, I will trust you with my world. I invite you to gaze at the divine and remind yourself of everything that is pure and holy amongst the chaos we’ve created.” There’s no saying “no” to that. (Unless you have a cold. Then please politely explain and decline.)

6. Golf with Dad.

7. Reading a book that has been randomly recommended for you by two or more people. Life is short, books can be long, but when two or more suggest it for you, the universe is telling you to read that book.

8. Dancing by yourself in a new ‘do.

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xo

A

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