Excerpt from James McBride’s The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to his White Mother

When I was fourteen my mother took up two new hobbies:1 riding a bicycle and playing piano. The piano I didn’t mind, but the bicycle drove me crazy. It was a huge old clunker2, blue with white trim, with big fat tires, huge fenders, and a battery-powered horn built into the middle of the frame with a button you pushed to make it blow3. The contraption would be a collector’s item now, probably worth about five thousand dollars, but back then it was something my stepfather found on the street in Brooklyn and hauled home a few months before he died.

I don’t know whether it was his decision to pull out or not, but I think not. He was seventy-two when he died, trim, strong, easygoing, seemingly infallible, and though he was my stepfather, I always thought of him as Daddy. He was a quiet, soft-spoken4man who wore old-timey clothes, fedoras, button-down wool coats, suspenders, and dressed neatly at all times, regardless of how dirty his work made him. He did everything slowly and carefully, but beneath his tractor-like slowness and outward gentleness was a crossbreed of quiet Indian and country black man, surefooted, hard, bold, and quick. He took no guff and gave none. He married my mother, a white Jewish woman, when she had eight mixed-race black children, me being the youngest at less than a year old. They added four more children to make it an even twelve and he cared for all of us as if we were his own. “I got enough for a baseball team,” he joked.5 One day he was there, the next—6stroke, and he was gone.

I virtually dropped out of high school after he died, failing every class. I spent the year going to movies on Forty-second Street in Times Square with my friends. “James is going through his revolution,” my siblings snickered. Still, my sisters were concerned,7 older brothers angry. I ignored them. Me and my hanging-out boys were into the movies. Superfly, Shaft, and reefer, which we smoked in as much quantity as possible.8 I snatched purses. I shoplifted.9I even robbed a petty drug dealer once. And then in the afternoons, coming home after a day of cutting school, smoking reefer, waving razors, and riding the subway,10 I would see my mother pedaling her blue bicycle.

book excerpt — ‘What Made Maddy Run’ by Kate Fagan

The best four years of her life. That’s what Madison expected. Four years just like high school, except better — because now she’d be living on her own. 11

Actually, not quite on her own, living with a roommate. 2 At first, the room she shared with Emily in Hill — the Penn dormitory — seemed just fine, cozy even. For the first few days, they both kept the room meticulous, desperately preserving the image of college life they’d carried around for years: pictures of high school friends above desks, shampoo and conditioner tucked neatly into a plastic carrying case, roommates moving easily around the shared space with laughter and smiles, music blaring, preparing for a big party. 3

This image soon dissolved. In its place appeared something more real: 4the messiness and claustrophobia of two people who don’t really know each other sharing two hundred square feet, of wet towels left on beds, of books and clothes covering every surface, of neither roommate living up to the expectations of the other, because, well, how could they? This disappointment mattered, of course, but then again so many spaces existed outside that little room in Hill: classrooms, coffee shops, the city, frat parties, restaurants, the track.

… The track.5

In high school, track was fun. That was essentially its point: it was a form of cross-training that kept Maddy from burning out on soccer. Track came after school, and she spent much of the time running with Emma, her high school best friend, who competed for Boston College. Pressure eventually arose, once she became one of the best in the state, but she started without any kind of wild expectations. She just enjoyed running. She loved waking up on the weekend and going to the Celery Farm nature preserve, where she could churn through however many miles and whatever thoughts were on her mind.

But track in college was a different beast. For one, it was not just track; it was also cross-country. For another, it was not just one practice after school; it was also scheduled in the morning before classes. 6 It was, like most Division I sports, a job — with time commitments, with demands, with expectations of performance. 7 And nothing turns enjoyment into dread faster than obligation.

For all of Madison’s life, late summer and fall had meant soccer. It meant walking onto a grass field, cleats in hand, laughing with friends she’d known her entire life. 8The work was hard, but it was collective work, with friends to connect with between sprints with a nod (“We got this”), or a laugh (“Coach is crazy”), or an exhausted grimace (“How many more?”) –each person pulling weight toward a larger goal. 9 Now, late summer and fall meant waking up at dawn in a cramped dormitory room, in a new city, to trudge to practice and run long distances, the person next to you living inside her own head, considering her own times, responsible only for her own motivation. Maddy didn’t have anyone she wanted to show up for.

Maddy just wasn’t enjoying it. The training was so different. In high school, she had been a middle distance runner. She had wanted to stretch to the mile at Penn, but cross-country included races four times that length. Also, when she ran races in high school, she usually won. There were only eight lanes, just seven opponents, but still, Madison routinely finished first. 10 On the other hand, a college cross-country meet included hundreds of runners, all literally corralled at the starting line, released onto the course in a wave of humanity — dense lines of people jostling for running room, fighting to prove themselves with each stride.11 And each of these runners was just like Maddy: used to winning.12

http://www.espn.com/espnw/culture/article/20175159/exclusive-book-excerpt-made-maddy-run-kate-fagan

Daredevil #10 by Charles Soule

Introducers: The two introducing phrases before the main idea of “it’s not very big.” This changes the connection that the reader makes between the two ideas and surprises them at the end of the sentence, because everyone considers New York to be huge. The introducers delay this unexpected statement for the readers and makes it more unexpected as Matt talks about how New York is important to the world.
Introducers: The two introducing phrases before the main idea of “it’s not very big.” This changes the connection that the reader makes between the two ideas and surprises them at the end of the sentence, because everyone considers New York to be huge. The introducers delay this unexpected statement for the readers and makes it more unexpected as Matt talks about how New York is important to the world.
“But the way the neighborhoods work” begins a sentence with a conjunction, “But”. Starting a sentence with a conjunction is much more colloquial and gives us the sense of this being his thoughts
“But the way the neighborhoods work” begins a sentence with a conjunction, “But”. Starting a sentence with a conjunction is much more colloquial and gives us the sense of this being his thoughts
“Until this guy” fragment. This fragment here builds the sense of Matt’s inner thoughts and personality. But since the fragment is separated in a different panel as well, creating more separation than just a period, the emphasis is stronger and the pause is strengthened.
“Until this guy” fragment. This fragment here builds the sense of Matt’s inner thoughts and personality. But since the fragment is separated in a different panel as well, creating more separation than just a period, the emphasis is stronger and the pause is strengthened.

daredevil 4 daredevil 5

“New York City is alive. And living things change.” The decision to use a period instead a comma strengthens the separation of these sentences, while keeping the “and” connects the ideas. The overall effect is to create a sense of thoughts building off each other, connected but not thought immediately together.
“New York City is alive. And living things change.” The decision to use a period instead a comma strengthens the separation of these sentences, while keeping the “and” connects the ideas. The overall effect is to create a sense of thoughts building off each other, connected but not thought immediately together.
The ellipses that connect this panel to the last one from “For example…” to “…this flagpole” give the reader the pacing that Soule wants, as Matt starts the thought in one moment of action and finishes it after searching for an example in the next panel.
The ellipses that connect this panel to the last one from “For example…” to “…this flagpole” give the reader the pacing that Soule wants, as Matt starts the thought in one moment of action and finishes it after searching for an example in the next panel.

daredevil 8 daredevil 9 daredevil 10 daredevil 11 daredevil 12

Ellipses: this is one continuous thought that doesn’t require any punctuation in the middle, but the added ellipses draws out the thought and makes it more dramatic.
Ellipses: this is one continuous thought that doesn’t require any punctuation in the middle, but the added ellipses draws out the thought and makes it more dramatic.

daredevil 14

daredevil 15 daredevil 16

The repetition of “He didn’t” emphasizes the irony of the situation as Matt keeps his secret identity from Sam and pretends to not have the radar sense or his powers to keep the lie going, but the readers know that Matt and Daredevil are the same person.
The repetition of “He didn’t” emphasizes the irony of the situation as Matt keeps his secret identity from Sam and pretends to not have the radar sense or his powers to keep the lie going, but the readers know that Matt and Daredevil are the same person.

daredevil 18

Subordinating clause “when I introduced her to you” adverbial clause that reminds the readers why Sam had a cast while the prepositional phrase “in a fit of utter idiocy” adds Matt’s frustrations about the situation and gives the reader a sense of Matt’s personality and inner turmoil about helping Sam become Blindspot. "The hero game’s addictive": this contraction is uncommon in written text, but very colloquial in the spoken word. This contraction makes Daredevil’s thoughts more accessible to the reader and informal.
Subordinating clause “when I introduced her to you” adverbial clause that reminds the readers why Sam had a cast while the prepositional phrase “in a fit of utter idiocy” adds Matt’s frustrations about the situation and gives the reader a sense of Matt’s personality and inner turmoil about helping Sam become Blindspot.
“The hero game’s addictive”: this contraction is uncommon in written text, but very colloquial in the spoken word. This contraction makes Daredevil’s thoughts more accessible to the reader and informal.

daredevil 20

The participial phrase “training with Stick” specifies and explains what Matt means by being in Sam’s place, implying that “his place” is the state of being new to being a hero.
The participial phrase “training with Stick” specifies and explains what Matt means by being in Sam’s place, implying that “his place” is the state of being new to being a hero.
Starting conjunction: “But I didn’t like to listen,” connects the two ideas of Matt hearing but not listening while separating them in the mind of the reader so the fact that the second sentence came as an after thought triggered by the first is conveyed to the reader with the punctuation.
Starting conjunction: “But I didn’t like to listen,” connects the two ideas of Matt hearing but not listening while separating them in the mind of the reader so the fact that the second sentence came as an after thought triggered by the first is conveyed to the reader with the punctuation.

daredevil 23

“you want to break the rules,” is a subordinating clause missing the subordinating conjunction “if”. This missing word makes Matt’s thoughts feel more natural since no one thinks in formal, perfect grammar. The addition of the ellipses before the rest of the clause, (also missing a clause) dramatizes the irony of the statement and gives the effect of Matt delivering the punch line of a joke.
“you want to break the rules,” is a subordinating clause missing the subordinating conjunction “if”. This missing word makes Matt’s thoughts feel more natural since no one thinks in formal, perfect grammar. The addition of the ellipses before the rest of the clause, (also missing a clause) dramatizes the irony of the statement and gives the effect of Matt delivering the punch line of a joke.

Mrs. Dalloway — Virginia Woolf

“Yes,” said Peter. “Yes, yes, yes,” he said, as if she drew up to the surface something which positively hurt him as it rose. Stop! Stop! he wanted to cry. For13 he was not old; his life was not over; not by any means 2. He was only just past fifty. Shall I tell her, he thought 3, or not? He would like to make a clean breast of it all. But4 she is too cold, he thought; sewing, with her scissors;5 Daisy would look ordinary beside Clarissa. And she would think me a failure, which I am in their sense, he thought; in the Dalloways’ sense6. Oh yes, he had no doubt about that; he was a failure, compared with all this—7the inlaid table, the mounted paper-knife, the dolphin and8 the candlesticks, the chair-covers and the old valuable English tinted prints—9he was a failure! I detest the smugness of the whole affair, he thought. Richard’s doing not Clarissa’s; 10 save that she married him. (11Here Lucy came into the room, carrying silver, more silver12, but charming, slender graceful she looked, he thought, as she stooped to put it down.) And this had been going on all the time! he thought; week after week; Clarissa’s life; while I—13he thought; and at once everything seemed to radiate from him; journeys; riders; quarrels; adventures; bridge parties; love affairs; work; work, work!14 and he took out his knife quite openly—his old horn-handled knife which Clarissa could swear he had had these thirty years 15 – and clenched his fist upon it.

What an extraordinary habit that was, Clarissa thought 16; always playing with a knife. Always making one feel, too, frivolous; empty-minded; a mere silly chatterbox, as he used 17 summoned, like a Queen whose guards have fallen asleep and left her unprotected (18 she had been quite taken aback by this visit – it had upset her) so that any one can stroll in and have a look at her where she lies with the brambles curbing over her, summoned19 to her help 20 the things she did; the things she liked; her husband; Elizabeth; her self, in short, which Peter hardly knew now, all to come about her and beat off the enemy.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

“Want to go out in Dobbs Pasture?” asked Dill.

No. 21

“How about let’s make a kite?” she said. “We can get some flour from Calpurnia…” 2


“Can’t fly a kite in the summertime,” 3 said Jem. “There’s not a breath of air blowing.”

The thermometer on the back porch stood at ninety-two, the carhouse shimmered faintly in the distance, and the giant twin chinaberry trees were deadly still. 4

I know what,” said Dill. “Let’s have a revival.”

The three looked at one another. There was merit in this. 5

Dog days in Maycomb meant at least one revival, and one was in progress that week. 6 It was customary for the town’s three churches–Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian–to unite and listen to one visiting minister, but occasionally when the churches could not agree on a preacher or his salary, each congregation held its own revival with an open invitation to all; 7 sometimes, therefore, the populace was assured of three weeks’ spiritual awakening. Revival time was a time of war: war on sin, Coca-Cola, picture shows, hunting on Sunday; war on the increasing tendency of young women to paint themselves and smoke in public; war on drinking whisky–in this connection at least fifty children per summer went to the altar and swore they would not drink, smoke, or curse until they were twenty-one; war on something so nebulous Jean Louise never could figure out what it was, except there was nothing to swear concerning it; and war among the town’s ladies over who could set the best table for the evangelist. 8 Maycomb’s regular pastors ate free for a week also, and it was hinted in disrespectful quarters that the local clergy deliberately led their churches into holding separate services, thereby gaining two more weeks’ honoraria. This, however, was a lie. 9

That week, for three nights, Jem, Dill, and she had sat in the children’s section of the Baptist Church (the Baptists were hosts this time) and listened to the messages of the Reverend James Edward Moorehead, a renowned speaker from north Georgia. 10 At least that is what they were told; they understood little of what he said except his observations on hell. Hell was and would always be as far as she was concerned, a lake of fire exactly the size of Maycomb, Alabama, surrounded by a brick wall two hundred feet high. Sinners were pitchforked over this wall by Satan, and they simmered throughout eternity in a sort of broth of liquid sulfur. 11

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

It was cool and quiet under the waves.

For a few endless moments, Tally felt only relief to have escaped the searing wind, the thundering machine, the blistering heat of the firestorm. 12 But 2 the weight of the crash bracelets and knapsack pulled her down fast, and panic welled up in her pounding chest.

She thrashed in the water, climbing up toward the flickering lights of the surface. Her wet clothes and gear dragged at her, but 3 just as her lungs were about to burst, she broke the surface into the maelstrom. Tally gulped a few breaths of smoky air, then was slapped in the face by a wave. She coughed and sputtered, struggling to stay afloat.

A shadow passed over her, blacking 4 out the sky. Then her hand struck something—a familiar grippy surface… 5

Her hoverboard had come back to her! Just the way it always did when she spilled. The crash bracelets lifted her up until she could grab onto it, her fingers clinging to its knobbly surface as she gasped for air.

A high-pitched whine came from the nearby shore. Tally blinked away water from her eyes and she saw that the Rusty machine had landed. Figures were jumping from the machine, spraying white foam at the ground as they crashed through the burning flowers and into the river. They were headed for her. 6

She struggled to climb onto the board.

“Wait!” the nearest figure called. 7

Tally rose shakily to her feet, trying to keep steady on the wet surface of the board. Her hard-baked shoes were slippery, and 8 her sodden knapsack seemed to weigh a ton. As 9 she leaned forward, a gloved hand reached up to gab the front of the board. A face came up from the water, wearing some sort of mask. Huge eyes stared up at her.

She stomped at the hand, crunching the fingers. They slipped off, but her weight was thrown too far forward, and the board tipped its nose into the water. 10

Tally tumbled into the river again. 11

Hands grabbed at her, pulling her away from the hoverboard. She was hoisted out of the water and onto a broad shoulder. She caught glimpses of masked faces: huge, inhuman eyes staring at her unblinkingly. 12

Bug eyes. 13

The Bear Came over the Mountain by Alice Munro

Fiona lived in her parents’ house, in the town where she and Grant went to university. 14 It was a big, bay-windowed house that seemed to Grant both luxurious and disorderly, 2 3 with rugs crooked on the floors and cup rings bitten into the table varnish. Her mother was Icelandic—a powerful woman with a froth of white hair and indignant far-left politics. 4 The father was an important cardiologist, revered around the hospital but happily subservient at home, 5 where he would listen to his wife’s strange tirades with an absentminded smile. Fiona had her own little car and a pile of cashmere sweaters, but she wasn’t in a sorority, and her mother’s political activity was probably the reason. Not that she cared. 6 Sororities were a joke to her, and so was politics—though she liked to play “The Four Insurgent Generals” on the phonograph, and sometimes also the “Internationale,” 7 very loud, if there was a guest she thought she could make nervous. A curly-haired gloomy-looking foreigner was courting her—she said he was a Visigoth 8and so were two or three quite respectable and uneasy young interns. She made fun of them all and of Grant as well. She would drolly repeat some of his small-town phrases. He thought maybe she was joking when she proposed to him, on a cold bright day on the beach at Port Stanley. Sand was stinging their faces and the waves delivered crashing loads of gravel at their feet.

“Do you think it would be fun—” Fiona shouted. “Do you think it would be fun if we got married?” 9

He took her up on it, he shouted yes. He wanted never to be away from her. She had the spark of life. 10

[source]

Holler If You Hear Me by Gregory Michie

The topics that dominate our upper-grade staff meetings rarely have much to do with how we can better teach our kids, how we can help them see themselves and the world in new ways. In truth, we seldom have time to talk about individual students at all, unless one of them is being suspended or has broken some sort of rule.11 Instead we go back and forth about detention schedules, or state goals, or lesson plan formatting, or bathroom supervision, or girls wearing too much makeup.2 The lipstick situation is getting out of hand.3 The minutiae become the agenda, and our mission, if we can even remember ever having one, gets buried underneath it all. It can all seem so overwhelming and discouraging that at times like tonight I ask myself why I continue. Why teach? Why do I do it? Why even go in to work tomorrow morning?

A few weeks ago I went to see Gyasi Kress, a talented high school student and actor I know, perform in a play.4 While waiting for the opening act to begin, I flipped through the program, which contained the typical capsule biographies of all the show’s performers.5 The only difference was that these had obviously been written by the actors themselves. Gyasi’s paragraph, written in the first person, predictably listed a few of his theatre credits and mentioned that he was part of a local rap trio. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, it said: “I plan to change the world.”6

The words jumped off the page at me.7 I plan to change the world. A naïve notion? Maybe. Clichéd? Perhaps.8 But Gyasi’s bold declaration nonetheless crystallizes why I—and I think most teachers—chose our vocation in the first place, and, more importantly, why we keep on keeping on. At the core of our work is the belief, despite the distressing signs around us, that the world is indeed changeable; that it can be transformed into a better, more just, more peaceful place; and that kids who show up in our classrooms each day not only deserve such a world, but can be instrumental in helping to bring it about.9 Their voices are abiding reminders that there is something to hope for in spite of the hopelessness that seems to be closing in around us—something tangible, something real, something in the here and now.10

Upton Sinclair wrote in The Jungle that it is the difference between being defeated and admitting defeat that keeps the world going. The kids I teach know full well that the odds are stacked against them. They can find reasons to give up, to stop caring, to not go to school, almost anywhere they look. But I know that despite all that, come 9:00 a.m. tomorrow, Quincy’s opening bell will sound and, as if by a miracle, they will be there, ready for a new beginning, a fresh start, a chance to be seen and heard anew.11 It is that realization that will propel me out of bed in the morning, and it is that through that I hold onto as I turn off my bedroom light ad try to get some sleep. We can make a difference. We can change the world.

Michie, Gregory. Holler If You Hear Me: The Education of a Teacher and His Students. Teacher’s College Press, 2009. pgs. 192-193.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

They were tough.

They carried 12 all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing2—these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight.3 They carried shameful memories. They carried the common secret of cowardice barely restrained, the instinct to run or freeze or hide,4 and in many respects this was the heaviest burden of all, for it could never be put down, it required perfect balance and perfect posture.5 They carried their reputations. They carried the soldier’s greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to. It was what had brought them to the war in the first place, nothing positive, no dreams of glory or honor, just to avoid the blush of dishonor. They died so as not to die of embarrassment. They crawled into tunnels and walked point and advanced under fire.6 Each morning, despite the unknowns, they made their legs move.7 They endured.8 They kept humping. They did not submit to the obvious alternative, which was simply to close the eyes and fall. So easy, really.9 Go limp and tumble to the ground and let the muscles unwind and not speak and not budge until your buddies picked you up and lifted you into the chopper that would roar and dip its nose and carry you off to the world.10 A mere matter of falling, yet no one ever fell. It was not courage, exactly; the object was not valor. Rather, they were too frightened to be cowards.

O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. Mariner, 2009, p. 20

Confessions of a Juggler by Tina Fey

My daughter recently checked out a book from the preschool library called “My Working Mom.” It had a cartoon witch on the cover. “Did you pick this book out all by yourself?” I asked her, trying to be nonchalant11 . Yes. We read the book, and the witch mother was very busy and sometimes reprimanded her daughter for messing things up near her cauldron. She had to fly away to a lot of meetings, and the witch’s child said something like “It’s hard having a working mom, especially when she enjoys her work.” In the heartwarming conclusion, the witch mother makes it to the child’s school play at the last second, and the witch’s child says she doesn’t like having a working mom but she can’t picture her mom any other way. I didn’t love it. I’m sure the two menwho wrote this book had the absolute best intentions, but this leads me to my point. The topic of working moms is a tap-dance recital in a minefield.

It is less dangerous to draw a cartoon of Allah French-kissing Uncle Sam—which, let me make it very clear, I have not done2—than it is to speak honestly about this topic.

What is the rudest question you can ask a woman? “How old are you?” “What do you weigh?” “When you and your twin sister are alone with Mr. Hefner, do you have to pretend to be lesbians?” No, the worst question is: “How do you juggle it all?”

“How do you juggle it all?” people constantly ask me, with an accusatory look in their eyes. “You’re screwing it all up, aren’t you?” their eyes say. My standard answer is that I have the same struggles as any working parent but with the good fortune to be working at my dream job. Or3 sometimes I just hand them a juicy red apple I’ve poisoned in my working-mother witch cauldron and fly away.

The second-worst question you can ask a woman is: “Are you going to have more kids?” This is rude. Especially to a woman like me, who is in her “last five minutes.” By that I mean my last five minutes of being famous is timing out to be simultaneous with my last five minutes of being able to have a baby.

Science shows that fertility and movie offers drop off steeply for women after forty.

When my daughter says, “I wish I had a baby sister,” I am stricken with guilt and panic. When she says, “Mommy, I need Aqua Sand” or “I only want to eat gum!” or “Wipe my butt!,” I am less affected.

I thought that raising an only child would be the norm in New York, but I’m pretty sure my daughter is the only child in her class without a sibling. All over Manhattan, large families have become a status symbol. Four beautiful children named after kings and pieces of fruit are a way of saying, “I can afford a four-bedroom apartment and a hundred and fifty thousand dollars in elementary-school tuition fees each year. How you livin’?”

Now, I’m not really one for status symbols. I went to public school. I have all my original teeth and face parts. Left to my own devices, I dress like I’m here to service your aquarium. But the kid pressure mounts for other reasons.

The woman who runs my local toy store that sells the kind of beautiful wooden educational toys that kids love (if there are absolutely no other toys around and they have never seen television) asks me, “Are you gonna have another one?”

A background actor on the set of “30 Rock” will ask, “You want more kids?” “No, no,” I want to say. Why would I want more kids when I could be here with you having an awkward conversation over a tray of old Danishes?

The ear-nose-and-throat doctor I see about some stress-induced canker sores offers, unsolicited, “You should have another one. I had my children at forty-one and forty-two. It’s fine.” Did she not hear the part about the stress-inducedcanker sores?

My parents raised me never to ask people about their reproductive plans. “You don’t know their situation,” my mom would say. I considered it such an impolite question that for years I didn’t even ask myself. Thirty-five turned into forty faster than McDonald’s food turns into cold non-food.

Behind Door No. 2, you have the movie business. Shouldn’t I seize the opportunity to make a few more movies in the next few years? Think of the movies I could make!

“Magazine Lady”: The story of an overworked woman looking for love, whose less attractive friend’s mean boss is played by me . . . when Bebe Neuwirth turns the part down.

“The Wedding Creeper”: An overworked woman looking for love sneaks into weddings and wishes strangers well on their wedding video, only to fall in love with a handsome videographer (Gerard Butler or a coatrack with a leather jacket on it), despite the fact that when they first met they knocked over a wedding cake, causing an old lady (Academy Award™ winner Jane Fonda) to rap.

Next, a strategically chosen small part in a respectable indie dramedysemble called “Disregarding Joy,” in which I play a lesbian therapist who unexpectedly cries during her partner’s nephew’s bris. Roger Ebert will praise my performance, saying I was “brave to grow that little mustache.”

Finally, for money, I play the villain in the live-action “Moxie Girlz” movie, opposite a future child star who at this moment is still a tickly feeling in Billy Ray Cyrus’s testicles.

How could I pass up those opportunities? Do I even have the right to deprive moviegoers of those experiences?

These are the baby-versus-work life questions that keep me up at night. There’s another great movie idea! “Baby Versus Work”: A hardworking baby looking for love (Kate Hudson) falls for a handsome pile of papers (Hugh Grant). I would play the ghost of a Victorian poetess who anachronistically tells Kate to “go for it.”

I debate the second-baby issue when I can’t sleep. “Should I? No. I want to. I can’t. I must. Of course not. I should try immediately.”

I get up to go to the bathroom and study myself in the mirror. Do I look like someone who should be pregnant? I look good for forty, but I have the quaggy jawline and hollow cheeks of a mom, not a pregnant lady. This decision cannot be delayed.

And what’s so great about work, anyway? Work won’t visit you when you’re old. Work won’t drive you to the radiologist’s for a mammogram and take you out afterward for soup. It’s too much pressure on my one kid to expect her to shoulder all those duties alone. Also, what if she turns on me? I am pretty hard to like. I need a backup.

And who will be my daughter’s family when my husband and I are dead from stress-induced canker sores? She must have a sibling. Hollywood be damned. I’ll just be unemployable and labelled crazy in five years, anyway.

Let me clarify. I have observed that women, at least in comedy, are labelled “crazy” after a certain age.

Female Writer: You ever work with xxx xxxx?

Male Agent (dismissive): She’s crazy now.

Female Writer: You know who I loved growing up? xxxxx mcxxx. What about her for this part?

Male Writer: I don’t know. I hear she’s pretty batshit.

Female Writer: I got a call today from xxx xxx.

Male Producer: Ugh. We had her on the show once. She was a crazy assache. She wanted to see her lines ahead of time. She had all these questions.4

I know older men in comedy who can barely feed and clean themselves, and they still work. The women, though, they’re all “crazy.” I have a suspicion—and hear me out, because this is a rough one—that the definition of “crazy” in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore.

The only person I can think of who has escaped the “crazy” moniker is Betty White, which, obviously, is because people still want to have sex with her.

This is the infuriating thing that dawns on you one day: even if you would never sleep with or even flirt with anyone to get ahead, you are being sexually adjudicated. Network executives really do say things like “I don’t know. I don’t want to fuck anybody on this show.”

(To any exec who has ever said that about me, I would hope that you would at least have the self-awareness to know that the feeling is extremely mutual.)

It seems to me the fastest remedy for this “women are crazy” situation is for more women to become producers and hire diverse women of various ages. That is why I feel obligated to stay in the business and try hard to get to a place where I can create opportunities for others, and that’s why I can’t possibly take time off for a second baby, unless I do, in which case that is nobody’s business and I’ll never regret it for a moment unless it ruins my life.5

And now it’s four o’clock in the morning.

To hell with everybody! Maybe I’ll just wait until I’m fifty and give birth to a ball of fingers! “Merry Christmas from Tina, Jeff, Alice, and Ball of Fingers,” the card will say. (“Happy Holidays” on the ones I send to my agents.)

I try to think about anything else so I can go back to sleep. I used to cling to the fact that my mom had me unexpectedly at forty, only to realize a couple of years ago that I had the math wrong and she was thirty-nine. A world of difference, in my insomniac opinion.6

My mom was conceived in the U.S., born in Greece, and brought back here as an infant. Because of this, she never gets called for jury duty.

She grew up speaking both English and Greek, and when I was in elementary school she volunteered to be a classroom aide, because a lot of the Greeks in our neighborhood were “right off the boat,” as she would say, and needed a translator. Sometimes the teachers would ask her to translate bad news: “Please tell Mrs. Fondulas that her son is very disruptive.” And my mom would nod and say in Greek, “George is a lovely boy.” Because she knew that if she translated what the teacher really said the kid would get a beating and the mother would hate her forever out of embarrassment.

Little kids’ birthdays in my neighborhood were simple affairs. Hot dogs, Hawaiian Punch, Pin the Tail on the Donkey, followed by cake and light vomiting. (Wieners, punch, and spinning into barfing would later be referred to as “the Paris Hilton.”) I would always complain to my mother after the Greek kids’ parties, because they served Italian rum cake. Covered in slivered almonds and soaked in booze, Italian rum cake is everything kids hate. No one ever ate it. It just got thrown away.

Cake Time is supposed to be the climax of a birthday, but instead it was a crushing disappointment for all. I imagine it’s like being at a bachelor party, only to find that the stripper has overdosed in the bathroom.

My mom finally explained to me that the reason the “Greeky Greeks,” as she called them, got the Italian rum cake was that it was the most expensive item in the bakery. They wanted the adults at the party to know they could afford it. Anyway, is that what I’m trying to do with this second-baby nonsense? Am I just chasing it because it’s the hardest thing for me to get and I want to prove that I can do it?

Do I want another baby? Or do I just want to turn back time and have my daughter be a baby again?

Some of you must be thinking, Well, what does your husband want? He’s a part of this decision, too, you know! He wants me to stop agonizing, but neither of us knows whether that means go for it or move on.

Why not do both, like everybody else in the history of earth? Because things that most people do naturally are often inexplicably difficult for me. And the math is impossible. No matter how you add up the months, it means derailing the TV show where two hundred people depend on me for their income, and I take that stuff seriously. Like everyone from Tom Shales to Jeff Zucker, I thought “30 Rock” would be cancelled by now.

I have a great gynecologist, who is as gifted at listening as she is at rectal exams. I went for my annual checkup and, tired of carrying this anxiety around, burst into tears the moment she said hello. I laid it all out for her, and the main thing I took away from her was the kind of simple observation that only an impartial third party can provide. “Either way, everything will be fine,” she said, smiling, and for a little while I was pulled out of my anxious, stunted brain cloud. “Everything will be fine” was a possibility that had not occurred to me.

That night, as I was putting the witch book in my daughter’s backpack to be returned to school, I asked her, “Did you pick this book because your mommy works? Did it make you feel better about it?” She looked at me matter-of-factly and said, “Mommy, I can’t read. I thought it was a Halloween book.”