Wendy Died. (She was a chicken.)
That was one thing too many.
A note for you, if you’re having a bad day
My calendar told me that today I was supposed to write to you about boundaries, which is one of those perennial topics on which I always need more work myself. But then my chicken died and I had a big embarrassing panic attack, and now today’s newsletter is going to take a totally different shape.
It wasn’t just “my chicken,” it was my favorite chicken. And not just my favorite chicken, but everyone’s favorite chicken. Wendy was probably your favorite chicken, and you haven’t even met her. Here is a painting I made of her:
What’s not to love? Feathers in the eyes, cute feet — and best of all, since we raised her from a chick, she was friendly. She was friendly to everyone and she would hug you. Here she is as a chick-sized protective big sister to Foot, who is not pictured (but who died last summer, in a similarly devastating turn for me):
And here, in adulthood, the majestic picture of pure delight:
When her brother Foot died last summer, I was sad to lose him, but sadder that Wendy would be lonely, and so I got two new chickens to take care of her. This sort of worked. The bigger new chicken, Eugenia, befriended Wendy — which she did by being weak and whiny, which put seemed to put Wendy at ease. The smaller chicken, Freckle, is out for blood and is committed to becoming Top Chicken in our coop. I’ve digressed into chicken-related gossip again. Sorry.
You may or may not know that our chickens are a public part of our neighborhood; I put out a monthly in-person newsletter for their fans, and we take in mail.
Some of the mail is specifically for Wendy. She is the favorite chicken of the people. See this comment:
One time, I ran into a couple outside our Chicken Window who told me they had moved across town, but they drove up to our house on weekends just to see Wendy. And to feed her corn. Yesterday, Wendy ate her last corn.
It wasn’t just that Wendy died. Chickens die. In fact, I recommend getting chickens because they teach you about death (see number nine on this list of 50 things I recommend), and love, and letting go. That’s about tied with “eggs” for me on the list of “reasons to keep chickens.” It was how Wendy died. It was that she had been attacked and then eaten. It was how scary and mangled and broken it all looked. It was too allegorical, maybe.
There have been a few times in my life when I have publicly yelled something because that is what would happen in a movie. Shock does weird stuff to the body; one of the things it does in me is cue my brain to “do something right now,” but since my brain hasn’t caught up to my body, my brain rifles through all its pop culture references for how it is supposed to react, and it usually comes up with something weird. When my sister and I got in a car accident ten years ago, I remember screaming “HELP! HELP!” from the bottom of the hill where we’d turned upside down, even though there were already people pulled up alongside the road looking down at us, presumably already helping.
Seeing Wendy’s body, I screamed things like, “NO NO NO NO NO NO” and “IT’S NOT FAIR.” And then I went inside and had a full-blown violent panic attack — the kind I had just recently been patting myself on the back for not having since giving birth. “Maybe I’ve outgrown violent outbursts!” I entertained. I was tempting fate.
My violent outburst involved the kind of screaming that has to be done into a pillow. This is how I learned that my pillows are pretty good, because I screamed as loud as I could, and they basically muffled it. Maybe we all should invest in at least one noise-canceling pillow. Because, as you maybe intuited, the meltdown wasn’t just about a chicken or her death or the nature of the chicken or the nature of the death.
Once again, a bigger, more powerful living thing got to decide that someone else’s life didn’t matter. And hey: that’s the nature of raccoons (which are cute, and I love them unconditionally, even when they eat my chicken) and it’s the nature of chickens (which are cute, but evolved to not be able to run away from raccoons). If it was just chickens and raccoons, I would be sad, but it wouldn’t have devastated me.
But, as I know I don’t have to tell you, because you are holding this, too: people with uteruses are going to die because of the enormous power of nine people who mostly do not have uteruses. Children and adults are going to die because of the power of people with guns. Entire families have died and are going to keep dying because of the power of a single man who lives in Russia and wants more power. People with no institutional power are going to not only die, but have their lives unreported and erased and seen as basically expendable by people who have more resources and yes, more power. People who have power are using their power for violence; and violence not in the name of survival, but in the name of getting their way. We know all this, and we do what we can. We are told not to give up hoping and fighting, and so we don’t. We wake up every morning and we put on underpants (sometimes), and we choose to try to survive.
This is amazing.
It makes me think of this poem called “Inexplicable” by Karen G. Johnston, which I’ll put here:
How we rise each morning,
instead of burying our heads
sewing them shut.
Why we keep on
with bone-deep joy
to this sordid world.
How we fill burlap sacks
with grit and gratitude,
our hands shredded
as we drag one over the other.
How we refuse the daily pull
towards greedy dark,
keeping at least one toe,
some of us whole torso,
in the light.
It’s what makes a poem
worth writing, worth reading,
worth flooding the world
with redundant, flawed attempts
It’s just the way it is.
There is no other way.
Stumbling every time,
practice or no.
Just part of the bargain…
Why we keep on / welcoming babies / with bone-deep joy / to this sordid world is the part in the poem where I start to cry. My daughter is here on the earth with me, and I imagine that there will be many times she will ask “why” where I won’t have anything to say. Against these beautiful summer days, it feels all wrong to be weighted down with grief. And while tomorrow I’ll find appreciation for the sunflowers growing and the house wren outside my window, today I am in it.
You might be in it. I would be surprised if “it” hasn’t found you in these most recent weeks. It’s not that we are living in unprecedented times (although that is always true), it’s that other humans keep letting us down. It’s the sameness; the numbness; the unsurprise. Humans have such a huge variety of choices that they can and do make. Where a raccoon is always going to eat a friendly chicken, a human can decide that maybe she’s not going to take out the friendly chicken today; maybe she’ll be gentler. It’s hard when time and again, we watch our species choose violence and power.
Two content warnings about this next paragraph: It is going to seem political, but I’m not feeling very political, and this is not intended to be political. And I am going to talk about my experience being pregnant and giving birth, and so if you’re currently pregnant or trying to conceive and want to have your own experience without being weighted down by someone else’s, skip it.
I’ve been a lot sadder about the overturning of Roe v. Wade than I think would have been two years ago. Here’s a secret no one told me in so many words: going through pregnancy and birthing kills an earlier version of the self. This may not be true for everyone, but it is true for the vast majority of birthing people I know. For me, this hasn’t been sad: it’s been amazing. I mean, now I know you can die and come back different; there’s something spiritual about that. But if it wasn’t something you’d chosen, I can’t put to words how gutting, how emptying, how devastating it would be. In Regina Mahone’s gorgeous essay on her own abortion, she writes:
We exist not because we were forced to become parents due to antiquated abortion laws, but because we were able to exercise our right to start our family when we felt we were ready. This is something worth celebrating—it’s also reproductive justice, actualized.
I write this now not because I think I can say anything to you that you haven’t already read or thought or seen on social media; you already believe about this what you believe. I offer it, as I offer all things, as a means of connection. Maybe you want to feel less alone in your grief; maybe you want to be in conversation about how sad you feel; maybe you just want to know it’s OK to feel however you’re feeling.
It is OK.
I am not going to be the “get-up-dust-yourself-off-start-working” person today. Grief takes time and energy, and urgency can be tyrannical in and of itself. You need to make space for yourself to become. Through all the repeated awfulness, you are bursting forth; you are evolving. As you know (because Oprah won’t let you forget), trying to get a job done when you’re sleep-deprived will always take twice as long (if not longer). It’s the same as trying to get anything done when your whole self is begging you to rest in your grief. You have to listen to that pull.
Changes to this newsletter
As we round the corner into the one-year anniversary of You Are Doing A Good Enough Job, some things have changed. I am no longer pregnant, as I was when this began. I am now raising a baby, and she is wonderful, but raising a baby is really expensive, even when you don’t buy any new stuff for them! And I am a working writer with small teaching jobs in the fall and spring. I have no regular income in the summer and winter, and that’s always a challenge.
I put a lot of time and energy into this newsletter, and I do make it mostly for myself; it is the newsletter I want. I basically need to be told I’m doing a good enough job every day, or I will cry. I can’t be alone in this, can I?
No, I cannot. And I know this for a fact, because a lot of you (such a wonderful, wonderful lot of you) have emailed me to tell me I am doing a good enough job. Someone emailed to tell me about their own baby getting a helmet when I wrote about T needing one. Sometimes people email about stuff going on in their lives. Carol emails me almost every week! (She gets a shout-out, because she’s also a very good writer, and her emails are a pure delight.) You’ve sent me photos of flowers. You’ve recommended songs. Basically, you, the readership of this newsletter, are fucking amazing.
Another important fact is that I have promised that the weekly pick-me-up-note portion of this newsletter will always be free. I keep my promises.
THE “NOTE TO YOU” SECTION WILL STAY FREE FOREVER.
This is not a change.
THE EXTRAS SECTION IS CHANGING.
Every week, I give a roundup of links and things that I have been consuming and recommending. I am going to polish that up, and put it behind the paywall. It will come to you on Fridays. It will be called Ten Things Sophie Recommends, and it will always have ten things.
I AM ADDING A DIGITAL PAVILION.
It isn’t fair that it’s just me who gets to hear from all of you. You should be hearing from each other. The purpose of this newsletter is to help people who beat themselves up a lot stop doing that so much, and you are all actually really good at helping other people do that. Power in numbers. I honestly have a real gut sense that a few of you could become really good friends if you met each other, even just online. The Digital Pavilion will go up on Mondays, with a conversation question; I’ll encourage you to answer the question, and I’ll respond to everyone! Plus, you can chat with each other. I am hoping to get the feel of early 2000s Internet chatrooms: intimacy, excitement, connection, and fun. And drawings of penises that look like this: <=====3. This is also behind the paywall.
I am calling it a pavilion because I Googled “Clubhouse Synonym” and this was my favorite option after “golf-course,” and I thought Digital Golf-Course was confusing.
PAYWALLS SUCK, SOPHIE, I AM BROKE. IF ONLY THERE WAS A DISCOUNT.
I really get that. For the next month, I am offering a 20 percent discount on paid subscriptions, which you can access by clicking here.
I’M MOVING CHECKLISTS AND DRAWINGS TO THE “NOTE TO YOU” SECTION.
In an effort to make my notes more dynamic, I’m going to integrate drawings, photographs, embeds, and yes, To-Do Lists into the main body of the note to you. None of that is going away; it’s all just going together.
“WHAT’S ON MY MIND THIS WEEK” GETS A NEW NAME.
Let’s not lie: I’m always thinking about parenting. It will now be called “A-parent-ly: A Paragraph,” and it will be one paragraph long.
PERSONAL NEWS AND DISCOUNT CODES.
I’ll end each weekly free newsletter with anything I’ve published elsewhere, anything I’m actively working on, and always a discount code for something or multiple somethings in my store. This will start today.
I’M RE-EVALUATING OTHER PAID CONTENT.
What do you think should be included in a paid subscription? Choose one of each below.
WOW, POLLS ARE COOL.
I agree. Here’s another one that’s not about my newsletter.
I have a lot of new merchandise in my store, and since you are here, subscribing to my newsletter like a champ, you can take 20 percent any total order, which is a pretty significant amount!
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