Third Newsletter: Henpecked

I send out a monthly-ish newsletter. This is the the third one, sans photos that accompany it when it goes straight to your inbox. If you’d like to see the whole thing, pictures and all, sign up here!


In which 5 becomes 2

I thought I knew what it meant to be henpecked. But in the span of two days, the Kid and I learned the hard way that chickens don’t just peck bugs (and maybe the occasional lizard) to death. The first casualty was one of our 5 baby chicks. On their first day out of the nursery coop– a gorgeous, sunny day, too lovely to be locked in– our Little Red Hen took her babies to join the flock for dinner. Head rooster Richard The Interloper, (who conveniently migrated over from our neighbor’s after our first neighbor-rooster Henry, got eaten by a coyote), pecked one of the babies. I thought this was the usual “pecking order” stuff. But when Richard (The Wretch) pecked the poor chick again, I swooped in, amid mama hen’s clucking, and whisked the baby away to the coop. No more of that! Unfortunately, when I put the chick back in the coop, I noticed blood on my hand. Upon closer inspection, the chick had a small puncture near its leg. It looked a bit odd, but it was small and the chick seemed mostly OK, although a bit limpy and flustered. I made sure it nestled under mama hen and hoped that come morning things would look better. Alas, in the morning, the chick was dead. We were sad.

The very next morning a mouse that made the ill-timed decision to come out of hiding as the kid and I fed the Little Red Hen and her four remaining chicks. Mama hen attacked the mouse, even as it scurried about trying to escape. I am probably not a very good chicken farmer because I couldn’t turn my back. By the time I managed to get the poor mouse out of the coop (in the feed scoop), it was bleeding from its eye. I explained to the Kid that even though it was alive, things did not look good. We found what we hoped was a safe, peaceful spot. When we checked later, the mouse was gone.

(Since then we’ve lost two more chicks– both of whom drowned in the goats’ water trough, that blurry black thing in the picture above. Two more sad days that a chicken enclosure might have prevented.)

My Caveat to Goal Setting
Sometimes goals are elusive

Last month, I shared my goal of having a revised draft of the new novel (I call it “Josie”, after the main character, but it’s working title is actually To Stay Forever) by April. There’s my “workstation” above. Oh, and that’s the Kid tackling a Lego project at the top of the screen there. We build (with varying degrees of success) at the same time, sometimes.

Anyway, April 1st is still the goal and I’m making headway, but…. Well, good news first! I was surprised by how much I liked the first half of the book when I read it in early February (I confess, it’s been hard letting go of Rosetta–she was so easy to love!– and allowing myself to fall for Josie). The bad news is right now April seems ridiculously optimistic– I’ve still got several new scenes to write and 150 more pages to rework and somehow it’s already already mid-March! Sometimes finishing this novel (any novel!) seems so overwhelming. Lately I find myself walking a tightrope between holding myself accountable and allowing myself slack.

Which, combined with a question Rachel (hi Rachel!) asked after my last missive, made me think maybe I ought to say something about how I screw my courage to the sticking point (to quote Lady Macbeth) on the days when I feel daunted. Since agonizing over my first never-to-be-seen-in-public attempt at a novel (which my very tactful father [hi Dad!] called “workmanlike”), I’ve adopted a mantra, thanks to some wise words from my college roommate and artist Michelle (hi Michelle!) who melds gorgeous, melancholy photos with poems: The important thing about art is the doing of it.

Just the act of creating– even if it’s terrible, even if it doesn’t seem remotely like art– is progress. I knew that first novel wasn’t good enough; as Ira Glass puts it here (or in this cool video representation here), there was a gap between my taste and my skill. But writing it was still important. It proved to me that I could write something novel length. It taught me what my process looks like so I don’t get quite as dismayed now when I hit the middle of a project and suddenly I’m convinced the story has turned into a terrible, muddled mess (I really wish it didn’t, but it happens every time).

Lately my mantra has a corollary, thanks to the wise words of my friend Andrea (hi Andrea!). She was one of the very first people to read scenes from I Shall Be Near To You (she also recently told me she likes Josie better than Rosetta– can you believe that?!) and her first story collection How To Pose For Hustler was just released the Tuesday before last. And she has two young children. The corollary? Lower the bar.

This means not henpecking myself when life intrudes (birthday parties and preschool board meetings and book events and a cold that won’t quit). It means not berating myself if I don’t hit my daily word count goal (500-1000 words– these days I like having a window). It means just writing one sentence. Or working for ten minutes (an idea I stole from Aimee Bender– it’s about 8 minutes into this interview, scroll down to #49). Or trying not to worry too much if a scene isn’t right yet because I can always fix it in the next draft (or try again in the one after that). Even if all I do is write one sentence, I feel better. Less disappointed in myself for not living up to my own expectations. And it’s a great way to trick myself, because many times, one sentence turns into two, turns into three… The trick is making it seem easy. Who couldn’t write just one sentence?

As for those other goals I told you about last time? Well… There was a camera/operator malfunction with the first roll of film from the 100 year old camera. Time to try, try again. As for the chicken enclosure, a site has been selected and approved by our neighbors and landlady alike. Time to break out the post pounder. But I did manage to build a goat feeder, which wasn’t even on my list! Better add it and promptly cross it off!

Is She Kidding?
It’s hard to wait (for baby goats)!

Meanwhile, here’s a picture of someone else who’s been doing a lot of work. Mama Goat is looking very pregnant these days, but she’s only just over halfway to her May 12 due date. Poor thing. On the right there is her 3 year old daughter Tricksy. She’s due to have her first kids June 1, but she’s still looking so svelte, I’m starting to wonder…

It’s hard to wait, but to give myself a little more time– to be a little less peckish with myself about this “monthly-isn” newsletter– I’ve decided to write you next when I have an announcement– a new draft or new baby goats, whichever comes first. Maybe that explains why this newsletter got so long– it might be awhile til next time (but I hope not)!

Until then,