I am secretly fascinated with the idea of goal-free living, and suspect it may be the apex of human development, which is a paradox, because obviously goal-free living = enlightenment, and how can that be an apex? There are no comparisons in the enlightened state! There’s no up or down, good or bad, winning or losing! Oh, my head is spinning …
Here’s what I mean to tell you: I’m not an enlightened being. I’m a being who kind of loves goals. And along with that, I love me a review. A look ahead, a look behind: that is the cherished self-care ritual I know as the Weekly Chicken.
Lexical note: “Chicken” is Havi Brooks’s deliberate corruption of “check-in,” because that just sounds too corporate, like something you owe your overlord before you can leave on Friday. A chicken is just … lighter. Fluffier, you might even say.
Like Sunday lunch, the Chicken is best enjoyed with a small crowd. I do my Chickening with a group of sister entrepreneurs, in an intimate online forum.
How to Chicken
Every week, one of us finds a goofy chicken image on the internet, and posts it with a slightly ridiculous reminder that it’s time to offer your weekly review.
We use a bullet-list format of positive events, negative events, and what we’re looking forward to (or not looking forward to, but are perhaps braced for) in the week ahead. We will often (optionally!) use themely category names, such as:
- Rainy Days, Silver Linings, and May the Wind Blow In
- Plain Sailing, The Swamp, and Leaving the Harbor
- The Good Place, The Bad Place, Asking Janet for Encouragement
- (and continuing with the Good Place theme) Welcome! Everything is fine; Royally Forked; DEREK DEREK DEREK
- The Juiciest, Sweetest Plum; The Most Disappointing Mealy, Flavorless Plum; More Plums Please!
So you can see we’re pretty dualistic. Winning good! Losing bad! We loved this; that other thing was a disaster. The weekly Chicken isn’t a path to enlightenment. It doesn’t ask us to be grateful for our difficulties, or to make lemonade from lemons before we’re ready. The Chicken is an appreciation of life’s pageant, both the parts we welcome and the parts we can’t avoid.
The Silent Retreat
Speaking of parts we’d rather avoid, an important Chicken side dish is the Silent Retreat, another Havi Brooks coinage. (She has a gift.) This is the little dodge in which you acknowledge something happened, but redact the particulars. So for example, in my personal-use Chicken, which I keep on my computer, I might write:
I went to Geoff’s costume party in lederhosen and when I did the Time Warp™ in them, the seat ripped, so everybody saw my Fighting Irish leprechaun skivvies and I’m afraid there may be evidence posted on social media but I’m too humiliated to look. (If you’re thinking this kinda sounds like an example from my real life, you’re wrong. I did not attend Notre Dame!)
But for the group, I would take a Silent Retreat on some aspects by posting an item peppered with initials, aliases and vague notions inside brackets:
Went to G’s [big event] where [seriously embarrassing thing] happened, and I’m not sure when it’ll be safe to leave my house.
My friends don’t need the details to be compassionate in their responses. They might make reassuring comments, or show their solidarity with little fist-shaking emoji, or with some beating hearts. When I post my woes, everyone feels less alone in theirs.
And where life has gone well, and we have things to brag about, we all cheer, and respond with triumphant Oprah gifs. (YOU get a car! and YOU get a car!) We’re there to party or commiserate, as needed.
But mainly, we’re there to witness each other.
There have been times when I have Chickened quite late in the week. There have been weeks when I have cried I don’t have tiiiime to Chicken! Then one week I realized what I was actually saying: that I didn’t have time to be a witness to my own life. And you know what? That’s never true.
We may not have time—or the inclination—for a whole memoir, but a few minutes each week acknowledging the hard times and the good is time well spent. To care for ourselves is to see, to witness, and to be present. But to Chicken with a group of compassionate external witnesses is to practice self-care with friends, and that is the some of the most fun self-care a person can have.