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Fan Letter to a Writer

In Which a Parrot Sheds Some Light

By W Goodwin

Dear Shannon Ashley,

It seems you’re one of the most popular and prolific writers on Your writing dwells on relatable (that word again?) issues that resonate (and that one?) with your readers. Personally, I go for your clear voice — the “you” in your words that makes you seem familiar and knowable. So even though your topics are not always congruent with my own concerns, I love reading you. When I say “love,” please understand…

As passionate and carnal as you’ve convincingly told us you are, I’m not speaking of the eager semi/demi love lavished by a groupie.

As dazzling and poignant as your courageous openness is, this is not the kindred-spirit sort of love proffered by a sympathetic colleague.

As fierce and committed as your mothering of a lively 5-year-old is, this ain’t the atta-girl love of a fellow mother.

As brave and thoughtful about your obesity as you are, it’s not the we’re-in-this-together love of another fat woman.

As wracked and guilt-plagued as you’ve admitted to us you are, this is not particularly the commiserating love of another wrong-doer.

As the recovering cult member (I love your “exvangelical” — such a freighted word) and depression battler you are, this is not the pitying love of another victim, “counselor” or parent.

So what is this love I feel for your words and by extension, the person behind them? Hmm…I think maybe your writing makes me feel a little like Quincy used to make me feel…

She was a parrot, an Amazon (of course), and she was a significant part of my life for many years. Before I knew her gender, and lacking any notion of what her avian acquaintances might have called her back in Brazil, I named her Quincy (Quincy Jones was playing when I brought the bird home).

Quincy was very beautiful, very curvy, very smart and very vocal. She could break your heart with what came out of her mouth. She could sing very well. Sometimes when she imitated an unknown baby’s cry, people stopped what they were doing to listen, moist-eyed.

Quincy taught me that even a bird, if it’s sensitive and thoughtful, can suffer from depression. There were times when she drooped her wings, remained mute and binged on her food for days. Though she strove to tell me, I never learned why she was depressed. I speculated of course. Was she blue because that crying baby had become a less-approachable child? Had she been jilted by a lover, the parrot who was already-bonded-to-another, the cruel one who drew her into an abiding nightmare of ruffled feathers and self-doubt? Perhaps she was haunted by an ancient terror from chickhood that left her feeling she would never be a good enough adult parrot.

I mentioned Quincy’s binging. Wow, could that gal eat! An entire banana in an hour. A cookie in 60 seconds. Ice cream, gingerly tonguing it until all remained was a sticky puddle. Quincy gained so much weight she literally couldn’t fly. For a while, she tried to fly every chance she could. She pretended she was still at her jungle weight and gamely throw herself from her perch, flapping madly and squawking in frustration. Bless her little three-chambered heart, her best angle of ascent was now a negative 30 degrees. Every attempt to take flight culminated in an embarrassing crash, and she knew down there on the turf was where a bird becomes a Chick-Fil-A for the dogs and raccoons. Pretty soon she quit trying to fly. She became sedentary and, frankly, fat.

The up-side of Quincy’s weight gain was she no longer required fettering or cutting of wing feathers to save her from random fly-aways and getting lost. So unfettered, she was free to hang out and climb on the posts I installed for her in the converted greenhouse I used as a workshop. Undistracted by flying, she turned to mastering her singing and speaking abilities. She learned new songs, riffing on them to make each tune her own. She added more inflection and nuance to her speaking. She became more gregarious and wild birds alighted nearby just to marvel at her. She flirted shamelessly. People started visiting the house just to gawk at that beautiful, articulate, over-weight Quincy.

End of parable.

So for a year now, I’ve been seeing your byline on Medium. You’re fabulously prolific, by the way.

I’ve read enough of your thoughtfully-curated, stream-of-consciousness, confessional writing to know you and Bethany were raised in a single-mother-household as is your own girl (she really looks like a marvelous person in that picture you posted — and coming from a parent of two, that carries some weight). Yes, and I’ve read enough of your stories to know you’re a post-cult-trauma survivor, your puberty was precocious, you’re demisexual with a place on your neck you just love having kissed (my partner and I have them too!), you’re vocal during sex, at some point you hit 400 pounds and you’re scared half-to-death your fat’s going to kill you (precursor to the keto butter/bacon thing you’re jumped into). I’ve read enough to know that during your pregnancy you considered intentionally killing yourself, the only thing you’ve written that’s shocked or alarmed me. You’ve also told us you will soon be 37 years old, and you pour so much of your energy and time into writing you fret you’re not being a good mother.

Some might think you overshare, but whether that’s accurate or not is beside the point because you deliver your revelatory missives with entertaining verve and self-deprecating humor. Besides, you justify the degree of your explications by making them components of your narrative goals.

You write that you’ve come to believe in a “magical thing called possibility.” To me that says your experiences have engendered a healthy skepticism without getting you mired in fear and cynicism. Perhaps that belief has become one of the wellsprings of kindness and hope from which you drink because much of your writing conveys, graciously I might say, those magical possibilities — your empathy and kindness, your leaves of wisdom and waves of encouragement. Brava, Shannon!

Before I go, I would like to say a few words about that upcoming 37th birthday of yours. You’ve mentioned it several times, leading me to believe it’s become a sort of totem invested with your expectations or disappointments about where you think you should be at this point on your life. Or perhaps I’m reading too much into it for the silly reason that I love that prime number made up of two prime digits. It’s haunted me since my early 30s when it seemed to be everywhere, like those take-a-number machines where I would pull out a piece of paper and it was the number 37, like my address and phone number both having 37s, like Shakespeare writing 37 plays, like the top speed of bottlenose dolphins being 37 knots, like the normal human body temperature fixed by homeostasis at 37 degrees Celsius… That number was showing up in so many random places that I became a bit superstitious. I began to fear it meant I was going to meet my demise when I turned 37! So fear not, Shannon Ashley, for my book of Juju tells me it’s going to be a good year for you and your daughter. I have no doubt you’ll still be going strong at twice that age, loving and being loved, because you know what? You’re figuring stuff out. You’re well on your way to becoming a life-master.


Your Fan, W

Bound to the ocean and reflecting mixed genetics, I am compelled to write about the sea while living in Colorado.

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