Lately I don’t know how to do mornings. I wake up at 6, shuffle around, make tea, and open my laptop. I try to work because the house is quiet, because both quiet and time are limited, but most days I don’t quite know where to start. I could grade things, or answer emails, or revise assignments, or build remote learning modules. I try to do one small thing, and then another small thing, but I feel like I’m getting nowhere, and then suddenly the sun is up and the house is in motion and I’m making breakfast while my laptop sits open on the kitchen counter, whining at me.
I think a lot these days about time theft, a concept that strikes me as laughable—the way the phrase asks us to condemn an unlogged break with solemn moral gravity. All of my life right now feels like time theft. When I work I’m stealing from my kids. When I attend to my kids I’m stealing from my work. I’m a thief. Right now, I’m stealing 20 minutes to finish writing this.
Last June, we purchased 25 chicks via mail order. I had to pick them up from the post office, and my wife had warned me that they might be in rough shape. “They will need their beaks dipped in water right away,” she said. I watched YouTube tutorials. I dreaded their arrival. I tried to rally all my inner strength.
But the moment I stepped into the post office, I could hear them. Their cheeps carried through the entire building and echoed. I laughed underneath my mask. My eyes teared. They were not languishing. Still, my heart beat fast. It was a long line.
Over the next few weeks, my children handled the chicks and named them. Bigfoot, Storm Cloud, Jerko, Lava, Speedy-O, and Yeti. Those are just the ones I remember. Everyone survived. They are full grown chickens now.
After breakfast I close my laptop and get some kind of dressed. I put boots over the leggings I slept in. I throw on a winter coat and work gloves. Sometimes it takes me too long to do these simple things because I’m convinced I need to check my email again or because I’m avoiding the rain or the cold. But then I step into spaciousness.
In recent weeks, the rain has been relentless, but mornings are often calm. Our fields have become a cluster of small ponds. Ducks land and go all day. I trudge through muck and slosh with a bucket of chicken mash. I scoop it into their feeders. I change water. I collect eggs. I make more mash. It’s one of the few moments of the day where I am in one single place. I am not a thief. I know what I’m doing and what I’m supposed to do. I’m feeding chickens.
On January 6, I watched a chicken die. One moment she was huddled with the other hens pecking at the mash, and the next moment she was huddled in the mash bowl. She seized, and then collapsed, and then I watched the light leave her eyes.
Before stepping outside that morning, I had half-watched a livestream of senators debating the certification of the Biden’s win. Once outside, I’d forgotten about that, but by the time I reentered the house, the insurgents had attempted their coup. In retrospect, the hen’s death felt like an omen.
On January 20, I was gathering eggs with my earbuds in when Amanda Gorman read her inaugural poem. I couldn’t see her, but I could hear her words as I raided the greenhouse for a plastic container and placed each egg inside. It felt kind of perfect: me, alone but listening along, lifted by truth, gathering eggs.
Right now I’m reading Keema Waterfield’s beautiful coming-of-age memoir, Inside Passage, which is transporting me to Alaskan landcapes every night. I’m lucky enough to have an advance copy, but you can pre-order it now and have a nice suprise when it comes out in April. Lying in wait on my bookshelf are two books I can’t wait to read: The Part the Burns, a memoir by Jeannine Oullette and No Heaven for Good Boys, a novel by Keisha Bush.
One thing I didn’t see coming was the opportunities a book launch provides to connect with writer friends and make new ones. Last week I got to talk to Anne de Marcken of 3rd Thing Press, and this coming week I get to read with Anne Liu Kellor. (2 Annes!) Maybe we will see you there!