My two youngest chickens are outside now, looking almost like cartoon versions of themselves because they are teenagers. They are six months old, which is adolescence for them. The black speckled one is named Smoke, and the golden-yellow one is Butter. They are Rosette's chickens, as her dad brought them when they were one day old for her, but really they like to hang out with me because I always turn over rocks and bricks so they can find the bugs underneath. They have eaten nearly every insect in the back garden, which means the roses and blackberry vine and lavender are bigger than ever.
One of our twelve rabbits got out of his cage again, too, so it looks like some version of Easter chicks and bunnies on steroids scampering around, because they are all so big now. (We've had rabbits live to be ten years old. This one is four.)
I didn't know I would like the chickens. These chickens. I have hated some of the other chickens my ex-husband brought, because two turned out to be roosters (we promptly gave them back to him, as he lives in a neighborhood where lots of people immigrated from Mexico and don't mind roosters) and one always ate her own eggs (we gave her away after three weeks of watching what we considered infanticide, which then led to a discussion among my daughters about why it was okay for us to eat the eggs but not her).
That's the thing about the chickens. They remind me, during a strange week like this, and preparing to go on the road again for a week to talk about slavery and my novel and motherhood and ownership, about what women did to survive in the past. All those phrases that come from chickens and women ? egg money (women often got to keep it), don't put all your eggs in one basket (while taking them to market to sell), and waking up with the chickens (it's sure as heck early, when they start making noise). When I feed them, and I realize my hand makes a movement millions of other hands have made and are making now, in rural counties and countries everywhere in the morning, the motion of scattering cracked corn, it's a strange connection. The chickens are company, sometimes, when I sit back there reading someone's manuscript. And they saved me the other day from possible death ? I turned over some old truck toys and bulldozers that we keep for visitors, and black widows came out. Those chickens snapped up the spiders, and I watched in horror for a moment to see what would happen. Nothing. They just looked for more. I wondered what in the world a black widow tasted like, as compared to a worm, pillbug, earwig, or slug. Apparently, it was good, because they followed me excitedly as I emptied a washtub of firewood, and they got a few more. I have killed countless black widows in my yard over these eighteen years, but I'm glad to have murderous company.
Writing for Powells this week seemed intimidating at first, but I've loved reading all the other interviews and blogs. What I loved the most was how passionate we all are about books. One of the best things about being a writer is mail. In the mail, we get galleys and advance reading copies. When I was in graduate school, my mentor and wonderful professor Jay Neugeboren invited my then-husband and me to his house often, and I loved to wander around the rooms of his big farmhouse and look at all the books. Galleys and books for reviews ? it seemed like a treasure trove to me, a poor graduate student who usually touched books only at the library. I would disappear for hours into a corner and read.
Now my house has piles of books everywhere. It is a small farmhouse, at the edge of the Santa Ana riverbed and in the middle of a large city. But it's a writer's house, I know, because when the many kids and visitors and students come by, they all see the books. Galleys with plain covers, advance reading copies which look like paperbacks, and all the books I buy and can't wait to read.
Last night I was reading two new galleys I love, and though I am supposed to talk this month about my own novel, I can't help saying Peter Orner's new novel, set in Namibia, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo, is amazing. Also, Rebecca Lee's The City is a Rising Tide kept me awake, which is hard to do.
So I am coming to Portland, a great city of books, Sunday for Wordstock, and I will see more writers and books than ever, and then I go to the Bay Area, which is also full of writers and books, and then I will return to my children and my ex-husband and parents and neighbors, who will probably ask me only not to leave again so soon. I will feed the chickens, because they really like me best, and we'll look for black widows, and I'll think about all the words dancing on all the pages.