who cooks your food?

Food softens the edges.
It gives us the space to enter into hard things, gently.

That, is what I love.

Food is political, emotional, spiritual, sexual, agricultural, among so many other things.
food is important.

I’ve been attending some talks at my local university, which just so happens to be my Alma Mater.
Last night I had the pleasure of listening to John T. Edge, among others, speak on the title: “Race at the Southern Table – The Debts of Our Pleasure”

First and foremost, I have to recognize my place of privilege. As a white American male, my backpack is very light. Meaning, historically, I have a lot going for me based on my appearance. It is important to say this, because a lot of people are lucky and work hard, but also we live in a world where those things aren’t written in stone.

I am a cook.

I work in a stuffy, windowless kitchen and get paid slightly above Mississippi’s minimum wage. Which is probably one of the lowest in the nation. I live simply. I pay my bills. I have a few beers. I work hard, for little money. I don’t do it for the money.

I do the work because my heart is bound together with yours.

Maybe I am, as they say, an “agri-poser” — or hipster cook with tattoos wishing I had a Pok Pok to frequent on a daily basis. But I don’t. I learned how to eat and cook well in Portland, Oregon. I learned what farm to table actually looks like. I worked under some shitty owners, and I’ve worked under some really great chefs whose kindness, sternness and freedom let me have a voice in a kitchen without much experience.

That is my place. I give a shit about what I do. I work hard. I can’t fall asleep at night because I’m thinking about what it is I’ll be cooking the next day. I get angry at lazy cooks and business owners. When I am in a kitchen, it is my responsibility to own it. Even when my name isn’t on a lease, I own that shit.

That, is what I do.

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But this is the story of the southern table. No doubt one that has seen so many changes in the history of my state. The conversation continues to roll on today as a person who works in the back of restaurants. Southern cuisine owes its allegiance to the African American communities, First Nation tribes and all others who have had to serve privileged class citizens. This, either due to socio-economic class, but also by the color of their skin.

There is a great injustice. Restaurants have a long way to go. It’s a hard business, and Americans are lazy and consume much more than we require. Most restaurants depend on the backs of the poor and minorities and I’ve worked beside people who have really hard stories. I’ve worked with really great, dependable people, and others who can never show up on time. And trust me, laziness comes in all colors and sizes.

It is, though, important to know the stories of the people cooking your food. People are becoming more involved with wanting to know where there food comes from. This is great. I think the next step is wanting to know WHO is cooking their food. Yes, sometimes the Chef will be in. And my biggest mentor worked her ass off in the kitchen.

These conversations are important because as I said earlier, food is important. The future of food is important. The agriculture of our state is so, so important.

I offer this as a conversation.

I am not claiming to be a professional academic or researcher on the matter, but I do have some experience working in the trenches and know that eating food is something people enjoy.

For my people especially, our table is complicated and large and colorful.

We are moving forward, with the ability to look back and to process and to recognize our place in the midst of it all.

That is all I’m asking.

Who cooks your food?

 

energy and space.

My head is feeling a lot like the state of my room at the moment.

Scattered on my floor are clothes that I really need to put away. A new heater I spent 10 minutes at Wal-Mart researching, because well, the weather has taken a cooler turn in the South. I’m always a little giddy at that. I also grew comfy with the sound of my little heater in Portland. (That is, when the breaker wouldn’t switch in the middle of a frigid cold night.)

I see quarters and nickels and dimes everywhere, because I pay with cash a lot and have been used to Oregon’s zero-tax thing. The good part of it is, it’s a very messy way to have a savings plan. I have little treasures all over my apartment.

This week, I’ve been dealing with back pain on and off. Mostly muscle related, from all the twists and turns and bends of being a cook, no doubt. So, I’ve been needing to take it easy. I’ve stayed off my feet to the best of my ability and my surroundings showcase the laziness of my strained frame.

That’s okay.

To be honest, I have to fight with every sentence to not complain about being single. I tell myself not to write about it, because it makes me feel as though I’m looking for pity. I hope you don’t see it that way. I really don’t have too many complaints, to be honest. I think about what a gift it is to have a partner, and to also be single. I think about how both sides give us plenty of room to grow into good, strong people. Though it’s always through some pretty mucky stuff. Sometimes sad and frustrating, washed over with plenty of goofy-lovey-sweet stuff.

You notice peoples physical touch a bit more when you’re single. I went to an amazing show last night, and noticed all the lover things happening. The neck kisses, the couple that’s been making out at the bar for an hour straight who should probably just go home and get things settled. The sweet dance via bass and snare and high-hat — of getting closer to someone you don’t really know. Maybe the lightest presence of another close to you feels like it’s all going to be okay.

And while I’m being honest, I’ve been waking up quite often, missing her. I’ve felt embarrassed and sad about a lot of things. The Black Keys say that a broken heart is blind, but more so, it is the most fragile thing on our planet. I wonder how often we take responsibility for each others broken hearts…not that we should carry the weight of it, but that we should live knowing our actions are always echoing through the bones of those we know.

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I saw a picture this week that said, “Take responsibility for the energy you bring into this space.” by Jill Bolte-Taylor

I’ve probably posted it to every social media outlet I can stand, for the sake of how it resonates deeply, and how I need to be better of it myself. I think being aware of your energy is hard hard hard. Some people know it and are comfortable with it. Other people suck it up like a vortex, and you can almost hear the collective ‘sigh’ when they leave. I think about the people who tell me I’m a calm presence to them, and what that must mean when I am in a room with others.

I suppose if they saw the inside of my head, my appearance would be much more tired looking, with my hand rubbing the sore muscles of my back, dazed and maybe a little hectic. Probably confused that I would be thinking about the sandwich special of the week, or how many leeks I needed to order for the butternut squash soup.

More often than not, I suppose all of our heads are cluttered from the things we just have to do now.

And much like the story I wrote about in my last piece, you have to start one at a time, most likely.

When I get out of bed, hungover from a dream or reality, I pick a good song to start my morning to. I stretch, more so, considering the state of things, and find comfort in the warmth of my gas stove.

I drop in a spoonful of butter and let it get the lightest bit brown, before dumping in my eggs.

I squeeze the last, most flavorful drops of my bag of PG Tips with my bare fingers, because the heat doesn’t much bother me anymore.

I let that incorporate into whatever it is I can’t control,

and I let that, for the moment, be enough.

 

 

a thousand tiny pieces

I am currently sitting here, watching my new printer spit out some words I’ve been writing over the past year or so.

It is certainly the shittiest of first drafts of something I might some day consider to be a book.
It is just so, so hard to do.

I can’t really say if I will ever get to the point where you fine people will be able to read it, but that is my plan, overall. Really, I just want to finish something. I owe that to myself and my story.

It is hard to dive back into that, especially as each day moves you further out. It is odd, at times, to see myself in such a painful reality that many of you are in — hell — that I’m still in sometimes.

For me, it revolves around a small moment from a few months ago, when I was playing cards with my nephew. At face value, it was a good ole’ fashioned temper tantrum. Kids have them all the time. I understand.

He had gotten frustrated and threw the cards on the ground — they went everywhere.

I knew this frustrated him even more, because now he had to pick them up. But he just couldn’t. He moaned and squirmed on the ground, while I noticed the amount of time it was taking for him to work through this frustration, he could have had the cards picked up in no time.

But kids get frustrated, man.

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After being told repeatedly to pick them up, he would start, and throw them down again. Squirm some more, maybe a few little tears. I felt bad. Not because he was being stubborn, but because I remember when those things got to be overwhelming as a kid. When you’re tired and frustrated, and can’t put a voice to it. So what do you do? You whine and moan. You say and do things out of anger.

So I began to help him.

“Come on bud, we’ll do this one at a time, okay?”

It took a little convincing, but I think when he saw me helping him, he started to pull out of that messy space.

I mean, what do you do when all your cards hit the floor, dispersing into what looks like a thousand little pieces?

You squirm and complain and to be honest, gotta cry for a while.

The chaos of what you created, and perhaps what was presented to you consumes your ability to take first steps.

But what I learned from this, and what I still learn every day, is that you have to start picking things up.

One at a time.

Your mess will still be there looking raw and disorganized and public.

Then, some people will come in and help you pick up a card or two. I have looked up on several occasions, choking on my own words, thanking people for getting on my level — for sitting in my hectic little moment for just a bit to help me through. I still have those moments.

I will always have those moments.

The idea about whatever it is I have coming out of that printer, is a mixture of what I experienced on that floor.

Having one’s shit together. Then losing one’s shit, and then picking it all up. With loads of help and grace and cheeseburgers.

T, who I still consider to be my mother in law, once told me, “to love is to suffer”.

And I remember it daily. When our friends lose their friends. When we get on the level of those who need a little more help.

That is powerful, yo.

You are powerful in ways you’ll never know. And in some ways, this thing that I’m writing, is a gift. To myself, and to whoever it is someday that will be able to know it had flesh on it. That this blog, in so many ways, was my way to squirm and moan and groan…and how I discovered in myself, through you, that life is all about the tiny pieces and how we get our knees dirty helping to pick them all up,

one at a time.

and for that, I say:

thank you.

 

time and light.

A few weeks ago, I read a story about a young woman who is choosing a physician-assisted suicide.

I read it a few times, actually.

She is choosing when and where and will be surrounded by her loved ones, after deciding the pain of her terminal illness was getting to be too much. I realize there is a lot in that, and what’s been on my mind, is not so much the politics or the religious aspects of such a decision.

More so, the power of her choice.

I think about how hard all of that is.

And yesterday, I felt pretty whooped — physically, emotionally.

Busy week in the kitchen, mixed with a whirlwind of everything else.

I sat in the deep sadness of this young woman’s situation. Her life, and having to choose something so terribly difficult before her peers and family.

I sat and wondered if I had one week to take all of life in, what would I notice?

I let it sink in a little deeper, and deeper. Until my eyes started to water, and I looked up at a blue sky, with a few scattered clouds. I thought about how beautiful and rich everything was. There were some birds involved, a slight cool breeze and the sound of crunchy leaves blowing against concrete.

I sat for a minute to take it in. To simply, notice.

I let in the good and the bad. My absolute joy mixed with my worst pain.

The faces of the poor and the sick, and the butterflies of having that first kiss.

Everything came flooding back into my world.
How lucky I am.
Though I find myself existing in all sorts of worlds, I think about the fact that I was able to live in such a great love, and to also experience the great sadness of loss.

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You realize that the world starts feeling like a t-shirt that has stretched beyond repair. And when you put it on, it is familiar but it doesn’t cling to you like it used to. You hold loosely to your attachments because time tells you that things come and go. That there are good years, and bad years and in between years.

I’ve personified time as my friend, as of late. I hold it close and thank it for giving me space in this little baby blue world.

I accept all these hard decisions. To move on in this world and the next, and to find that great peace we’re all constantly working to live in.

I think about her, and the fact that she’ll be surrounded by her family and loved ones. My heart breaks. But there is light all over when that happens, pouring into the cracks.

peace be with you, Brittany. sending my love and God’s love and warm and fuzzies your way. Thank you for your light.

 

life, all over again.

Writing is a lot like unpacking a suitcase after vacation.

A few wrinkled bits here. Maybe a half used bottle of this or that.

Smells of some place you ate stained into your clothing and maybe a souvenir or two.

Then begins the process of putting things back where they belong, and tossing what you don’t need anymore.
I don’t know why this part is so hard for me. Perhaps there’s some rebellion involved.

As with cooking, writing has the ability to create and clear chaos in my brain.
Before service, you want all your pieces in order. The fancy term is mise en place.

I’ve used that phrase here several times.

Gathering and preparing your ‘meez’ — that is cooking for the most part. Preparing yourself mentally and physically for what the night might throw at you. To be honest, you can never be prepared for everything, but you can sure as hell get close.

Preparation. I start to get that itch. That something is coming.

I have this idea in my head and I suppose most people call them writing prompts. They lead to one thought after another.

In the same way I prepare a dish, I am thinking of the next prompt. To be honest, cooking is mostly about prompts. There is a process, where one tiny thing is added to create one bigger thing. The parallel could go on for days, but I will choose to stop there.

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When I get to write, I get to prepare myself for something. I get to lay something down, examine it, put it away or give it away. When you write for the public, you are giving. I would say most people write for themselves. I think when you write for yourself, you’re being honest and people will know. Giving this away is hard sometimes. When I publish, there’s a big part of me that hopes it will go under the radar.

All of this has become such second nature to me, that I often forget people read. And when confronted, I am surprised and get shy and shrug a bit.

I could say the same for my other love.

I am so humbled when I get a response. Any response, I am usually bracing myself for impact. But as always, I love the good ones, and take seriously the bad. Or, “constructive”.

That’s the best thing about voice.

It’s so powerful and it’s so yours!

It is your wonderful and unique story and it’s how you tell it. Some people won’t respond, but the ones who do, you will know there is some soul sharing involved.

Sort of like when I read Anne Lamott, I have an odd fantasy of being around her the last days of my life. Making me laugh and cry and cuss in the same ten minutes. I like those people. Not that I know her, but I love that she makes me feel that way– connected deeply to her story. If anyone has brought me screaming and kicking back to God and my own spirituality, I would most likely thank her for doing the dragging. She’s a writer who helps me connect deeply to my own story.

It’s all just a process.

Creating. Failing. Celebrating.

Dish doing.

Floor mopping.

All over again. 

Unpacking.

Washing.

Remembering.

indulging in this sweet sorrowful beautiful magical resilient thing,

we call life.

back to love.

I wanted to write something really quickly before I headed into work today.

Your pain, and your sadness are absolutely yours. It is unique and it hurts and it finds its way into all the cracks, like discovering a cut on your hand while squeezing a lemon.

People will tell you things they think sound good, perhaps even coming from their own experience. But you also know, and you are right, that they can’t possibly understand the things you went through and how that made you feel.

What I hope to make sense out of this, is that generally we don’t want answers or silver linings. We want to be heard. We want to feel loved and we want to return love.

This is your journey back to love.

Listen to others, but more importantly, listen to yourself because remember how it was you who decided to keep choosing love and to not put your heart in that concrete box.

Getting back to love is something of a mess in itself. There’s sometimes less to say about the beginning parts of feeling ‘happy’. For me, it’s harder to write about. Especially how attachment plays a role in my own happiness. That, is for another day.

But last night, I sat with my head in my hands, and remembered so many parts of my story. I felt my wounds again. I discovered some new things. I felt those too.

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This process is not one cured by a crush or even a kiss.

How do you trust like you used to? How do you begin to love without abandon?

I’m not asking you for answers.

I’m asking for the sake of my own heart, because I know time will lend me its wisdom.

I am growing.
And changing.
And moving.

So are you.

moving towards love again.

towards trust.

towards that great reconciliation.

time is peace.

time builds up your body,
full of the things it needs to
place your feet on the ground again.

you are so important in all of this.
I cannot emphasize that enough.

and you are so, so loved.

 

put away your phones!

I take pride in being a good dining companion.

But, I also have one of those damn iPhones.

I know, right?

I’m hear to say that it’s okay to put it away when you eat your food.

Let me start by saying, a lot of my job is built on the philosophy of hospitality. Meaning, we work hard and run and cook your food, and you pay us for it. There is so much more, though.

There are times when I get to peak out of the pass to see tables full of people with their heads down scrolling through their phones, seemingly wishing to be anywhere but there. They eat their food without talking, and they go back to work or home. Most likely, they will get back on their phones at their final destination. Regardless, they are paying attention to the wrong things.

I should also say that I am one of these people, quite often. Head down. Thumb mindlessly tapping and swiping. The peripheral is a blurry horizon but at least I have checked and I have no new emails, and that burst of joy from someone liking my Instagram picture has faded. These past few months, I have been solidly working on NOT checking my phone at every urge just because I can. The idea is that we’re missing out on something that we should know about.

There’s something so discouraging about sitting at a table full of people with their phones. That in turn makes me pull out my phone because I’m left staring at a wall. When you disconnect yourself from people, they feel it. Well, I feel it. If you need to take a call or get back to someone because it is important, be intentional with your companions.

I’ve gotten into the habit of checking my phone any time I am by myself.  I am reminded of the Louis C.K. bit about being afraid of being alone with your emotions.

While there is that, I want to take this space to talk about its form in the dining world.

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As a person who cooks all day for other people, and who occasionally finds himself sitting at a table with good folk, I encourage you to keep your phones tucked away for a while.

I realize, we live in a world where things can change so fast. We want to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

We want to see and know everything but we also want that distance that keeps us safe.

So, I think, people aren’t very safe. We are unruly and unexpected and we say things without the proper space to react. We rejoice in awkwardness because it is our generations new form of humor. We are afraid of being awkward people, and phones are making us even more awkward people.

All of this, is coming from an introvert who really loves the space of text communicating with people. But just because I recharge away from people, doesn’t mean I am shy to speak to another person. It also doesn’t mean that I am socially awkward. I actually think I’ve grown a lot these past few years by putting myself out there, only to realize that we are all the same wobbly boat, just trying to figure some shit out.

Am I right?

Being in the restaurant biz has helped loads, as well. You get the opportunity to speak to and meet new kinds of people all the time. It becomes second nature to absorb people’s words and attitudes. Separating yourself from that can take some time to figure out.

Take a couple of lessons from the guys at restaurant Joe Beef up in Montreal:

Come prepared with some good stories. Nothing too long, because you know our attention spans are maybe ten seconds long.

Don’t over do it with the alcohol. When you become a liability, folks have to start looking out for you. Save the spins for home, that way you have the comforts of your own toilet to pass out next to. 

Eye contact. And I am the worst, but I’m working on it. When people are talking to you, look at them. Affirm their words, even if you don’t agree. When talking back, try your best to make eye contact again. If that’s too much for the first bit, stare in between their forehead. Hey, I hear that works.

Eating is one of the only things that we separate from our usual days of work and hustle and sleep. It is when we sit down to feed ourselves. Eating alone is OKAY. I promise. Instead of your phone, maybe read a book, or sit outside on the steps and get some fresh air.

If you want to play a fun game with your friends, place all your phones stacked in the middle of a the table. The first to reach, has to pay the tab. That’ll show em’!

But for real, y’all.

Let’s work on being better companions. With dining, and with our relationships. I promise, we are worth our weight and it’s always such a joy to discover another person again and again.

(ps. and here’s some Jungleland, if you wanted to hear it.)

floating

I’ve been having a hard time writing, as of late.

I probably have at least three or four different drafts putting out the vibe in what WordPress calls the “Dashboard”. They were maybe too angry or too vague for whatever it is I really want to say. I always feel like I have something better to offer.

But also, sometimes, I don’t.

In reflecting on what I’ve written about over the year, I’ve noticed some overarching themes. To be honest, it is where my head currently lives. There’s this deep thing inside of me that imagines myself as an ocean with the moon pulling, or a galaxy far away that is infinite.

I find myself putting boundaries on how I feel and when I can feel them. I take pride in my emotions and that I feel comfortable living in them. I’m defensive of them. I’m defensive of how people view me in them.

I keep going back to the fact that I am torn into so many pieces. What it looks like in my head, say, ripping up a piece of paper into tiny little pieces and throwing them into still water. How they all sort of disperse in different directions, slowly. That’s what my heart feels at the moment.

With dating, I have no idea what I’m doing. I haven’t had to do this stuff in such a long time and I’m battling the urge to avoid it for the sake of my own independence and being able to move in and out of things.

Then, there is the part that wants me to settle. To not ever move again. To invest deeply and finally.

There is a voice in my head telling me that cooking is my passion and that I’ll be doing this the rest of my life. And sometimes, I want stability and I want normal hours. I want a wife and kids and all that messy stuff. I want it so badly.

And then I want to travel around and give myself to different cultures.

I miss my people in Oregon.

But I also cling tightly to my community in Mississippi.

I want to help bring better dining culture to the Deep South.  I want it to grow and I want our people to move forward with all sorts of things. They take time though, and my heart is all over the place.

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I want to love someone so deeply again.

I want to kiss them after a long and hard day.

There is also a voice in me that finds a lot of freedom in floating around as a singular being, soaking up all sorts of different things.

Oh the luxury I seem to have, and I can’t figure out a damn thing.

All I can do, and all I’ve ever done since that big shift, was to keep on waking up the next morning. To keep exploring my options and most importantly, to keep listening to my heart. I have learned to really trust that thing, ya know? It told me I needed to go home. It told me I need to say this and that…and I have no regrets.

But as I mentioned earlier, my pull is to the cosmos, to the infinity where my soul finds peace in the never-ending struggle and breakthrough of the human spirit.

My pull is to the moon — where I am washed in and out — discovering bits and pieces of past and present lives.

I indulge in them all.

I hold fast,

hands firmly on the boat’s wheel,

floating ceaselessly onto others worlds

where I might again, find you.

 

beginnings.

Days like today, I feel like I’m rummaging through my glove compartment looking for the manual.
Ideally, it would be called,

You Are Here Now. This Is What You Do:

But it’s not.

Well, shit.
All I can find is a VW manual, a screwdriver and a bag of sunflower seeds.
This is hardly enough to make it through.

I find myself scratching my head a lot, throwing in a couple of well-deserved sighs and owning up the fact that I am wandering around in the scary and exciting and confusing part of this transition.

I must admit that today I’ve had the weepies.

Not that I ever gave into this weird urge to let it all out, but more so would have lost it at the drop of a dime. And maybe I saw a video of a new mom kissing her baby and it almost happened. I blame it on the equinox, I tells ya.

This is my season of new beginnings.

It’s always been that for me. Not because I am divorced and moving on and living in a newly imagined life, but Fall has always brought me deeper into myself. I recognize the life in its metamorphosis. The fact that all things change in season. Not only do they change in this season, but they begin to also transform inward. It’s as though the things around us submit to the changing of times. There is no struggle, only the transfer of water and light and energy from the fruit, to their roots. There is a digging in.

Deep in, closer to where the Earth is warm. Them branches will see the worst of it, but deep down, there is that strong and fierce network of anchors. Quiet, but life giving. Holding fast, through the winds and cold of our new time here.

The weather, though. The taste of nutmeg and warming spices on my tongue. Seeing beautiful apples and pears replace the cherries and strawberries and tomatoes of summertime. This is the season of cinnamon and caramel and bourbon.

Brown. Yellow. And orange.

The brisk evenings that make my heart flutter.
(and I feel I am in good company.)

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In the midst of this great force, I still on occasion find myself in the mess of that glove compartment. Skimming pages. Checking indexes saying, “It has to be here somewhere! Surely there is an answer and it will be clear and it will solve my problem.”

I think maybe it got the best of me today. I felt thankful but sad and felt a break in my heart. Not so much pain, but release. There is a sadness in moving on. Ultimately, I am filled to the brim with the goodness and lightness it brings. But every now and then, it sideswipes and I’m left a bit teary eyed knowing that I’m moving on and on and on.

None of this stuff ever stops, really.

Sort of like this world knows what it’s doing as it spins and tilts.

‘Here, now. It’s time for you to settle into yourself a little more. Watch how this sun sets early and how the cold forces some things to draw inside. Notice yourself in these changes.’

I think that maybe I hear that from Her.

whisper-like,

when the branches move,

barely touching,

noticing each others movement,

sacred energy, and that sweet, sweet spirit

moving inside of me.

fear of spiders

at my feet, I saw you working.

hind legs, whichever ones,

busy.

pulling sticky silk to form

the kinds of things you were built to make.

 

I jerk my leg, only momentarily.

In all fairness, you are a spider.

But in the moment, I recognize your place.

Really, you have no intention of bothering me.

So today, I have no intention of bothering you.

 

I watch you work so hard. And so fast.

I become aware of my place. My power.

My ability to wash it all away, knowing good and well,

you will just start over, because it’s in your nature.

 

To spin and and release your web

when their is a thrust of force

or mighty wind.

Yet here you decide to work.

 

To be fair, there are these fruit flies.

I feel a little insulted.

Like maybe you’re telling me something

I don’t already know.

 

To not leave out my apple peels on a warm day,

or sweet milky tea before I sprint out the door.

I know, I know.

But life just gets to be so busy.

 

Especially so for a spider of your size,

maybe a little bigger than a green pea.

Yet smaller than a dime.

Your design is nothing short of flawless.

 

Spider web 1

 

We are all here for balance.

I recognize that if I take more than I need,

especially in my space,

I am taking more than I require.

 

The life of a spider seems to be one of constants:

movement, spinning, letting go, small moments of excitement

and repeat.

Much like mine.

 

Today though, it is our space.

You spin yours.

And I, mine.

moving. spinning. letting go.

 

indulging in the small moments that give us both life.