dark and light.

I consider myself a spiritual person –
to the point of chills when I stumble upon a stained glass portrait of a Mother wearing
holy colors, fearing for the lives of her family.

My upbringing was very traditional, yet in my most recent years, untraditional.

While a shaky faith is a thing we all come to terms with in different seasons, I find myself on days like today, with a good song in hand, reaching deep to reconcile my weighty ghosts.

This week has flown by. (As they say.)

Tuesday I found myself hunched by a toilet emptying my sick belly, and luckily found some chicken stock in my freezer to sip down before I went to bed that night. I’ve cooked for a few hundred in the span of this week and my body is a bit worn down. I’m tired. Bone tired.

Last night, as I do when I need comfort, ate fried catfish and watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  I propped up my swollen foot and indulged in maybe another Christmas tree cake, because I can afford it after losing a few pounds from that rogue stomach flu.

There is a scene at the end where a father is crying over the loss of his son, and a very violent loss at that. Being tired, I assume, makes me more emotional. It’s usually a hard scene, but I lost it again. It wasn’t quite just about the movie, but more so a culmination of some dark, dark times we have all recently been aware of in our world.

People all over are experiencing trauma through these things. I don’t think we realize it. We see a video of a man getting killed and it haunts us and then we move on nibbling on our ham sandwiches. But it sticks with us. At least it does me.

I think in that moment when I heard the father moan in sadness and pain, I was reminded of the mothers and fathers who have to bury their sons and daughters. I think about the dark injustice that plagues our world and our apathy because we are afraid to dialogue. Afraid to disagree with our families and friends.

I heard someone say that advent is a very dark time where hope emerges.

I love that.

light-in-darkness

My religious beliefs aren’t anything to write home about anymore. I do have what I have. I believe in my bones what feels right and I have the stories and memories of growing up in a world that I still cling to from time to time.

I am not here writing to defend myself or my beliefs. To be honest, I don’t care too much about my beliefs. Those who know me, and love me, understand that I love a person for their heart, not for what they believe. I have seen too much damage over beliefs, as I find they change like the tide.

But love, I can work with. Love gives me something to hang on to.

So I take this time that many churches and communities call Advent and I mourn. I am weighed down with the loss of both innocent and guilty lives. I think about the racial and political and religious climates that have driven millions and millions of people into different places of the world. Like the two who fled to have a baby in a trough, fearing they would be murdered. And as it goes, that same woman, holding the ripped flesh of her own son.

I sit here today, with a deep hope in my belly. Deeper than the dark stuff that finds its way down there.

None of this stuff is easy, but it’s important.

Here’s to this season of darkness, but also great light.

Wishing all who read this wonderful times with their loved ones, or who are away from home or who don’t celebrate or who eat Chinese food out on Christmas day (which sounds pretty awesome actually.)

Sending you love and light and the space to dwell in them both.

-Josh

 

 

trajectory

Every so often, I’ll find myself looking through old pictures.

Maybe, when I was chubbier or thinner. When my beard wasn’t as full and maybe when I had more hair on my head.

I mostly see people.

I feel again the come and go of relationships. The people I’ve let go, and others I’ve found again.

Maybe they let go of me.

And maybe they found me.

I’m not really sure.
As the year ends, I grow more introspective. I think a lot of us do. I struggle connecting the dots, and there is little that I know to be true. The doubts that grow inside my heart say, “Well, who’s to say they aren’t going to drop you after a few years?”

That is the fear in my stomach.

Who’s to say I won’t leave again and create another tiny life. Home. Job. Family.

I have loved growing older into myself. I love the places I’ve been able to live and the people who have pulled me into their own messy and wonderful worlds.
I can’t help but to see life as moments of knowing a person and place. In my head, that is how I organize my world. That is how I organize my years.

Like a hermit crab moving into another shell.
Or seeing the cicada skins attached to them pine trees, growing out of their spaces and moving. Always moving.

You outgrow your own skin in the proper season. And as it goes, sometimes people outgrow you, and you them. But you hold on to them like heirlooms. Because they are important. Everything…is important.

601257main_spacewalkcropped_1024-768

I imagine this life as a space man, getting nudged and sent off on another trajectory. Small bumps. New direction. Falling through space, moving with the smallest bits of energy.

I’m currently sitting on my couch, listening to the sounds of my oven popping and moaning as it bakes a cake for a friend. All they wanted was yellow cake with chocolate frosting. But dammit if I’m not going to try to make it look the best I can.

Because everything is important.

Look outside and you will see it all around. The leaves that have already given their life for the year and the way things quiet down. I like to call it a simmer.

That’s what this stuff feels like.

A few bubbles to the top every so often letting you know the heat is steady and low.

To me, all of this stuff is small movements. Never an energy wasted. Perhaps your skin is getting ready to shed again, or maybe yours is fresh. Maybe you’re in the middle. All according to their own season.

And all the more reason to notice and breathe and look upon those heirlooms with big love and feel deeply your place in our ceaselessly changing world.

finding a universe

The more I learn about people, the more I find myself exploring their depths like a newly discovered galaxy.

I wish I could say Interstellar didn’t have some role in this piece, but I cannot deny that looking for a habitable planet is a lot like looking for a suitable mate. Now I know, I don’t usually talk about dating on this thing. I generally save that for the thousands of other blogs that are much better and braver for it.

Too hot. Too cold.
Not enough oxygen.
Too much space.
Not enough space.
Hard to read.
Habitable?
Thin atmosphere.
Hospitable.
Barriers of communication.

This life is about thriving in your conditions.

So often I find myself living in a truth that timing is one of the most difficult things. In the ways our planet wasn’t able to support life for millions of years, I often think how rare it is to actually find a place to settle for a while. I have no doubt there are many people good for each other in a lifetime. The fact that we find people who we can share a life with at all is pretty amazing, when you think about it.

Many people dwell in a place for an entire lifetime. Some bounce around, finding a space more quickly, and others, through choice (or not) are left wandering around the cosmos trying to find the energy to again explore another.

Those who know me are probably really nervous that I appear to be way into astrology these days. Fear not, I will not be joining a cult soon, and I will not be drinking the kool-aid.

That is not to say that I don’t relate a lot to our world and our wonderful gift of a planet. It is just too perfect for us.

But I have to submit to my own wonderings.

tumblr_static_galaxy-background-tumblr-hipster-gxowgipe

I find this dating thing to be extremely difficult. I have forgotten how many variables are in play and just how much it seems like a dance. A super frustrating, but fun dance.

Deep down, there are so many things about so many people that I just love. I see all these strengths and I have this idea in my head of what things would maybe be like. I guess I have this odd advantage of having been married, and I recognize both worlds.

I spend a lot of time with married people, and remember the ebb and flow. I spend time with people who are in relationships outside of marriage and people, like me, who are single and floating around in the midst of a world where it can be hard not being tethered to another human being.

When I was married, a friend of mine would often ask me what I’d be doing if I wasn’t married…or to imagine the freedom of being single again. Often times when I’m around married people, and I let them divulge in the bits and pieces of drama I scrounge up, they say, “Oh, I’m so glad I don’t have to do that anymore.”

Well, I don’t either.

But I must lay down my arms and my panic.

Finding another place in all of this space takes time. Along the way you will experience so many other worlds and it will still be wonderful and sometimes suck. That is the duty of exploration.

Drifting, into other worlds,
exploring and fumbling with the right words.

To me, it is infinite.

I am traveling at the speed of my own body,
embracing the great spirit of that same body.
Knowing always the importance of movement,
and new discoveries upon the horizon.

weapons

I wonder what would happen if we laid down our weapons today.

For just a week, maybe.

Warlords.
Soldiers.
Police.
Citizens.

Oh, we will all still get angry at one another. There’s no stopping the friction that is caused by needing to be right all the time.

You’re wrong, I’m right.

The absolutes are killing us.
This or that.
Or else!
Our lack of self control and

patience and
kindness and
understanding.

We are products of what we see and how we are made to feel.
We move in patterns left before us by our parents and grandparents.

We repeat history over and over, because we’re afraid that maybe we just didn’t get it right.
Like returning to a bad lover because you want to believe things will be different.

War and death and injustice carve up this world.

Scars.
Deep dark wounds.

I usually just throw my hands up, or shake my fists at the heavens.

When really, I should lower them and place them on wounds.

Of my brother and my sister
In hopes that one day,

they will do the same for me.

Ace_Bandage_Texture_4_by_FantasyStock

Today, if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other-that man, that woman, that child is my brother or my sister. If everyone could see the image of God in his neighbor, do you think we would still need tanks and generals? – Mother Teresa

letter to Mississippi

I often have a hard time finding the words.

You see, so much of my earlier life was spent trying to lose a southern accent and fly away as soon as I had the right reasons. And I did, on several occasions.

One being the time I lived with my dad in Georgia when I was a little too young to understand what was happening. It was a very hard time for me. I learned a lot. I learned about the power of making my own decisions and owning up to that power.

I moved back to Mississippi after a year of living in Georgia.

Then there was a summer in Chicago where I became friends with a homeless man who gave me the “Fred Hampton Image Award” which was named after him for being a ‘positive image to the community’. I have it framed next to my degree from Southern Miss, which I only use in conversation with people. In reality I was struggling with all my worlds again, all the while eating a bunch of Chipotle and reading a ton of Donald Miller books. It’s what we did.

There are the four months in India where I learned how tiny I was, and how terrible I was at eating Bengali food, and learning the language. I regret not appreciating how important it was to travel and to explore at that moment. I’d never seen such poverty. I’d never walked into a red-light district with the sole purpose to play cards and eat spicy snacks on top of brothels. I learned about heavens and hells. And I saw the eyes of a man choosing the girl he would have sex with. I’d never see the world the same way again.

My quietness was a hindrance in some of these ways. I was not outgoing enough to want to learn a language, I don’t think. I was not good at it. I wish I would’ve worked harder. I wish I would have eaten more street food. I came back to Mississippi after that, as well.

I also met a girl from Oregon who I ended up being married to for a little while.

I moved to Portland for that, as well. Learning and growing and all those others words I’ve used here a billion times. And when that stopped working, I moved back to Mississippi.

MagnoliaCopy

I recognize I’ve never been great at being a traditional southerner. I was never taught to hunt. I don’t have a background of traditional southern food ways. I love New Orleans, but in small bursts. I love the food, well, that has always been true.

Again I find myself reconciling with a place like Mississippi. A dumping pot for so many people’s ideas and misconceptions. When people ask me how it is in Mississippi, I can’t find the right words.
It is my home right now. A home that I’ve missed for a long time.

A familiar voice in my life came up saying, “It’s not going to happen for you in Mississippi..”

As a young cook, looking to grow and hone my skills, it doesn’t present me with the most options.

But that’s okay.

Because I’ve found myself really needing this place. In the way that home always feels. As much as I loved my most recent visit to Oregon, I was so giddy to get back to my old tiny apartment, among my cookbooks and familiar smells. I wanted to sit on my back steps and listen to the acorns fall from the trees.

Yesterday, as I was hobbling in on my booted foot, a man riding his bike loaded down with grocery bags yelled, “Hey! I’m sorry about your foot! – – – I know that hurts man, I hope you get better!” and kept on his way.

I shouted THANKS! As I walked into my room, I sat on my bed got a little teary. (As I do.)

I felt some really big love. Not just via random bike guy, but all around. And though I might not make much sense to my family and many of my friends, I am so glad to be home again, and I’m so glad I get to be close to those constants in my life. Yes, there are bigger places out there.

But right now,
I’m just happy to be here.

marshmallows and steel

The world is not a cold and dark place.

This, I thought, after I looked out the tiny window of the airplane and saw fire and amber and something that looked like eternity. It is truly amazing to see the sun’s light setting on them marshmallow clouds.

Yes. At the time I was cramming a bag of peanuts into my mouth, enjoying how very salty they were and wishing I had a cold beer. But I had plenty of beers the prior week and figured taking a break from the greatness that is Portland’s beer scene would be a good idea.

I spent the past week wobbling around (on one good foot) Portland, Oregon.
“I’m going [dramatic pause] to feed myself”, is what I told everyone.

Yes, food. Beer. Coffee.

The people. I’ve needed to connect with people there. Something about going after the holidays seemed too far and I was feeling too antsy. I wanted to connect before the holiday exhaustion set in. And I’m so glad I did.

I will not dive into the play by play, but I spent most of my days eating at my favorite haunts and spending time with people I’ve missed the most. I loved seeing my niece and nephew, and how big they are getting. Little P-Lu, especially. Chubby arms. Walking around on top of legos like they were nothing.

“She’s made of marshmallows and steel”, we joke. And it’s true. She is.

And W, still so bright and intrigued and silly.

I drove around the city a good bit and thought it’d be a good idea to give myself a lot of grace.

At least that’s what I heard being said in my belly. It brought me to tears, at one point, sitting in St. John’s Cathedral Park, breathing in the cold wet damp, and watching the lowest clouds stream through the trees like locks of hair being pulled through the teeth of a comb.

What a beautiful place this is. I remember the streets I walked down to get to work and thought, “Man, these were such sweet, sweet times.” I let myself feel afraid and acknowledged what made me feel anxious. My doubts about being a good husband. In my head, feeling like I had abandoned my people and left a career that was actually taking me somewhere.

No longer is it important for me to prove anything to anyone there. What happened, happened. I found myself experiencing some sadness from sitting in a place that once held heavy and heartbreaking conversations, and remembering always the sun-gold tomatoes that grew their vines around our old bikes.

What sweet and amazing and devastating things happened here. And I am alive. I am moving and movement is life, as they say.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

When my plane landed in New Orleans last night, I found out the Saints had lost.
I also found out about the riots and rulings in Ferguson.

My heart sank. It was all I could think about my entire drive home. How complex and angry and sad this made me and so many other people feel. How people I love and respect would disagree with one another. That’s sort of hard. We’re not very good at disagreeing, or seeing each other in a state of grace.

I realize I say grace a lot. And while that comes with a spirituality you may or may not want to be a part of, it can be universally understood. It is something I’m learning to understand.

When my plane was finally above all the dark and mucky stuff, I was able to see the sun setting far away. We were flying away from it, so I had to twist my head to see the horizon.

And there it was.

All sorts of warmth, even in the frigid blue. I thought that maybe I would be okay with this kind of heaven.

I leaned my head in the awkward space and closed my eyes. Traveling forward. Chasing a sky turning darker, and darker. All I could think about was chubby marshmallow arms and bright smiles. New normals. Fears and anxieties slowly laying to rest in the same ground from which they came.

Onward.

Into another horizon with the warmth of the sun licking my heels.

There is good, here.

And also in our hearts, especially where it hurts and feels the most dark.

Deep, deep down,
there is fire and amber and steel,
building a new heaven,
and a new horizon,
going on into eternity.

 

road to darjeeling.

I live a lot at the crossroads.

I know what I’m getting myself into here, diving into the grey area we all struggle with. I’m okay with that. More so, I have to poke at my story a little bit. I see more than just crossroads. They are roads that lead all directions. Some at different inclines, some that are scary, and some that curve around steep terrifying edges.

I remember the road from the train station in India that takes you to Darjeeling.

Flat at first, and then you start climbing. Little houses and stores line the curves, every so often coming across a “Coca-Cola” sign from the 80’s and you remember how vast some empires reach.

I am afraid of heights. But I was okay with this.

Along the winding road up the mountains, we picked up a few people. It’s a little weird at first, then you realize this is how things are here. Personal space? Nah. Squeeze in a few more. Don’t like people staring at you? Get over it.

Darjeeling-Photos-hill-road-Darjeeling-2773-1-jpg-destreviewimages-500x375-1324602327

This road, albeit at times frightening with its steep cliffs and no guard rail, was met with some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen. Tea farms. Small schools. Roadside snack joints. Tea shops. Cool foggy air.

It all seems like a blur at times, considering how long ago this was for me. But I think of it often.

Life presents options in various seasons, and some more important than others. I’m not talking about the day to day decisions you have to make, because I know how much that stresses you out. Since being off my foot, I’ve been at the register at work and all I see are people stressed with decisions. “What side would you like?” followed by a huge dramatic sigh, all the while hoping they don’t have some sort of breakdown.

I guess I’m a little like that as well.

I am not expecting answers, though. I am only discovering how I thrive in the midst of turns and inclines and dead ends. But on these roads, you still pick up people. All sorts of people. You see terrifying things. They might break your heart, and they might fill you with deep joy.

I’m not afraid of questions, nor am I afraid of crossroads. And I am not selling my soul, but finding it.

Slowly-slowly, listening to my history and imagining my future,

from where I came,

to where I am going.

slow moves

Gently, now.

Slowly pivoting as to not spill my hot tea and mess of scrambled eggs I have mounded on a tiny plate.

I grimace a bit, due to the misfortune of fracturing my foot at work.
I am not good at this. I am not good at this!

That is what I say in my head, and for most people who find themselves all of a sudden limited to what they can and can’t do. Even more so, as walking is a bit of a chore.

Soft.

How do I manage to move around this heavy frame so softly? I can’t say that I do so very well. As a matter of fact, I ripped off the towel rack in one of my best friend’s bathroom trying to save myself from a bad foot placement. Luckily, he laughed after I apologized. Thankful for that grace, indeed.

I fear for my high center of gravity.

Slow.

Slow moves. Robot-like. Sliding my gimpy leg as to not put too much pressure on broken bits.

I am not good at this.

DSC05911

I move back and forth between my couch and my bed. My tiny bottle of pain meds sits next to my heater that can barely keep up the warmth in these old timbers. When I am finally warm, wrapped in my blanket, and the pulse of my right foot dies down to a low slumber, I am grateful for the rest. I happily slide into my worn down pillows and click off the tiny lamp that lights my late night wanderings.

The morning is stiff. A little bit better, I think. I would wake myself up in the middle of the night, jolts of electricity running through my leg from twisting my foot in an odd way. I sit up. Shake it off, and fall back asleep. Less so, now that I’m adjusting.

Sitting in the clinic, I think, “Of course I’m going to write about this!” Because that’s just what I do. I see myself in story.

I can’t help but to wonder when this great moment of clarity will come — when I will feel that all was for this one reason. I don’t think that’s how it will work. But I woke up this morning and felt like I had moved around some heavy things in my dreams.

During the night I would stir about, feeling like I was rearranging some heavy boxes. Much like the one I jammed my foot into. I was pushing them different places. Still able to be found, but in a way, making room for other things. Like new people. New feelings. New thoughts on God and love, giving my body the space to heal from all sorts of things.

It is never a bad thing, finding new light within your soul.

It is there, always, covered up by bombings and elections and having one’s heart broken into a million pieces.

Small moves.

albeit, heavy.

soft.

gentle.

making room for the light to get in.

I suppose when I think about cracks and broken spaces,

they allow room for exposure.

And I think that maybe, Rumi says it best:

The wound is the place where the Light enters you.

A to B

This stuff is so hard.

At the end of a long day, I feel a world deep inside my belly. It stirs with some excited and tired and angry feelings, mixed with the fact that maybe I ate dinner too early and I’m hungry again so late in the evening.

I guess I’m always hungry.
My belly is a fierce place to reside.

I’ve been feeling a lot of things there lately.

I don’t have to keep asking myself, “What am I doing with this life?” because I know what I’m doing right now. Only when I take a few steps back and really look — that’s when I start to panic a little. Like that time I sat with my dad in the New Orleans Superdome as a kid, hardly able to stand and cheer because we were so high up. That’s sort of what it feels like.

We’re only here for a little bit, right?

This is always a thought in my mind. Even as I mop the floor at the end of the day. Heart. Mind. Dirty water.

Deep down, I fear that so much of me is what scares people away. I fear my depth is seen too soon at times and people are weary of being around me for they may have to hear something difficult.

Sometimes it’s the same fear of people not wanting to cook for me because I’m a uh, chef? I guess.
My mom admitted to me recently that she gets nervous cooking for me, and all I can do is hang my head low. I laugh a little and tell people my need for hot food at the end of the day. And that any food that I don’t cook for myself is probably the best thing I’ve eaten all day.

I also told my mom almost jokingly, “Yeah, I just need someone to take care of me.”

I know that sounds a little pitiful.
It might be, just a little bit. But I’ll give that to myself to feel, just for a little bit.

holding-the-door-open-for-women-1091581-TwoByOne

It feels a bit like I’m trying to chew through rope, at times.
As my community grows again, I am allowing myself to be vulnerable. I allow people into my story, and they let me into theirs.

We get all tangled up again. And my jaw gets so tired of chewing.
I miss that lazy love. Auto-pilot love. Cruise control love.

Let’s just order Chinese food love.

I could use a good back scratch. Hugs that last longer than a second. (kind’a love…)

Look at me, being all vulnerable with my needs.

I’m okay with that.
I’m okay with being sloppy and having people make fun of me for sleeping in a twin size bed as an almost 29-year old. I explain to them how I’ve had to move my life around, and they digress. But still, I’m okay. (And I’m also looking for a bigger bed.)

I don’t deserve to feel humiliated because of my story, as dramatic as I make it seem at times. But that is just it, isn’t it? Life is dramatic. All over the damn place. People are doing insane things out of love and hate and some people find time in the day to really, really connect with another person.

Yesterday, I held the door open for these two older women, one who was much older and couldn’t walk very well on her own. She stopped before she passed me and looked up, “That’s just so sweet of you…thank you so much for doing that.”

To be honest, I wasn’t thinking much of it. Just that cracks and inclines and steps are hard for some older people. And yesterday I was feeling a little weepy, so I got a little teary and said, “Oh! Goodness. No problem at all!”

We just move too fast. I think.

And we just keep getting faster.

Stubborn cracks.
Inclines.
Steps.

A to B can take some time.
some encouragement.
some space.
some body.

to hold the weight, for just a moment.

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.

Tessa_Traeger_The_Quince_1997

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?