dry grove.

Dry Grove is a lot of things to a lot of people.

In reality, it is a cabin with a lake on a quiet piece of land northwest of our capital city.

For me, it was an invitation.

November of last year, I had been pulled into a text conversation full of buds I went to high school with. We grew up together, and there’s just something about this group of guys that works really well. We all came from the same place and watched each other change shapes and laugh when our voices would crack.

After sharing the news that I had separated, they pulled me in. Granted, it was initially for Saints game conversation, but it always went further. As it goes.

When I went home for Christmas, I was talked into staying a few extra days so that I could come to the cabin and fish and eat and partake in some of the finer things in life. Such as Coors light, homemade apply brandy, and deer back strap, among other simple luxuries.

My first time at Dry Grove pulled me out of the trenches.

I had just found out that my ex had already moved on and I was certain all of it was meant to turn out this way. We sat around the fire, threw up some proverbial middle fingers, and laughed till we fell off stomps and fell asleep in the warmth of cabin heaters and porch lights.

Waking up, I smelled of campfire smoke. I was warm and found myself the only one awake.

I walked out to the dock and sat in the cool morning. Seeing ripples and anxious fish and steam created this intensely welcomed feeling in my heart. Like I was going to be okay.

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This past weekend, we all met up again.

I guess the thing is, we all bring some weight to Dry Grove. We sit in it when the time is right, and we also grill pizzas and fry fish. We make trails and fend off spiders.

We laugh until we fall over.

But the fish were not biting.

The fire struggled to keep.

And our beloved Saints lost to the Browns.

To me, those were peripheral.

I have taken on the role as cook, when I can. So I try to help keep bellies full and nudge myself into place where I feel most comfortable.

It is amazing to have this.

This is my thought, as I sit among my friends going through so many things. So many transitions and loss and the weight of a world full of questions and wonder.

I sit in it and I soak it all up.

I soak up the fire that turned dead wood into glowing coals, and stood transfixed on the burning pine needles pulsing like a heart.

Going on a ride through the woods, I felt the first cool air since I’ve moved back home. I also made friends with a fuzzy caterpillar that decided to fall on my sleeve.

I feel certain that we will leave, and the worries of our days will trickle back in…but for those moments, when you feel okay and safe, they can pull you out of the darkness.

Where there is fire.

And breath.

And warmth.

rise and fall.

More than anything, I feel like we are tiny oceans.

With them full moons, bellies breakin’ water,

delivering new life under that perfect, magic light.

 

some people actin’ a fool.

“Every time there’s a full moon…” they say.

I notice it.

I notice the rise and fall.

Scattered pieces,

like jetsam and flotsam.

some of it belonging to bigger things,

others are a just a by-product of what they used to be.

 

I look out and see,

glasses spilt.

people, a little wobbly.

Like tiny hurricanes,

and grumpy neighbors who want more space.

 

You see, our bodies are mostly made of water.

mostly.

And like the tides, the water in our bodies

moves us.

To big places. And into cracks,

and little rivers, constructed via plastic shovel and pail.

Sometimes we rise over rock walls

and flood the marshes.

Sometimes we change things.

 

I don’t know about you,

but there’s something in that big moon.

Just far enough away.

Dimpled.

Our satellite.

Our sweet Sister Moon.

Pushing. Pulling.

Dream-like.

 

I look up when I see Her,

thankful for how she pulls me into a dance,

where I’m clumsy and awkward,

or quiet and centered.

And I realize I am not the only one

who’s able to fall in love again.

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again and again.

There are some major forces at play here.

Each week feels like a micro-course in learning one’s self. I suppose we all are, but since I am concentrated to my own head, and not a person who I live with or am married to, I get all of me.

Some days I can be too much. That’s no surprise. I wander around in different stories and I wake myself up to dreams where I am unfamiliar with my own room.

I get up.

“I’m in the wrong place!”

I sit back down. I rub my face with my hands and somehow, fall back into an unconscious sleep.

Weekend nights are the hardest. I feel like it’s a sin to be alone on a weekend night. I feel like there are people riding with their windows down discovering their whole beings, screaming, “I am alive!” while I’m at home, straining chicken stock and watching The Desolation of Smaug for the 12th time.

It’s okay.

To be honest, I’m wondering if I should cook anymore for a living. And I can’t explain it to you, this shift that is taking place in my heart. I can’t say it’s flight or fight. I’ve never enjoyed anything else more than I have cooking and feeding people. I know I should listen to that. People always respond with, “Well, what else would you do?”

Sometimes, I take that as an insult. It feels like I wouldn’t do well at anything else. But I know what they mean. They know I belong in a kitchen.

I know I belong in a kitchen.

That is hard to swallow.

I’m sort of young still, and already, I heavily desire a place to call my own. I am certainly in a season of having to catch myself on fire, because I am not following another person into the flames. I am having to be my own sense of hard work and passion.

Sometimes, that’s hard to live in.

I tell people all the time about my Saturn Return. They look at me like I’m a goofball. It’s true, I am. But I tell them that I can’t explain the pull in my head and heart. This constant feeling that my life could take many directions and that I’d enjoy them all. Fast and hard. Slow and soft. Most of my days are a combination of both.

Perks of working in a kitchen, I suppose. That, and bacon.

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The love of self is the best way I am able to love others. If I am worried with myself, I can’t give much space to you. I think often of the kind of person I was when I lived in this city before I was married. How I always carried around a cause. How I was the social justice guy. How selfless I seemed.

And then I got married and devoted myself to just one person. I also learned that I was a pretty decent cook. This became my life. These things became meaningful. I got to serve people, not just one day every week, but five and sometimes even seven days a week. So I’ve mourned a lot of the person I used to be, and how I sense that sometimes, other people do the same.

And I recognize myself as I walk and drive down the same streets. A different person. A person who is always seeking to understand.

The end of most of my days involves a mop and hot water. Swinging back and forth over dirty and greasy floors, only to be dirty again and again and again. And cleaned again and again and again.

While that’s daunting to some, I love the sense of completion.

I guess it always comes back to that, for me. The kitchen and its ebb and flow. Its own world full of frustrations and grace and spirit. Every day I live in it.

And every day,

I’m thankful for it.

 

Oh, and new mop head day?

Well, I love new mop head day.

doin’ alright.

It’s hour thirteen that I’ve been on my feet in a stuffy kitchen.

So far, I’ve eaten two eggs. A little bit of spinach with some tomatoes and cucumbers, and a bite of really sweet bread pudding from the “leftover pile”.

I’ve washed dishes more than I have cooked, and I begin to lose myself as my glasses fog with steam from the barely scalding water. I have a cup of hot, black Community coffee sitting on the ledge to my left, and I pause every few minutes for a hot sip. I’m tired and need a little jolt.

I lose myself for a while, as I rake off uneaten bits and unclog the drain. Hunched over a three-compartment sink, sweat beading off my balding head. My back, on the occasion of lifting a stack of plates, pings a nerve and I squint my left eye.

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I’ve found myself in some weird places recently. Mostly in my head, and of course, intertwined with some heart things. I’ve been asking myself some terribly hard questions.

“Is this place working out for me?”

“Shit man, what was that all about?”

If I’m honest with myself, I’m still having trouble fitting into place. I want to cook food for people. I want a place that I can live my passions, and up comes some article about how you’re never going to work your dream job. Whatever. Anyways.

I’ve been finding myself a little quiet and distant, because a person tells me they think what I write is too sad and heavy. That’s fair. But you tell me that, I’m going to find ways to not to write like that, and I need to. You see?

I need to be angry at the times when I am angry. I also need to be sad and people need to see it. Well, I need to see it. Because I cannot allow myself to dwell in a place where I do not feel authentic.

I am okay.

I am doing all of this now, so twenty years from now I can say I felt everything, and worked through as much as I could. I know you want me to at least seem happy.

I can tell you, this is the best I’ve felt all year. I may not be jumping up and down and screaming, but I am feeling good.
(what is happy, anyways?)

What I mean, is that I write what I write here because it is true to me. Sure I’m a little different in the kitchen, or sitting in a pew. I will make jokes about sausage and also sing a gospel song. Because my life is a wonderful, deep, and challenging thing.

Ya know, those dishes can be therapeutic.

And my couch feels like heaven right now.

I just ate two leftover Labor Day hot dogs on a fluffy white bun with mayonnaise and mustard and ketchup.

Oh. And a cookie.

And you know what?

I’m doin’ alright.

medicine.

The South can be a spiritual and emotional place by nature.

It wraps you up in the language of grace and the blessing of hearts.

And I’ve gone through many seasons of both.

Sometimes people talk about God as though we’re all believers in the Divine, yet there is so much that I’ve seen and felt. I listen, regardless. If it’s important to you, it’s important to me. I can though, move in and out of it as I need to. As much as that doesn’t seem to make sense, I get tangled up with you and your words. I get lost in your story and I want to know how.

I dwell in a community of people who believe in a lot of different things.

I feel their love shine on me the same.

They’re all working on those things. Figuring out how to raise their kids.
They are tired, but looking for meaning in the day to day.

We sit and eat as a way of oneness, as a way of sharing.

Equals, we are, sitting at the great big table.

Still, I find myself lost in it all.

I’ve found a great comfort in not knowing. That is the space that I dwell in.

I see your hearts, living with intention and moving in the ways you need to move. I remember it. I remember it for my own life. I feel how you love, and I still feel what it was like to move in certain ways.

We all kind of lose a bit here and there.

Most of us wish it was our weight. These damn bellies…a physical reminder that we’re all a little soft. I like to remind people that I’m built for comfort, not speed.

I suppose, as I remind myself to submit to a place while I am there, this is what I see.

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There are times that the future freaks me out. I start thinking myself into someone, someone who doesn’t even exist yet. No wonder it’s so overwhelming to dwell in future things. It’s not who you are just yet.

We’re all slowly becoming.

I like that.

That’s a little like medicine, to me.

We have to give ourselves time. I heard someone once say that life is short, but that it’s also long. We have a lot of time to miss our mark and get back up.

I’m always talking about giving yourself time and space. To sit in your own presence and to dwell in it. Sometimes, I do this when I’m surrounded by piles of dirty dishes and smelly cooks. I’ve learned to do the humble work because there is some beauty in its simplicity.

I’ve seen a container be full and emptied and cleaned so many times.

I recognize myself in the same light.

A container, a vessel for something kind of holy and delicate.

I’ve lost it, and gained it back time and time again.

I will continue to do so,

and I will notice myself slowly becoming.

Because that’s a little like medicine to me.

 

life overflowing.

I can feel these last tugs at my heart.

Like the last kicks of an animal,
or being just too tired to hang on.

I’d like to say that whatever it is I’m falling into, is good.

I never see a pit of despair or some endless road on a hot day.

It’s been a week, for me, though.
Sitting in the Social Security office working on getting my name changed back and having to sit over divorce papers yet again and to explain my situation.

“Oh, so you just want ‘Casper’ then, right?”

A few taps on the backspace button and that was it.

“Hmph…” I mumbled, as I do when I listen to people talk about hard things.

“You should be getting your new card within two weeks.”

And all of a sudden, things were back how they used to be. (On paper.)

I remembered our tireless conversations in cars. How hard it was to think through all of this. It really did make sense to take your last name too. I was proud of that. A lot of people were weird about it, the state itself, but it was challenging. It was a little hard to die to one’s self. Not that I mean that in a depressing way, but in the way we should all be giving and taking.

Thanks for your grace in that, too.

I’ve given up on having my shit together. Granted, in the kitchen, it’s a little different. It’s my job to have my shit together.

But when I’m sitting across from you, I’d like to think that I’m all yours. I also hope that you allow me to rest and say no from time to time. The balance of yes and no is hard. I’ve been saying yes a lot, because it gets me out of a lot of hard and lonely nights. But the nights that I say no, I find a way to keep moving.

Perhaps a text to a friend saying, “Sheesh. What do you do when you’re mad?”

Because that’s really important. That’s when other people shed a little of their grace on you, for free. Luckily it’s free to give — and is more valuable than anything in the world. At least it is to me.

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Yeah, I feel a lot of things in a day.
And also it’s been a really challenging week. It probably has for you, too.

You’ve felt too rushed. You said yes when you really wanted to say no.

Your heart is broken.

You ate your cheeseburger too fast.

Or maybe, you took a few steps out of your own hell because that’s how it works.

Just a few steps. Messy ones. Loud and clunky.

I lay my head back and examine my space.
I hear cicadas outside singing in rhythm to this hot day.

My own heart is making its rounds. Seeing people it misses and building itself up for a new day. It’s important for me to make this space for myself. I suppose it is sort of a luxury.

But then again, I have a lot of little luxuries in the form of hot tea and a place that I get to lay down my arms.

It always comes back to me being thankful. It takes time to get there, but you will find always, little pockets of helpers and lovers and healers. Let em’ fill you up.

Because today, my cup is overflowing.

 

little flowers.

I try to pay attention when this crazy life slows down just enough.

Tiny themes. Parables. Accents to the usual ebb and flow of a day.

Today, as I was looking around my room, I came across one of those tiny themes.

flowers.

Which, for me, is sort of odd. I’ve really been into flowers lately. I realize that isn’t the most masculine or insane thing of me to say, but at this point, I don’t really care too much about that. Being a sucker for aesthetic, especially in the dining room, I’ve grown to love those floral notes and little bursts of pigment and how they make a room (and me) feel more alive.

This week, I received a portrait of a magnolia. My state’s flower and tree, believe it or not. I love magnolias. My favorite tree in the world has its roots dug in the front yard of my Me-Maw and Paw-Paw’s house — the giant magnolia that we used to climb as kids. Lately though, the magnolia has become a symbol to me in another way. Healing. I look to it as a place that I came home to slow down and feel okay for a while. To me, the magnolia is my home place. It puts me at peace, and I’m always looking for peace in small and big ways.

Being a sucker for making dishes pretty, I bought a packet of nasturtium seeds to plant. Nasturtiums are these lovely and colorful little flowers that are in fact, edible. I know that might weird people out, but I think they’re just dandy. I think we should be eating more of them, to be honest. I know it’s a little dorky to put flowers on food, but for the sake of my craft, I’m just gonna go with it.

Nasturtium paper

At work, I’ve made a new friend. Her dad grows flowers, plants and herbs and sells them at the local farmer’s market. I told her I didn’t have enough hands for them this past Thursday, so she brought some flowers to me in the midst of a leaning stack of dirty dishes in a stuffy kitchen. It completely made my day. I see them sitting on my nightstand, looking very alive and unique, greeting me in the morning time. I could make this a habit.

Most people who know me, know of my deep love of St. Francis. Albeit a very popular saint, I consider him mine. I once had a shaman tell me that he saw St. Francis near me one day. I can’t say that I fully believed the dude, but it gave me chill bumps. I learned a lot about St. Francis when I lived in India for a short time. I have these tattoos on my wrists that help me remember how inter-connected our world is. I have Francis to thank for that. Well, and a scruffy tattoo artist who worked out of a pawn shop in Jackson, Mississippi.

The Little Flowers were stories released after the death of St. Francis. I suppose it all brings me to feel a bit more holy in a tumultuous time. Faith to me feels a bit like swimming in a choppy ocean. A lot of ups and downs and treading, but ultimately surrounded by it all.

I like that we have little stories of faith, little reminders of miracles, and a way that we remember the tiny things that live among us. As I watched the birds land on my new feeder, they would dig their beaks into the mound of seeds and shower them on the ground for all the other little birds.

I can say that I’ve been on both ends of that, and recognize its importance. In some seasons, you are the one casting seeds, in the other you are sowing, and perhaps at the end, you get to see the fruit of your labor and give thanks with your fellow Beloved.

I am writing today because of so many people, and their daily works and thoughts and efforts.

And I am thankful,

always thankful,

for the small things, with great amounts of love.

balance.

Cooking is about balance.

And you already know that I’m going to compare this to my life. Because this is what I do.

I write. I cook. I eat. I read. I watch. Repeat.

I often find myself creating a better balance with food than in my day to day, but we can’t always be in control of those variables.

When I get to take my time and cook, I am thinking about a lot of things. Texture, salt, fat, acidity and cohesion. It also helps if it looks pretty, but to be honest, it is just food and we all know what it turns into. I am a sucker for giving a damn though, and if I spend the time cooking it, you better believe I’m going to make it look good.

Balance is harmony.

That’s why we love bacon so much. Salt. Sweet. Smoky. Fat. Or I’ll just claim it and say that’s why I consume so much bacon. When you bake trays and trays of bacon every day, you will come to appreciate how versatile and irresistible it is to the human condition.

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I’m working on balance.

I’m working on my own harmony.

That might be a little too much to ask of the world, but I have to keep coming back to myself at the end of the day.

“Hey, slow down. Be good to yourself. Listen to other people. Focus on what you can do today.”

Otherwise, I’m a mess — scratching my head and staring inside the refrigerator for my toothbrush. (Okay, that hasn’t happened yet, but give it time.)

Life is just moving, moving, moving.
Some days are just the right balance of sweet and savory. Tart and bland. Rest and play. Work and reward.

Each day, I say to myself that I wish to move with intention. That even though my current job isn’t where I seem to be using my best skills, I’m still learning a lot about this city and its people. I’m learning what they like and don’t like. I’m listening to my fellow co-workers deal with their own toils while slowly sharing mine.

Seeing a rogue picture of your ex and her partner is a super cliche knee jerk reaction. I suppose my reaction doesn’t exist so much in anger, as it does in, “Well, this is the way things are now.” But also, inside, “This feels weird.”

And I find myself thinking upon on it. I ask myself a lot of questions these days. I think I learned to do it because it actually helps me in feeling somewhat healthy.

“Josh, what do you want from her?”

“Nothing. Sometimes I want her to really know how badly I’ve hurt, but I don’t want that for her. I don’t want her to hurt like that.”

“Anything else?”

Well, I’m tired. Underpaid with more responsibility. Sometimes that feels unfair. I also have little crushes on all sorts of people. I think when I get shown the least bit of attention, I perk up and take notice. To be honest, I feel thankful when I’m noticed. I feel thankful more and more all the time.”

Those variables I mentioned earlier start popping up all over the place. They make me feel silly. They make things feel petty. But they are these new things I’m having to balance.

As I say to myself and others who find themselves discouraged after a day’s toils, tomorrow is a new day.

A new day to explore and season and taste and shift.

I love new days.

I love planting my feet on the floor and hearing my ankles crack as they bend. I still love the smell of the first brewed pot of coffee. All these things certainly adding to my new life here.

Some days, heavy on the salt. Other days, too bitter. Lately I’ve had a sweet tooth, and cannot be trusted around sweet tea.

I reckon’ when it’s all said and done, the world wasn’t made in a day,

And neither will mine.

holy day

baby laughs and sunday pot roast

a familiar memory runs through my veins.

the feeling of normality and ritual and calm wash over me,
regardless of the noise and the sound of toys scraping floor,
this was something I had been missing

ketchup, mustard and ice cream,
the things these kids are made of,
that, and their creative restless minds
learning how to build bigger towers
with more and more colors.

the sounds of mom clinking spoons on the sides of pans
dinner rolls, last to come out of the sparkly clean oven,
an inside joke from the years of waiting on bread.
we are always waiting on the bread.

I know that most see these things as they are.
I can’t help but to see them as something I might miss again someday.

so I soak it up when I can. 
and when I’m not toiling away at a day’s worry.
When I decide in my own heart that all of this is so very important. 

the pot roast.
the little head nestled under my chin
with mashed potatoes smeared above his
little lips drenched in drool and baby noises.

God, I’ve missed this.
The toils and the messes and the quiet afternoons.

baby laughs and sunday pot roast

a holy day if I ever knew one

legos-on-floor

fade to blue

They always say to write about what hurts. 

…to write what it’s like to be human. 
…to tell everyone what makes you afraid, and how to overcome pain with a beautiful story that is true and worn and chipped like an old dish. 

Let me start by saying this whole thing really messed me up. This divorce thing. I want to believe my story will take off again after my “proposed” year of mourning and moving through what it is like to lose someone you love more than anything. 

I think about my friends who have gone through the same, moving on and getting married again. I get tired of the phrase moving on because it’s such a vague thing, right?

I’d love more than anything to become infatuated again and to fall deeply in love and dig my heels in deep to a piece of earth, where I may or may not plant my favorite kind of tomatoes again.

I’m afraid, like most people, that I’ve met and lost that one person, and that it won’t be this way ever again. I hate to admit to that. And I know the lots of ya will tell me to get out there and to be vulnerable. 

But to be honest, I am. 

It is so tiring for me. Especially when the person across from you never asks you questions and all they do is consume yours. It’s hard asking questions all the time. It’s hard to respond sometimes too. I get exhausted with small groups and just want what so many other people want. I want to lay my head in someone’s lap and fall asleep there, as I feel their breathing. 

I don’t like the way “being single on the move” makes me feel. Like some sort of hidden intention all the time. I realize that’s how it goes, but I’m not good at that. I catch my own bullshit all the time. I know the kind of person I am. The Animals said it best for me,

I’m just a soul whose intentions are good, oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.

 

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 I will write as long as I need to, 

About what is scary, and true to me. 

About how I get sad sometimes when my friends get pregnant or married and move on with their own little families. I am ultimately filled with love for them, but I also understand that there’s some mourning, and this is something new I’ve had to learn. 

holding loosely.

It is hard for me to do so, especially now that I hold tight to anything good. And when I feel it start to slip away, I panic and think that I have to move again. That I have to reinvent myself and change into something other people will find attractive. That I have to be someone that I’m not. Maybe that’s some defense mechanism I’ve gained this past year. If I don’t feel like I’m wanted, I start thinking I have to move elsewhere. That have to figure it out. And that am going to figure it out all on my own. 

I am movin’ like molasses on a chilly day…
A part of me wishes I had a story of finding love again quickly, and that my sadness was spared, but it is not, and that’s okay.

It allows me to paint with colors I’ve never seen before.

It allows me describe an entirely different landscape, and how I often fade into the horizon,

with all the other reds, oranges and blues,

making it impossible to determine where one color ends, and the other begins.