fixin’ and floatin’

Quite often I remember the words of my friend Jen in Portland who would always tell me that time would heal.

And I also remember how much I hated that.
I didn’t want it to take time. I was in the fixin’ business.

Hurt? Broken?
Fixed.
Done.

Next!?

Love, unfortunately, has this awful way of slowing time down.
Heartbreak, too.

My sister showed me a picture recently of myself from two years ago. I was visiting them on the Alabama coast from Oregon, just having told them that I was getting a divorce. I was in the back seat with my nephew Cooper, cheesing it up for the camera phone.

My heart sank.

I was so very broken. Holding a smile so I wouldn’t completely bum out my entire family on their vacation. Well. My vacation too, I suppose.

The flight down had an empty seat next to me the whole way down. The place where she would have been. And I held it back and concentrated on being strong for everyone. Everyone but myself.

I remember thinking that if the plane crashed, I wouldn’t mind all that much.
I did not want to remember the pain anymore, or how alone I’d felt and how I knew I’d be alone for a while.

Being alone is difficult for an introvert. I need it. But I also don’t need it. Because human beings, regardless of their agenda, are worth struggling with. They’re worth getting beat up and torn apart for. Regardless of how much you’d like to guard your heart from this world, people will find their way in. They will set up camp and explore all sorts of depths with you.

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Today I feel really lucky. I’m not sure I believe in luck or being blessed or any of those terms that deem me worthy of such goodness. I believe in people being people. I believe that in our depths we are bound to one another, to be good, for the most part.

To want what’s best for our children.
To find meaning in our work, and to do a good job.
To make a decent living so that our needs are met, plus some.

To eat dinner every now and then at a table and explore a few souls.
(often times when the babies go to sleep and you can get too warm and giggly.)

Because our stories are all so complicated and jumbled. The people that have reached their arms into the pit and pulled me out — I feel eternally indebted to.

Only now, I am part wounded person and healer. This happens when you walk through the world. You are, too. It is never safe, okay? I know you’re scared of a lot of stuff, but there will be helpers. Healers. They may bring over cupcakes or a six pack of High Life. Or both.

I suppose that is what I’m feeling today. When the currents seem to be working with me — pushing me to another horizon. I soak it in when it’s good. That’s what I always tell people. To get it in you when it’s good, because it’s not always good. In fact, it’s bad. A lot. So celebrate when you can, the friendly currents. The people who help pick up the pieces and dust you off.

My Beloved.

Healers.

Friends.

Family.

Thank you.

grace and geology.

It’s a lot of pressure, getting older.

Every day is like something of a honing steel, getting sharper maybe. Focusing on what you want to do. Who you want to be. My craft requires a lot from me. I’m sure yours does too.

When you’re a professional cook, and while some call me a chef, there is the constant pressure to perform consistently better and better. Or maybe that’s on me. I guess it should be on me.

The truth of the matter is that I will let someone down. And so will you.
But getting older, man. This sh*t is brutal sometimes.

I think often, that I am not big enough to do certain things. But I’m doing them, somehow. And I think that’s how everything works. You have no idea until you are immersed and come out on the other side. Maybe a little more worn, but you’re okay. That’s what becoming more of an adult feels like. Being okay with big things.

Geology-2007

I’m on the last year of my 20’s. A decade of my own becoming. Spiritual crisis. Marriage. Divorce. Moving. Death. Big responsibilities to my craft and my people. I am not alone.

What a huge decade. One that I look back on like a blur of loud and soft. Heavy and fizzy. Some days it feels like getting tossed off a merry-go-round that’s going too fast. Other days it is front porch sittin’. Sweet tea drinkin’.

And what I am learning learning learning!
Goodness gracious.
Life is full of pressure. I often compare it to geology, which is generally the study of pressure over time, on certain objects. Or at least that is what they said in Shawshank.

At night, I sink into my bed and try to calm down. I resist the urge to pick up my phone and numb the edges.

It is important for me to be calm. To be good. To be kind. I’m less worried about being book smart. Or needing to know how to solve long equations. I’m a little more concerned with grace. And maybe how to better feed my people.

I say pressure because cooking for people means they’re waiting on you. Over the course of a week, that’s hundreds of people waiting on you to feed them. Clean up after them. That’s a load of responsibility. I suppose, since I don’t have children of my own, that might be just a little bit of what parents feel like. A lot of pressure to get things right and on their time frame.

I submit to that pressure. I have to.

But I have loved my 20s. Since that seems to be my theme here, today. Thinking of my new normals and what ten years can do to a human. The world is full of pressure. Geology. Time. The numerous times I’ve been wrong or angry. The adventures I’ve jumped into and the times I’ve held myself back. Little do I regret, which is rare for some people.

All I ask of myself is to keep my heart open.

Work as hard as I can without compromising my own peace of mind. To have some control over how stressful this work can be and keep my hands steady on the plow.

This is what I know, and it is what I’m good at.

Above all, loads and loads of grace. For myself and for others who have asked it upon me.

That, after all, is the gift I receive from others.

Yeah, ya know?
Today, I’m thankful for grace.

fog.

It was all very perfect.

I don’t say that often, but sometimes life hits you just right, and you live in it.

Up and down, through the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Fog, cutting through trees. It reminded me of how I pour icing on cinnamon rolls. Filling all the cracks, making things a little hazy, but all quiet.

I needed to see that horizon again.
Being on the road allows me to stare into them, push into them, dream into them.

I got to visit my dad, and I watched his garden grow.
I sat next to a girl who was very adamant letting everyone at the table know that she was the Chubacabra on NBC’s Grimm. We all drink some gin drinks and called it a night.

I cooked dinner for my dad and his wife. I petted their big dog Angus who has big sweet eyes and thinks he’s a human, sometimes.

I drove further up north and met some more friends and got some hugs from quite possibly the most beautiful little one. I cooked dinner there too and drink too much wine and talked about God and divorce and food.

All of which seem to be cut from the same fabric of our desire to learn about each other.

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I felt sad, a bit.

Like, really felt it. Like the way you feel when something sets in and there’s no way to stop it. You let it cut through you, like Appalachian fog.

I felt love though, too. Loads of it, in different forms. Through food and hugs and proximity.

I stared endlessly into those horizons, where I knew the curve of the Earth would never let it stop. So I kept driving. By rivers and more little mountains. I smelled the cool damp rock smell. It reminded me of the wild Oregon — the one I was haunted by. But not so much scared as unsure as to what it was all about.

There is still plenty of beauty here.
That’s what I came to realize.
I opened my heart and a lot of things got out and a lot of things got in.

That’s the way I like it.
Because I also learned I’ve gotta lot left to learn about myself and how I treat people.
About my intentions — my humanness — my icky insides that make me wanna hide, at times, from the messes I’ve made.

I remember my sister-in-law Leah used to say, “It was just your turn to spill…” when someone knocked over a glass.

And maybe, that’s what it feels like. A knocked over glass. A little ashamed of being clumsy with something. And a million times I think I could have moved another way. But I sit and think that we all spill over.

The road took me back to Mississippi.

Where it is warm and not as pretty as them foothills.
But it is where I am, and how I felt myself looking forward to settling back down there.

Road weary. Thankful. Ready to stretch. Ready to move, again.

I guess home has a way of doing that.

enough.

Some part of me has always cried for justice.

Back when my mom felt so alone,
or when I felt alone.
When I saw terribly young women standing in a line, waiting to be bought and brought to a room for sex.

And my heart is breaking. A whole helluva lot.

Another church burning. Another headline. Another turned head.
The man across the street from me has his confederate flag flying higher and brighter than ever.

These days…
It’s like jamming a shovel into the packed earth. Tilling up soil that hasn’t been turned in decades. And when you see its underbelly, full of scary looking things. Cracks in the earth.

But there is breath too, and now there is room and a chance for new things to grow.

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You see?

If you know me, you know a lot about my heart. I don’t hide it very well, as cooking takes a lot out of me. I give it to people all day long. I’m also not too afraid to be vulnerable.

I told you when I was going through a divorce, and how I wept in my old hallway that felt like a depth of hell I never knew could exist.

And I will tell you now, that I am so glad I have changed.

You are not born seeking justice or truth or mercy.
We have no framework for grace, given our blank slate.

That stuff…is just magic.

Somehow, we are able to learn a bit. Hurt a bit. Give up a lot.

Fill our bellies with good food and maybe feed others, too.
A few times I have lifted naked men and dressed their shivering bodies.

I still dream of that time I saw a man die of neglect. It still haunts me. It is my framework for how I live my days, now. Sure, I cook and make fancy food. But I remember his open eyes. I remember his skeleton.

That body reminded me to take care of everyone.

So some of you are mad at the government. You have your reasons for being angry. As do I. I’m wondering where are the peacemakers. The market gardeners. The wounded healers.

One day, younger people will ask me about this time. I will remember what it was like to wonder about the 60’s and the civil rights movements, and how I asked myself the same question. “What would I have done? Who would I have been during that time?”

Today.

Today, though.
I will be an ally, and I’ll work for peace.

I’ll tell you that my heart is happy that all people get to be married and fight about dishes and watch Netflix and obtain all their civil liberties.

I’ll tell you that that confederate flag had a lot to do with hate and injustice, a heritage of oppression and war and slavery. I’m glad to see it transition into history books and I’m excited to see Mississippi squirm a little. Grow. Change. Expand.  Moan. Heal.

I hope that we can be kind, too. We can be angry, also.

I am glad that we change.

I hate that it takes us seeing horrific things to make us move. I wonder why that is. I wonder why seeing horrible things makes us jolt out of our seats and scream, “Enough!”

Because it is enough.

And it is going to eat us alive.

Today.

Today, though.

I will be an ally, and I’ll work for peace.

And may You have mercy on my soul.

 

beliefs.

Everything is just, happening.

I feel like the days zoom by and I am the roadside jetsam and flotsam, getting picked up in the current of a passing 18-wheeler.

Up and down, left and right.
I’m thinking it’s a pace I’m going to have to get used to.

I am in a comparing season of my life. I suppose we all are, at many times in our lives. Meaning, I’m comparing myself with other things. Like cooking. I’m thinking I could do better and that I am better, or I’m thinking I’ll never be that good.

I’m comparing myself to my friends who are uncles, and I’m thinking I’m not a great uncle because I’m always late on giving gifts.

I feel a bit on edge at times. Dodgy and picky and stubborn.
I feel apologetic.

For my generation. For me, really. My inability to not check my phone every five to ten minutes. My fear to choose in a world of choices. My need to feel authentic but to not stick out.

I feel sad for our recent losses. I think there is a gaping wound there. It hit us again. We are knee jerking and moving forward quickly and it’s just a lot. I’m okay with everything, but really, it’s not about me or what I think is right.

I used to really want my beliefs. I wanted my certainties. They made me feel important and unique. Edgy.

That’s what I want to come back to, each day. How much this world is not about me.

I am in a luxurious, though sometimes lonely, season in life where I have so many freedoms. It is addictive. It is so fun. I’m not sure how healthy it is to have it all, but I’m close to feeling content with where I am at.

That is okay. I am still removing the ideals of being a gypsy of some sort. Some of that still resonates within me. The idea that the world is meant to be traveled and understood by me.

But I am not so much that guy anymore.

I am the guy conflicted and pulled by gravity.

18-wheeler-truck-accident-may2011-austin-man-killed-in-oregon

The guy who is scared that the Bible is not quite making its way back into my world like I thought it would, being back in the South. That is not to say that I think it is stupid or unintellectual. It is just not a framework that I live my life through anymore, and haven’t for quite some time. I think that is scary, sometimes. I wish I had faith like my friends and family.

Deep down, where the waters are still, I find it there. A small glow, but a glow indeed. My peace. My ability to show grace and absorb pain.

But nearing the surface — that is where the waters are tumultuous. Pulled in by the moon and sent crashing into rocks as though it is in my nature to break and form back together.

So while I do my comparing and floating and crashing, I am still drawn to whatever it is that gives me peace every day. At least for a moment, and then I go on surviving and bumping into people and colliding with their thoughts and their own wars.

Luckily grace exists outside of the Bible. As does love and mercy and forgiveness. All of which I learned from Jesus, but I also learned from my momma, and Mother Teresa, and my chef.

Today, I will be carrying everyone with me.

chef

I just jolted awake from one of my small coma-like naps because I thought my air conditioning was the sound of the kitchen printer at work.

Rattle rattle rattle.
My heart was racing. I’ll admit, I’m a hardcore napper. A solid thirty minutes of what I like to call “baby sleep”, when they get all sweaty and all their weight falls on you like a sack of potatoes. And just like that, I am back in the game.

Well. I am a head chef now. Due to a switch in ownership and being in the right place at the right time, I have fulfilled one of my short term goals of being a “chef” before turning thirty. This isn’t unusual. Many chefs are under 30. Though it’s come at me fast, I have no doubt in my heart that I’ve earned the title.

William_Orpen_Le_Chef_de_l'Hôtel_Chatham,_Paris

But this isn’t about being a chef.

Maybe it is a little.

More so the hurricane of my brain. Fed only more so by the fact that my shop is doing brunch on Sundays, which any cook will tell you, is a slur of hecticness and eggs. Eggticness.

Alas, it is my job to do this. To feed you hungry people. Lately I have cursed the gods more than I have praised them and for that, I hope they have mercy on me.

My days seem short.

I wake up in an attempt to find another black shirt to wear with some jeans and my old Nikes that I’ve tried to replace twice, and it just hasn’t worked out.

I walk into the kitchen and turn everything on. Slowly, people start showing up. But for that first hour, it is just me in the kitchen. Stirring grits. Cooking off loads and loads of bacon.

Sipping on that first pot of coffee that I get to marvel in. I stare into its blackness and know that in due time, it will find its way through my veins like the chemical it is. I will shake off morning creaks and dust and start working on my prep list.

Cooking is never ending. There is no project that is done that doesn’t have to be re done almost every week, if not every day. There is no council or board members to tell me if I did a good job and that I’ve earned my hearty salary.

Only today, I will be judged for what goes on the plate. I will most likely clean that plate too, and do it again and again. I will be judged on quickness and taste and delivery. Hundreds of times a week. I wake up knowing that I will not please everyone and that I will inevitably let someone down. But I do my best to be as healthy as I can in this industry.

Before everyone shows up, I try to repeat this mantra in my head that it is all out of my control. Only that mostly it is in my control. At least the things that I can have a say in.

Also, there is tomorrow.

Regardless of how stressful and insane and impossible some days are, there is that presence of time. We will move forward and no, this won’t last forever.

So yeah, I guess you can call me a chef now, though it’s a funny word. I won’t be weird about it.

Because sometimes being a chef means you’re reaching your hand down a flooded floor drain to unclog it before it hits the dining room. (Like maybe I did yesterday.)

Or it means going out and buying your co-worker a drink, who’s having a hard season. Or keeping everyone cool when sh*t inevitably hits the fan.

I know your job is stressful too. And you probably get paid way more than me, but I am so super proud of what I’ve become. I may not have a big house to show of my labors. But I have my day to day. My baby naps. The occasional diner telling me that what they had was perfect.

It is enough to make my eyes water, and enough to wake up again tomorrow and do it all over.

If this is what it means to be a chef, then I think I’m going to be okay.

heaven and ivy

I think about ruin.

Some form of hell, my frame leaning against the walls.

A depth of hell, I imagined.
In church they told me it was separation from God.

Though hell feels more like separation from Love.
Maybe there’s truth in that.

I think about ruin.

War. Metal piercing through flesh.
Swords are bullets now.

Echoing in the halls of ruin.

Then there grows ivy,
almost as though it had no idea of that wall’s previous
function.

That wall, hiding from an enemy.
The next day’s light,
Or the way my face looks now.

The ivy is climbing. More so, every day.
Sometimes I remember my frame,
sitting in that depth of hell
gnashing my own teeth.

How can heaven and hell exist in the same place?

I suppose it always has.
That is being human, after all.

I think about ruin.

Instead I see life.
Imagination.
Birth.
Big ocean.

I see ivy.
Slowly climbing. Twisting around knots and
threading itself through holes like wounds.

Tighter, it grabs.
Reclaiming.
Without a single care,
only that it is in its nature to climb and grow.

Like us.

I think about ruin.

And my hell has turned into my salvation.
I run my hands down the walls.
I feel the cracks.
The pain.
Remnants of hell on earth.

And then I see green.
Green ivy, pulsing. Thriving.

Because it is in its nature to climb and grow.

Like us.

Ruins.
Filled with dark and light.

Pulsing, thriving.

Onward
and upward.

wrapping ourselves through our wounds,
as though we had no idea of our wall’s previous function.

I think about ruin.

And all I can see is heaven,
and ivy.

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a cook’s life.

I think of myself at times as a niche cook.

I fit in where other people are too big, or too clunky.
I’m good at that. Filling in the cracks.

Which is what happened last night.

My friend asked me a couple of months ago if I’d be interested in catering an outside event for 35 people.
Hors d’oeuvres + five courses = a good time

I say yes. I really have no other option. Saying yes to things is the only way, I think.
I purchase a large country ham from Benton’s up in Tennessee.
I source my grains and peas from Anson Mills over there in South Carolina.
My quail is from Georgia.
And well, I am a dude from Mississippi who learned to cook in Oregon.

I prepped and cooked and stored two hors’doeuvres, and five courses in my tiny apartment kitchen. Not to mention three allergy people, having me make four separate courses.

I started cooking on a Thursday and didn’t stop until 11:30 on a Saturday night.

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We had been watching the weather, because it’s Mississippi in the summer time. It’s going to rain, it’s just a matter of when. So we pushed our host to really consider moving it inside. He kept insisting that we try to have it outside. We kept saying he should REALLY move it inside. He kept saying to wait. So, we did.

And it rained. And rained and rained. And blew out our fires. My friends at my back, holding our tent down as the thunderstorm raged above us. Beside us. Underneath us.

The dinner party had relocated to under the gazebo while I was mid-way through cooking my pork belly dish.

Saron, my friend and our event coordinator, ran under our kitchen tent and we pushed around a few options involving some restaurants that were closed, that would house us on such short notice.

So, we called my boss and he okayed that we move to my other place of business. We hustled and yelled and got soaked. But now we were in our element. Ovens. Sinks. Warmers. Thank God.

The party had congregated in the front of the restaurant. Wet, but laughing from all the strong drinks. We pushed together tables. Turned on some music and started to assemble.

Five courses.

Sorghum Molasses cured Pork Belly, with charred peach, soy/honey vinaigrette, benne seed

Chicory Salad with Green Goddess Dressing, Gorgonzola, Radish

Duck and Andouille Gumbo, Louisiana Jasmine Rice, with Crispy Duck Skin, Scallion

Quail with Sea Island Red Peas, Black Garlic Puree

Banoffee Pie with Bittersweet Chocolate

I walked out of the kitchen at 1:30am. So proud of my team for hustling and keeping a good attitude. This was one of those situations where you reap what you sow. And I’ve worked hard to treat my people well and with respect and dignity, and it showed. That’s what makes this stuff so insanely rich. I am never poor in company and friends. Goodness gracious.

Having maybe eaten two or three times in the past three days, I collapsed on my sofa.

I reached for whatever I had in my box from the night containing most of my mise en place.

Rice crackers and pimiento cheese.

I fell asleep with my hand in the container.

Stood up, brushed my teeth and fell into bed.

The life of a cook.

Ya know, it’s not so bad.

saved.

When I was a kid, my dad was Jesus.

Not in the way you might think.

He was actually Jesus.
For the Easter Cantata at church.

He could sing pretty well. I think that’s why, and he generally had a knack for theatrics.
In fact, the church used my Indiana Jones whip to push him down our red carpeted aisles. Fake blood and wounds lined his back.

I saw him there, hanging on the cross, too.
He was hanging between a hippie computer technician and another man.
I’m not sure what he did.

I saw him hang his head.
He was put into a tomb and he came back alive.
(Two’ish days compiled into two’ish minutes.)

I don’t remember feeling very sad. Because I knew my dad was really alive.
Other things made me sad.

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I always say it is unusual to process your childhood as an adult.
Adults seemed more like adults back then and you realize now that your parents were actually trying to do the best they could with what they had.

Mostly, because I watch my friends and family with kids and see how books and articles will never actually describe or explain to them what it will be like to be a parent.

I am a person who recognizes how difficult things will be. That’s not to say that I find the path of least resistance. But knowing things will be hard, at least in my own head, lessens the blow.

A lot of people in my world are going through some really icky shit.

There is no other way to describe it only that it is like accidentally sticking your hands in pine tar.
You’re in it for the long haul.

And this is what it is like, after all. To be human. To feed yourself. To conflict with other peoples’ well beings. To maybe leave them and this place better than when you found it.

Sometimes, you see your actual father hanging on a cross and it makes you think.

Maybe not when you were nine years old.

But maybe 20 years later when you’re frying eggs on the line,

and you pause and remember,

all of the things,

that have saved you.

apple cobbler

Anne Lamott always talks about life not having a manual.

I have a hard time knowing that regardless of what I read, what movies I watch, or which people I connect with, there will always be a curve and incline.

We are all feeling it, thinking it.

The Earth keeps moaning and we are feeling its wrath.
I think people are getting tired and weary, and all the weight that gravity lays on our shoulders is wearing us thin.

Two police officers were killed in my city this weekend. A senseless act of violence, among so many, fed with fear.
My community is heartbroken. Not just because they were cops, but because they were people in our community.

Southerners are emotional people.

They probably won’t admit it, but that’s just being Southern.

I feel their weight, not because I’m also a Southerner but because they are my people. We all mourn together. I take an active part in feeding this community, so in a sense, I worry for them and take their burdens as I hope they take mine.

It is a tough season for so many. My family. My friends. Moving. Change. Fear of the inevitable unknown.

Time is so uncertain and it is so precious of a thing.

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So I settle into myself, for at least a moment. I let sadness in and I let it out. I do the same with all of those things. I become vulnerable with the people I work with, and it’s hard. It’s hard to lead and to also be vulnerable, though I think the best leaders are. We confuse vulnerability with weakness, when it is the opposite. It is strength. And it is your immeasurable power as a human being.

I grew up keeping so much in. A fist clenched tight with worry and anger and doubt.

I’ve certainly had my growing seasons, and also months where I wilt a bit.
But I have also learned that exposing your wounds to air helps to heal.

Sure, there are others things that heal. Time and a bit of care.

Okay. A lot of care. Self-care. Other-people-care.
Ice cream-and-warm apple cobbler-care.

These words are the sound of settling, of embracing my humanness and I want to crumble and dissolve into something bigger. Something, somewhere that knows me and places its palm on my arm to say, “Broken world, son.”

I hear those three words more often than not, floating around in my subconscious, reminding me that we are beyond fixing.

But we are not beyond healing.
And we are not beyond changing and growing and shifting. We are all okay to do that.
We are okay to open.
We are okay to bloom when the sun shines brightly and we have just enough water in our veins to be a gift to others.

We are…okay.

In these seasons, we are not asking anything but to be loved and heard.
To be set free and to live as wounded healers.

To be fierce sons and daughters of the Beloved.

I am okay today.
And though I wish I had that manual for tomorrow, or the day after that, but I do not. Neither do you.

That’s okay.
If you need me, I will be in my summer-warm kitchen, shoo’ing off a few fruit flies and washing dishes.
I will offer you a place at my table.
We will both dissolve into that something bigger and embrace our humanness.
And maybe, just maybe,

there will be apple cobbler.