timers and reminders.

My life is timers and reminders.

Look at my phone and you will see them all turned on — all on their specific days with specific times.
They say things like, BREAD! and PRODUCE!

That is my life now. A gazillion little things. Writing menus. Writing emails including menus. Answering catering inquiries. Talking to old ladies on the phone who are worried about MSG in their food. Ordering food. Cooking food. Creating specials in hopes that people will eat them. Teaching people how to cut onions the way I want them cut. Always leaving the kitchen thinking I’ve forgotten to do something. (Which I probably have.)

I remember reading about chefs when I first started getting into cooking. I knew that what you see on TV wasn’t the real deal. But it didn’t sway me. I didn’t run away even when I knew I had thin skin. I just knew that I wanted it.

I will always have thin skin. That ain’t changing.

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So what is this big difference? Well, I am a cook who has to call himself a chef from time to time. Because people want to talk to the Chef. They want to give their business cards to the Chef even when you know you’ll never call them. People want to know the Chef. They want to know who’s in charge. Which is me. And that is terrifying, and there is a lot of power there.

I have a good crew. I have a really good crew. I know I have gained their respect because I see it every day. And they have mine. There is a proximity thing. When you are constantly moving behind people and beside them with sharp and hot objects. We all sweat together. We commiserate. To me, it’s just business as usual.

But there is a clock. Always. Ticking. Until food is done and needs to come out of the oven. Timing on the eggs in the pot and that ever-pressing sense of urgency once a ticket finishes out the kitchen printer.

When I come home, I usually lay down for a while. I listen to some white noise and it clears my head. Sometimes I fall asleep for a few minutes, and sometimes I still hear the kitchen printer.

I am always aware of time and how precious it is. The time I have for me. The time I have for you and the want to have more of it at the end of a long day.

I feel proud.

Always.

And I really try to care in all things. Some things I know I cannot handle, and I think it’s important to recognize that and to share the load. Humans cannot hold everything. Some times it can feel like Atlas holding the world, but I know deep down that I am not capable of this and that I need other people.

That is where all of this comes from. And at the end of the day it is about the other people who are there with you — making you laugh — taking over a station while you lean against a tree outside for some fresh air.

They are truly the powerful ones. And I will give them everything I have.

I never need a reminder for that.

watermelons

we grew watermelons in our bellies.

too many seeds
you’re bound to swallow a few in a lifetime.

they supposed to have seeds.
it means they keep going
in our bones
and the bones of our children

smith county off highway 49
hermiston up in the PNW

we used to bury em’ in the sand to keep em’ cold
my granddad put table salt on his

I used to shoot them seeds from beneath my fingers
in hopes they’d stick to my cousin’s bare shoulders

If I’m at the market thirsty, I’ll eat it up in a flash
sweet and tastes like summer
Mississippi summer

hot hot hot
running across the road,
barefoot
asphalt burning soft feet

for that watermelon.

sweet and tastes like summer
smilin’
sweatin’
nappin’ (well, eventually under the great swingin’ ceiling fan)

horse flies bitin’ our shoulders

for that watermelon

maybe they didn’t grow in my stomach after all
at least not in the way an 8-year-old thinks

though you can find me, today
swallowing a seed,
wondering if I had a belly full of dirt
would it grow?

I’d say yes.

Give anything time
water
love
a little thought
light
warmth

and it’ll grow
and grow and grow

hot and sweet and tastes like summer

Mississippi growin’s all I’ve ever known.

JumboBlackDiamondLG

the angry man

We are not built to live forever.

At least that is what I think often. When I am tired or stressed. Our pieces that have blood and electricity flowing through them do inevitably give out and we are still left with what happens after we stop.

I do want to say that I think often about my purpose on this wacky planet.
I also think about all the people.

This past weekend I saw a lot of different kinds of people on a beach and thought, “I will probably never be this close to them ever again.” And while there is little importance in that statement, it makes me feel very tiny. And I am. Unless you’re standing next to me, in which case, my 6’2 frame might sway your opinion.

There are the moments I wish I could’ve lived in a little longer. Maybe held on for another thirty seconds. Or perhaps be less dramatic and harsh. We all have that.

I still think time is our most valuable resource.
We don’t always have to be doing something incredible, regardless of bleeding heart Josh in 2007 that felt he was going to change the world — only the world made him feel and seem so ridiculously small.

Small.

Yes.

Recently, a few friends and I were somewhat threatened at a grocery store by a large angry man. For no reason he decided to lash out at a friend of mine. That escalated into something else entirely where he threatened to “beat our asses” as we stepped outside.

Well. It didn’t happen. And we laughed it off. We were just trying to buy some ice-cream.
I do think we were all a little taken aback by how quick he was to fume. I’d never seen such a thing. A small incident and BOOM. He’s threatening us.

Now, I’m just not used to that. I’m not used to conflict that intense. I was only spanked a few times, as a kid that was pretty hard on himself. I’ve never been in a fight and don’t plan on it. I do however wish to remove my glasses if someone wished to slug me. I really like my glasses and can’t see at all without them. And I was in Florida, so I really didn’t want to get punched in the face so far from home.

I didn’t, like I said. But we thought about him. I thought about his wife who was seemingly very embarrassed and I am afraid took the brunt of his anger on her either in words or silence or something else. He was just an angry man. (And I was far away from danger, because well, it’s me after all.)

anger

What I’m wanting to say is that we aren’t here very long. And I want my energy to be good and helpful. I am a super sensitive feeler guy. All the feels, all the time. I’ve always been so sensitive, and that is really difficult to navigate with other people.

It is weird that I have become something so many people fear because of TV or word of mouth that chefs are angry people. We do have frustrations and loads of stress — but it is my own form of justice — that thing I was so passionate about when I was younger.

It’s the small moves. Like being super human patient with people. Kids. Grown-ups. All the same. It’s giving the moment some space. Some time. Circle it a bit. Give it room to grow into something else. Something that may be good for both sides. I’ve never gained much by being quick to say something sarcastic or passive aggressive. I don’t often feel good about being mean to people, even if I think they deserve it.

I think about the angry man. I think about what gave him his fear.

Somewhere, I wish for him some peace in his life so that he doesn’t have to live so angry.

Because we are not built to live forever.

I want my smallness — the peace I try to bring — to be large.

Maybe that starts with ice cream. And it definitely has forgiveness, too.

But ice cream.

We can do ice cream.

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.

morning-mist-in-appalachian-mountains

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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