welcome to the freak show

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I really don’t know why I wrote that title.

I think maybe kitchen life has shown me more about myself than almost anything. Not that I am a freak (okay maybe a little), but that it is all a show and this show is the most wild thing I’ve been a part of in a really long time.

I woke up this morning feeling bone tired. Nervous. Weary. Wanting nothing more than to just sink back into my bed and not think about the day I was about to have.

I even prayed. I asked God to help me, even though it’s been a while because I am stubborn and burnt and mostly lost in all of those things. Lost in them is not a bad place to be, if I’m being honest. I just need to be into something, and the chaos of my day to day is becoming something of a norm.

Embrace it, I say. It makes things easier. Like exploring the vast cosmos trying to make sense of all the galactic chaos. Explosions and gravity and how time is such a big weirdo.

I believe that the chaos will settle and we will begin to take strong steps towards something sustainable. After all, that is at the top of my list. Right underneath “Learn how to make fried chicken taste like Popeyes.”

anger

I have been an angry chef. Pissy and short tempered. Apologetically exhausted. Not only dealing with the complexities of time and fire and plating, but the ooey gooey’ness of the people around me and their ability, unknowingly, to sink deep into my skin when I’m spiraling.

They see me tired. Stressed. Overly-apologetic because I know this isn’t the me I want to see, but it has been the me that survives. Maybe flailing around online and after a few beers isn’t the best idea, but life is too short not get a little ridiculous from time to time.

Overall, I am in awe of everything, and everyone — of seeing people eat and absorb the things I’ve had in my head since forever ago, it seems. I know I will be able to absorb it some day soon, and it will probably be in the midst of some mundane thing. But all I can see is people, and I see in them the good and the bad.

It hurts to hear the bad things, and praise feels like good water pressure.

Still, you move forward into the great and wild unknown.

A freak show in its own time.

An island of misfit toys,

a hard and heavy day,

a broken hallelujah.

sparks.

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everything has changed me.

I sit around and chase my mind through every corner of every space. I question everything, and I question everything’s deepest meaning. A friend told me I will do that because I’m a Sagittarius — but I really don’t know anymore.

I wonder how much a person can change as they become older. Maybe you have a problem with a certain race or a certain kind of person. You live your life surrounding yourself with people that make sense and believe the same thing. There is no going against the grain unless you must.

But, the part of me that is questioning everything wants to respond with, “But you have to!”

I am a fool, most times. Thinking too much of things, when the reality is quite underwhelming.

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Sparks. I like them. I like feeling ragey about some things. Especially if I feel like those things make me a better person. Of course I wake up the next day with a hangover of anger mixed with embarrassment. I think to myself, “Why didn’t I just keep my mouth shut?”

I get shakey when people try to push me down. I feel angry when I’m misunderstood. I suppose angry isn’t the right word. I do believe anger is in a lot of things though. More so I feel hurt. It hurts a lot, doesn’t it? That is the worst loneliness. Feeling hurt because it is the most personal thing you can feel about yourself. It is the deepest and most hidden wound.

Lately it has been doubt. Doubt that I can run a restaurant. Doubt that I am not nearly talented enough as a cook to ever make something big happen. But something big is already happening! I don’t know how, but it is.

It is scary and it makes me nervous. I’ve known those two things since I was a little kid. Those two feelings that have probably led up to me having internal meltdowns, but have also pushed me into places I will never regret.

The overwhelming voice I hear is that it will be okay — that more will be revealed. I am asking the higher things above me to give me patience and grace because as I become older, I feel like my tolerance for others lowers by the day. But I’m also aware that true community comes with radical acceptance and understanding.

Most of my days are spent asking myself if I’m good enough. Am I being fair enough? Loyal enough? Who am I oppressing and what can I do to ease it?

The last thing I need you to do is tell me to take it easy and calm down, though. That’s the equivalent of dropping Mentos into Diet Coke. Why that reaction? I don’t know. Long ago I learned to feel what you need to feel and that most people just want to be heard. I also have learned that things pass. Maybe not as fast as you want them to, but anger subsides.

I promise you that it does.

I know people hurt you. There is not a darker place to sit, wrapping yourself up in your own arms in hopes that the thoughts will fade.

But, they do. And you are strong. So strong in fact you want to laugh and take dance lessons again. Or maybe you want to drive into the horizon for a few hours just to clear your head.

It feels good to lay down your weapons. To start over again, daily — like Ursula K. Leguin says about bread and love, “it has to be made daily.”

Maybe all I ever have is questions, but that’s the desire of my own heart.

Make it new, and do it all over again.

And watch out for the sparks, because they could be the beginning of something bigger than you ever imagined.

retreat and reconcile.

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I’m not quite sure where my head is at.

In between a lot of layers of self doubt and pride and movement. Each layer is built upon what I consider my deepest self. The one that I return to before I fall asleep at night, and perhaps in the morning when I have a few quiet moments.

Who the hell am I becoming? Is this person good? Will this person be lonely? Can I find some balance in this wonky world?

No big surprise you probably ask yourself the same questions. Getting older (and older) I am pressed by the second hand moving around the clock. I live my life in seconds, really. At least when your job is putting food on plates, seconds matter.

Okay. Write about what hurts.

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Often, the answer for loneliness is to seek out a person, or people to do life with. But it’s awfully complex. I fear writing about it because it’s got all those layers, too. And I really don’t want to receive worried messages. Actually, I’m quite good with how my life is working.

I am reaching into the places that I feel a little worn and for lack of better imagery, desolate. Being reminded almost daily of lives that I’ve had already. Images that are burned into my brain of people leaving, of me leaving, and also ones of great love and warmth. I like those, a lot.

Daily, I reconcile the person I am becoming. The person who has to be tough on employees and himself. Who is often careless with his words and how they sink deep into another. I have a responsibility for all of that. One could lock themselves in a room forever, but I cannot think of a worse reality than to not feel or to fear the responsibility of feeling the depth of one’s humanness.

I wish I could afford spiritual retreats. Or perhaps more spirituality in general. I think this is also what hurts. Food, in my world, is my way of communion with people. Its facade is one of hipness and energy and hustle — but what I crave at its marrow — communion. And that involves all the moving parts. Sort of like your church. Sort of like your people.

While a restaurant is not by any means a place of spiritual reckoning, it is often where my feet are planted. It is my holy ground that knows too many curse words and blood and sweat. It knows stress and dirt and fear. These were the things I didn’t know as a home cook.

But this is my life now. I have the marks and I breathe in the warm oven and the first pot of coffee in the morning. I dip my spoon into everything.

I taste and I taste and I taste.

When I come home I toss my body onto my bed and often miss the presence of another next to me. Maybe giving me a back scratch. Or a run down of their day, which is often a nice retreat from the noise inside my head.

But really, I have myself. Perhaps the squirrels that run along my tin roof and the occasional lady bugs that still happen to find their way on the edge of my water glass.

My world, as small as it is, seems impossibly huge sometimes. Even when I see the earth from space, falling into nothingness, I am still alive and aware of that gift.

Of Existing. Feeling. Moaning. Laughing. And really just, being.

When I write about what hurts, I often find what heals.
They often stem from the same things.
That is life, I think.

Reconciliation and Communion.

Over and over again.

Layer upon layer.

the angry man

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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.

heaven and ivy

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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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apple cobbler

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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.

thick skin

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I jokingly tell people these days that I can’t wait to be in my forties.

I tell them that I think I’m getting better with age, and that I wasn’t very good at being young. At least the parts of me that crave adventure come in different forms.
As a kid, I was not the bravest or loudest or most outgoing.

Knowing what I know now, as an adult, I was so nervous and apprehensive about the outside world. I craved affirmation and I wanted to feel good about the kind of person I was. It always felt right to be kind, and I believe that to this day. I treat people like I want to be treated, as archaic as that rule sounds, it works well for me.

And then came kitchen work.

Intense. Hot and fast with a million moving pieces.
I learn about myself in these moments. I learn about working hard and smart and humbly doing things for people they’ll never be able to repay you for.

Somehow, this works for me.

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I take a break from my keyboard to squeeze my hands open and close. Yesterday was a 14-hour day involving a wedding where I spent most of the night emptying garbage cans full of beer bottles and half eaten pieces of food. The other part of the night was spent scrubbing hotel pans and jamming leftover bits of wedding food in my face so I wouldn’t have to partake in that Whopper Jr that so taunts me on my drive home.

It is always humbling to do this work.

I guess in the states, I struggle with the mentality that this work is for people riddled in confusion and transition and poverty. Granted, we do make up a big part of that work force. But some of us want to do this with our lives because we think it’s important. To me, I see a bride and groom who appreciate empty garbage cans so they can enjoy this moment with their friends and family. (I exclude the drunk bro-crowd who laughingly threw their trash in said garbage cans as I was straining to lift them through winding crowds of beautifully dressed Southerners.)

And so, with the steam rising from the tray of dishes I just pulled through the sanitizer, I think about the shootings in France. The massacres in Nigeria. I think about my friends who have recently lost loved ones. I think about my own heart being pulled in so many directions. I feel a knot in my stomach for some reason, and I also hum along with the sound of my muffled phone playing through its “closing down the kitchen” playlist.

It makes sense that our skin gets thicker with time, and that getting older helps us fit more into that skin.

We somehow make this world work for us even with the knowledge that there will be sadness supped with joy.

Hard times, come again no more, so the song says.

We sing, but we know they will. We still find moments to say we are good and happy and content. In those moments, it is all worth it to be human. To accept the give and take.

The ebb and flow.

The changing of times,

and perhaps a good word or two.

oats.

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Yesterday morning I got up particularly early. I had slept through the night, only to be woken up by this group of little birds outside my bedroom window.

I can’t blame ’em. I think they were waking me up for something big.

I made myself oatmeal with creme fraiche I had just made and some local honey. It was delicious and simple.

I woke up heavy with anger. Not at the birds. The birds were the only part of my morning that made sense to me. The creme fraiche I had made was perfect. Thick and tangy, and well, fresh.

All signs of the morning were leaning to a good day, and all of a sudden, everything collapsed. I started weeping hysterically. I don’t always enjoy talking about the inevitable breakdowns, but I think I need to talk about it.

Living in a different space takes time. Although Mississippi is my home, there has been such a shift in my heart.

If I’m honest with what I want to say, I don’t have enough middle fingers for things sometimes. When I start to feel sad for my loneliness, I point those middle fingers at a life I once had. I get so angry that I lost everything that I wanted.

Now I know better than that.

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Life does move on. And the stages of grief are so f***ing blurry to me at this point. People will say, “Ah, well you’re on to anger now..” Well, certainly. Only I’m angry a lot in different stages.

Grief has no formula. Sure, there are some that will tell you (and me) what to expect next. But I have no clue. We are all so different in how we heal and move on. Some of us take longer. Some of us move to different places and are forced to reconcile two pasts into one. How does one do this?

I would be worried if I wasn’t having a hard time. I see people move through these things so fast sometimes, and I get jealous. Damn, I wish I could hook up with someone that fast! Or start to see people as an old friend, instead of the ‘ex’.

There is so much I want to bury.

Like my wedding ring that I buried in the roots of those tomato plants we grew. Because that’s where our love was good. That’s where it meant the most to me…and there those roots will grow strong again, with someone else getting to benefit from our careless gardening.

Good days and bad days, as always.

No, I don’t want your silver linings, but I do want to be useful.

I do know things will get better with time. I can see past my pain.

But to feel it, is a completely different story. I didn’t think it was possible to explore these depths of my heart. To see how resilient my heart has been and continues to be.

I’ll fight for it to find goodness again. To find some peace again…and I will hold it deep down with those still waters. I know what I want, and I know it’s going to take some time.

And I will cook it slow. Like them oats soaking up water and salt and spice.

They will absorb into something entirely different from its dry state.

It will nourish and expand.

A simple, good thing,

sometimes makes all the difference.

 

my weighty ghosts.

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I’m tired.

I’m tired in different ways.

And I’m still angry, on and off, most days. I live quietly. I clean my own dishes. I am aware of the volume of the music I play in my room. I am overly thankful towards people who take care of me. Whether that is a friend or the cashier at Taco Bell. I am apologetic if I seem to take more than I require.

I think I’m angry that I have to take a few steps back from where I want to be.

I was excited that I was moving into a life that felt good with my personality. Sorta quiet. Settled. In love. Hopeful. Challenging. Meaningful. Comfortable. Ah yes, comfortable. The thing I used to be against. Thinking God didn’t want me to be comfortable. That being comfortable meant you were abandoning the poor and downtrodden. Maybe I am. Shit, I know I am. (Am I?)

But what am I to do.

I cook for people.

I do dishes. I mop floors.

I try to be good. I know I am good. I am light, though I am filled with them weighty ghosts.

There are times when living in community is nice. Dinner, being one. Being near another person, in all its simplicity is nice.

Having to fight to get rid of the “pee rug” that sits near the toilet. Those things should never exist. Men, you know better.

But that is what my life is, about now. A far, far cry from anything horrible, I realize.

Don’t get me started on the state of things. I feel so much tension in this world. The state of our government and planet is enough to make me sink to my knees, though I do too much of that these days.

I feel bad, sometimes. For my roommate whose room is close. Some mornings, I sit in this big brown chair and laugh, other times, I am overwhelmed and sniffling and babbling. I must seem like a train wreck. But I think, deep down, I am okay.

There is a great purpose within. I don’t know what I’ll be doing. I am not promised anything. What I do have, is some good people in my life. The ones that have stuck around to lift me up, that is.

I suppose you reap what you sow, anyhow. Maybe it’s my fault. So be it.

And Hemingway said to write clear and hard about what hurts.

So today, this is what hurts.

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I realize this might seem vulnerable. In fact, it is. I am aware that this is not the kind of person I used to be. When you thought you had me pinned down with words like, “quiet and shy and sweet”.

That’s okay. You were calling it as you saw it. I am aware the world can see these words, if they want. I’ve been doing this for a long time. So it shouldn’t be a shock to anyone.

But as I write this, my eyes are heavy, and I’ll be hefting myself onto my bed, that still concaves on either side. I guess that is one of my ghosts.

It is okay, though.

It is there to remind me of a presence,

of someone I once knew.

 

 

being angry.

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I suppose there are stages to grief.

At least that’s what everyone tells me.

You’re sad and don’t understand, then you’re angry, then you forgive, then you move on.

There is some truth in that, no doubt. I guess mine are less stages, than a ‘day in, day out’ account of what I choose to live in. I’d like to say I am a peaceful sea, with the occasional storm. But right now, I have these churning waters deep down in my belly. I’m angry for the choices that were taken away from me.

I realize my privilege in all of this. It could be a lot worse. But when I think about those people, I feel bad too. It’s safe to say that I carry a lot. For myself, and for others. My own grief is this new thing I’ve had to deal with. Generally, I am a peaceful dude who wants to give so much to others.

I remember writing a while back, that I felt strong. And I suppose I still do, but it looks different today. I think anger is important. If it wasn’t for anger, nothing would change. People used to get angry that they were cold all the time, so they figured out how to make fire.

I think there’s a lot in that.

I’m angry that I have to voice my opinion on matters I never wanted to — that people will eat me up whenever they want, because that’s what people do. Prey on the weak. Fire off wild assumptions based on an observation.

I’m angry that I have to have something to say. Being quiet was, and still is my weapon of choice.

I make loud people uncomfortable by being quiet, and vice versa.

But that will shift, as it all will.

What I always try to believe, is that feeling what you’re feeling is important. So, whatever, I just need to be angry sometimes. My ‘fixer’ personality will fail every time if I try to work against my anger by saying it’s not real. That I just need to cheer up.

Sometimes, words can fix it, other days, it’s a random interaction.

gas-pump

I went to get gas last night, because for one, I needed some fresh air. And also, my gas light was on, as it is most days. (Kidding, sort of.)

In Oregon, you aren’t allowed to pump your own gas. I don’t know why. Maybe jobs? Sure, let’s say jobs.

Anyways, it’s kind of nice. Though it makes me feel so lazy.
There is an older man who pumps my gas from time to time. As I rolled down my window, I passed him my card and we went along as we usually do. Then, he paces a few times and says, “Well, you’re not gonna see me for the next five days!” I respond, “Oh yeah? Why’s that?”

“Goin’ on vacation. That’s right. Been two years. Me and my girl are headin’ up to Spokane to visit some friends, then we’re gonna go down to Astoria and stay with another friend. Yeah, it’s been a while, I’m real excited..”

And I loved this interaction. Because normally we don’t talk, and I just know he wanted me to share in his excitement, even if I didn’t directly benefit from it. He is what I call “salt of the earth” — a refreshing dose of reality in the midst of my roommates getting angry because I said something bad about Pabst Blue Ribbon.

I was so genuinely happy for him. I can imagine saving up for two years, this will be a much needed vacation for him. It was like seeing a kid get excited about Christmas.

I suppose I hold fast to those experiences, when the world slows down and I am allowed an honest to goodness conversation where I am able to look someone in the eye and listen. Usually, I’m on defense because it’s what I have to do sometimes.

But the best times, when I feel most comfortable, are when I have to say nothing at all and the other person is okay with me. I realize that’s a lot to ask these days, but I crave it. I crave to be known again with the people I live my life with. Some have faded and abandoned, and other things take its place. I am angry at that sometimes, but I move with it, because like everything else, I have to.

Being angry is about reason and circumstance. Its main purpose is for you to react, like some chemical. But how you react is important. A lot of bad stuff happens, but also, a lot of important stuff happens.

I suppose I’m somewhere in between. Feeling it out. Wondering where it will all end up.

As for now, I will take a walk and stretch my legs.

I will think about the gas station man, and his trip to Spokane with his girl,

I will notice myself as I breathe and move.

because deep down I know,

something bigger is on its way.