treasures.

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It is something.

All of this.

I push inward to what hurts. I tell myself not to think or write about it anymore, because the idea of peoples thoughts and opinions always seem to oppress what I’m feeling.

Sometimes, it is lonely. And I fear people get angry with me when I complain. That it’s my fault I have defense mechanisms and am afraid of wandering into another universe.

Perhaps your universe. Perhaps navigating my own.

Mine has been so safe. I toil here and there. Adjusting a picture when it’s slightly off. Leaving a few dirty dishes for tomorrow. Or the next day. I guess these are the things I can control. It is a luxury and is also a heavy loneliness.

But it isn’t a lonely where I feel sorry for myself. It is merely the self-awareness that I am moving quite singularly among people who live closely with one another.
In the softest places of my heart I miss it so, so much.

That love was a great gift for me. Even when we are quick to turn folks into enemies for what they’ve done — there is some kind of residue left behind of memory and little treasures.

I am okay to be messy. As much pride as I take in keeping my shit together for the people I see and do life with most, there is a burden of something unfair. An unfair expectation I put on others because it’s what I want. That is the raw thing that is tender and sore.

It’s how I love proximity and vulnerability, but push away a person because I so love to be free to move and stretch and maybe at times fall asleep with my hand in a bag of popcorn.

It’s the realization of sacrifice — of wanting it all — but understanding that you have to give up what you’ve built for yourself, in your own little universe.

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I’m okay with losing it again.

I’ve never been one to close my heart off, and I find myself more often than not having to make decisions that hurt another person’s world. Never anything physical — but perhaps toying with emotions and feelings. Pulling them in and not being responsible to who they are: real people.

That is it, really. Navigating all of these uncharted territories like I know what I’m doing.  Most of the time, I just want to wrap myself up in some ridiculously healthy form of myself and exist. But I can’t. I have the bits of space and time that’ve been pulled into my universe and they are mine.

Spinning and tilting. Each showing some light as to what they’ve been to me. It is all this beautiful gift that involves nothing short of tiny miracles and mercies beyond me.

And as messy as we all are to start, we are working it out every day.

I am working it out every day.

I welcome you to it. My mess. My imperfect universe of treasures.

I keep them close,

and I give thanks.

a southern year (in review)

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I drive on Highway 49 when I go to visit my family outside of Jackson, Mississippi.

It’s a highway I’ve known my entire life.
There’s the boiled peanut man.
Well, there are a lot of boiled peanut men.
There are also a lot of sweet potato men.

Antique shops. Roadside flea markets. Mom and pop diners.

It occurred to me, while driving this stretch of road yesterday, that it’s been a year since I’ve moved back to Mississippi. I’m very nostalgic about dates like this. Not only has this year gone by fast, it’s also been a whirlwind.

I still don’t feel like I’ve caught up just yet.

I’m also still struggling with my sense of place.
It’s been a hard season for me.

I was lucky to have a few months off when I moved back.
My mom, nonchalantly placing $20 bills in my shoes before she left for the morning.

I struggled finding work in Jackson, so I moved back to Hattiesburg.
Still, I find myself a little wobbly, and a little out of sorts.
So many people I know have found their niche. Their people. Their lovers. Their pets. Their homes.

I’m having a hard time figuring out what it is I want. What a luxury.

I sense that I am so close to learning something about me and my life. I have doors open for me, and a lot of doors I feel I’m left knocking.

Not religious enough.
Not healthy enough.
Not social enough.
Not southern enough.

It is a needy feeling, sometimes in my belly. Some days, I connect deeply, and others, I still feel so homesick for that thing I used to have.

I’m really trying hard.

I’m working a lot, and I’m carrying a lot of weight.

I’m carrying my past, present and future. All of which, looks a lot like me trying to fit a round peg in a square hole.

With that being said, I have felt so lucky to have all of this back.

What I lost, was tremendous.

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But coming back home, I gained something else.

My wild and precious community.

Who feed me.
Text me.
Employ me.
Pray for me.
Pull me in tightly.
And let me, by some miracle, into their lives.

It has been a wild, wacky year.
I broke a bone.
My roof caved in.
I started to build a home.
I forgot I knew how to sweat appropriately.
My dad got married.
My second nephew turned one and I got to feed him hotdogs.
I met a cat raccoon.
I got a bigger bed.
I planted flowers with my niece and nephew.
I started a tiny business and am excited and terrified.

Whew.

A few deep breaths, and I resonate with these words I have tattooed on my arm.

these things take time.
and I look in the mirror, with some weepy eyes, and proclaim:

yes!

surely,
they do. 

you and me. (and everyone else)

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We’ve been hit pretty hard at work lately.
The mix of a new publication and a three page spread of a certain meatloaf sandwich we make. Hey man, people love their meatloaf.

I have looked around at the faces of my co-workers, dazed and exhausted. Stretched a bit too thin, but they’re good, I tell ya. Good.

In my own body, I am tired as well.
I don’t seem to get as frazzled as I used to. Even when there is water above my eyes, I can’t think of any reason to feel any less of myself. This hasn’t come from working in the food industry. I mean, sure. The longer you work in the mess of trenches and the rows of tables and chairs, it can be an overextension of one’s soul. Enough to want to make you hide in the bathroom or the walk-in for fear of another human being’s response.

But then there is something deeper to it. For me, at least.

I find myself laughing a lot. And smiling. Understanding. Listening.

Maybe it’s some sort of mechanism I’ve developed over this past year where I say in my head, “Pfft. This is nothing.” And really, the rush will pass. All things will pass.

I had reached a point at one gig, where I just lost it. I went into the bathroom and called Hannah in tears saying, “I can’t do it anymore. It’s just too much.”

It was a combination of a lot of unhealthy things. I realized if I wanted to make it in this industry, I’d have to start making it work for me. So, I just let go.

And this is where something deeper started to take place. Out of all the rough things I’ve endured in the most recent past, there has been nothing worse than sitting on the floor of my old apartment, weeping at such a huge loss. My heart was at its lowest point, and I think often when older companions lose each other, it’s only a matter of time before the other starts to let go.

The heart can only take so much. It is a muscle. Like any muscle that cycles through its daily motion, it will tire. At some point, it will let go.

So, like rough days on the line, or running food: you sink, or you swim.

And there is an ebb and flow to sinking and swimming. There are seasons where it feels good to fight, and others where you have to submit for a while.

I revert back to myself sitting on the floor with no energy. No hope. Nothing else to say. A pain in my chest and a belly that was sick of everything. Since then, I have worked myself back up into something decently recognizable, I think. Presentable. Able to push my shoulders back and walk with meaning.

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It is quiet, where I live. So handling customers is sometimes a welcomed experience. I like the challenge of handling a person, as often times restaurants can be intimidating places to go. But to make someone laugh, or give them the space to get what they really want. Sometimes that feels like a gift.

It’s something I can give them. It’s something I have power over, but not in the way that should make you feel threatened. There is something important about communicating needs and desires. I think good communication relies on both sides making non-threatening words, and putting them together in such a way that disarms. Too often I found myself defensive. I found myself making it about me all the damn time.

And then I just let go of it.

I let go of my desire to be understood, and worked more at understanding. (I believe there is a St. Francis prayer there somewhere..)

My energy has shifted. I get to put it in places where I’ve needed it the most. Connecting with people. And that allows me to not be so afraid. You learn everyone is battling their own wars, both inside and out of their bodies. I meet that with grace, you see?

And I do it in hopes that I get it back in return.

I think this is one of those things that might change the world. Starting small, and to not threaten each other all the time with our rightness or needing to prove that we are loved and important.

We have value. And we have these tools that build up over the years, like your grandpa’s shed. We learn better how to loosen and tighten. Those big problems become smaller problems.

“Ah,” you think to yourself. “That’ll be good in no time.”

or

“Well, this one might take some time.”

And you will see better on both sides, that it’s not about winning or losing an interaction. It is about sustaining a goodness, for yourself and your community. I wish everyone could see inside themselves the things I’ve been able to see in myself.

That goodness is a simple luxury. That good communication can take time to build, but that it is most important when building up the Beloved.

I talk about the Beloved a lot. And really what I mean is humanity.

Made from the stuff of our mothers and fathers, mixed with wonder, and grown into things that have the potential of loving another.

That is what I believe in the most.

you.

and me.

and everyone else.

that’s what I really want.

 

pork ragu

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Food is a lot of things to a lot of people.

Survival. Entertainment. Money. Community. Romance. Nourishment. Celebration.

I suppose if I’m honest, I dabble in all of those things.
If I’m not careful, I could go on and on and bore you to death. I will try not to do that today, but I’ve been wanting to process some stuff for myself.

When I get to cook, I get to explore a place and a people and I also explore my own story. So much of cooking for me now is motor and sensory memory. I know how to chop onions and taste for salt and balance a dish. What I love more than getting to cook, is to sip on something nice and process chunks of life.

This past week, I cooked dinner for a friend’s birthday. He’s been great in letting me have the freedom to do whatever, and it’s been so good for me to create and explore and to feed people who really love to eat.

pork ragu. 

It was all I could really think about. Pork something, at least.

So we went out and bought a big pork shoulder and the ingredients to make said dish. Growing up in my world, ragu came in a glass jar and tasted like spaghetti sauce. That was until I started to learn more about food and realized it is much more complex, and deeply satisfying. Even just hearing the world ragu gets my mouth all tingly.

The air conditioning was down, but I told him I liked it hot in the kitchen. Feels right to sweat a bit when you’re cookin’.

After I deboned the shoulder, I cut it up into pieces. Dried said pieces with a paper towel and seasoned them liberally with sea salt and fresh black pepper. Brown them with a little bit of oil in a stew pot. I mean, get some nice color and caramelization on those babies. Work in smallish batches so you don’t cool the pan off too much.

Once all the meat is seared off, I add the onions. I let them cook down a bit, and I use their water to scrape those brown bits off the bottom of the pot. (That’s where some magic is.)

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This is not my actual ragu, but it looked just like it. Come on, you know you want this for dinner now.

Then the diced carrots and celery. Ya know, the basics of starting a proper stew.

About four minced cloves of garlic pulverized into a paste. Throw that into the pot and let it smell up your house for a second.

Throw in your meat, along with a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary and oregano. Go ahead and throw in a bay leaf too, if you have one.

Now you start adding the sexy reds. tomato and red wine. oh gah!

We had some special tomatoes for our ragu. It was my buddy’s last jars of his granddaddy’s tomatoes, who has recently passed away. They were tangy and rich and perfect. Add about a cup of red wine, and enough water to cover the top of the meat. Toss in some more salt and pepper, and let it go low and slow, simmering for about an hour and a half.

I found some mushrooms, so I decided to throw them in there as well, because, umami.

By now, this pot of bubbling stuff just looks right. If it looks right, it probably tastes right. Unless you accidentally use salt instead of sugar for a gorgeous apple pie, which has happened to me before.

Anyways, the meat should be tender enough that you can shred it with forks, because that’s what you’ll need to do, eventually. The liquid should also be reduced by at least half. Be careful on adding salt though, because as it bubbles away, the more it reduces, the more it is concentrated. You can always dilute with more water or stock, but just keep tasting and you’ll be fine. At this point, once your ragu is done, and after the pork is shredded, you can add in some greens if you like. I used kale, and tossed it in and let cook for another five minutes.

Cook up some pasta a bit al dente. Reserve at least a half cup of your pasta water (that I presume you have salted a bit) so you can use its starch to help coat the pasta as you toss it with the ragu. Use butter, too. Adds some extra sheen to the over all dish. Add your preferred ratio of ragu to pasta, and toss, plate and serve. Grate some good hard cheese on top, too.

Yeah. Seriously.
Oof. Delicious, hearty and personal.

I think, one of those soul dishes for me. It’s how I like to eat.

Perhaps I am just an old soul, and I’m okay with that.

I like these dishes because they take a little time. They remind me that there’s a process to things, and that an extra ten minutes can change something from being good, to great.

I suppose I needed that. Some reassurance that time has the ability to transform and nourish. When I get ahead of myself, that’s when I cut corners. If I’m honest, I cannot allow myself to cut any more corners. I crave to live my life with intention, and the same goes for how I cook.

Slow and steady. At times, hard and fast.

But all having their place, especially in my little world, where a simple dish can change the outcome of an entire day.

And I never want to lose that.

 

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.

 

 

‘Tis the Season

Food, Health

The holidays are always changing for me.

In a sense, we want the best memories of our childhood to last. Some of us keep going back to it. That sense of nostalgia and warmth paired with food and tradition.

Granted, some folks grow up with messed up childhoods. So know when I say childhood memories, I’m referring to the formative things that made many of us feel good. Hot cinnamon rolls. A good hug. Sleepy eyes waking up to those familiar sights and sounds. I suppose those things will never change.

This season, for me, is usually one of over-indulgence. My birthday is coming up this Sunday, so it falls between Thanksgiving and Christmas (as it always has since I can remember…) Everything I celebrate with others comes at the ass-end of the year. Which is nice, but usually leaves me feeling worn out by January 1st. I think most of us feel that way.

We all kind of climb into our holes for a few months after New Years, I think. At least for the best parts of my introverted being, this is the case. And that’s okay.

I think more than anything, I want to be aware of it all. These things are overwhelming to a lot of people. Watch a little kid during a Christmas get-together and that’s about what the inside of my head looks like, even while I’m sitting quiet in a corner rocking back and forth. Okay, maybe not that dramatic, but you get what I’m sayin’.

What I want to say, is that we’re usually all over the place. ‘Tis the season to freakin’ chill out. I’m hoping for that this season. To process it as it comes. There are good reasons why we celebrate with each other and I mostly want to be aware of it all. To feel not so burnt out and exhausted. I get too much of that at work sometimes. I don’t think it’s healthy, so I’m gonna try and have that be a priority for myself and with the folks in my community.

In other news from the holiday season, I got some good news back from my latest doctor adventure. And I say adventure in the truest sense because I go in with loose expectations. I could hear hard things or positive things, I could cry my eyes out or laugh my arse off. This is how it usually happens.

But I’m still getting better.

Yes.

Better.

What a great word. There are some things with my cholesterol that I need to steadily work on, but my triglycerides have lowered dramatically and my HDL is higher, which means good things for how my body is rebuilding itself. I’m still losing weight and am at 208, which doesn’t look too terrible on my tall frame.

I’m a big dude, there’s no doubt about that. My belly is here to stay, but as I find myself saying more and more, it will be a healthier belly.

A lot of this came from cutting out sugar — mostly in the form of alcohol and refined carbohydrates (I know, I know, you’re sick of hearing that.) I’m not pushing this in your face. You know what’s good and bad for you. I’m not going to brag about how I eat clean or healthy, because for some people, it’s probably not the best. I had to get better emotionally as well.

I’ve worked hard for this.

And that’s when I broke down.

When I told my doctor, “Man, I’m just so stoked…” I just lost it. He pulled out his conveniently placed box of tissues and I blew my already runny nose. He responded, “Yeah, you worked really hard for this!”

It’s good to be proud of yourself. To be brave and confident. So much of the world is hard on us. To be this and that. To act certain ways while holding yourself up.

But I’m still getting better! And for lack of better wording, I’m so f***ing proud.

This time last year, I was really down and felt terrible. And while I did so much work, I’m also so thankful for my doctor. The dude has helped me with some amazing tools. (And I did it all without health insurance. And I’m thankful for those family members who have helped us with these things as well.)

So as usual, when I got up to write a blog for Southern Belly, I was never quite sure where it would end up.

I’m glad it’s ending this way.

But it’s not actually ending.

Not even close.