letter to Mississippi


I often have a hard time finding the words.

You see, so much of my earlier life was spent trying to lose a southern accent and fly away as soon as I had the right reasons. And I did, on several occasions.

One being the time I lived with my dad in Georgia when I was a little too young to understand what was happening. It was a very hard time for me. I learned a lot. I learned about the power of making my own decisions and owning up to that power.

I moved back to Mississippi after a year of living in Georgia.

Then there was a summer in Chicago where I became friends with a homeless man who gave me the “Fred Hampton Image Award” which was named after him for being a ‘positive image to the community’. I have it framed next to my degree from Southern Miss, which I only use in conversation with people. In reality I was struggling with all my worlds again, all the while eating a bunch of Chipotle and reading a ton of Donald Miller books. It’s what we did.

There are the four months in India where I learned how tiny I was, and how terrible I was at eating Bengali food, and learning the language. I regret not appreciating how important it was to travel and to explore at that moment. I’d never seen such poverty. I’d never walked into a red-light district with the sole purpose to play cards and eat spicy snacks on top of brothels. I learned about heavens and hells. And I saw the eyes of a man choosing the girl he would have sex with. I’d never see the world the same way again.

My quietness was a hindrance in some of these ways. I was not outgoing enough to want to learn a language, I don’t think. I was not good at it. I wish I would’ve worked harder. I wish I would have eaten more street food. I came back to Mississippi after that, as well.

I also met a girl from Oregon who I ended up being married to for a little while.

I moved to Portland for that, as well. Learning and growing and all those others words I’ve used here a billion times. And when that stopped working, I moved back to Mississippi.


I recognize I’ve never been great at being a traditional southerner. I was never taught to hunt. I don’t have a background of traditional southern food ways. I love New Orleans, but in small bursts. I love the food, well, that has always been true.

Again I find myself reconciling with a place like Mississippi. A dumping pot for so many people’s ideas and misconceptions. When people ask me how it is in Mississippi, I can’t find the right words.
It is my home right now. A home that I’ve missed for a long time.

A familiar voice in my life came up saying, “It’s not going to happen for you in Mississippi..”

As a young cook, looking to grow and hone my skills, it doesn’t present me with the most options.

But that’s okay.

Because I’ve found myself really needing this place. In the way that home always feels. As much as I loved my most recent visit to Oregon, I was so giddy to get back to my old tiny apartment, among my cookbooks and familiar smells. I wanted to sit on my back steps and listen to the acorns fall from the trees.

Yesterday, as I was hobbling in on my booted foot, a man riding his bike loaded down with grocery bags yelled, “Hey! I’m sorry about your foot! – – – I know that hurts man, I hope you get better!” and kept on his way.

I shouted THANKS! As I walked into my room, I sat on my bed got a little teary. (As I do.)

I felt some really big love. Not just via random bike guy, but all around. And though I might not make much sense to my family and many of my friends, I am so glad to be home again, and I’m so glad I get to be close to those constants in my life. Yes, there are bigger places out there.

But right now,
I’m just happy to be here.

my element is fire.


Cooking is ancient.

I imagine I had an ancestor somewhere, bending over a pot with their hand folded in at their waist, like I do when I taste for salt. My big, awkward body leaning against stainless steel in attempts to be somewhat graceful in the art of cookery.

Lord knows I try.

I wear my nice Clarks as kitchen shoes now. I didn’t mean to. My clogs were making my knee swell up at the end of the day and my Nike shoes make me feel like super dad. I am not, however, a super dad.

Blue jeans, rolled up a bit. Black shirt. Brown beanie. Apron.

And repeat.

It is my own style of uniform. Fitting for a tall southern man carrying a little bit extra. Alas, I was built for comfort, not speed. Unless you see me in the weeds, twirling like a ballerina trying to find my missing 1/9th pan to complete my mise en place for the evening.

Yes, mise en place.

Everything in its place. My tao. My peace of mind.


Yes, cooking is ancient.

And it makes me feel rooted.

I feel strong, and I can anticipate the need.

My element is fire.
So says the Sagittarius.

I am drawn to this cooking thing, like a flame. Mesmerized by all the working pieces. The imagination, the back breaking labor, the love.

So, so sexy.

I at least think so. I suppose that’s important. Then I have to realize when I bring food to someone’s table and I have flour caked on my shirt and beet stained fingers and a bandaid from accidentally slicing my finger open while sliding cheese off a knife; maybe this isn’t as sexy as I thought it would be.

I’ll leave sexy for home, I guess. When I can take my time and buy really expensive ingredients and still have time to clean up.

Someone has to do it, right? That’s what I always say.
There are certainly easier ways to make a living, but I can’t imagine having to sit down all day. I have forgotten what it’s like to work in that way.

And when I see people in meetings, I always mumble to myself, “Shouldn’t they be like, building something while they talk? Seems more productive than just, sitting for three hours to make maybe three sort of sustainable decisions..” Okay, I don’t really mumble those things to myself. But for writing purposes, let’s keep it that way.

My, oh my.

To think, a cook a thousand years ago was still complaining in the back of a kitchen — about slugs eating the cabbages (which is just too precious of a thing to really get mad at…) — or the apprentice dropping all of the eggs before the King’s big feast.

We all know that pressure. The mouths to feed. Not wasting goods.

It is hard work. And it will always be hard. Especially if you’re doing it right.

And butter?

Well, you cook anything in enough butter and it’ll be okay. I promise.

Today is my Saturday, and for most of you, it’s Monday. I am sorry. But to be honest, I never know what day it is anymore. I just hope I remember people’s birthdays.

I suppose that is life for me now.

But I will end this bit with someone else’s words, because often times, other people just say it better:

A human being is primarily a bag for putting food into; the other functions and faculties may be more godlike, but in point of time they come afterwards. A man dies and is buried, and all his words and actions are forgotten, but the food he has eaten lives after him in the sound or rotten bones of his children. I think it could be plausibly argued that changes of diet are more important than changes of dynasty or even of religion. The Great War, for instance, could never happened if tinned food had not been invented. And the history of the past four hundred years in England would have immensely different if it had not been for the introduction of root crops and various other vegetables at the end of the Middle Ages, and a little later the introduction of non-alcoholic drinks (tea, coffee, cocoa) and also of distilled liquors to which the beer-drinking English were not accustomed. Yet it is curious how seldom the all-importance of food is recognized. You see statues everywhere to politicians, poets, bishops, but none to cooks or bacon-curers or market gardeners.

-George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier