lost in kolkata

Story

It happens in my dreams.

At least once a month, I find myself sitting up in bed, weighed down with whatever this dream is supposed to be telling me about myself — how I can never make it to wherever it is I’m trying to find.

I get lost. I miss a bus. No one can hear me. No one helps me.

It’s an anxiousness — a longing — of trying to remember how to find things again.

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Why Kolkata? Well, I spent some time there nearly a decade ago. And while it was intense, I left feeling exhausted, but full of life and life’s unfairness. I left with a bigger (and aching) heart. Everything had changed for me.

A lot happened in that decade. I got married to a girl I met there. We had a wonderful and sometimes shitty marriage that led one of us to shift a bit more than the other. And with that, I decided to shift too. I was too stubborn to fight for something I felt was a lost cause. Maybe we both did.

I found cooking. I found my way back home.

That, I at least have figured out. I know where I am now, and I do know what I’m doing. At least I think.

When I wake up after my dreams, I take a sip of water and attempt to let it leave my brain. I listen to the white noise of the machine next to me drown out anything that might keep me awake. Because when you live by yourself, noise can be safety. It can also be a scarier thing.

There’s not always a way out. Rarely do I discover the destination and mostly end up leaning against a wall, hoping someone will grab me by the arm and take me. Anywhere. Anywhere that isn’t the hopelessness of feeling lost and abandoned.

The relief that is waking up to your own bed. Safe. Warm. That you have a good job to walk into with good people that believe what it is you want to do. That is a thing I never take for granted, and it feels almost dreamlike if I’m being honest with myself.

But I know I will sink back into it. That same dream. Perhaps after I’ve been talking about it with someone over too much wine and food. The reality of life’s intensity, its sadness and its overwhelming ability to make me feel tiny and gigantic.

I suppose I got lost in Kolkata, and I haven’t been able to fully find it again. Maybe it needed to stay there, on the streets with smoking charcoal and exhaust from buses and rickshaws and angry men.

I found a lot more than I lost,

the city of joy,

and that which lives within.

letter to Mississippi

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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.

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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.

road to darjeeling.

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I live a lot at the crossroads.

I know what I’m getting myself into here, diving into the grey area we all struggle with. I’m okay with that. More so, I have to poke at my story a little bit. I see more than just crossroads. They are roads that lead all directions. Some at different inclines, some that are scary, and some that curve around steep terrifying edges.

I remember the road from the train station in India that takes you to Darjeeling.

Flat at first, and then you start climbing. Little houses and stores line the curves, every so often coming across a “Coca-Cola” sign from the 80’s and you remember how vast some empires reach.

I am afraid of heights. But I was okay with this.

Along the winding road up the mountains, we picked up a few people. It’s a little weird at first, then you realize this is how things are here. Personal space? Nah. Squeeze in a few more. Don’t like people staring at you? Get over it.

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This road, albeit at times frightening with its steep cliffs and no guard rail, was met with some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen. Tea farms. Small schools. Roadside snack joints. Tea shops. Cool foggy air.

It all seems like a blur at times, considering how long ago this was for me. But I think of it often.

Life presents options in various seasons, and some more important than others. I’m not talking about the day to day decisions you have to make, because I know how much that stresses you out. Since being off my foot, I’ve been at the register at work and all I see are people stressed with decisions. “What side would you like?” followed by a huge dramatic sigh, all the while hoping they don’t have some sort of breakdown.

I guess I’m a little like that as well.

I am not expecting answers, though. I am only discovering how I thrive in the midst of turns and inclines and dead ends. But on these roads, you still pick up people. All sorts of people. You see terrifying things. They might break your heart, and they might fill you with deep joy.

I’m not afraid of questions, nor am I afraid of crossroads. And I am not selling my soul, but finding it.

Slowly-slowly, listening to my history and imagining my future,

from where I came,

to where I am going.

magic.

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I believe in magic.
Not the Harry Potter kind of stuff, though I’d argue to say, and others too might point out that magic is different than witchcraft and wizardry.

Oh goodness, I’m off to a great start already.

I suppose I should specify, or give you some clarity before you start thinking I’m crazy. Or, you can think I’m crazy. I’d like to think I’m showing significant signs of deviance from the norm — at least in my own head.

What I’d like to say, is that I believe in the process of creating.

I believe that there is something in each person that I’d like to call magic. For reasons I can’t explain, and you can’t explain, you’re just good at it. The mix of sub-conscious and motor memory and creativity. Also things like experience and passion and hard work.

I suppose you could just call it that, and walk away thinking that what you do isn’t that cool. And maybe it isn’t. But maybe there is this one thing that you can’t explain, but you just do it really well.

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I watched a movie last night called, “The Lunchbox”.
Anytime I can snag a non-Bollywood movie that takes place in India, I’m usually all over it. There’s nothing wrong with Bollywood because truthfully, there is PLENTY of magic involved.

This was a movie about food and mistakes and how they say, ‘the wrong train can lead you to the right station.’

But there was a line in the movie that was far more substantial. Two of the main characters were talking about a tiny restaurant closing, mistaking one of the cooks as the woman who had been sending this man his lunch. “There’s no place for talent in this country…”

While the other says, stuffing tikka masala into his mouth, “Everyone can cook, but there must be magic.

So, as the aspiring pseudo-chef in me loved to hear this, I started to think about it.
There are times, when I’ve found myself cooking for people and myself, and I think, “How did this happen?”

I mean, of course. You learn how to build flavors. You learn how to taste. You learn how to put things together and heat them up or cool them down.

But then, when you are sitting down at a table with another person and hear them moan, “Mmm.” And you all just sit around and eat and eat and drink.

That to me, is magic.

The ability to create something that is bigger than the sum of its parts.

magic.

The same goes for whatever your hand or body chooses to create. The invisible presence that circulates in a room — the ideas that were put in your head and the execution of it all.

Maybe I’m being dramatic and romanticizing a thing too much. I’ve been known to do such things, as y’all are well aware. But even at this here blog, I get to create and write and explore. Quite often, I look back at the things I’ve been able to write and wonder where it came from. Certainly some dark places, but also from a place that holds a great light.

What I hope, is that you consider the invisible presence of wonder.

That little bit extra.

The butter or a song at just the right moment.

Not one extra grain of salt.

And the presence of the Beloved,

 

nothing short of magic. 

leprosy, and what I’m learning about pain

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{I realize that for so many people, chronic pain is a terrible battle. I know people who struggle with it, and what I want to say before I dive into this little bit, is that I am recognizing my place in this conversation as a person who has been dealing with a lot of emotional pain. What I do know, is that pain can be debilitating. Especially chronic pain. So as I write today, I am speaking to things that are a bit more temporary in my timeline, and more precisely, my struggle with pain.}

I love the resilience of human beings.

Especially in the face of depression, anger, and sadness.
It’s the thing that no one sees. The hard things that we hold inside, that we hide for the fear of looking weak.

I’ve been thinking on pain, lately. Because certainly those things inside turn to pain, and can turn hard like a callous resisting another pressure. A broken bone can heal, though it will never be as it once was, and the same goes for our nature. Those of us who have been through pain, know what time can do. It heals. It helps us to move on. But in the words of Ben Folds, “Time takes time, ya know?”

While I was in India, I read a lot of Philip Yancey books. He was a very influential dude to me during that time, especially the book he wrote with Dr. Paul Brand about leprosy called “The Gift of Pain”.

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This basically took everything I knew about pain and turned it into something entirely different. How leprosy didn’t cause the horrendous wounds we see with a person who has such an affliction, but the lack of nerves. A person with leprosy will walk their foot to the bone and not know because they cannot feel.

So all of a sudden, this burden of pain became a gift.

The fact that I could feel, and even if that sensation was pain, it was something.

It could maybe be diagnosed, but I could certainly look at it. I could pinpoint what it was that hurt. Once I could see it, I was able to start healing. Much like noticing a cut on your hand, I started the process of what it would look like to fix myself.

I’ve come to very loose terms with fixing. I realize, more and more things will never be the same. Each day, you take from the one before, but it shifts.

I guess, what I want to say, is that recognizing pain is hard to do sometimes. The feeling of impending doom sometimes makes our spines shiver, but it is then that we can start that process. Start digging out dead flesh to reach the nerve.

And that’s when I recognize the problem of pain,

is actually a gift.