Yes.

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“Why Hattiesburg?”

This was a question about four years ago that found me in a totally different place as I was freshly back to Mississippi from my life in Oregon. I had changed and so had this place. I needed work. And I had been out of the kitchen for a few months, which made me feel antsy and a little unhinged.

My answer then was something along the lines of, “I love this city. It’s done a lot for me and I think it has the potential to have really great food.”

The first year back in this city, I was running around everywhere trying to make my life work. I was saying yes to everything. EVERYTHING.

“Can you work this event?” YES.

“Would you like to cook for me and some friends, WE WILL PAY YOU.” YES.

“Will you watch our dogs. WE’LL PAY YOU.” YES. (Hi Pyper and Zoe I miss you a lot.)

“I have a client that wants a five course upscale southern style meal in the middle of a park for 50 guests. Can you do this without a real kitchen??” YES. (I mean, I have no #$^&ing clue, but YES.)

I did all of it. Some of it with a partially cracked foot (don’t ask…) and with no money to buy the food I’d hopefully be paid for. That’s what credit cards are for, right?

It is hustle. It is always hustle, for better or worse. It’s because you’re hungry for it and you have something to prove. Where this beast of a thing came from, is beyond me. In the back of my mind I felt that there was no limit to what I could do with the people I worked with. I wasn’t finding the food I wanted here, so I told myself I would make it, and that people would like if they had it the right way.

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In a year, I put my name on that kitchen, along with the folks who have worked right alongside me, crunching it out day after day. Our backs on fire, but a new hope in our bones that more would be revealed.

In three years, we have built up to a new restaurant.

With this comes many sleepless nights. A drink more than I should have. A deep and moving, but exciting kind of energy. Ultimately me, staring into space wondering how we are going to do it all.

Today, a friend saw me in a local coffeeshop staring blankly at a pile of books and said, “I know this is probably a lot, and it’s really stressful, but I think you’re going to do great, and I just want to say thank you for making this city a cooler place for all of us.”

It meant the world to me, and maybe I teared up after they left. But as a testament to the hardest days of my life, I feel humbled and also ready to get loud and crazy.

All of this, is a product of the people here believing in something as simple as food on a plate and the thought and hard work that goes into it. Maybe I romanticize it too much, because it’s not for everyone, even if they enjoy cooking.

You have to have something more to believe in,

A deeper water that flows even when it is not being fed, and a fire that grows when nothing else around you seems to be catching.

That is what I want to offer.

The space to not be good, but to be great. And to create and fail and start again something new. Because the people here deserve it and we have to keep pushing forward. That is my challenge.

And from the mushiness of my heart, I say thank you for responding. For giving me work. For letting me be pouty and rage-y from time to time. For giving me space to fail but also to succeed more than I ever thought was possible.

I just hope you’re hungry.

-casper

 

the same as mine.

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Some things fade.
They feel like my dreams, like each corner I turn is unfamiliar.

“I know this place.” I say to myself.
But sometimes, time is a lead pencil with a cheap eraser.

Places leave us, as we leave them. My heart bursts from all its creases, and at times, it still finds a way to save itself from ruin. If you’re still here, your heart is the same way — the same as mine.

I sat at a table and saw your ghosts. How you used to drink your coffee. I saw where I buried my pain and where I discovered my greatest joy. Yes it was in between walls but it was also in those creases of my heart.

It was where I discovered the truths of humanity shared — that people are the truest way to presentness.

That is rich. Like dark chocolate and butter and heavy cream — drizzled and smoothed over something that is already just too much.

I was heart sick for so much. To connect. To discover again. But mostly, to be back home where it is becoming more and more evident that my world exists in a tiny corner, of a tiny city in a state no one understands.

I find whatever all of this is, to be the sum of its parts. Maybe this is the beautiful stuff I will think about when I’m dying — when I’m wondering how life moved so quickly and how I became so stiff and filled with old memory.

What a story, I already claim. To have loved greatly and given so much of my heart — to know what it is like to watch it shatter and gather it, along with all the other broken things. I get to sit around with these people and watch them eat things I cook.

I get to watch them grow older with their person and I get to see their babies get peanut butter stuck in their hair or blow kisses to me as I say goodbye.

Your heart is the same as mine. Blubbering and wonderful. Our heavily flawed muscle.

You may not remember where the streets go, or what they turn into.
But I can tell you that it’s not forever lost.

And you are forever, a ghost, a place at my table

— a love with the heart that is the same as mine.

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you will.

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I think I often straddle the line of what I see as heartbreaking and what is beautiful.

Maybe I can dip my toes into both lakes because I know they always meet somewhere down the line. We are always in that meeting place. Of heaviness and both light that swirls infinitely between all of us.

We are the beautiful and heartbroken things. I see it more so, all of the time. The truth is I’ve been raw to it my whole life. Inflamed and swollen and exposed like a nerve. It’s taken me a lot of time to wrap myself in them good things. I keep them tight against my chest so I can feel them when I breathe; up and down.

Being single, officially, longer than I was in a relationship weighs heavy. Why I often weigh things in time is something I’ve developed over the years. All in all, I am so thankful for what I’ve learned in the chaos and in the calm.

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I think I wanted to write this to one person. It might actually be more than one. But they say to write to one person. So here it goes.

I have this card on my fridge from a friend that says ‘Your heart is the size of an ocean” — which seems like something that you’d get stitched on a pillow from the Hallmark store, but actually is a quote from Rumi. He’s probably one of your favorites, too.

But it is. And it is what I often want to grab you by the face and scream so that it finds its way into your heart so you know and so that you’ll know forever. The world is not always angry and misunderstanding. And that so much is birthed from pain. The world was created by melting rocks and hell and only became something beautiful because of time and pressure.

It’s geology. That’s really how we tell things are ground down with different pressures like winds and rains and the inevitable meeting of two souls who have moved and changed.

Your life is in fact valuable and grows more valuable by the day!

Your wounds won’t heal all the way. Most don’t. But don’t let it stop you from moving forward and living your days with intention and love and the power that rumbles in your belly.

It is the hardest thing you will do.

But like the earth you will moan and heat and cool. You will expand and host a world of thoughts and adventure:

5Ks and stiff drinks. Cheese fries and kids falling asleep sweaty on your lap.

You will wake up and breathe again.

And the knot in your stomach will dissolve.

I know it will.

And I know you will.

You will wake up and breathe again.

 

heat.

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It is cold and dark when I leave the house.

Achey cold. It is so hard to unwrap myself from my blanket and take the short ride to work. But I do it early this morning because I have to work a little harder on this day.

I open the kitchen door and turn on the oven and warmers. It’s a welcoming sound as I know heat is on the way. I kick the heater on in our dining room and try to organize my brain. It’s hard to organize yourself that early. That 6am sleepy dreamy scattered thing.

I work on the quiche and the grits and the soup. I decide I need music and for some reason Grimes is on repeat for an hour and a half. But I am by myself and she is fun and wakes me up. I put on a pot of coffee and I can smell it brewing through the kitchen.

A million things run through my mind (as they always do). What if we are too busy on this already busy and hectic day? I put it aside because the older I become the more I learn worrying is the art of suffering twice. I will still do everything I can to make a thing run smoothly, but I know as the day moves forward, so do more people. People are chaos, always.

And maybe it was a little bit of chaos. But I slip into it like a warm bath.

At the end of the day, I take out the trash and look at the new building we are moving into in a few months. I find it equal parts daunting and beautiful. Some days more beautiful, though. I am in a constant state of wonder how it ended up this way. How I pushed myself a little harder to be good at something, and it magically turned out to be my thing.

There is a certain level of luck and chance. I know the risks of this kind of work. Burn out and margins and hazards. I got it. I hear you. But I don’t often have the luxury to think too much about it. Unfortunately it has affected my writing and I miss it!

And I miss you.

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It has always been about cooking and writing. And I don’t seem to be growing out of it, but I am also a person who knows how to shed a skin and feel raw and stingy.

It all feels too big, sometimes. Like there is a version of me out there that is prepared to do it all beautifully and that version is so not me right now.

I guess maybe that’s how it always feels. But eventually, you do become that person.

I don’t know.

I feel as though I’m about to shed something heavy. I know because something big is on the horizon and I am steady on it and I know I cannot carry both.

It all feels so good right now. Showered and warm and about to crawl back into the blanket I will have to peel off in about six hours again. But it feels good, and I feel strong.

Ready to open the doors,
flip on the oven,

and do it all over again.

 

rabid bits of time

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I’ve been processing time.

I think about it a whole lot. If you’ve ever read this blog, you know I’m always rambling on about brevity and grace and how messy all of this is.

There is so much going on in the broader scheme of things that worry me — that load me down and sometimes it feels like the light can barely get in. It’s an anxiousness. Perhaps even a restlessness that I feel — like a bad dream where you open your mouth to talk and nothing comes out.

This is the dark part. How people don’t recognize their dark parts is beyond me. I am in a constant state of sinking into my body and learning about myself in ways I wouldn’t if I didn’t allow myself to wander around.

I wish I was easier to understand, sometimes. I wish I didn’t speak out as much about things people don’t agree with or comply to the standards of my own name.

I sense the sins of a past. All I want to do is cover them in grace and move forward. Being stuck in that life is no way to live. I have made bad decisions based on being deeply emotional and full of that urge of wanting to be right, and wanting to feel good. We all do that. Then something happens. We change. They change. We get shot out of orbit and find ourselves once again, floating around something that is familiar, but altogether different.

We are not a graceful people. If anything, this past months shows us that there is a force pushing forward and another pushing back. (And I’m not taking sides here.)

I am opening my mind to everything, trying to see the most good, for the most people. To me, some things feel like they’re moving backwards. For others, it looks like things are going forward. This is where I get lost in everything. It’s when I feel the most chaotic and raw.

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God. I have no idea what to do next. Life is mostly simple sounding. We go to work and we come home. Some of us have kids that we take care of — and we do the whole thing over and over again. That is what life mostly is, spotted with bits of sadness and joy and vacations.

We get to have it, though. Just for a little bit. I am not built for changing governments or being in a trench. Truly. I support some people who are, but I’ve always said my place in a revolution is hovering over pots and pans and feeding bellies.

My heart for justice came first out of that. I know that I am not in Calcutta or Chicago anymore. But I am still feeding people, and giving them good memories. I am still caring more than I have to about a silly sandwich and maybe hoping my co-workers still believe in me enough to be a decent leader and friend. These balances are awfully hard.

Most of the time I write I do not come to any conclusions. I don’t have a sense of clarity or any answer that might turn on some switch in my brain.

I write to explore and to explore myself. My little galaxy spinning almost effortlessly in the midst of a vast sea of space and time.

We are moving in rabid bits of time.

It is impossible to know the next step, but we take them regardless.

So, keep pushing on and keep pushing forward. Time has an easier way of moving forward than back. Whatever it is you are hanging on to, it’s time to start loosening your grip. You don’t get a lot of time here.

You are your own little time machine and have the incredible opportunity to use it to the best of your ability.

Open yourself up. Wander around in your own truly unique humanity and let some the light in.

After all, it’s the only way to see where to go next.

a place for yourself.

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Maybe right now you are preparing a place for your future self. I suppose that is the romantic way to look at it.

It’s impossible to know when you’ll arrive at that place, or if it will look anything like you imagined. Probably not, but that’s okay.
Dating and in general relationship-making has never been easy for me. Hell, the last time I fell in love with someone it ended up being in India among the masses crammed into the metros and markets, with a constant sheen of sweat and dirt.

I’m also not a stranger to hearing, “It’s just hard to put a finger on you.”

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that some part of me likes it that way. But, I can honestly say I just don’t think I can be any other thing. Especially the exact thing you need or want me to be. (Maybe this is my death sentence in the world of romance.) I also know you aren’t going to be that for me, either.

Most of me just feels like I’m really broken in places (and not the theological sense that Christian readers eat up so much). Mainly, I feel not quite glued together just right. A lot of duct tape, and whole lot of feeling like I don’t fit back into where I belong.

This leads me down to some deep and dark places. Like maybe that was why my marriage dissolved into a mess of youngins having no idea what they were doing. Each year from that time, I come more to peace with where I am. I still process, like we all process our hard bits. What could we have handled better — and more importantly, how do we handle this in the future?

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Becoming more adult is scary. Awesome, but scary. Already at 30 years I am thinking of all the weighty ghosts that wander around and I see them all every day. It’s damn hard to move on from how people made you feel. A smell or a picture or a piece of paper in a small box discovered and BOOM. You are right back in it.

I think it’s amazing that we can feel that way. I think we’re better for it. We at least begin to understand what we can survive and for that, we can feel strong. On the other hand, I witness all sorts of innocence on a daily basis and want it again so badly.

I am frustrated. I feel I am not boyfriend material. Partner material. Maybe never again husband material. Some parts deep in my belly wonder if fatherhood will ever be in the hand I’m given, but I certainly do not count any of those things out.

I am lucky that I have something to go to every day that I pour so much of myself into. It is my church, and it is my love that is so full of rage and passion and fire. My adult kinda love.

Who do I think I am?

God knows I’m changing every day. Like maybe my system updates when I go to sleep and when I wake up, I take it for a test run. Some things get left, but more often then not I gain some perspective — some memory — and inevitably something stronger to keep moving on and on.

You are right. I can’t put a finger on myself. For all I have known until now, this is the busiest my brain has been. It is exciting and terrifying and it’s all smushed together like English peas.

But I can tell you that I believe my heart is being made into something new all the time. Maybe that is for a place, some day. It is something I can love and protect and grow all at the same time.

I am always on the look out. Eyes steady on the horizon. Moving toward the Greater Mystery.

becoming

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The cicadas have been loud lately.
I’m sure some of you have them where you live, as well. To me, they sound like home. I’ve been finding them on the small walk to my car, when I suppose they’ve given all they’ve had to give, their lifeless bodies and empty shells. Their wings, still shining and glossy and helping me to remember small beautiful things.

The acorns are falling as well. I hear them hit the tin roof of my small cottage every five minutes. More so, when there are squirrels rustling about. The perks of living under a giant Oak.

The pathway to my front gate is becoming over grown with things I know not the name of. My statue of St. Francis is still sitting out there — hopefully bidding some sort of peace to all the things that pass. I try to do the same.

It’s the changing season I feel. It’s hard to see where I am now, but I can listen to it. There is a small frenzy of things shifting. Some things are dying and some things are meant to harvest.

It’s always a season to reap what you sow — except now is when there is some quiet respect for what the Earth gives us and I feel the same.

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No doubt, the months ahead have me feeling a little weary sometimes. We are going to be busy at work and we’re going to be missing traditions to help other people hold theirs. Sometimes that’s hard. It’s my job, though — I don’t mind it in this season.

I have put other things on hold — not because I don’t think I can find it — but because there are so many other things I am having to give. And also, I’m doing okay. It might not fit your vision of okay-ness – but that’s not up to you.

Still though, I hardly recognize what day it is. Only now it’s “Who has a table at what time?  When do we have to be there to setup? What’s the menu? Who’s coming in today? Do we have enough celery until Monday?”

Maybe my mind will clear the clutter. Maybe it won’t in this season. Regardless, I am still open to the mysteries and uncertainties. I am letting go more, and more. I am getting to see the darker ghosts of my past disappear and I am shedding their weight.

The trees aren’t the only things that lose those heavier things. We do too. And sometimes when they fall, they are meant for different things. Things you may not ever see in your lifetime, but they are there and they are growing.

Do not fear the moaning and growing because that is all that life will ever be.

Letting go. Moving on, and growing ceaselessly into your own becoming.

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.

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.

noticed.

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There are moments where I miss it. 

Having a good person to come home to is one of them joys of life, I suppose. I never grew up with pets, so I reckon’ it is similar. Though I believe people are a little more complex. Even more so than cats.

When I take some time and settle into myself, I do miss it. And I miss her and I find myself so curious as to how we forgive and move on from hard things. I haven’t cried much at all the past couple of years. I think I got a lot of it out of my system back in that time and to be honest, the waterworks are on hiatus.

I still get sad, for the overwhelming things we see and have to deal with every day. I get angry. I fight. I argue.

I submit, too.

I laugh, and then do this thing where I choke up. Like when I found out I won this really cool award for my work — because it is often times, such thankless work. I laughed because I thought it was funny for a cook to win such a thing, and then I choked up because this work is so hard and I was so thankful to be noticed.

I would like to think she would have been proud. After all, I spent most of our marriage hustling around different cafes and restaurants in hopes that something would stick. And some things did, and sometimes I would lay on her lap exhausted and wake myself up snoring.

When you get noticed, like I find myself from time to time, there is a moment of pure joy where you know you are doing good work — and then the moment comes where you remember all the things you missed getting what you wanted.

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Mississippi, man.

I suppose I find myself thinking about those things. Not much these days. But you always remember your best friends. Best partners. The people who pushed you forward and made sure you got home safe when you accidentally got (hanging out the window at Popeyes) drunk from a work party.

That safety though…is something you will always remember in your belly. The safety of being loved and thought about and cared for. You have those things when you’re single too. It just looks different. And you learn to love yourself in such a different way.

I suppose that is what I miss about companionship — what I crave when the nights get late and I drift away to the sound of my heater.

There are too many frustrations. Things I wished I would’ve done a million times. And then, there is now.

And now is bigger and wilder than I ever imagined. And it’s in Mississippi of all places.

A new home. A platform. A place to grow what my mind has sewn.

Things are never going to be the same. It is all new, all of this that I’m going through and often times it is hard to get out of bed and on to that next thing. But I’m always so thankful that I did…and that I do.

Here’s to our seasons of growth and struggles and lessons — In hopes that you approach them all with goodness deep down in there,

and remember that not everything you lose, you necessarily need back.