the roads to home

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Reconciliation is the mending of bone and flesh and soul.

It is peace and understanding; Lord knows I am in great need of both.

I took a drive South over the weekend. Made dinner for some dear friends, and missed a wedding I was supposed to attend. That was a night where I felt I kept making the wrong turns. Both physically and with a heavy dose of life comparison. Luckily, I still have an Oregon tag on my car, in defense of my directionless brain.

I do, however, know how to go South.

That was my life, and it certainly is again.

God, there’s some beauty here. Even on those messy, warm nights I am filled up with the sounds of cicadas and frogs and perhaps the sounds of Kenny Chesney from a big truck.

I walked past a couple kissing in the parking lot of a Thai restaurant. This was after I listened to them singing “Afternoon Delight”, barely able to keep pitch, or their balance. I smiled big.

In my head, I am constantly mending my lives. In big chunks I smoosh them together. I lived here once, went away, and now I live here again. I am a bit different, and that’s okay.
I drive across the state line into Louisiana. The other place I spent a lot of life in, chasing cousins around furniture and finding easter eggs under the great Magnolia.

I pull over for supplies at Rouses. Mostly hot sauce. A shrink wrapped muffuletta and a bag of Zapps potato chips. That dill kind that rip up my tongue so good. I think about how my taste buds have changed over the years. Not enough apparently, that I buy some really dry eclairs for my mom. They looked good in the case, I thought.

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I drive to a place where me and my dad used to pull blue crabs from Lake Pontchartrain. All the spots are taken, so I pull over and walk to a wall and get to breathe in a bit more of my history. I think about the places I’ve lived, and what it took for me to get there. I kick around an old beer can someone had left and filled full of cigarette butts.

I make my way back North, before the storm. The same roads that brought me places when I was a kid. I go in and out of thoughts like I’m reading a book, distracted.

Next thing ya know, I’ve been driving an hour, then two.

I spot the gas station where I filled up before I left Mississippi five years ago.

I think about my life during those years, and I smoosh it all together. The roads to home are all over, I have figured out.

Intersecting, opposing, parallel.

and I cruise through them mile signs,

one memory at a time.

swallowed up by the sea

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I think often about story and narrative.

More recently, my story and my narrative.

I was having coffee with my buddy Kyle a couple of weeks ago, and we were talking about writing and story and art.

We are each others biggest fans, I think. He’s an illustrator/artist who gets his stuff published weekly in the Sunday New York Times magazine and I well, have a sort of successful blog. At least my mom thinks so.

I love hearing about his creative process. His self-deprication is hilarious, and he’s always so humble about his success. (You can find more of his stuff here.)

Anyways, we were discussing my move this past year, how messy it all has been and how things happen so fast. He told me I had a way of seeing life as narrative. I suppose he is right, I had just never heard it out loud.

I’m not going to get into the parts of the story. It’s been a while since I’ve had high school English, but it has parts, okay? Things like  exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution. Lord knows resolution is sort of vague. But I suppose writing has always been in the back of my mind. For those of you who follow this blog, know that I’ve come a long way from what I originally started it for. (Which funny enough, was a food cart in Portland…)

As a person who writes, I am always looking for this outline. Rising action and conflict and then the mighty downfall. We all know it’s coming. You can only ride the wave for so long before you crash.

I know that sounds rough. Well, it is.

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There’s also clarity in story. There’s a point, usually. Thought is explored and there is some answer. Maybe not the one you were looking for.

I’m sure there is some danger in seeing your life as a story — maybe the glorification of the mundane, but seriously, why not? Why not see a metaphor and explore the depths of a left when you were supposed to be taking a right.

I am lacking clarity, at the moment. I can’t see very far. It’s good to have goals, I just can’t put my finger on any of them. My foot is still firmly planted in a lot of things I’m not ready to lose.

I am afraid to lose things — things that I have learned and the person I have become. For some reason, I think I will forget my time in Oregon as some sort of defense mechanism, and I don’t want that to happen.

Oregon was a wonderful and strong part of my character development. There was a lot of beauty and a lot of heartbreak. It surely makes my story richer. It adds depth, but at great personal loss.

I miss that love.

Even in the day-in/day out flow of my life, I know there are people out there fighting to live and for one another. That’s powerful. I suppose I have to figure out what it is I’m fighting for now. In a different way, I am having to create another exposition of my transition back to life in the Deep South. A new chapter.

Maybe even an entirely different story. I’m not quite sure.

But I see them, on my shelf. My other stories. Some quite sad, and some very short. They’re all there though. I can crack them open and examine my character to see how much I’ve changed, and to take in deeply the pieces I’ve underlined. Even more so, the words that aren’t that special. The everyday words.

Because everyday words, are just as important, and hold up the rare moments we actually get to say what we mean.

So no, my story is not about building an arc for all the world’s animals, but things have been washed away a bit. I suppose rocking back and forth on the rough seas feels about right.

When the sun bursts out of the them dark clouds, I will feel it on my face and feel thankful that I was not swallowed up by the sea.

the writing desk.

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There’s this picture of E.B. White sitting at his writing desk.

I believe he is in his one room beach cottage. Wooden table. Waste basket. Ash tray. Paper. Typewriter. There is a big window and you can see the water, along with another distant shore.

I used to have it taped above my writing desk, and then I moved, and things got messy.

The thing is, I rarely write at this desk. Usually it is done in my big brown chair, or in my bed. I’m sure if I was a writer, writer, I would have a place to go and write. It would mean business, I guess. It would mean I’d have to glue my ass to a chair and do whatever it is writer’s do. Imagine. Write a few crappy drafts. Leaning my head to the right a bit and saying, “Yeah..I like it!” Which I hardly ever say.

Now that I am moving, I’m considering having to leave it behind. It is just a desk, after all. I put so much weight into these things sometimes. It is a sacred place, at times. More often than not, it is a place for my used tea and coffee mugs, a clay statue of a cat I won in a raffle, some pens and a small wooden statue of St. Francis of Assisi.

Within these drawers are pictures, old checkbooks, envelopes. You know, the usual.

As I dig deeper I find old letters. I find a fifty rupee note from India. Some drawings. My granddad’s old watch from Germany. I hold it tightly in my hand. I shake it and it comes back to life. I put it on my wrist, for a few seconds, so it told me. I put it back in its place and think of him.

Sometimes I catch myself getting excited like he did. Sometimes I rub my hands together like he did, and I am filled to the brim with his warmth. All from a wrist watch, you see?

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I find her letters to me. I’ve done well at digging them out, but today, I found a few. I did not allow myself to read, as I’ve done in the past. I have made peace with that person. At least tonight I have.

When they say things like, forever and love and only you; it’s like taking a line drive to the chest.

Thunk.

It all stings much less, these days. I am beginning to separate those times a bit. No, I will not hold on to them. They were once very meaningful to me. They were things I had hoped to come back to, from time to time. To remember. But they have washed off these walls.

I hung on to this desk through the move. It is a nice solid wooden desk, that I am afraid I will have to leave behind.

But that’s okay. I imagine I won’t have trouble finding a good home for it. That’s what I love about these things. When they become part of someone else’s story — when the desks start writing for themselves.

Like the headboard I gave away to the mom with three little sons — that piece of wood will watch them grow up as a family. I believe things hold the weight of our ghosts. There is history in the grains of our effects.

So as I write on this desk, I am reminded of the place I am in, and the places I am going.

I will take my words with me, and it will continue to be a surface for a good book or candle or another person aspiring to explore the depths of their own heart.

It will remember the letters it once held;

and I will remember them, too. 

Gobble, Gobble, Gobble

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(I wrote this bit before the slaughter of our turkey, Michael, who lived in our back yard. Since I am away from a computer this week and can only type via iPhone, I will share my eulogy for one of the most fierce turkeys of North Portland.)

– – –

I’d never seen a turkey like Michael before. I guess I’d never seen a turkey that close, either. (Especially one named Michael)

That blue and red beard. You used to be the national bird! And then they changed it to the noble Eagle.

Fair enough. Eagles are pretty badass.

Turkeys are not the smartest, or most charming. Then again, neither am I.

But you were Quiet, at first. Not quite big enough to strut. (I guess we’re all this way until we realize what we can do)

And then, one day, you puffed up and out they came.

Along with a strut, came the puffs and Gobbles that made you boss. Protector. Alpha. Defender of your stoop and way of life.

One day I helped clip your wings, but I’d like to think you weren’t planning on leaving, just to see where you could go.
I felt that way too.

So thank you for your life. For giving the neighborhood an image of what a real turkey looks like. For the ‘oohs and ahhs’ from kids and adults alike. I’d like to think you gave them something bigger to think about.

Michael, you were a real turkey.

Even though you were loud and at times obnoxious, you were just being what you were supposed to be.

A real turkey.

Our turkey.

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200th Post, Southern Belly. My goodness…

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Well, look at all of this.

All of these words, pictures, and the occasional crappy poem.

I feel thankful.
I’ve laid down a lot of pain here.
A few recipes, here and there as well.

Mostly, I am grateful for the role the kitchen has had to play in all of this, but more importantly, the ones who read what I write. I generally always tell people who struggle with what to write for others, to first and foremost, write for yourself.

Many times, as I sit in my brown chair, I have a stream of thoughts that I may feel uncertain about. I lay it all here, in hopes that there might be a response, but at the end of the day, it is a place I can come back to. I can see where I’ve come from and in return, have a tiny glimpse of where I might be going.

Who’s to say, really.

I guess you. Which is why this blog is important to me. Because of you.

And because you’ve given me a place to write and learn; to fight and struggle.

Being Freshly Pressed a couple of times, by the grace and eye of a WordPress.com editor out there who deemed what I had to say was relatable and worthy of a larger audience. Whoever you are out there, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

All I thought I’d ever talk about on here was what kind of salt I use or why I think pears are some of the most beautiful fruit that I get to see on a daily basis.

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I have a lot to be thankful for.
And even as I get that tightening sensation in my throat, telling me that I’ve struck some nerve deep down, I still have to say how thankful I am.

How I am undeserving of the attention, and the grace that has covered my own skin.

My friends, hold on tight. I don’t know what the world is doing right now, but stand firm and listen to your own voice. Write about what hurts. Share a recipe. Hug someone three seconds longer than you usually would.

A heard a friend once say, “Dream for things you’ll never see.”

I cannot begin to tell you how strong and resilient the human can be. It is amazing the great weights we carry, and at the end of the day, feel light as a feather.

If I could send you all fruit baskets, I would.

But I know it’s out of season, really. Also, they are expensive, so this will just have to do it for now.

Until the next time,

take care of yourself,

and cook someone dinner.

and also dessert,

and also, maybe,
do the dishes.

 

-josh

I am the Doritos Champion!

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I ate a lot of chips as a kid.

In fact, I used to say there wasn’t a chip that I haven’t met.

I think it was a big reason I was so chubby. That and maybe my lack of physical activity. I know, I know. There’s no changing that.
It was the reason I had to shop in the “husky” section in the kids department. Though one time, my Gran was confused and asked where the “chubby” section was and I got super red.

Ah, well.

I’ve been writing pretty heavy lately. I wanted to end this week on something a little lighter. A small, and maybe gross tale of a classic, “Too much of a good thing” scenario.

– – – – – –

I loved Doritos.

Like, LOVED them.

I could eat an entire bigger bag in one sitting. Was this a good thing? Not at all. But whatever, I did it anyways.

So I’m at my Me-Maw’s house with my family. We’re sitting around, watching a movie. My mom is in the shower.

I’m going to town on some Doritos. I probably consume close to the entire bag, when I start feel a rumble.

I panic. I throw the bag to floor and run to the bathroom, until I find the door is locked, because my mom is in the shower. I’m saying, “I think I’m gonna be sick…I think I’m gonna throw up!”

But apparently, I only made it to, “I think I’m gonna be sick… I think I’m go—” and projectile Doritos puree comes shooting out of my mouth like The Exorcist. I tried to make it onto the hard floor, but it definitely hit the carpet.

Bummer.

The whole place smelled like Doritos for a day.

I felt so bad. And didn’t touch Doritos for a few months.

So it goes.

But I know one thing for sure,

I am the Doritos champion!

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Dancing in Cuba. (A Somewhat Short Story)

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I am dedicating this story to my niece, Anna Claire. Who sparked my imagination. And what a spark she is.

We began our journey so very fast.

Sometimes, you have to.

She grabbed onto my shoulders and we swam. As far we could.

Her mom gave me a look that said, “I love you. I believe in you. You can go…”
Which was unusual, given the circumstances. But I knew that look. I felt deeply that she trusted me.

We swam until the mirage of hot sand and high-rise condos left our view. And she’s quite good at swimming. She’s been taking lessons all summer. I thought she’d be scared. Being so far away and with me, who she sees maybe three times a year, at best.

But she kept saying, “Come on, Uncle Josh! Let’s go!”

I worried I would get tired. That my arms might melt away into the warm Gulf. But they kept going. We would swim along the occasional pod of dolphins, who kindly let us grab ahold and drift with them miles at a time. The babies would blow wet air into our faces every so often to fend off the heat, but mostly, because she would laugh every time they did.

We would fall asleep. I would worry. What if this was a bad idea? I quickly hide the look on my face as she points forward, into the horizon. A brilliant fiery sun, slowly falling down behind a field of sugar cane.

We’re here!

“Just a little bit longer to go!” I would say.

As we came ashore, we sat down. I could tell she was beginning to feel the distance in those little bones of hers.

I got really scared.

“What did I do? What did I do? What was I thinking!?”

As I took my head out of my hands, I saw her standing, feet still buried in the wet sand, waving back on that Alabama coastline. And when she turned around, she ran.

Screaming and laughing and doing half cart wheels.

I laughed, with wet eyes because her strength and fire encouraged me. What was so foreign, became an adventure.

We found a pile of used sugar cane and sat down. I explained to her that we were in a different place. That the food was spicier and that there wouldn’t be a McDonald’s or a Sonic or Chik-Fil-A, but that I would do my best to find her something good. I told her a little about what happened here, long ago. And why the streets and buildings and cars look so old.

I told her of a doctor named Che who rode his motorcycle, helping the sick and the poor.

That his love for people took him to places far beyond his reach, and that some things are difficult. Sometimes we get caught in something bigger than ourselves and it changes us.

I didn’t tell her what happened to Che. But someday, she’ll know.

“Like Papa’s motorcycle?” she responds. “Yeah…but not nearly as nice.”

Down the way, we see a fire and hear loud music.

Anna, before I can even lift my head, is running toward it. I get nervous, but I realize I can see her. And that she’s okay.

I see the group around the fire startle a bit, mostly because this little girl is blonde and sassy and has a southern twang like you’ve never heard. They think it’s English, but they aren’t sure.

This was after I had tried explaining to her how to say ‘Cuba’. “kii-yooo-buh?”, she would say. “Eh, more like, ‘koo-buh’, I think.”

“kwoo-buh?”

Close enough.

The people around the fire had some fish and potatoes. They warmly offered us a place by the fire. Which was nice, because even though it was so hot, the breeze made our wet clothes cold.

Anna didn’t seem very hungry. She was more interested in the dancing. The loud thump of the stereo. The colors.

It was a song I’ve heard before. Ibrahim Ferrer and Buena Vista Social Club singing “Ay Candela”.

The man sitting next to me, leaned in and in broken English said, “This is my favorite part”, as he turned it up even louder. My niece couldn’t resist and went to dance with the group. They put on her bright scarves and a big straw hat that covered her eyes.

The lyrics to this one part said something along the lines of, “The way she moves her hips, she’ll make you understand..”

Me and the man laughed, and clinked together our Cristal beers. Cold and refreshing. Understanding some things are universal.

The food was amazing. Simple fish with vegetables. Food does taste better when your toes are in the sand.

We fell asleep and awoke to warm embers. We made our way into Havana, one of the most beautiful and run down cities of the world. But I’m sure the people who live here see it differently. The colors are bright and change from house to house.

Anna, in her little southern drawl says, “My house don’t look like that!” I laugh and agree.

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I pick her up some fried doughnuts, because somehow, the folks we met the night before left us with a little money. Enough for breakfast and a phone call.

I, on the other hand, see a woman lowering down sandwiches from her flat two stories up. I rush over and lift up some money. And down comes a hot sandwich. Drenched in mustard and stuffed with ham and cheese and pickles. It is a thing dreams are made of. I let it settle with some espresso, while Anna downs a cool glass of juice.

We make our phone call, to let everyone know we are okay. We make arrangements, and wait on the shore for our transportation. (Which we all know in real life wouldn’t be this easy. But in this moment, it isn’t the case.)

We wave goodbye to this land that played such a good host to us.

It was a place and journey that made both of us feel brave and strong.

We danced and we laughed.

We got sad and then had to dance again.

And as we made it back to the Alabama coast, we were met with hugs and crazy looks.

Something had changed in that little girl.

Something had changed in me.

“Uncle Josh, we swam so far didn’t we!?”

Yeah.

Sweet girl.

We did.

being chased by dinosaurs

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It has occurred to me that I might seem very uninteresting.

I suppose I’ve always had trouble telling people what it is I like to do. Lately and often, I’ve been asked this question. For one, I hate talking about myself. I hate having to make myself seem interesting or mysterious in a five to ten minute span. I’m over that.

I can’t say which books I’ve found to be influential or what I’m reading now, if my attention span allows me to do such a thing in the first place.

“Oh, I like to cook…it’s my job. I also write, and read from time to time.”

Gulp.

I see it in their eyes. Their clothes. The Patagonia fleece and brown boots which means they hike a lot or something, so the thought of sitting in one’s room to read and write is awfully boring. But maybe not.

I realize my lack of eye contact is misleading. But I swear, I’m solid. I just don’t trust you yet. My eye contact says a lot about how I feel about a person. I don’t just lend it to anybody, unless I need to be impressive.

“Wait, why am I so nervous explaining myself? I like who I am. I am comfortable and sharp and aware. Why am I doing this to myself again?” (Of course, said to myself ten minutes later as I’m digesting another rushed conversation.)

I think about how some books, when translated into movies, don’t always work out so well. You have to thin out some things. You also have to add twists and pit falls and dinosaurs and stuff. Do you realize how short our attention spans are these days? Yeah, exactly.

galluh--galluh--gallimimous!

galluh–galluh–gallimimous!

You want content. You want it to be good. You want to be challenged. Excited.

You want to feel something.

I understand that.

And this is where my mind starts to connect the dots.
I’m not some expert on writing. I don’t host workshops because I got a degree in writing or was featured on a more popular blog. I don’t write about writing (except for maybe this one) and I don’t call myself a writer. Just as I don’t call myself a chef or any thing of that grandeur.

But there is something sacred about a story. Your life is a story. And I’m not trying to get all narrative on you, but there is some truth in it.

In these small conversations, where we have to sum up our lives in a tiny paragraph or five minute conversation; it’s just hard. And I’m not so good at it.

So I reach deep deep down. Into the marrow. Into whatever it is that makes me, me.

And I sit there and feel strong. loved. important.

I embrace the insecurities like an annoying companion, and leave it when I need to. They will never leave.

Because in the span of 500 words, there’s so much that can happen.

like that time I was chased by dinosaurs…