Honor Thy Mother

When I was 13, I participated in a cycling fundraiser for my Boy Scout troop. I had to ask people to pledge a certain amount per mile I would ride. Most of the folks I went to agreed to donate .25 cents per mile. They were shocked when I rode 40 miles.  My mom wasn’t surprised when I started racing bikes in college

My Mom loved cheering us on.  She didn’t really understand sports, whether it was my brother’s football or rugby games or my cycling, yet she knew we were out there giving it our best shot.  The first time she saw me race was in Lafayette, LA on a tight, winding two-mile course that was part of the Acadiana Festival.  It was typical south Louisiana hot and muggy afternoon.  I baked, withered, then fell away from the lead group and managed to finish in 9th place.   I kept thinking I had the wrong gear set, hadn’t trained properly or didn’t have enough water the day before.  It didn’t matter.  Dejectedly, I pedaled over to her.  She immediately hugged me and told me how much she enjoyed herself.

“It was like watching a ballet on wheels.  The way everyone bent into the corner in unison then twisted upright.  The movement, the sound, the colors.  You were so elegant and the sound the bikes made as you all whizzed by.  It was all so…wonderful.”

I was drenched in sweat and disappointed in my performance yet I couldn’t help but smile.  Mom found the beauty in the sport.  She didn’t understand the tactics or technique but she certainly knew how to make me smile.

Many years later, after Dad passed away, she started forgetting things. Small things at first, then larger things, such as the names of her grandchildren, where I lived, and what I did.

Once we spent an entire week with her. We stayed with her, cooked and cleaned for her, drove her around town and took her to visit her friends. After we left and arrived back home in South Carolina, I called her to tell her that we were safely home.

She replied that she would hurry and open her front door.

“South Carolina mom.  We just got home in South Carolina.”

“Oh.”

Alzheimer’s stinks. A diagnosis is a death sentence.  It doesn’t matter how old or young or healthy you are. It’s going to kill you, maybe slowly, maybe quickly. On the way to your death, you’ll forget everything that makes you special and unique. And you’ll slowly break the hearts of your loved ones.

This July I’ll make my third bicycle trip across South Carolina in the Ride to Remember. Although me and my teammates will have a great time and see parts of our state you’d never see from the interstate, it’s still a fundraiser and I need to do my part and raise money.

My goal is five thousand dollars.

Let me remind you. Alzheimer’s has a 100% fatality rate. There are no survivors. And chances are that you’ve got someone near and dear to you that has or will have Alzheimer’s. If Alzheimer’s is going to be beaten, it’s going to take money. Your money.

Won’t you please help me with a donation?

Merry Christmas Brother Malik

I routinely attend church. And it’s a very nice church. Our house of worship is about 190 years old with soaring ceilings, gorgeous stained glass, hand-finished wooden pews, an enormous organ, brass fixtures, and a marble topped altar. Our worship services can be incredibly inspirational and our rector is a gifted speaker, able to deliver a stirring message of redemption and resurrection in twelve minutes flat. My church has completed a host of humanitarian projects in this town, this state, and in Haiti. These projects are significant in size and scope.  My church does. We don’t talk about the plight of the less fortunate, we get out there and do something about it. We study the bible, participate in outreach, and we make it our mission to create positive change in our community.

Yet for all the time I’ve spent in that breathtakingly beautiful building, the most “church” I’ve ever experienced has been in the gymnasium of a 40 year-old prison in the southern part of our county.

“Brother Malik, I’ll pray that you and your family accept the grace of God into your heart and have a Merry Christmas.”

I belong to a group of men that routinely visit a prison run by the South Carolina Department of Corrections. Recently I made my seventh foray into this particular prison. It’s brightly lit at all hours and it’s ringed by layers of fifteen foot high fences and concertina wire. When we visit, it takes about forty five minutes for our group to get through the layers of security before we can make our way to a rough-hewn, barely heated gymnasium. And it’s in this gym, amongst repentant murderers, bank robbers, and drug dealers, that I’ve come closest to God.

“It’s through the Grace of Jesus Christ that I am free, truly free.”

These men have shown me the meaning of Christianity, the true meaning of forgiveness. One gentleman serving a life sentence told me that it is only through the gift of God’s grace that he knows true freedom.  He lifted his eyes and took in his surroundings and said that there is no limit to God’s grace. “These walls, all this wire, these guards, this lousy food, none of this is strong enough to keep out God. It’s here waiting on us and all we have to do is open our hearts and accept it.”

The men I’ve met in prison don’t spend their time complaining about their lot in life, cellphone coverage, the car that’s seven years old or the grass that needs to be cut. They’re quick to smile, to shake hands, to hug, and to praise God. They long to hold their loved ones, to watch the sun set, to sleep in their own beds, and to spread butter and jam on a homemade biscuit.  They desire nothing more than to visit a neighbor, to cut their own grass, enjoy a hot shower or a home cooked meal. And they’re incredibly grateful for a visit from a friend, or a stranger.

“There is no limit to what God can do and I’m living proof.”

Perry

What does Christmas mean to you? At its most basic, what does it really mean? We can give presents to each other, to people that we love at any time. There’s nothing stopping us from mailing cards, sharing cookies, having the family over for dinner or wishing the happiest of wishes on our friends and family. We needn’t wait until the 25th of December for this. On the 25th of December, Christianity remembers and celebrates the birth of Christ. The Son of God. He came to this earth to live and die as a man, to live a Godly life, to offer us forgiveness and Grace only to die as a prisoner. He was condemned to die by a military ruler, nailed to a cross and in his final hours, he pardoned another prisoner that was also sentenced to death.  At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of this man.

Just because I visit a prison or go to church, I am not a better person than you. I am not holier, I am not more worthy, and I will not have an easier time of getting into Heaven. But for a few hours on a Saturday morning in December, I was shown the true meaning of Christmas.

Garlic & Gauloises

Now that I’ve been picked up by a real publisher, I’ve found that I have a new family. I’m now a part of the Winter Goose Publishing family and all of us lean on and support one another. We disagree, we laugh, cheer and occasionally poke good natured fun at one another. I haven’t quite figured out where I fit in; at times I feel like a big brother and at other times the red-headed step child. I’m trying to read all the books written by my new family but as you can imagine, that’s quite challenging and I’ve got plenty of excuses.

Kathryn
Kathryn Mattingly, my fellow Winter Goose author

I am a big fan of Kathryn Mattingly and she’s sold me on the crime novels of Hemmie Martin. Hemmie is English in the literal sense and my friend Kathryn recently profiled her, on her own web site.

“Hemmie spent six years living in the south of France, and currently lives in Essex, England, where being a novel writing specialty nurse apparently wasn’t enough, since she and her husband also board guide dogs in training.”

That sounds so perfectly English, doesn’t it?  Hemmie Martin’s latest novel is the intriguingly named Garlic & Gauloises and I’m happy to share the cover.  To read more of Kathryn’s interview with Hemmie Martin, please click here.

Garlic &

Defeat, and Victory

The look in my son’s eyes was something I hadn’t seen in him before. He clutched me, hugged me as only one that benches 225 can, and bawled loudly. In 18 years, he’s never cried like this.  I offered the only words that seemed to make sense. “You did your best.”

He’s a football player. A right guard, on the offensive line, a senior for a high school football team that’s won four consecutive state championships. He’s also the smallest lineman on the team. Throughout his three years of varsity football, he never faced off against a smaller opponent. Likewise his team often faced bigger, faster, stronger opponents. But more times than not, my son and his team prevailed. Why? They never gave up, they had excellent coaching, they practiced often, they watched film, they did all the little things that most other football teams do, they just did all those little things better than their opponents. So much so that they earned four consecutive state championships and are title holders of the longest (high school football) winning streak in South Carolina at 55 games.  The Christ Church Cavaliers were expected to win.

TD
That’s my son in black.

My son has two enormous state championship rings that he cherishes deeply. Rings that were earned with blood, bruises, sweat, and teamwork. And he desperately wanted that third ring to cap off his senior year.  After all, for a high school football player, what could be better than finishing his senior year with a state championship ring?

It feels great to come in first. Heck it feels great to come in second or third place, for a little while. If you’re competitive then you’re going to get tired of third or second place.  It’s inevitable. And sometimes the difference between second and first place can be but a few tenths of a second. Victory can rest on the foot of a kicker, the reach of an outfielder, or a final kick to the end of the pool.  Win or lose, competing on a team teaches us invaluable lessons of sacrifice, cooperation, communication and preparation. And a team is only as strong as its weakest player so the team either plays to their individual strengths, or loses by its weakness.  So if the team is going to win, the team has to prepare and learn how to do the little things just a tiny bit better. Doesn’t matter if you’re a pro football player, a cook, a mechanic, or a customer service rep at the cable company. If your team is going to get better, you’ll have to practice and prepare and learn how to do something better than you did it yesterday. And if you bleed, so much the better. When we hurt ourselves, physically or mentally, through competition, then we’re much more likely to learn.

I still remember the first time I burned myself in a kitchen. Not only did it hurt but it also made me less effective as a teammate and I wasted time taping my thumb. With a taped up thumb on my dominant hand, I was a less effective and I forced my teammates to pick up my slack. But I learned a painfully important lesson that I’ve carried with me ever since. It’s all about the team and an effective team does the little things better than their competitors.  And now that I consult, I’m always surprised by the restaurateurs or chefs that don’t understand this. Your team must be prepared, must be coached to victory and victory doesn’t happen without intense preparation and immaculate teamwork.

My son’s football team did not win their fifth championship. They lost to a better team in the playoffs. They gave it their all, they supported each other, covered each other’s weaknesses and exploited each other’s strengths. And with about three minutes left in the game, they were down by three and driving to the goal. Unlike in years past, their opponents did not falter. The Cavaliers fought to the end but they lost. They did not get a trophy. Instead they got to cry in the arms of their mothers and fathers. They tasted defeat.

“You did your best.”

That night my son played his best game, ever, but it wasn’t enough. And as their opponents celebrated on their side of the field, I saw all the faces of victories past. How many times had the Cavaliers sent other teams away in tears? How many times had their opponents withered under their intense pressure? How many times had they been the better team?

In the week past I’ve reminded him that more than one million kids play high school football and only a tiny fraction of these kids get to play in a state championship. Eventually my son will move on to another competition and the lesson of defeat will be invaluable. Being truly defeated, especially after you and your team has given its all, is an invaluable lesson that cannot be replaced.  That night, as he cried like a baby in my arms, I realized he had become a man.

Chef John Malik property
All smiles after a hard-fought victory

Learning to accept the bitterness of defeat is crucial to truly appreciating the sweetness of victory.

 

The Myth of Shooting Stars

This morning I saw a shooting star in the constellation Orion.

The meteor shower Orionids passes through every year about this time and many people still refer to these meteors as Shooting Stars. But I’ve known better for a long time. These aren’t stars but rocks, most of them are small rocks about the same size as the ones found in a gravel driveway. They’re debris from a traveler that’s tumbling through space at breathtaking speeds. You see, every year a particular comet passes through the earth’s orbit. This comet is a gigantic ice-covered rock that travels a predictable path. This rocky snowball is moving fast, 17 or 18 thousand miles an hour so it’s constantly shedding bits and pieces, just like Clark Griswold’s wagon in the movie Vacation.  This comet is shedding poorly stowed luggage, cups of coffee left on the roof, toys from the kids, hubcaps.  All that junk tumbles away from the wagon and gets yanked towards the nearest gas station and in our case, that’s the earth. These little pieces of the comet are pulled towards our planet and upon entering the friction of our atmosphere, they burn up into nothing.  Oh sure, they’ll burn rather brightly, so much so that from our perspective they’ll look like shooting stars.  But that’s only from our perspective. These meteors are just rocks, about the same size as the ones in the parking lot of your football field. Of course actual stars are about the size of our sun and in some cases, many times larger.

It’s all about perspective.

Captains
Christ Church football captains, 2015. #57 is Tudor Malik

Suppose we didn’t know better?  Suppose we sat outside on a clear, moonless night and watched these little pinpoints of shimmering light we were told are stars then one of them suddenly bolted from the sky.  Who wouldn’t think that one was a shooting star?

I’ve known people that died much too early because they did something dumb, they made a reckless decision that cost them their life. Parents, friends, colleagues at the time referred to them as shooting stars. But what they were really saying was that they were pieces of poorly secured luggage, cast off of a fast-moving, careening world that they were not prepared for and they burned up in the process.

IMG_1141
With Marine Corps Major Michael Middleton, Aircraft Commander of Marine One

I’ve also known people that did something brilliant many years ago and they’re still known for that one thing they did. Perhaps they scored an important touchdown or made a video that went viral, yet went on to make a mess of their lives.

As you gradually make your way to the front door of your own life, please do not look for a singular shot at fame, brilliance, or history. And remember that small, seemingly innocuous decisions can sometimes have dire consequences. One’s goal should not be to become a shooting star.

Instead, consider the sun. It’s often taken for granted. It warms the earth, provides sustenance and life, and more often than not, we enjoy its company, especially when we’ve had a long rainy spell.  I like that reference much better than the shooting star.  I have some friends that are like the sun and they make everyone around them happy.  They listen carefully, they treat others like they’re special, they’re always glad to see their friends, they help strangers in need without expectation of payment. Just like planets orbiting the sun, these people attract other good people.

I know you spend a lot of time thinking about how you will fit into the world.  So here’s your lesson for today and for the rest of your life.

Live for others, practice gratitude, say your prayers, help a stranger off the ground when they’ve stumbled and never take delight in another’s misfortune.  And if you beat someone in competition, beat them fair and square, then help them get up. And the next time you see that person, do not remind them of the time you beat them. Do not measure success by your bank account but rather by those you help when they’re down and out. Be the sun that shines and warms everything around you. Be the friend that others want to have. Be the man that other men will want to emulate. Be the son I’m proud of.

I love you.

chef john malik
Flying to NYC, he was four at the time

Merci Beaucoup, Chef

“One day, you’re going to be a great attorney.”

“Yeah, uh, thanks, Dad.”

How could I tell my attorney father that a morbidly obese cook from Opelousas, Louisiana, a man that favored sweet potatoes and pork belly over Filet Mignon, had already set me on my career path to become a professional chef, and not an attorney?

Paul Prudhomme is the reason I became a chef.

I grew up in a large family in south Louisiana. My mom loved to cook. She grew up on a ranch in the middle of Mexico, where she learned to do everything by hand. As a mother to her own five children, she taught us many skills of self-sufficiency, one of which was cooking. And for whatever reason, I was the one that usually helped her in the kitchen. She taught me how to clean wild duck, pick out tomatoes, supreme an orange, and make a kick-ass beef stew with the humblest of ingredients. She was also a surgical nurse in a bustling New Orleans hospital.Chef Paul

In 1982 I was half way through my English degree and contemplating law school when Chef Paul Prudhomme became my mom’s patient. He was there recovering from surgery and through my mom, Chef Prudhomme and I had a week long conversation. Paul had recently opened his restaurant, K-Paul’s, and he was already attracting an enormous amount of attention. And he was doing so by highlighting the cuisine and staples of south Louisiana. Sweet potatoes, creole tomatoes, turtle, okra, scallions, blue crabs from Lake Ponchartrain, spicy Andouille sausage, bell peppers, head cheese, red fish, crayfish, and pork.

At the time, Paul was the unequivocal star of New Orleans and this new world of food. The best known restaurants in New Orleans were decades-old stalwarts of French~Creole cuisine; Antoine’s, Arnaud’s, Brennan’s, etc. Their restaurants served filet mignon topped with sauce Rochambeau, poached salmon with hollandaise, red potatoes carved into seven-sided tournee, true sole from Dover topped with crab and lemon beurre blanc, and cherries jubilee tableside.  The city’s most highly regarded hotel-based chefs were from Paris. They were the French culinary mafia and they took care of their own. These were chefs that created cityscapes out of pastillage (a paste of gelatin, water, and sugar), Easter bunnies out of blocks of ice, and flower arrangements from sugar and a blowtorch. Privately they sneered at our indigenous ingredients and their hotels spent small fortunes flying in Parisian ingredients. And in the middle of this, Paul Prudhomme burst forth.

In the early 1980s, our country was in love with bran muffins, quiche cookbooks, and wine coolers. Paul was the antithesis of all that, and what a media personality should be. He was wildly overweight, he had a thick, unrecognizable (if you weren’t from south Louisiana) accent and he was a cook.  Back then, cooks weren’t given much respect. Dining rooms, filet mignon, tuxedoed maitre’ds, and luxurious tablecloths yes, but not cooks, and especially American cooks, from the swamps of Opelousas. On the Today show he cooked a hash from sweet potatoes and did so just as one would cook a risotto. Sweet potatoes were something south Louisianans like my mom bought on the side of the Airline Highway. At the time, sweet potatoes would’ve been considered fodder for the staff meal by the city’s French chefs. And that gargantuan, bearded cook from Opelousas was cooking them on national TV. Hearsay!  “Did you see the Fat Man on TV?” That’s how Chef Paul was mentioned by the city’s French chefs.

As the de facto family cook, the kid that helped mom pick out sweet potatoes, creole tomatoes, and okra at our roadside stands, I was amazed.  I was already cooking at a burger joint in Hammond, LA and hosting pop-ups in my college dorm. If one of my friends would shoot a couple of squirrels, I was the guy that would turn them into a stew. And there was Paul Prudhomme, extolling me on through his many appearances, magazine covers, and cookbooks.

When Paul spent a few days in my mom’s care, through her we exchanged ideas on culinary school and chefs I should work for. He was the one that told me to go to culinary school in New Orleans because in a few years, the city’s chefs and cuisine would be in demand across the world. He made those of us in the kitchen proud to be cooks and he showed us a future full of opportunity.  At a time when the only food celebrities were Hollywood starlets or exercise fanatics, Paul was a guy that grew up hunting, fishing, farming, and cooking. He was the one that inspired a generation of chefs to champion their own region’s raw ingredients. Today’s farmer’s markets, foragers, regional bistros, craft brewers, and distilleries all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the “Fat Man.”

He was the champion of the Airline Highway sweet potato, the one that brought our humble south Louisiana ingredients into the forefront of the world’s food audience, and our first true American celebrity chef.

Merci beaucoup, Chef, and Godspeed.

Why Would You Do That?

 

I’m ready.

On Friday morning, July 17th, I’ll climb onto my Trek Road Bike and join 285 cyclists and pedal across the state of South Carolina.  Yeah I know. It’s gonna be hot, and cycling is dangerous, and I could hurt myself, and I’ll probably get sunburned, etc.  I’ve heard it all.

And all of that is accurate.  I could get hurt. It will be difficult. I might get a first-class sunburn, and definitely a sore butt.  I’m also planning on having the time of my life and along the way, helping the South Carolina Alzheimer’s Association collect about $250,000 or more in donations.  Yet in the swirling money pit that is Alzheimer’s disease and its associated dementia, that amount is a drop in the bucket. Every year our country spends hundreds of billions on the treatment, care, and research of this killer so what could one guy on 20 pounds of aluminum, carbon, and rubber possibly bring to the table?

Zinzy
That’s my Mom in the shades. Before Alzheimer’s stole her smile.

The answer is, I don’t know. I don’t know where the money that I help raise will go. Perhaps it’ll help pay for printing costs of new dementia care pamphlets, maybe a raise for an office worker, or new carpet in an office. I really don’t care how it’s spent, I just want it spent. The real effect will go beyond the money. If I and the other riders can call enough attention to this dread disease then perhaps we’ll help ferret out real money. Will the sight of nearly 300 maniacs pedaling across 252 miles of 90+ degree heat spur the right notes in a researcher, a neurologist, a big dollar donor? Yeah, that’s why we do it. We’re there to call attention to a disease that has a 100% fatality rate, no cure, and nothing to slow it down. We’re there because our mother or father, aunt or grandfather passed away from Alzheimer’s. We’ve sat there and held their hands, watched as the spark slowly faded from their eyes, and wiped tears away when they asked us who we were. We’re there to provide a place to turn for those family members that have just heard the dreadful news that Mom has Alzheimer’s.

When the diagnosis is Alzheimer’s, the outcome is always the same. In spite of what you may have seen on a sketchy web link on Facebook, there is no cure and nothing on the horizon. Alzheimer’s is a frightening death sentence that will steal away every precious memory before it takes a life. At least with cancer there’s a battle plan; a record of patients that have managed to survive even the toughest, rarest forms of it. They and their doctors have left scars and notes, a game plan for the newly diagnosed, left by the survivors.

RTR jersey
My 2014 jersey

Not so with Alzheimer’s. There’s just the dark reality that one’s mind will slowly wither until even the body’s ability to assimilate food into calories, or oxygen into our blood stream, has been taken away. And there’s a gaping uncertainty because Alzheimer’s affects everyone differently. One may live ten years, or it may take you in less than three.

And that’s why I’m going to do this. I need to do something and I won’t be much help waving and smiling as the riders go past. Since January I’ve put about 1,600 miles on my bike. I’ve ridden through cold days and blistering hot ones, pushed through pop-up thunderstorms, and a few snow flurries. I’ve fought 25 mph headwinds and daunting mountain ascents. Because 252 miles in three days just isn’t something one can get ready for in a couple of months.  I want to be strong enough that if needed, I can pull one of my teammates up a long climb. I want to offer a smile instead of a complaint, a compliment instead of a critique.  I want to help.  And I could use yours. I’ll take prayers, kind thoughts, encouragement, and of course your money.

Would you like to make a donation to my efforts?  Please click here.

Orangeburg
The start of the final stage in 2014. Courtesy David Moody.

Please?

One last time, please.

All  I need is pedals, and a little air.

Climb on board and grip my bars, twist them in your familiar hands

Ease me onto the street, stand up and jump

Coax me through the gears

Just like we used to, so many years ago

Let’s go

All I need is pedals, and a little air

Remember when your muscular legs and toned arms willed me past speed limits?

Past other bikes, and racing dogs

Down mountain passes and up steep bridges

We sliced through corners, blistered pavement

Those younger guys?  Left in our dust

“Some guy on a pink bike”

That’s what they always said

Can’t we do it again?

All I need is pedals, and a little air

I know I’m not new

And neither are you

But I’m still fast, and I’ll make you smile

I’ve sat in this corner, gathering dust, losing air, and waited

Please?

All I need is pedals, and a little air

C6

 

Where did Jonas Salk’s last dollar come from?

That question was posed by my friend Bill Englert.  It’s an intriguing question, isn’t it?  How much money did the cure for Polio cost and where did it come from?  And if Polio can be cured, why not Alzheimer’s?

If you don’t know the mind-numbing statistics, let me enlighten you.  Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the US. Of the top ten killers, Alzheimer’s is the only one not receding, and it has a 100% fatality rate. Unlike cancer or heart disease, there are no survivors of Alzheimer’s.  Alzheimer’s is expensive, probably costing the US more than 225 billion for 2015. As anyone that’s seen the movie “Still Alice”, Alzheimer’s is not a disease of the aged. If this isn’t enough, Alzheimer’s also tears families apart due to the burden of caring for a loved one with a rapidly failing memory.  I know all this first hand. I’ve seen it up close as Chef and Food & Beverage Director of two Continuing Care Retirement Communities; and I watched and listened as my mother succumbed in October of 2013.

Coast Busters in NC
Left to Right; Julian, Rene, Brian, Caroline, Kate, Myself, Emily, and Steven. Mark and Brian are missing from this photo.

With such enormous statistics and a dire need of funding, why on earth would I think that my efforts can make a dent in the needs of the Alzheimer’s Association? As Bill asked, where did Jonas Salk’s last dollar come from?  Which grant gave him just enough financial muscle to finish his polio-curing research?  And that’s why I do this; no donation to the SC A/A is insignificant.

The Alzheimer’s Association does not provide huge grants to fund research, they create the mechanism for those grants to reach the right facility and they fund outreach, training, and support for families.  Think of the A/A as the funnel for the bottle.  In South Carolina there are A/A offices in every county, and each provides help to beleaguered families, care givers, and care facilities as well as a political arm in the legislature.  And that’s where the Ride to Remember comes in.  Conceived by another cycling chef, Scott Roark, the RTR is a three-day ride across the state.  As riders, we raise money for the South Carolina Alzheimer’s Association.  This year the association’s overall goal is $200,000, and we hope to exceed that.

So on Friday morning, July 17th, I’ll climb onto my bike and along with my teammates from The Coast Busters, spend three days pedaling to Charleston.  Along the way, we’ll dream that perhaps the money we raise will create that ripple in the pond that will fund a cure for Alzheimer’s.  Because if we don’t try, we’ll never find out.

Support us at:

Team Coast Busters

 

Interview with The Poet

In celebration of National Poetry Month, I’ve interviewed poet Jessica Kristie.

A Rod McKuen 8-Track. That was my first exposure to poetry and looking back, it didn’t resonate with me because if my sisters liked it then I wanted no part of it. And if this guy was so special, how come he didn’t have a real band, with electric guitars? Well, that was my 12 year-old mindset.

Jessica Kristie laughs.

“Are 8-Tracks coming back?! If so, then I want to get on that train. Rod McKuen gave a lot of himself in his recordings. If you put yourself out there, then give all of you. People have a deep desire to grab on to something, and without knowing or understanding they will connect with you if you bleed a little. It can take a lot out of you, but the end result is a beautiful community of like-minded individuals.”

Jessica is the founder of Winter Goose Publishing, my publisher, and has written poetry since she was ten.  And to complete that circle started by Mr. McKuen, she’s also read some of my poetry.

“The first poem I ever remember reading was from Robert Frost. His poem Nothing Gold Can Stay was short, sweet, and even at my young age I could understand there was a deep meaning behind it. I didn’t necessarily get what a metaphor was exactly but I knew the words were powerful, meaningful, and could be inspiring. It was a unique way to reach me and I knew at that moment it could be a way to reach others too.”

Do you still have your first poem?

“I don’t specifically remember my first poem but I have poetry I wrote from as early as ten years old. I consider poetry my first language. It’s what has always resonated with me the most.”

So back to Rod McKuen. I was probably in college and studying Shakespeare, before I could appreciate what Rod McKuen was doing. Did you ever want to record your poetry like Rod McKuen did?

“I love spoken-word poetry. That is something newer to me and I discovered it only about five years ago. People learn in so many different ways and audio is powerful. Performance poetry is a different monster that I have not mastered but I admire it deeply. I have a spoken-word CD written and have every intention of recording it someday. And today I love Sarah Kay and Andrea Gibson. They are both emotionally driven and extremely powerful in their words and performances. They reach a younger generation with an intense fluency that is to be aspired to. They speak about difficult social issues but also speak with a genuine heart that reminds us of our humanity—something that I believe makes for an extraordinary poet.”

Jessica
Jessica Kristie

 

What were your career choices that got you to this point in your life?

“I spent over fifteen years in the corporate world. I’ve been in banking, marketing, and worked at a series of non-profits. At the time I didn’t realize it, but all of those adventures led me to, and prepared me for, today. Each employer offered training, whether it be in budgeting, strategy, or dealing with a layoff that brought me to a stronger place and made me much more effective in my current position. For writing, these are all my breadcrumbs. My poetry or even my novel is a living journal that leaves pieces of where I was at that point in my life. Each story has another story. I was laid off in 2010 for the second time since the major economic crisis that started in 2008. I was tired of being a slave to everyone else’s companies and decided to take a risk and see what I could build on my own.

I had been writing off and on since I was ten and it came and went in phases. In 2010 I published my first poetry book with a small press. That experience gave me an opportunity to learn and discover what I thought was done right and what wasn’t. I didn’t ever walk away thinking I could do it better, but appreciated the opportunity to learn in the process. I needed to stay close to writing as my words just seemed to take off. Doing publishing was that opportunity to keep it close, but also… maybe… down the road, feed my family. In 2011, Winter Goose Publishing was created.”

What are your goals for Winter Goose? 

“To always be learning and growing. We are a traditional trade publisher, but only in the beginning stages of our growth. We don’t do everything right, but at the same time we give everything we have to do the right thing. We want to always maintain a healthy author community and offer amazing books with variety so everyone can find something to love and connect with. Books are magic, and we want to bring that magic to you. My greatest influencer would be Graywolf Press. They’re a non-profit, so a different model than us, but they put out Pulitzer Prize winners along with unique and daring works in fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.”

Was there an unsupportive little brother in your family that teased you over your love of poetry?

“No brothers. I have five sisters… yes five. I generally always had a certain amount of support for my poetry. I remember when I first started my website (2010) as a means to vent and a venue to share my poetry. I was terribly nervous over how it would be perceived. Partially because I wrote rather dark, but also because I had never publically shared it prior. I wasn’t stable in my abilities at the time and had always just written for me and from an extremely honest place. I was shocked at how it took off and the community I quickly became a part of. Within six months I was offered my first publishing contract by a small press on the east coast. From there, everything changed.”

Do you have any advice to an aspiring poet?

“Be honest and don’t force it. You can always tell when a poem is forced. Genuineness resonates most with poetry. Even if the poem isn’t perceived as generally “good,” if it’s honest, it will emotionally connect with someone.”

 

a writer trapped in a cook's body