Where do I belong when I am “different”? How do I belong in both the bigger world and in the smaller place I reside simultaneously?
These questions have followed me around my whole life and feel fresh again as I carve out a real home for my fruity & weird self here in Missouri. The questions, the timing, maybe my age, and certainly the remote and wildly different-for-me locale I’m afoot in has been challenging everything I know about myself. But it is exactly here that my culinary and herbal creativity has produced some of my finest, most precise and innovative work yet. My creative visions are soaring despite the trouble I have finding my grounding here.
My herbal concoctions – the herbal salts, most definitely – have always been a collision of everything I see and feel, flavors, people and cultures in ingredient form. Could Missouri be a place where I thrive in the ways I need to most? Is Missouri stirring my creative juices? Maybe, just maybe here is where I need to be: to learn more, to do more and grow more.
Being in Missouri I have had to look deeper to find what I personally need not only that which stimulates and inspires me (I’m not stimulated easily) but to find the exact and replicable drivers of creativity that my culinary art feeds off. I feel most alive when I am giving birth to new ideas and need to be swirling around in open thinking to thrive. Politics and a divisive nation make this a difficult place for my global inclusive style of thinking and yet I recognize that within that vast spectrum of difference there can be a lot meaningful growth for myself and those I intermingle with.
The serendipitous discovery that many of the specialty herbs I have been growing in my herb garden here grow wild and rampant here has been one affirmation of Missouri having positive offerings for me. I have used most of these herbs in this summer’s first commercial batch of herbal salts. Bergamot, germander, bellflower, evening primrose and goldenrod are all local Ozark medicinals that I have laced my summer salts with, the process of lacing perhaps even itself a ritual in further rooting myself here and making deeper connections to what Missouri can offer me.
It’s easy (and I think a common problem in the US today) to see people as different and make assumptions about “them” that separate them from “us.” The idiosyncrasies of my personality, my unique upbringing, my time spent all over the world (but nowhere for long), my biases, my blind spots, my openness, and my ridiculous amount of courage have all contributed to me generally doing things differently than most. But, despite me being fairly open-minded, I am not immune from looking through only one lens: mine. I have certainly done this a great deal since moving to southern Missouri as I confront and question these assumptions I have carried with me here.
I blamed Missouri for most of my recent struggles, but the truth is I have simply been struggling and that isn’t Missouri’s fault. Life is filled with struggle. We often equate struggle with place or person, but it’s just a part of life always. I should have known better. But loneliness is my kryptonite.
My normal lack of belonging is intense here, at times way too intense for me. It is very different here than most places I’ve lived. There is no denying that. Despite the many complaints about my focus on what’s lacking, there is a case for what I consider is “lacking” here; many of these are things I value: diversity of people and cultures hence diversity of things that come from it in in the form of thoughts and ideas and certainly lack of diverse fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s not that these are not here. The supply is just not as abundant or easy to access as it was in other places that I’ve lived.
But also shame on me as I did a poor job of looking. I didn’t look for what I valued or really anything at all. I ignored so much that was new and different that was right in front of me. I fell prey to my own negativity and maybe even a little depression that just sent me spiraling downward instead of my normal state of soaring and thriving in new situations.
My family situation has been incredibly complex here, which I had not anticipated when I moved here. This has greatly affected my sense of belonging, not only belonging in my family
(my brothers have always been my only true sense of belonging) but belonging in my community or new state. This feeling, the lack of belonging, created a fear that I was too different for this area so much that I wouldn’t belong; so, I didn’t try very hard.
Keep in mind again that I have lived with the absence of belonging most of my life: physically in the sense of place (I’m from nowhere really) and emotionally in the sense that I “feel” like I don’t fit in.
I have moved to new cities and even different countries since I was born. I have never lived anywhere long, except for my 12 years in New York, which was probably the one city in the US that felt like home to me. It was that I felt like part of the world there rather than part of the US or any particular state, which I place a great deal of value on. I don’t have a sense of home, and I don’t have a built-in defense of my city or my state regardless of where I have lived. Not California and not Missouri. Most people I meet in Missouri have lived here their entire lives. They have strong ties to everywhere and everyone here. It’s intimidating and also from my perspective a bit confining. I don’t have the same history and, thus, my values are different. I felt more out of place moving here than anywhere in the world.
Belonging uncertainty (a term I only just discovered last month while reading Brene Brown’s book Atlas of the Heart) means the questioning of one’s social belonging and, in my case, this defines my lifelong experience. Hearing so many of the descriptions of this term in the book and the research on it really helped me understand that, although Missouri is incredibly different from anywhere I have lived, the feeling overwhelming me was more belonging uncertainty than me not being able to make a go at a life here.
In Brene’s book there was a reference to a Spanish term used to describe belonging to uncertainty, “Ni de aqui, ni de allá (Not from here, not from there).” The term is used to describe intersecting identities in particular that of immigrants and, even though I am technically not an immigrant, I do resonate with this term since I moved to Nicaragua at 11 and haven’t stopped traveling the globe since.
Ironically my style of cooking is much the same: not from here, not from there. It’s everything I have experienced and I often have felt a lack of space (belonging) for my culinary artistry in the food world, which is likely why I always avoided going into that profession too deeply, at least in the conventional sense.
Coloring outside the lines has always been my way, in food and generally in life. “My Story” has been a fairly “lonely” existence as I constantly choose discovery over belonging. This is one of the less pleasant aspects of being someone that can’t conform. It’s not that I haven’t tried to fit in. I have and, when I do, it’s awkward – for me and for others. It’s completely inauthentic.
For whatever reason I have had the courage to be my authentic self most of my life while also craving deep connection. I have wanted to play an active part in the many communities I have lived in and yet feel more at home in the world as a whole versus in one place. Maya Angelou has a famous quote on freedom, “You are only free when you realize you belong no place.”
I can admit that I haven’t seen, heard, and valued Missouri as I should have since moving here, but I think many haven’t really seen, heard, and valued me either. In a way I sit in the heart of our country’s divide, and I am living it. How do we belong and connect when we are “different” from each other? How do we belong to the bigger world and the smaller place we reside simultaneously? How do we grow community in our country and world? It’s incredibly difficult to be open if you aren’t sure what you are looking at. It’s easy to defend your home and your culture and think it’s better than another if you haven’t experienced or seen anything else up-close. I feel hopeful that Missouri and I will create an authentic connection. I feel optimistic that a non-judgmental energy can be exchanged and growth can occur. A mixture of me in Missouri and Missouri in me. Like the other places in me, it will become part of me.
It really isn’t any different than my culinary style, which is essentially one that melds us together. My herbal salt making technique is essentially slow baking a bunch of diverse items together so they melt into each other. The final product is, of course, salty with hints of each flavor, all of which make one new grouped flavor, a flavor that always connects back to several different roots. This to me represents the world we live in today. This is how I want to be connected on this globe.
My Summer 2022 Herbal Salt Offerings: The Fruit Series is the epitome of this. Not only does it utilize my diverse Missouri garden filled with over 300 specialty herbs. But they are jammed with spices from all over the world. The salt theme Fruity & Weird pays homage to my own differentness and the fact that I am making my first commercial batch with fruit, designed mostly for use in savory creations. This is a weird idea on its own but especially for Americans
This summer’s official product launch, which I hope moves on to become a thriving small business venture that can also satiate my herbal creativity until my last days, is a 100% Missouri-based venture.
The first house I ever owned is the one I sit in now: my little Blue Eye, Missouri lakefront home and herb farm in the making. It is certainly not the state, place, or herb farm I envisioned for myself years ago. But this sweet home has everything I love: sunshine, water, sunsets and enough space to grow a decent amount of herbs year-round that can sustain my envisioned business. I learn new things everyday here which makes me think of how much my dad would like me to be here.
I love the greenness here and the rain, and my dog is probably as happy as he has ever been. My kitchen is the best I ever had. Is it ironic that my first home, my favorite home yet, is in Missouri. It’s probably more fate (no different than my stumble into these herb salts)!
I have no new desire to belong here. My values don’t let me think like that. I will continue to struggle with belonging and also seek the freedom to be from nowhere. I have a home here and I will continue to move around the globe ,as that is how I am happiest.
This Missouri venture is a serious one, I’m invested here more than I have ever been invested anywhere, but it is just another one of my adventures on this planet. I am making some of my best magic yet and that excites me. Creativity takes us to places we never expect. Therein lies the beauty of my Missouri life and my life in general!