Because today is my 50th birthday.
Ask me at age 10 what I would be doing at 50, and I would have told you I'd be the morning disc jockey at the top radio station in town.
Ask me at age 15 what I would be doing at 50, and I would have told you I'd be the director of a band program at a major Arkansas high school.
Ask me at age 20 what I would be doing at 50, and I would have told you I was going to be hosting a novelty music program on the national level.
Ask me at age 24 what I would be doing at 50, and I would have told you I was going to be the tease writer for ABC News on the national level.
Ask me at age 25 what I would be doing at 50, and I would have told you I'd be producing the top-rated morning show in Little Rock, still.
Ask me at age 33 what I would be doing at 50, and I would have told you I had utterly no clue.
Ask me at age 35 what I would be doing at 50, and I would have told you I'd be writing about Arkansas food on the national level.
Ask me at age 40 what I would be doing at 50, and I would have told you I'd be writing even more books about Arkansas food.
Ask me at age 45 what I would be doing at 50, and I would have told you I'd be writing even more books about Arkansas food.
It's funny, I've been writing about food in Arkansas for 16 years now. It took me a long time to find my niche, and when I did, I had just put an entire career behind me, a career I thought I'd be in the rest of my life. It's weird to think my twelve years in television news are so far in my rear-view mirror, or that my radio days are more than half my life behind me. Both of those careers helped define me, and introduced me to many of the players I'd dance with in this media continuum this market fosters.
And though my goals have been refined, and I've reached many of them, I am amazed by the spectrum of what that truly means. I don't just write stories or take photos. I am documenting a pivotal time in Arkansas culinary history while recording its past and helping shape its future. I have found this magnificent little niche where what I does, matters.
That's not an arrogant assumption. I've seen the waves of change. I watched our state's menus go from focusing on a pretty mundane selection of items where most everyone had a Reuben sandwich and a house specialty or two, to waves of recognition for things like chocolate gravy and fried pickles and cheese dip, spreading further and wider thanks to stories placed here and there. I've met people from other countries carrying my books on their trips here to come find the places where we break bread. And, y'all, pie. Just... pie.
I feel as if I should have some great messagr to share, some wisdom to impart for the ages. Truth is, I don't, not beyond the things I try to practice in my life every day - be kind, make sure kids get fed well, listen twice and speak once, food is our common denominator, be the good you want to see in the world. I stay active when I can, push myself to do something each day, try to reach out even though it's beyond my comfort zone, and try to find ways to make things better for someone, anyone, whenever I can.
I'm 50, with a teenager and a mortgage and a couple of aging vehicles and four cats and a load of support from the people who are in my life. I have down days and lazy days but I also have days where I shoot 5000 words off into the electronic ether, take a couple hundred photos, drive two or three hundred miles and experience the air in my lungs, the asphalt under my feet, and the scent of life all around me. I am tied to the responsibilities I have laid out for myself, but I am also free.
Grav and I joke, as self-employed folks, that we have exchanged security for freedom. That came down strong this past month, having to spend $10k to replace an HVAC system, having to endure (and pay for) a root canal, and doing the day-to-day things that require money. So much of being self-employed is living on faith, knowing the money has to be spent and believing it'll keep coming in and allowing the cycle to repeat - making money to pay the bills to keep the lights on to live so we can go on making money. It's scary and enthralling and when it works well, it's so fulfilling.
Ah, but you're wondering where the food content is here. What's my birthday dinner going to be? Have I had any good pie lately? What's the next book?
Would it surprise you to say, I don't know?
My friend Marvin once told me, as I was getting ready to make yet another pivot in this crazy life, that you could tell when I was going to jump, that I'd be tensing up to jump from that one proverbial frying pan into the fire and every time I did, I wound up in another frying pan. I could say hey, maybe one of these days, I might make it onto a cooling platter, but that's not my lot in life. I'm still cooking. I'm not done.
Not that I haven't done enough. I may never self-produce a documentary I wrote, hosted and edited agsin. I may not ever make it to a point where I have a regular TV spot of my own. But I have a couple of shows in the can, and twelve books, and a column and a host of crazy projects, from the Arkansas Pie Festival to the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame. Those high school folks who couldn't wait to get out of the state are probably tsk-tsking me today, how I've hitched my wagon to my ties to home, but here I am.
50 probably isn't my half-way point. It's a number. It doesn't really fit me, but I'm not going to hide from it.
It's not a -30-, that's for sure. I don't think I actually have an endpoint. Not even for this ramble.