Oh the Places You Will Go: But Home is Where You Wanna Stay

May of 2010 I turned 18, graduated from Myrtle Attendance Center (it’s when K-12 is on the same grounds), and started to count down the days till I could finally leave Myrtle (and New Albany to boot). Fast forward to August and what little belongings I couldn’t live without were moved into the RC South at The University of Mississippi. It wasn’t far from home (about 36 miles) but hey, Oxford at least had a Kroger.

Five years I spent in Oxford. I traveled to Peru, Seattle, and pretty much every SEC football stadium to cheer on my Rebels. I must confess, I could/should have graduated after 3.5 years, but I couldn’t give up my *self-proclaimed* kingdom. I had a friend who tried to get me to study abroad with her, but sadly I made yet another mistake and decided not to. While Ole Miss was fun, the memories are endless, and the people were amazing, my time was filled with mistakes, miss opportunities, and a grocery list of people I pissed off. You live and you learn and it has taken me several years to finally understand that I can only be sorry for so long and have to move forward.

Flash forward to 2015 and I have graduated with honors, 3 majors, and a shit ton of student debt, but I’ll be damned if I was going to stop. On July 3rd I drove 10 hours North to Iowa. Attending a top ranked masters program, essentially a full ride, and a new town was what I needed. However, I quickly found out that being a RA for 4 years and the lessons I thought I learned were not enough. I traveled to 12 new states, had some of the best food the Midwest has to offer, and somehow found a hand full of people who took a chance on me. While my time in Iowa was not perfect and filled with more lonely nights than the first semester of my freshman year at Ole Miss, I was able to check another thing off my list: getting a master’s degree.

Now May came and went and I was fortunate enough to get a job. In July I will drive some 1300 miles Northeast to Connecticut to join what I feel like will be an amazing team of professionals. In almost 10 years of getting on my first flight ever (to LA for a FBLA competition), I have visited half the states, been to a couple of countries, and have plans for some more trips. I have found that I have sadly lost a few good friends along this journey. While I travel alone, the few that stay are the ones that get me through it all. Yet strangely something is wrong.

All I have ever wanted to do was travel. I could careless about the Instagram filters, the catchy hashtags, and the total number of likes. I find solace with being alone in a new place, but no matter where I go, I never get as excited as when I cross the Mississippi River. There isn’t much in this little old town. New Albany is growing but let’s be honest, it doesn’t have much. And Oxford, well its full of memories and demons I’m just trying to outrun. But no matter where I go, how much I learn, or the people who come and go, there is no place that feels like home. Unless you count a margarita on a lonely beach, I’ll probably take that instead of home if its July in Mississippi.

Heres to another adventure, another city, another place that I’ll go wishing it was home.

From Cotton to Corn: Grad School Year One

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Let’s be clear from the start, my transition to Iowa this year was awful. I have been in “survive” mode more than “thrive” and I even began a new grad school search in November. In my experience, I was sold a perfect picture of grad school from peers, supervisors, and institutions: cohorts that become automatic friend groups, opportunities all around, and all the adventures at your fingertips. We have done this to ourselves. We think of our experience in school and try to make it the same/think it will be the same for each new member. I genuinely struggled this year. I failed assignments, I cried, I wanted to quit and pack my bags for Mississippi (probably first time that has ever been said in the history of the world). To put it bluntly: this year was shit.

However, among all the failure, struggles, and loneliness, I made some self-discoveries. I’ve learned a great deal about myself, the profession, and just life in general. I’ve read some difficult articles, been challenged in class, and met confrontation head on. In true Rebel fashion, I challenged what was preached to me in classes and pushed myself and others. Now that the dust is starting to settle and I prepare for the summer and my two months of hard time on the beach at FGCU, I have a few things that I wish to share to the world about my adventures on the other side of the Mississippi (and 10 hours further up river).

  • Loneliness. Moving to a new school, city, and state was hands down the hardest challenge I’ve faced in my life (privilege acknowledged). I have taken for granted all the many friends I’ve made along the way. I forgot what it was like to be a stranger in the crowd, the new kid on the block, the person that is from a place no one has been they ask “why did you come here?”. I have spent my share of hours and days by myself, without someone to casually hang out. Granted, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some great people and finally have a small amount of friends, I still feel as if I am all alone. No one could have prepared me for this. However, I now revel in my loneliness. I have time to reflect, think, and meditate. I have learned more about myself than I could have ever done in the crowds at the Square of the Grove. I’ve learned to be ok silence and to sit in the quite. No I won’t go to a movie or bar by myself but I can go and eat a nice sit-down meal, go exploring, and shoot hoops for hours without talking to anyone. I’m always open to meeting new people but I now can handle being the only person I know.
  • Dating. It hasn’t happened. I’ve done the whole tinder, bumble, you-name-it apps. I’ve meet people through people and even tried the whole “lame pick-up line game” at the grocery store, bars, and the likes. I do not know what it is, but the belles up here aren’t the same as they are back home (must be the lack of sweet tea). Granted, I’m a white, cis gendered male so I have no room to complain about the dating culture (privilege acknowledged), but it has been “awkward af”. Granted I have some things to work on personally both in terms of myself and my past emotions, but still they don’t tell you about the difficulty of separating yourself from undergrads and trying to find a cute date. Not to mention the fact I live in a residence hall (but I have my own apartment!) and that tends to put an even more awkward twist on conversations. I’ve learned a great deal of patience and grown calmer in my spirit. I have journaled my struggles and don’t mind laughing with friends on my failed dates. I still am an eager beaver, but I know that my future is in fate’s hand and I am only playing my part.
  • Culture. The people here are weird. This whole “Midwest/Iowa nice” thing pisses me off. People run all over each other and are so damn indecisive. There isn’t any sweet tea, they put peppers or hot sauce and call it “Cajun”, and don’t even try and ask me about the tailgating (they do it in parking lots, they were this gaudy cover-alls, and they just stand there staring at each other drinking shitty beer). “Country” and “being from the South” to them is just a flannel and camo pants, talking in a “funny accent”, and kissing your cousin. They think they “know football”, “know what good soul food is”, and “know what hot weather is”. The amount of times I have shook my head, bit my tongue, and kept a level head this year when people talk badly about my home is astronomical (granted the South has a shit ton of problems, Iowa isn’t that far behind). However, I’ve learned every town, city, and state has its own unique culture. I’ve learned not to make Iowa like Ole Miss and to always learn in every situation. I’ve learned my way of living is just one of multiple realities. I’ve learned so much about my own culture back home and have noticed the many underlying privileges I have. It may not be Ole Miss, but Iowa is kinda nice.
  • Self. If you ask anyone around here what my name is they will (more times than not) call me Justin Kyle. JKT is a pet name, Justin is what I’m called when I’m in trouble or in Tulsa (long story), and Kyle is just another name in the crowd. I’ve always loved how my two names roll together and I spent the first part of the semester being so self-conscious about it because if I wanted to go by that, it would be “odd”. People have met me at various times of my life may be confused as to why this is. I’ve always struggled with making my own identity, name, and reputation. From Kell (oh high school) to Myrtle (because people my freshman year that it was hilarious), the words I’ve gone by have been many, but they just haven’t been me. In all the loneliness, awkward dates and talking about myself, and being a stranger in a new culture, I’ve discovered so much about myself. The things I have uncovered, re-discovered, changed, and shunned are many. The greatest of all, however, is my true name. A name that means the world to me. A name that gives me pride, makes we stick out, and truly captures my identity. Justin Kyle is more than just a couple words that confuse the hell out of people, it is who I am now from this point forward. The greatest thing I have learned since coming to Iowa is this: The man I was and the man I want to be is up to the man now to change. I am the author of my own path (in the hands of my God). We go to college to “find ourselves”, so even in grad school you can learn more about yourself.

The mistakes I have made in my life can make a grocery list jealous. I’ve pushed away people I have loved and not realized it. I’ve done what I can to impress others. I’ve been unauthentic, self-centered, and an egotistical bastard at times. I’ve done a lot, I’ve learned a lot, I still have a winding path ahead of me. Grad school has been hard, but it has been the best for me. No matter how much I wanted to leave, I know I couldn’t. I had to make myself learn by living in dissonance. I had to get out in order to come back home.

There is no telling what is in store for me from this point on, but I will take it head on with a stiff drink of Maker’s Mark, momma’s prayers, and passion for making a change. William Faulkner once said “to understand the world one must first understand a place like Mississippi”. For me, I’m trying to understand the world so that I can one day go home and make a difference. Iowa has given me a great deal of challenges, but a year in and I’m still going. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got 800+ students to move out of my damn building and drive to Florida for another experience. Cheers.

I will not stand by idly

For too long I have sat still. For too long I have listened to the times of old. For far too long I have let the words of outsiders predetermine my life. Not any more.

For too long I have been told the greatness of the South has come and gone and no longer will she rise again. For too long I have been told that because I am a Mississippian, I am born to live in the dirt. For too long I have listened to statistics, studies, and history that tells me I will live a below-average life. Not any more.

For far too long, I have been an outcast, called a “racist”, taunted for my upbringing, and laughed at because of my state. Not any more.

No longer will I stand by idly as my state is condemned by others who have never graced her boarders. No longer will I stand by idly as the history of my great home is used to judge my present. No longer will I stand by idly as an “uneducated and closed minded” back-woods boy. Not any more.

No longer will I let you judge me on the actions of a few. No longer will I let the murmurings of few reverberate louder than my Rebel yell. No longer will I let our history control our future. Not any more.

Now I will look to a bright future. Now I will look to myself and those few Rebels around me willing to make the leap of faith. Now I will shatter all expectations, break all the myths, and destroy the stereotypes. Now is the time.

Now we should look at our actions. Now we should open our eyes, close our mouths, and listen to the voices that were once gagged and trampled. Now we should put away childish things and become the new (wo)man. Now is the time.

No longer will I be quite. No longer will I avert my eyes. No longer will I turn to the other cheek. No longer will I stand idly

No longer will I watch as Dixie is condemned to live a backwards life. No longer will I let my school be defamed. No longer will I let my first love be trampled on. It is time.

It is time for the new South to rise. It is time for all to be equal. It is time be leaders of industry. It is time to be teachers, doctors, and engineers of our own futures. It is time for the individual voices to rise and the masses to stop huddling. It is time for us to stop bickering, complaining, and crying. It is time.

It is way past time equality was brought to the banks of the Mississippi. It is way past time for the voice of reason to be heard in the bayou. It is way past time the presence of unity to be seen in the field of cotton. It is way past time for the leaders to rise tall among the pines and magnolias. It is way past time, Mississippi.

Let us rise together, on equal grounds, with words of wisdom, open minds, and voices raised. Let us respect ALL, and not just the few. Let us raise up our new South, show the world the love of Dixie, and make this great land one welcome for all. Let us look to the future, embrace our past, and learn from the present. Let us not stand by idly.

Oh Dixie can’t you see?

On a hot and very humid day around mother’s day in 1992, I was blessed to be born into a hard working, Southern family. My ancestors, for the most part, have worked the soil in the great Mississippi for many generations. The rest, immigrated from humble beginnings with religions quite foreign to this land. All of my forefathers have fought in all the major wars, both foreign and domestic. I am proud of my heritage, my family’s legacy, and the country and state I call home. I have been blessed with a loving family, friends of all shapes and sizes, and a place like no other that ever calls me home. I love the sound of a hot rain as it falls on a tin roof, the smell of freshly blossomed magnolias, and the sensation of mud between my toes as I walk the banks of Old Man River. All of these things I hold near and dear to my heart and would fight till my last breath to defend the things I hold dear safe. However, there comes a point and time in one’s life to move on. No longer do I walk the halls of my tiny high school. My time as a student at The University of Mississippi has come to an end. Mississippi, with all of her majesty and glory, has taught me all she could, for now. Now I must move on to better and greater things. Now I must show the world what Mississippi has to offer. Now I must make old Alma Mater proud for making me her son. Now I must go and learn and grow so that I may one day return a changed citizen so that I may help those that live in the great state of Mississippi. There are memories and cherished times I will not forget. There are things, I’m sure, that will forever be in my heart. However, it is time. It is time to put away childish things and put on the new man. It is time to put on the whole armor of God and fight the good fight. It is time to be thankful for where I have been and look towards a brighter tomorrow. I love my great state, our great land, and my momma, but I cannot stand idle in these days. There needs to be an intervention, there needs to be hope, there needs to be a change. I am now, and forever a proud Mississippian, Southerner and American, but this great land we call home is in a dark and depressed time. Churches are no longer sacred. Citizens who are equal are not and fear for their lives. Lives are not cherished and hatred is bountiful. No one experience is the same, no voice the same sound, no hurt the same hurt. We are in a dark and depressed time and it is time for a change. It will be slow, it will be hard. Somethings will change, some will not. I fear for the future, I fear for my home, I fear for all who call this great land home. No longer will I hear the band play Dixie, as Dixie has lost its steam. I will always love the land I call home, I will always love the South, my beloved Dixie, but no longer can I stand idle, no longer can I turn away, now I must look forward, and fight for a better tomorrow. Oh Dixie, why don’t you see, you’re hurting you and me. Oh Dixie, don’t you see, you’re not the same as you sue to be. Oh Dixie, don’t you know, your past is starting to show. Oh Dixie, don’t you know, our great land is ready to blow. Oh Dixie, won’t you please, notice all the hurt that I see. Oh Dixie, won’t you please, see the hatred spread like disease. Oh Dixie, you’re hurting me.