I took a stroll down memory lane this morning and found this little blog I posted from two years ago. It’s amazing to me how certain themes can carry on through time and circumstance. Most importantly (I believe) is the reminder that you are a being worthy of love and respect simply because you’re you. And donkeys are still cute. ❤
It’s a cold, damp morning and I’ve just come in from spending time with the donkeys. As I’m here, warming my hands around my coffee mug, I’m thinking of things like Tink’s hoof, what Little Foot and I are going to do today, and the yoga class I’ll teach this evening and I’m having trouble navigating through my mind-chatter.
I’ve not written a new blog post in some time, although I’ve started many entries without success. Draft after untitled draft sit sadly and incomplete in the folder open on my desktop because I’ve had a difficult time sorting through the thoughts in my head enough to make any readable sense out of them. I suspect it’s because my confidence and esteem are struggling under the weight of endless rejections both in my efforts to make any kind of career out my my writing and out of seeing any sort of…
If you’ve been following my blog or social medias for some time, you may remember that I’m a yoga instructor. It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything regarding my yoga practice or teaching (which I’ll get to in a moment) but to give you a bit of background, I started practicing yoga when I was 16 years old—my mom and I habitually attended a Friday night yoga class at the local YMCA which was taught by a woman who we’d come to refer to as “The Queen.” Long down the road, after I’d graduated college, worked several years in the corporate world, and had a quarter-life crisis that resembled one of those fast-motion videos of a tarantula shedding their skin, I abruptly quit the rat race, went through a program to receive my 200hr yoga teaching certificate, and started leading yoga classes pretty much anywhere that would hire me.
Even when I moved away from my hometown out to Nowhere, Texas where the donkey named Bunny came into my life, I found a place a few towns over where I was able to continue teaching yoga classes. In a lot of ways, I loved and adored it. What I appreciated most about leading a yoga class was feeling responsible for providing a space where people could come as they were. I tried desperately to show love and provide support for those who came through the door no matter what kind of baggage they brought in with them. I also liked making yoga-music playlists—that became an odd therapy for me, especially when my anxiety would begin to spiral in response to some trigger. In these moments, I’d open Spotify and start building playlists, exploring recommended music, and losing myself in the rabbit hole of “we think you might also like this!” Thanks, internet cookies. Fast forward and at the time I moved away from Nowhere, Texas to Sort-Of-On-The-Map, Texas, I thought that finding a new place to teach yoga would be a priority of mine, but to date, it hasn’t. Every time I’ve opened up my computer to search studios and openings, my eyes glaze over, my heart begins to race, and I distract myself with something else. Old students of mine who enjoyed my classes have asked me why I’m not teaching yet and truth be told, I don’t have an answer. I, myself, have been left wondering why?
I’ve looked at simply attending yoga classes—reading about new studios and teachers with the thought that maybe I just need to get in and revisit my own personal practice outside the home without the responsibility to lead (afterall, we should all be perpetual students) but much to my dismay, even browsing yoga sites has become a massive source of anxiety for me. “We’ll help you find a better you!” “$20 off New Year’s Deal! Stick to those resolutions!” Filtered pictures of sweaty, toned bodies with expensive clothes. “Find your Zen!” even though the picture attached is a complex arm balance where you can tell by her abs that the model is straining to hold still.
Let me pause. I don’t mean to speak ill of these places. I am never against people wanting to get healthy and man, if you can go into a hot yoga studio and actually unplug and detox or whatever, then good on ya. No judgement, I promise. Please know, I’m not writing about you or at you; I’m writing about me and the very personal journey I’m on through my anxious self right now and we all have incredibly different stories. I hope you don’t take my opinions which apply to my place right now, personally.
Anyway, why, as a person who left it all to teach yoga full time all those years ago, have I had such a hard time connecting with practice outside of my own bedroom floor? (I do still practice yoga on my own three or four times a week before the sun rises…but my practice is a lot of sitting and listening to the birds wake up, gently stretching small muscles, and staring out the window.)
I ponder this often and deeply. Yoga is a big part of who I am…I mean, it’s one of the only things still in my life from when I was a teenager. At least I thought it was. It’s supposed to be a disconnect from the chaotic and fabricated hubbub of living in the 21st century: a reconnection to our roots and to the Earth so that when we walk around out there, we feel grounded. It’s supposed to help us from getting lost in it all.
But then I wonder, has yoga (and teaching yoga) for me, become a distracting vice, in and of itself? Instead of NOT getting lost in it all, have I lost myself even more? Is that why I cringe when I hear people say “wow, you’re really good at yoga,” because what is “being good at yoga?” Touching your toes? Doing a handstand? Is it why I feel uncomfortable and competitive when I attend yoga classes? I’m an instructor, I should be able to do the difficult poses, right? Otherwise, won’t people question my ability to lead at all?
Here’s an example: I remember years ago when I first started leading yoga classes as a fairly new teacher, I attended a class as a student and the instructor asked me to demonstrate a move where you jump from downward-facing dog into forward fold. This is not something I do at all, let alone, do well. I’ve broken both of my wrists, have short arms, and most importantly, just don’t like it…so I usually just walk up with little steps from down dog into forward fold when making that transition. I told the instructor this (he knew that I was also an instructor) and he responded with, “well, just show the others in the class what not to do.” All eyes were on me and in the moment, what I really wanted to say was, “well, what not to do is do anything you’re uncomfortable with” but instead, my fear of being seen as weak or less than (I was an instructor, too, after all) overtook me and ego made me demonstrate the jump in the best way I could. It was not good and the instructor laughed and said, “okay, now you’ve definitely shown us what not to do.” Everyone else chuckled, too. I spent the rest of class with bright red, burning and embarrassed cheeks and tension in my whole body because I was illustratively, “what not to do.”
Granted, I’m sure this instructor had no malicious intention of putting me on the spot like that and to his credit, I am very good at camouflaging my discomfort in public settings to be perceived as confident and completely okay with being the center of attention (even when I am so, unbearably, not.) But the point is this: yoga is not about forcing yourself into uncomfortable positions or movements, especially because you feel like you have to for others. Yoga, like art, is highly personal and uniquely interpreted and tailored to the yogi’s (artist’s) interpretation. Are pretzel-like inversions your honest expression? Or is it leaning against a wall noticing the way your belly moves around when you breathe for a whole hour? I think both are correct, just depending on what you actuallyneed in that moment of practice.
Which brings me to my original point of this blog: why I haven’t talked about or taught yoga in so long. I believe it’s because that’s just where I am right now. That what I actually need is internal exploration deeper than the movements traditionally offered in yoga classes. Yoga for me right now is learning to connect more deeply with my innards and I can’t seem to honestly do that when someone else is suggesting different moves and breathing patterns. It’s learning from a trusted source how to discover just how much tension I’m holding in my pelvis and what that’s doing to the rest of my body to which it radiates. It’s looking through holes in my heart that are there because I was bullied as a kid and grew up thinking that it was my job to please everyone around me instead of seeking out my own truths. It’s actually rooting with the Earth by feeling the blood pulsing through my veins in the same way water rushes through rivers.
Yoga for me right now is walking around out behind the barn and seeing just how green everything is becoming out there…smelling the rich growth that’s happening right before our eyes and surrendering myself to its majesty. My gosh, nature is glorious therapy. Yoga is going for a walk with my donkeys because they don’t give a flying #!&* about what others in the room may be expecting of them…they exist in every moment and if you let them they’ll pull you right smack-dab into the epicenter of the present with them. And they’ll do it gently. They won’t put you on the spot. They won’t tell you if you’re doing a good job or not. They’ll just be with you.
So for now, teaching yoga is not what I need. Even a few months ago, I don’t think I could have admitted to that or confessed it because I think society teaches us that self-care and boundaries are often selfish. Or that if you’re not going-going-going that you’re not as good as everyone else. Meanwhile, we’re walking around anxious and depressed and spending hours scrolling on social media and binge drinking to distract ourselves from the fact that we are so disconnected from our own truths that we’re scared to even begin looking. I can’t help but think that many of the serious, physical ailments I dealt with over most of the last year had a lot to do with seriously distracting myself from what was really going on inside and just going harder and harder so I didn’t fall behind everyone else. Is it worth our health and longevity? I doubt it. Please note, my journey is unique to me and because I’m overly sensitive and spin into an anxious mess at the thought of ever offending anyone, I want to be very clear that I, in no way, extend judgement to those of you out there practicing yoga or teaching yoga regularly in whatever setting you find fulfilling for yourself. My experience has led me to this place and I write about it 1) because I write shit down to work it out, 2) because it’s been heavy on my mind and heart for some time, and 3) because I’ve been reading words and spending time with people who have helped me realize that it’s okay to follow your own, true path and that you should be respecting your sweet selves, regardless of any preconceived expectations of you.
All this being said, I made the time this past weekend to make a trip to reconnect with one of my all-time favorite yoga instructors down in Houston, Texas, Amanda Field. Her and I go way back and it’s been nearly 6 years since I’ve seen her or attended one of her yoga classes. My blog stats tell me I get a lot of readership from the Houston area, so if you happen to be looking for a place to practice yoga that does not judge you, force you into anything, compete with you, or treat you like nothing more than a profit margin, I recommend connecting with her and attending a class at her brand-new studio which is set to open in just a couple weeks. She is knowledgeable, always learning, candid, welcoming, and specializes in helping tailor movements to most fit her student’s needs (and when she can’t find the move or prop to meet her student’s needs, she just goes on and creates something to assist! Check out her product: The Yoga Triangle). She is the type of instructor I strive to be when I am teaching and even better, she encourages others to practice yoga as self-expression and art. You can find out more about her and what she offers here: https://www.amandafieldyoga.com/
If nothing else, I would suggest trying to make some time to hold a mirror up to your face, so to speak. Make sure you’re taking time to look inward to ask the tough questions, to see the scars, and to make yourself a priority. We have to undo the notion that to self-care is to be selfish. As the saying goes, you can’t serve from an empty cup. Go fill up. NamasBRAY, Jess
It’s the middle of the night. Last time I looked at the digital clock on my nightstand, it said “2:44” and that seems like hours ago. I’m laying on my back with the blanket balled up beneath my chin and my eyes closed, hoping that somehow, someway, sleep will take me. I know in my gut that it won’t, but I try anyway. I do this more often than not—lay awake at night hoping for sleep typically without success. It’s a common thing for us to do, to have our minds flooded with fragments of every small memory, distant worry, running checklist, and distracting thought the second our heads hit the pillow: I know this because I see enough of my friends post memes about busy-minded insomnia to know I’m not alone. But damn, if it isn’t exhausting. I sigh, roll over into a fetal position, and open my eyes to see that it’s 3:30 now. One of my dogs must sense my movement because from across the room, I hear the tinkling of a collar.
At this point, the bed is no longer comfortable and the silence and darkness have become a perfect and chaotic breeding ground for toxic thoughts to pour from the pockets of insecurities that I carry around, so I slide out from under the blankets. It’s cold out here. Draped over the dresser is my flannel shirt which I grab and wrap myself in as I head into the living room. Tucker, the dog with the tinkling collar, follows me. The floor glows blue in stretched out moonlight and is cold under my feet. I sit in my favorite spot on the couch and pull a throw blanket over myself. This side of the couch—my preferred side—is a perfect looking spot next to a window that faces the barn where my three donkeys are snuggled in, hopefully nuzzled together and not busy-minded like me. The thought of their thoughts makes me smile. Last week, my vet came out to perform Bodhi’s castration and as he was waking from his sedative, the vet told me he often wonders if donkeys dream. “They’re so smart, you know,” he told me in his gruff, East-Texas accent, “and I’m just curious what they must dream about. Surely they do.” I adored my vet before this comment but when he said that, my admiration for him leveled up. He gets donkeys. He wonders about their dreams. He, my vet, was there the day Tink died. It was a Saturday afternoon and we had to call him out in an emergency. He was there within 20 minutes of our call and stayed until we said our final goodbye. At the time, I didn’t know him very well, but he hugged me tight when I crumbled and began to weep. I left smudged mascara marks on his brown vest. I think about that often. The barn is blue in the moonlight and above it, a perfectly clear, cold sky twinkles with a few, bright stars. It’s been dropping down to the 20’s at night which for us here in Texas is brutal. The throw blanket tugs and I break my gaze with the barn to see Tucker nosing the blanket. Tucker will be 10 this year and for at least the past 6 years, he finds his way to me every single time I sit in my spot on the couch with a throw blanket and my legs curled up beneath me. I adjust myself and lift the blanket, allowing him to hop up and curl into a perfect dog ball next to my legs. I cover him with the blanket and he sighs. This is our assumed position.
I stroke the shape of Tucker’s back and look back to the barn. Bodhi’s recovering beautifully from his castration. I’ve seen many donkeys castrated and it’s never phased me a bit, but seeing your own baby who you used to bottle feed under the knife like that is a whole other story. He’s a little fighter though, our orphaned donkey who tried to steal the Christmas tree. He’s already back to his same, silly shenanigans.
Somewhere in the distance, I hear a dog bark. Tucker tenses and from under the blanket, the shape of his ears perk. “Shhh,” I say to him, stroking his head, “it’s okay.” He sighs again and relaxes. But is it? Is it okay? Who am I to know? Maybe a dog is barking because someone’s house is getting robbed somewhere. Or maybe someone has abandoned their dog and he or she is terrified and calling out for rescue. Or maybe that dog heard another dog who heard another dog and the bark chain actually started out in Louisiana somewhere because a tree fell down in someone’s backyard. I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s okay. I wonder if my vet was able to get the mascara smudges off of his brown vest? I haven’t been able to work up the nerve to ask him or to offer to buy him a new vest if he wasn’t able to get the stains out. I mean, in my experience, mascara comes out of clothes pretty easily, but what if? How can I know and why am I afraid to ask? And how is it that we can exist on the cellular level and a cosmic level all at the same time? Our cells are constantly regenerating and our imaginations can wander anywhere in the known (or unknown) universe. Isn’t that wild? How infinite we are? And so how, in our vastness, can insecurities about trivial things travel around with us everywhere we go? Why does it matter? Who cares about what other people think and why am I still worrying about a conversation that went badly with an old friend a decade ago? Tucker sighs again and I realize my whole body has become tense. I close my eyes and take in a deep breath all the way to the bottom of my lungs. I hold it there for a few seconds, then sigh it out. I do this again, breathe in all the way, hold it, and let it go. I do this over and over and over until it’s quiet…until my muscles relax over my bones like jelly. Mascara does come out of clothes. I know this. And sometimes, dogs bark for no reason and conversations go badly. It just happens. That’s okay. The clock above the mantle says it’s nearly 4:30am and so I figure I ought to go ahead and get my day started. I pat Tucker on the rump, grab my coat and boots, and head out in the cold morning to feed the donkeys and muck their stalls. The moon is bright behind the trees leaving everything a glowing blue.
I breathe in deep, the air cold in my gut, and sigh it out in a small cloud that floats away towards the few stars competing with the moon’s gaze. Cosmic, indeed.
It’s a typical mid-morning here at the ranch where I’m folding laundry back in the bedroom and King Ranch is fixing something (I’m not sure what) in Little Foot’s room. Outside, it’s unseasonably warm (thank you, Texas weather) and everything has a golden crispness to it beneath a cloudless sky. I have an audiobook playing through my phone, “First, We Make the Beast Beautiful” by Sarah Wilson. It’s an amazing listen and for anyone who lives with or struggles with anxiety, I highly recommend giving it a go. It’s a book that for me, is full of life-changers. I’ve nearly reached the bottom of the laundry basket when from the living room, I hear a crash and the tinkling sound of delicate things bouncing across the tile floor. I drop the yoga pants from my hands and rush toward the noise. Both of our dogs are barking and running in nervous circles and from down the hall, King Ranch and Little Foot come running.
At a shaky, 45 degree angle, our Christmas tree is headed towards the open back door. Ornaments and needles are falling like raindrops and the light cord is about to pop from the wall outlet. King Ranch lunges for the tree as I dash to wrap my arms around the culprit engaging in this Grinch-like thievery…Bodhi, our not-so-baby donkey. Somewhere beyond the barking dogs, I can hear Little Foot crying, “No! Not the tree! No!” and small, grunting curses from a struggling King Ranch. Bodhi whips his head back and forth with a branch clamped between his teeth, sending more ornaments and needles scattering across the floor when finally, he lets go. I shuffle Bodhi outside as King Ranch props the tree back up vertically. “No. Bad donkey,” I say to Bodhi, pointing my index finger at his nose which has a few pine needles stuck to it. He looks at me with wide, playful eyes — I swear, he’s laughing. Ha. Now I am, too. I can’t be mad at this face. I wrap my arms around Bodhi’s neck and scratch the sides of his face. He leans his weight into me. Little stinker. I’m sad to report that none of this was caught on video, the chaos having exploded too abruptly, but I do have video evidence of what it looks like to have a baby donkey know how to open your back door:
After re-adjusting the tree, picking up the ornaments, and reassuring Little Foot that Bodhi was just trying to share the tree and not steal it (we had to make a deal with him that we would put a tree in the barn next year so the donkeys could have one, too), our day resumed with its mundane tasks. I backed my book up to where I’d left off and, although covered in donkey hair and pine-needles, I picked up the yoga pants I’d dropped and resumed folding. — This happened a few weeks back and I’ve only just had the opportunity to write about it. Since then, I’ve been trying to list out my goals for this year and besides the usual trying to live healthier, watch our money, do good deeds daily, etc., I’ve landed on wanting the new year to be filled with a bit more sobering innocence. This is an already mean enough world with lots of dark and scary things…but sometimes, your baby donkey sneaks into your house and tries to steal your Christmas tree. And sometimes, days are just otherwise mundane. One of the things Sarah Wilson talks about in her book I mentioned above are tasks that you do daily — making the bed every single morning, for example, or spending a little time every day while the coffee is brewing to meditate (the cool thing about meditating being that even if you’re bad at it, it still helps!) and how grounding those rituals become if you actually stick to them. Most importantly, there is a lot of good happening everywhere all the time. There are sparks of light in the dark. There are people who hear you and see you and want to embrace you for your good and your bad because they see that at your core, you are a being worthy of love. There’s a lot of cute and a lot of innocent and I think those things are worth highlighting. It may not make the bad stuff go away, but like that old saying goes, “It’s better to light a single candle than curse the darkness.”
I think that’s what I’d like to do better this year: light more candles. Happy New Year, y’all. Let’s take this a day at a time 🙂 NamasBRAY.
P.S. I want to thank all of y’all who have shown so much support for my children’s book that came out nearly two months ago. I would love to hear your feedback / see photos of you, your kiddos, your critters enjoying the book. If you’d like to share, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you haven’t snagged your copy yet, there are still some available! Get yours here: Tink the Bravest Donkey
P.P.S. If you’re interested in getting a copy of the book I mention above, “First We Make the Beast Beautiful,” you can find it here. I promise, it doesn’t disappoint.
My children’s book, Tink the Bravest Donkey, is on sale now here! 100% of the proceeds are going to the non-profit, Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, which were the folks responsible for bringing Tink into our lives in the first place.
May you always feel as brave as a donkey. NamasBRAY.
I realize I’ve fallen into this habit of beginning my blog posts by describing something that I’m up to when my thoughts begin to twirl and tumble around some thing that I’ve been worried about, obsessing over, or working hard to accomplish and I think it’s because I do my best kind of pondering when I’m busy with something. Moving meditation, perhaps. Or maybe it’s because I am able to occupy some of the busier parts of my brain with a task, thus allowing room for the deeper, more thoughtful areas of my mind to stretch their limbs a little. But as you may have read in one of my recent posts, ‘Magic Eye,’ things have been moving pretty fast around here lately and I suspect that the entirety of my conscious mind (even those deeper and more contemplative areas) are in a constant state of “all hands on deck!” It’s times like these that I have historically neglected my blog and writing in general so that I can focus on giving my mind a rest, slowing down, and practice being in the present moment a bit more: a mental cocoon.
The holidays don’t help, either. It feels like a madhouse out there. Everyone seems stressed out, on edge, in each other’s face about something, and just plain rude. I get cut off on the freeway more this time of year than any other and have to deal with angry emails and messages with ALL CAPS because someone wants to be VERY CLEAR THAT I KNOW THEY’RE YELLING ABOUT SOMETHING!!! *sigh*
Because of all this, I realize that I must make the time for my own silence. Whether that’s turning my computer off for a while, finding a new set of trails to explore, or simply leaving my phone inside while I go out and hang with my donkeys, I’ve got to press a pause button and go tend to my mushy mind. Really, we should all be making our self care and self love a priority. Your car stops running when you don’t fill it with gas, so what are we all doing running around on empty? Burning out and getting angry, that’s what. Go tend to your sweet hearts, y’all. Reflect. Ponder. Be still. Know that your contentment and peace comes from within. It’s there. You just have to find it. Before I go for a bit, I do want to share something really exciting with y’all. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may remember that I’ve been working on a children’s picture book that I wrote in memoriam of our dearly departed boy, Tink. (If you’re unfamiliar with Tink, you can read one of my previous posts about him here). Well, I’m so very proud and excited to announce that my book, ‘Tink the Bravest Donkey,’ is finished, published, and now officially on sale! And best of all, 100% of the proceeds from this book are going directly to the non-profit responsible for saving Tink in the first place and bringing him into our life, Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue. With these profits, they can save more donkeys in need, just like Tink.
This is something that is so near and dear to me which I’ve poured my heart into and admittedly, getting it out there has me incredibly anxious. The world can be kind of a scary and often mean place for people who put their hearts out on display, but I’m braving my way through it as best I can. Afterall, that’s what the protagonist of my book teaches us: that we can all be brave and maybe, just maybe, that’s how we connect more deeply with one another. If you’d like a copy, you can get yours here: http://www.donkeyrescue.com/books.html
(There’s also a link to it in ‘Links to my Other Stuff’ in the menu at the top of the page.)
If I don’t connect with y’all beforehand, have a wonderful holiday season. Be sure to make time for yourself. Take care of each other’s hearts. Be kind. Find silence. Try not to allow the callousness of the world to make you cruel or afraid…instead, try and find that strength and love that sits deep within your soul and give it permission to emerge with all the beauty and glory that you could possibly imagine.
#tbt to ‘An End’ which I posted one year ago today; it feels as if a lifetime has happened since that big shift. It also feels like the snap of my fingers. So strange.
I’m glad I decided to keep telling stories and even more grateful that y’all have continued to watch this here Donkumentary unfold with me. Admittedly, upon re-reading this post, I choked up at the picture and mention of my boy, Tink. I miss him so much.
Here’s to that big ole wheel forever turning in the sky and the infinite possibilities before us.
The sun’s retreated beyond the piney treetops as I’m driving in my rickety-red truck due south. The heavy, low-hanging clouds are reflecting the sunset so brightly that the neon pinks and oranges seem unreal—a dramatic sky spray-painting. I’ve been on the road for over four hours hauling a trailer behind me which is carrying a riding mower and I have to say I’m proud of my old truck for making it this far with a heavy load in-tow. I never thought I’d be someone who was proud of a vehicle yet, here I am.
On the passenger seat next to me in a dog crate is my hen, Wednesday Addams, and her three, newly hatched chicks. Without a working sound system in my truck, I’ve spent the last several hours listening to the peeping and chattering of Wednesday’s new, little family. They’re not sure what to make of this trip…
Several years ago, when I inadvertently adopted a donkey named Bunny (and subsequently Tee, Tink, and Bodhi), I decided my voice would go to donkeys. They are the sweetest, smartest, kindest creatures around who have spent decades, nay, centuries being mocked, overworked, and vastly underappreciated. Now, they’re being slaughtered by the millions across the globe (4 million last year, alone) and still being found abandoned, neglected, abused, and just plain forgotten.
In addition to my writing & blogging, I work for the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue: those who were responsible for saving donkeys like Tink & Bodhi. Tink was saved from a terrible situation of severe neglect that almost killed him (and left him without a front, left hoof) and Bodhi was a newborn who was found abandoned by his mother in a windstorm, desperately trying to hold onto life. Both got a second chance because of Peaceful Valley. We are a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization run entirely on private donations and so, if you’re someone who participates in #GivingTuesday or just have a couple extra dollars to spare, please consider helping us in our mission to save donkeys across the country. They need a voice, too.
It’s dawn. Somewhere behind the trees, the sun is shifting, although the sky is still holding onto a few bright stars in her darkness not yet touched by the waking light. I’ve slipped my boots on over my flannel jammie pants and am pulling my hoodie over my head. It’s in the 30’s out there which, for us native Texans with thin blood, is brutal. The dogs scatter around my feet with their tails wagging and claws scratching the tile floor: they’re ready to run around in the cold and to chase squirrels or rabbits who often explore the yard in the wee hours.
I open the back door, the cold scratching my face, as the dogs sprint past me and out of sight. I cinch the hood around my face as I walk towards the barn, leaves crunching beneath my boots. The donkeys know I’m coming: Bunny begins to bray, followed by Tee, and finally the little honk of Bodhi brings up the rear of their morning chorus. I smile.
This is how I begin nearly every morning as the sun stretches her arms with me. I suspect we’re both routinely unsure of how the new today might go but by golly, we’re gonna do our best to shine and spread warmth anyway.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog, although it’s not for lack of trying and certainly not for lack of what I believe to be valuable content. It’s as if things have been too busy and too fast to focus on any one thing. Life these days has felt like one of those old Magic Eye images that used to be in the newspapers: busy graphics that make no sense until you can relax your gaze enough to see a definable image appear. Between my cross-country travels to advocate for donkeys and surprising new successes with writing endeavors, little room has been left over for me to situate myself in front of my laptop with a glass of wine and a story to tell.
I slide open the barn door and three sets of ears are perked up high, no doubt, waiting for breakfast. “Oh it’s a good morning,” I say in my sing-song voice as I use a knife to cut the twine on a fresh bale of hay. “It’s a good, good morning for my good, good donkeys.” Three faces are hanging over the stall doors, noses flared, and eyes wide. It’s so warm in here. The truth is, I have lots of stories I want to tell. I want to tell y’all about going to Death Valley and meeting real life wild burros—burros that are descendants of those who built the American West. I want to tell y’all about how old life is out there in those mountains. I want to tell y’all about the Public Market in Seattle where I had, hands down, the best champagne I’ve ever had in my life with company that made me smile so hard my cheeks hurt. I want to tell y’all about the email I got from a publisher who wants to get my writing out there for more people to see and how my heart nearly exploded when I read it. I want to tell y’all that in just a couple weeks time, my very first book….my book…will be debuting and ever better, the proceeds from that book are going to save donkeys. I want to tell y’all about how it snowed the other day and about how I had to run out to my garden and harvest what I could before it froze too hard and laughed when the only thing that actually bloomed in the whole garden were three green beans. Three. Three beans. I want to tell y’all about the weekend with some old friends where we sat around my kitchen table for hours trying to play dominoes, but instead derailed over and over into talking about life and how much it means to all of us that our paths have crossed the way they have. I want to tell y’all that my friends said some things to me that resonated deep within my soul: they told me things about myself that I hadn’t realized and truth be told, I’m still trying to process it. I want to tell y’all all these things and more but I just can’t seem to relax my gaze enough to describe the image that I know is hiding somewhere in that Magic Eye: the form which must be the bigger meaning in all of this because in a weird way, it all feels connected.
I finish mucking the stalls and stand in the barn for a moment watching the donkeys eat their hay, their tails swishing from side to side. I’ll head in soon where the coffee will be finished brewing and Little Foot will likely be waking up. I’ll hold him and ask him about his dreams and twirl his curly hair between my fingers. I’ll watch the way he uses his hands when he talks and be so tickled that every day, his smile is looking more and more like my own: crooked, toothy, and a little too big for his face. After opening the gates for the donkeys so they can head out to pasture when they’re done with their hay, I hang the shovel, pull my hood back over my head, and walk back towards the house. I suppose that for now, it’s okay if I don’t see a single, pronounced figure in the Magic Eye illustration: maybe instead, right now it’s about appreciating all the little shapes, textures, colors, and patterns that seem to swirl around themselves, especially in the peripheral. That’s how you spot wild burros, after all: you don’t see them in your line of vision—you only notice them out of movement in the corners of your eyes. I learned that in Death Valley recently. Or maybe, this isn’t about a single, hidden image at all. Maybe instead, it’s about stepping back and watching the kaleidoscope turn with images that shift and spin and allowing yourself to be present for each of them so you don’t miss a thing.
Either way, I am unbelievably grateful for life’s recent chaos. I’m grateful to have so much going on that my story-telling is rambling and stammering a bit more than usual. I’m grateful for the doors that have opened, for the people and donkeys who have walked through them, and for the chance to connect. I hope that you, reader, are seeing your own stories unfold and are witnessing every color and shapeshift within them. And if you feel a little lost, maybe try and relax your gaze in an effort to see that hidden figure emerge…or step back and see all of it as one giant, wibbly, wobbly mess with indescribable intricacies. But whatever you do, don’t take your eyes off of it…whatever it is for you. You don’t want to miss it, trust me.
A couple weeks ago, I did a brave thing and, on my own, decided last minute to drive across the American South to go see my favorite band play a show in Atlanta. Although it was a very quick trip (having set out at 3:30AM on Saturday morning and arriving back home at 6:00PM the next day…that whole story here), the dominoes from that small yet grand adventure are still falling down, piece by piece.
I found that this thing happens when you’re in the car by yourself for nearly 13 hours one way: you’re forced to just be with yourself. With your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel, and your mobile service unavailable because you’re travelling through vast acreages of fields that aren’t reached by cell towers, you’re left with just your own mind for company. In a time of limitless distractions at our fingertips, having the opportunity to be undistracted and present is both thrilling and terrifying. I was somewhere in Louisiana under a cloudy sunrise, waist deep in questioning and beginning to hyperventilate over all my life’s decisions, identities, successes, failures, isms, and neuroticisms when I suddenly remembered that days before, my younger brother, Joey, had sent me a preview of his brand new album that is set to drop in October. Oh, sweet distraction, there you were. With a sigh of relief, I pressed play on track 1 of Pelican Jones’s debut album, ‘Coal, Sea, and Fire.’
It didn’t take long for me to realize that this wasn’t the escapist distraction I was, in my habitual avoidance of facing my own demons, hoping for. Instead, Joey’s songs, one by one, seemed to throw doors open in dark rooms, allowing light to pour into places that had been locked up for some time. Dust floated around in the white light and roaches scattered under the wooden floor boards and there, as I started seeing signs for Mississippi, I discovered that I was even deeper in self-discovery than when I started the album. So much for a distraction. Joey has this strange and unique talent where every single instrument he’s picked up since he was a kid, he’s managed to not only learn how to play it, but also master it. I’ve heard him play the guitar, trombone, banjo, accordion, every single percussion instrument, and I wouldn’t be surprised if in his repertoire was a set of bagpipes. He’s just that kind of person. Track after track played, each with a unique personality, each with a story, and each with satisfying chord progressions that, even without lyrics, tugged at that ole limbic system that shoots chills down your neck. Indeed he can play every instrument: instruments of the musical kind but also of the emotional connectedness kind. I’ve talked a lot in my blog about how my donkeys are what help keep me present and so totally in each moment when I’m around them. I’ve talked about how reading Neil Gaiman books helps me escape from my own anxieties by dropping me into magical stories in far away places. I’ve talked about how listening to Old Crow Medicine Show helps me feel accepted and seen because in the world they create, there are no strangers regardless of where you’re from. I’ve talked about how cheap, red wine takes the pointed edges off things when they get too sharp and when I’m leading yoga classes, I feel grounded. As I crossed the Mississippi river, the sun finally breaking through the clouds and sparkling off the water’s wake, I realized that my brother’s album was providing a safe space for my own deeply seeded feelings about things—a space which can be really difficult to find. To me, ‘Coal, Sea, and Fire’ is an album about exploring and examining the less travelled paths of our pasts . It’s about throwing raw feelings onto the cutting board like an uncooked slab of roast not with the intention of throwing around blame or to self loathe, but to start digging into it with a knife to cut out that fat so that when it’s done cooking, it’s the best tasting version of itself.
Whether we’re willing to admit it or not, we all come from complex pasts, exist in complex minds, and have complex futures ahead of us because to be human is to be complex. Anyone who says they have it all figured out has simply stopped digging. I believe we could dig into our own psychies for eternity and never reach the bottom of ourselves which seems terrifying at first, but also incredibly exciting. How wonderful that we never have to stop learning and growing. The deeper the roots grow down, the higher the plant grows up…and that’s what this album felt like to me: an encouragement to dig and dig in an effort to grow and grow.
After the album ended, I tried to call Joey to tell him how impressed I was with his musical abilities (I didn’t know he could sing like that!) but alas, I still had no cell service. As I started making my way through Mississippi, alone again with my thoughts and feelings, I found that I didn’t panic in them like I had been before. Instead, I just started picking at them—pulling up layers upon layers without feeling the need to do anything but simply observe. No criticisms, no indulgences….just the recognition that, like every other human on this planet, I am complex, from a complex past, with an inevitable complex future and that is so worth exploring. Afterall, it is in the exploration of ourselves that we find understanding that allows us to connect that much more with others and isn’t that what life is all about in the end? Our ability to connect with and uplift one another? I like to think so. Coal: our solidness. Sea: our fluidity. Fire: our passion…
…and all the ups and downs that go with each of those. I think that this newly found confidence in observing my feelings without distraction and fear made way for what was probably a much more fruitful experience of the Old Crow show than I would’ve otherwise had having spent all of that time alone, sleep deprived, and deep in the belly of my mind’s beast. Instead, I was able to so totally let go, be present, let the music and the scene move through me, and as I arrived home the next day, I swear I felt like I was able to be closer to my donkeys, too. Side note: I played “Where Did All The People Go” for my donkeys when I got home and unsurprisingly, they seemed to enjoy it. They like banjos. They have good taste.
Two weeks removed from my solo road trip and indeed, the dominoes are still falling—the undoing of life-long habits and such. I’ll be heading out on another grand adventure soon, this time the travel will be centered around donkeys and donkey rescue, so stay tuned for updates on that!
Until then, I’m reminding myself to not be afraid of or flustered by digging a little deeper. The deeper we go, the taller we grow. (Also, falling dominoes can be very satisfying to watch, even if you weren’t ready to knock them all over.)
To keep up with my brother and his new band, Pelican Jones, you can follow him on Instagram @pelicanjonesband or visit his website here: https://pelicanjones.bandcamp.com/