The Second!

Greetings and happy completed rotation around the sun! As we start the next lap of this bizarre, aging, linear (but also cyclical?) journey called life, I’d like to take a moment to say how deeply grateful I am to still be on this wild ride even if there have been scary, upside-down loops, the kind of drops where your stomach lurches into your chest, and some kid who barfed along the way in just the right spot so that it landed on you in that spiraly section that was previously the one stretch of the dumb coaster you actually enjoyed. God I loathe roller-coasters, but I agreed to go because according to my friends and family, I should “try new things and quit being such a grouch about activities that involve bright colors and loud noises.” Fine fine fine…

It’s been a tough year in many ways for all of us, it seems. But hey, this rotation is a new beginning, right? Right? I don’t know. I don’t like to buy into the “New Year, New You!” commercialism campaign that suggests that you’re not good enough so let’s set a date to make you better by buying protein powder and lotion that claims to eliminate cellulite. Of course, if there are things you’re working on to better yourself, your health, your well-being, your ability to connect, your climbing out of the dank, muddy hole that you keep slipping down into, well, hop up on that horse and ride into the new year with great ambition! This blue marble is your oyster, as they say. Giddy-up! Slurp down that raw mollusc and conquer!

I finally caught an oyster that I’ve been searching for for a long time. As y’all know, my first children’s book came out last year and it’s been a hit! I’ve sold more copies than I ever imagined I would and as promised, every bit of profit from those sales has gone to saving donkeys. Like, real life donkeys that need it. Real life donkeys that, no dramatics here, would’ve otherwise died. So thank you. Thank you for your support. Thank you for sharing in my excitement. It means more to me than darn near anything.

But back to that oyster. That beautiful, sparking oyster that has stayed a step (slide? slither? dragged motion?) ahead of me is finally in my hands and I am so proud and excited to announce that my second children’s book is officially on sale! “Will You Be My Val-Equine?” is a children’s book geared towards a little younger of a crowd, ages 2 – 5. It’s a story about a donkey who, in search of someone to be his Valentine, meets many new friends along the way that, although all different on the outside, are strikingly similar on the inside! I am lucky enough to have had the same illustrator, Andy Griffiths, attached to this project who once again, brought this story to life better than I could’ve imagined!

Y’all know I’m a self-admitted Holiday Curmudgeon, but I saw an opportunity to show that yes, we are all different on the outside with our own pasts, personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and histories, but we’re also very similar when you think about it. And just like “Tink the Bravest Donkey,” this book will have 100% of the proceeds go to the non-profit Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue (recently featured on CNN Heroes!) Right now, we’re running a deal in our whole gift shop where you get 20% off your entire order when you use the promo code 2020. So if you have a Valentine, kiddo, cousin, niece, nephew, grandkid, person you’re trying to impress, or just want to contribute to a great cause with a cute, cute book about oneness, then hop on over to donkeyrescue.com to get your copy!

I appreciate all of y’all. I appreciate all of y’all so, so much. If you find yourself feeling lonely either in life or just in your mind, try to remember that you’re not. We’re all on team Earth which keeps going, even if she’s feeling tired, sick, or under-appreciated. Happy New Year. Let’s keep making it better.

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Softness

I’m sitting in my spot—the one in the far, left nook of the couch by the window that looks out towards the donkey’s barn and pasture—as my coffee cools and the night is swelling into its final, heavy moments before the prick of dawn. I spent the fifteen or so minutes before this trying to meditate without much success. Meditation for me looks more like a whack-a-mole game of trying to silence my internal dialogue. Relax your face, I tell myself. Soften your shoulders. I don’t know how I’m going to respond to that angry email I’ve let sit in my inbox for a day. I guess it was my mistake that got me there, but it was a mistake nonetheless. And I owned it. But the world seems so unforgiving these days.

Relax your throat. Deep belly breath. Notice the crickets outside. Mistakes are supposed to help us grow. We are supposed to embrace mistakes as learning opportunities so that every day, we can do just that much better. But that email. The failure. The broken glass on the floor with me standing over it. In many ways, I’ve always been clumsy. 

Soften your eyebrows. Unclench your jaw. Imagine your breath is a jellyfish gently propelling itself through darkness. I’m sorry, I’ll say, I misunderstood. Because I truly did. I thumbed through my notes which I remember jotting down with what I later learned was incorrect information. My cheeks get hot and red when I realize I’m wrong and a giant hole opens up around my heart which swallows it into a pit of shame. 

Whack-a-mole. Whack, whack whack. So I abandoned my not-so-quiet spot on the floor, made myself some coffee, and settled into my couch nook.

I take a sip of my coffee which is mostly cool now. My brother makes fun of me for preferring room-temperature coffee. I don’t like hot coffee and I don’t much like cold coffee either. Hit me with that middle ground. This makes me smile because my brother never pokes fun with harshness, only silliness. He’s appalled at my coffee preferences and habits (because I also do this thing where I’ll make a whole pot of coffee, only drink one, cool cup form it, and spend the next three days pouring my morning coffee from the same full pot I brewed days ago instead of making fresh coffee). But he never makes me feel bad for it. He just laughs about it which in turn, makes me laugh. Actually, his recognition of my (albeit strange) brewing practices makes me feel seen.

Dawn will break any moment. To me, the anticipation is exciting every single morning. Sip. Breathe.

I recently finished watching the Amazon Prime series, “Good Omens,” which is based off the novel written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. It’s a fantastic read (and wonderful listen if you’re an Audible subscriber) and I’m happy to have found that the television series is just as remarkable as the book. They did a phenomenal job adapting the story for the screen. I highly recommend.

I bring this up because there’s a moment in the television series where the angel, Aziraphale, sighs and says, “I’m soft.”

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Since finishing the series, I think about this moment often. 

I’m soft, he said. I’m soft. 

My chest still feels hollow and empty as my shame is berating my heart somewhere else that I can’t see, but boy can I feel. I absolutely loathe making mistakes. I hate letting others down, of course, but I also know that a misstep means the beast of self-consciousness is fed. I close my eyes. Stupid, stupid, stupid. 

“I’m soft,” he said. And he said it with a sigh. With a release. With a surrender. 

Softness. 

Softness, I think, is porous. My big donkey, Bunny, keeps relapsing with what’s called “white line disease” because her hooves are soft and porous. It’s been raining nearly non-stop for months which hasn’t allowed her desert-evolved-hooves to dry out and bacteria thrives there. Only in dry, open, and clean air can white line disease start to heal. The hooves need to harden and in hardness is protection. 

Maybe I’m soft. Maybe that’s why the monsters of doubt, anxiety, and depression thrive in my being like bacteria. My face feels so hot. I hate screwing up. How could I be so careless?

I take another sip of my cool coffee. The blackness outside has shifted into navy blue. Ron Swanson, my rooster, perches on the fence and crows—a deafening break of silence. 

I’m soft, I realize. I’m soft. 

I picture Aziraphale’s face and try, too, to surrender to the idea. I let go of the tension in my face, my shoulders, even in the muscles between my ribs. I let out an audible sigh. Ron Swanson crows again. 

But softness is what allowed Aziraphale to become sympathetic to the human race and even, I think, fall in love with them. Softness is how Aziraphale was able to connect with and find a partner in the demon Crowley, ultimately saving the world through their camaraderie. Softness allowed them to see one another. 

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Softness is why my brother making fun of my coffee habits doesn’t hurt my feelings. He sees me as a person with unique traits and I receive the comments as being seen as an individual. Softness is our ability to see one another as humans with strengths and weaknesses. With talents and flaws. With complex histories and room for growth. Softness connects us, it doesn’t block us out. Heck, softness is why I got into donkey rescue in the first place—because those long ears and thoughtful eyes passed through the netted walls of my soft heart and found a home in there and I never, ever, wanted to see another donkey suffer.

To be soft is to be vulnerable and to be vulnerable, in my opinion, is to be brave. Knocking down the calloused walls knowing that the rawness behind it might be seen or judged by others takes strength. To recognize, admit, and own missteps with the intention of improving moving forward is something that as imperfect beings, we should all be trying to do. No one is perfect, so bust down that wall that you’ve built around the insecurity of not being perfect all the time—it’s not doing you any good.

I learned quickly as a novice gardener that the soil must be tilled, soft, and porous in order for plants to find strong rooting, ultimately allowing them to grow larger and hopefully, bear more fruit. So maybe if we till ourselves, allowing the surface to soften from time to time, we’ll experience growth in ways we hadn’t previously imagined. We’ll see each other as individuals with complex pasts and beautiful minds—that in our collective imperfection is infinite possibility for growth and connection. 

I’m soft. 

I’m soft.

I’m soft and for the first time all morning, I don’t have to remind myself to relax. Let flow, the feelings that rise. There is so much to learn and so much room to grow.

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Just a Little Minute

It’s an early, spring morning where dew is dripping down in little “pit-pats” from the brand new leaves sprouting in these heavy, East Texas woods. I’m in the barn placing hay in the hay feeders as Bunny and Bodhi push and shove each other to get the first bite…but where’s Tee? My third, littlest mini donkey is usually right in the middle of the scuffle for breakfast.

I step out of the stall to find him on the far end of the pen looking out into the pasture with his eyes and ears on high alert. Wiping the hay from my sleeves, I walk over to him and squat down. He doesn’t move his gaze.

“Whatcha lookin’ at, bud?” I say as if he’ll answer. I follow his line of vision, but see nothing out in the pasture. From inside the barn, I hear hay crunching and am surprised that Tee hasn’t gone in there yet. What does he see?

I scratch behind his ears asking him again, “What is it, bud?” and for a moment, he lowers his ears but then immediately, they shoot back up like he hears something. I stand and squint, but there ain’t nothing out there so far as I can tell. Unless there’s something in the woods beyond the field?

“Come on,” I say to Tee, motioning to the barn and taking a few steps back, “ let’s go eat bud.” I click the back of my tongue. He looks back at me, but won’t move.

Then I start to worry.

“Okay, bud,” I say and get behind him to shuffle him towards the barn, but he doesn’t want to move. “Let’s go eat. Eat? You wanna eat?” (the donkey’s know what the word “eat” means.)

Geeze almighty, is he sick? I take a look around. Having not yet mucked the stalls, I look to see if there are more or less droppings than usual. Nope, all looks normal. I place my ear against his belly listening for sounds. Yup, regular sounds.  I lift his lip to check his teeth and gums. They’re good. I even pick up his feet to see if they’re tender. They’re fine.

My heart is pounding now because it’s just not like him to not eat. He loves hay time. Of all my donkeys, Tee loves hay time the most!

He’s standing there now staring at me with wide eyes and pointed ears. “Come over here, bud,” I say, squatting down and opening my arms. He doesn’t move. He just watches. He must know I’m panicking. The only reason I can think he won’t eat is because he’s sick.

Oh no. Should I call the vet? I should call the vet. Right? This just isn’t like him and I swear, I see nothing out there. Even if there is something, nothing’s ever kept him from being my most eager donkey when it comes to hay time. I start to walk back into the barn where I left my cell phone on a shelf so I can call my vet when Tee snaps his gaze back out toward the field.

I pause and turn my gaze too and from behind a tree, a small rabbit darts through the grass and disappears into the woods.

Tee holds his gaze for only a moment longer and then lowering his ears, quickly trots past me and into the barn. He nudges Bodhi to the side to share from his feeder and then just like every morning, there are three, little crunching donkeys standing in a row.

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I let out a long exhale and shake my head. Lord. A dadgum rabbit. I grab my shovel to start mucking, the dew pitter-patting all around as the sun continues to rise on this early, spring morning.

I suppose sometimes it’s all about taking just a few, quiet minutes to be still and let that thing which alerts and worries us to feel safe enough to come out of hiding only to find out that maybe it wasn’t that scary in the first place. Maybe just because we don’t see it right away, doesn’t mean we should jump to the worst, possible scenario. It’s probably just a dang, ole rabbit hiding the grass who’s far more scared of you than you are of it.

Also, I need to get out there and mow…spring has sprung, indeed.

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Mini Tee & Me

 

A Big Thing: Read Across America Day

As a writer and an anxious person, I spend a lot of time dissecting small stuff. I live for small stuff. Tiny moments. Little pieces of much bigger things. I want to see and understand every single brick because otherwise, the house won’t make sense to me. This can be annoying to others because I’ll get hung up on facial expressions or word choices, refusing to skim over the details when trying to get to the bigger picture. It’s why I obsess over things and find myself in the wee hours of the morning, staring out into the darkness with snippets from my past playing on repeat in my mind which have been mulled over to the point of non-recognition.

Because of my obsession with the small, when big things happen, I’m often rendered speechless until the bottom feeders of my anxious mind have had a chance to devour the meat off the bones of the big thing, ultimately breaking it down into something small enough to wrap my head around. It’s why I wait so long to publish posts on my blog after big things have happened. So many of my posts have said things like “I’ve been trying to write for days about [insert event here] but just haven’t been able to find the words” or other, similar statements.

For days now, I’ve been like a snake with the shape of an egg in my throat: full, unable to speak, and so unbelievably happy because last week, a really big thing happened. It’ll likely be months before I unpack all the perfect, little details of that day, but I can’t wait that long to share and to thank the people responsible for making it happen.

Last week, I was invited to read my recently released children’s book to the students of McDougle Elementary School for “Read Across America Day” and I’m not exaggerating when I say it was one of the best days of my life.

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This was the first opportunity I’ve had to read my story to anyone other than my own kid and the few people who helped me out during the editing process and so of course, I was nervous. I wondered if the children would receive it. Would it be meaningful to them? Would they get the message? Would they even care enough about donkeys to pay attention?

Yes. Yes to all of it.

I’ve since been told that many McDougle students went back to their classrooms and drew pictures of donkeys. I’m told several students have said they want to rescue donkeys when they grow up. I’m told that students have come back to check out books about donkeys in the school’s library.

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I was able to do three performances for children ages 6 – 10. Before reading the story, I’d prepared a short slideshow with cute pictures and videos of donkeys and the real Tink. I wanted to share some of the really cool things about donkeys that most people don’t know before diving into the story. They loved it. After each performance, McDougle’s amazing librarian, Ms. Julie Zachary, came up to ask the students what they thought the message of “Tink the Bravest Donkey” was. They’ve been talking a lot as a school lately about themes in books and it never failed that when she asked the question, a student would raise their hand and say the book was “about being nice to others.” That it was about how “we shouldn’t bully others because they’re different.” Another said it was about “being brave” and another, that it was “about donkeys.”

Yes. Yes. YES. YES!!!

Y’all. I mean. Golly. Where are the words? I don’t have the words. It’s just too big right now.

Thank you so much to McDougle Elementary School for having me out to read to your amazing students. What wonderful kiddos. They were so engaged, so sweet, and so thoughtful. Special thank you to Ms. Julie Zachary, the school librarian, for putting together the whole thing and to Catherine Chance for making the connection.

I’m sure I’ll come back to this once I’ve had the chance to digest it a bit more. There will, no doubt, be many mornings of sipping coffee at dawn while pulling apart the fabric of every detail of this most amazing day and in those fibers will be small, magical discoveries. But for now, I am just so thankful. I am so excited. I am so touched. And I am so happy.

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I really hope to have the opportunity to share my story and the love of donkeys with other schools because empathy for animals and others begins with our children! If you or someone you know would be interested in having me come read at your school, please feel free to send me an email at adonkumentary@gmail.com

Interested in purchasing a copy of “Tink the Bravest Donkey” in which 100% of the proceeds are going to save more donkeys like Tink? Get your copy here!: http://www.donkeyrescue.com/books.html

Grateful to Guest Blog!

I want to extend a very special thank you to our friends at Donkey Time for allowing me to write a guest blog on their beautiful site! Since my children’s book, “Tink the Bravest Donkey,” went on sale, I’ve been asked how this story came to be. Check out the backstory on my book and learn all about how indeed, the real-life Tink was and will always be the bravest donkey.

That story here: Tink: the little donkey who dared to be different

And if like me, you’re an advocate of donkeys, give Donkey Time a follow! Their site is packed full of donkey resources and stories from around the globe!

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Forever our boy, Tink.

Gratitude. Hope. Happy New Year.

We end the last year with gratitude…
Gratitude for our time together,
For memories,
For support,
And for kindness.

We begin the New Year with restored hope…
Hope that kindness will continue to prevail,
That love will fill our hearts,
That our voices will be used for good,
And that together, we will make a difference for all creatures.

Happy New Year. Thank you for an amazing 2018. I can’t wait to see what beauty lies ahead.

NamasBRAY. I love y’all. -Jess

A Quick Bit About My Book (On Sale Now!)

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.