It’s You, Baby

It’s morning rush hour as I inch along in my gray car on a 10-lane, gray highway beneath a swollen, gray sky. The whole world is a heavy gray and the weight of it all seems to rest right in the center of my gut which turns with a groaning sound. Start, stop, start, stop. Inch, break, inch, break. Sweat beads on my brow which sucks because today is a day that I have actually and carefully applied makeup. I dab at my forehead with a crumpled napkin from the center console.

On the passenger seat next to me is my travelling-reading bag which I’ve toted around to several schools who have invited me out to read my book, “Tink the Bravest Donkey,” and talk donkey rescue with their students. Within the bag are several signed copies of my book, the actual blue boot that Tink the real donkey used to wear, my laptop, a Tink story board, and little bracelets to give away. I’m on my way to an elementary school to read for several different groups and for reasons which I’m unsure, I’ve spiralled into a full on panic attack.

This isn’t the first time this has happened, not by a long shot. As a person living with anxiety, it’s not uncommon for my mind to spin out without warning at the most inopportune times. I used to think there was something wrong with me—like physically wrong—when this would happen. I’d be fine, going about some mundane task, when all of the sudden, I’d start having trouble breathing in. Was something wrong with my circulation? Was I having a heart attack? Stroke? Only in the past couple of years have I understood that these symptoms were not physical sickness, but unrest from deep within my mind.

Google maps (my forever driving companion) tells me my exit is in half a mile, but still, it takes me nearly 15 minutes to get there because of the heavy traffic. Inch, break, inch, break. I’m so worried that the giant, shiny pickup truck that’s been riding my tail with what must be only centimeters between us is going to bump into me. Why won’t they back off? Why do people do that?

I feel nauseous and the idea of being sick to my stomach only deepens the worry that I’ll have to take a vomit break while trying to read my story to eager students. You have to breathe, I tell myself over and over, but it’s about as useful as telling my dog to stop barking when the squirrels chirp at her from high up in the branches. Try as I might to pull my breath down to the bottom of my lungs, over and over it breaks at the base of my throat.

Finally, I exit and pull off to a gas station on the corner of a busy intersection and park in front of the Stop-n-Shop which advertises Monster Energy drinks, buy one get one free. I imagine two of those would make your heart explode. Mine feels like it might right now. I’d planned my commute to get to the school about 20 minutes early, so I have a few minutes to spare. I unbuckle my seatbelt, lean back in my chair, turn up my music, and close my eyes.  

I’ve learned over time that panic attacks are not situations from which you can just “calm down” because they’re not a mood and at least in my experience, they’re not even circumstantial—at least not consistently. They’re sporadic, sudden, and often inexplicable. In the case of this morning, am I nervous about doing several presentations at this school? Sure, a little. Who isn’t nervous to perform no matter how well they know their subject? Also, this is my first children’s book: it’s a really big deal to me. But I’m not afraid. I’m not panicked about it. This attack is coming from somewhere else—somewhere deeper and over high heat. It’s water bubbling up and beginning to boil because the fire’s hot under that pot.

After several minutes of trying to picture jellyfish-like movement of my breath, I open one eye to look at the clock and realize that I need to be on my way. I don’t have time to sit here and wait for the panic to pass, so I sit up, pop myself on the cheeks a few times, and back out of my parking space.

In my mind as I near my destination, I start reciting lines from my book. “Cock-a-doodle-doo, what’s with the shoe?” The kids love this part because I ask them to make rooster sounds with me (and as loudly as they can). I also recall a comment on one of my Instagram posts a while back where someone told me that the rooster is their child’s favorite character.  “‘Cock-a-doodle-cool!’ The rooster said.”

I pull into the school’s parking lot and grip my steering wheel tight. You’re going to be fine, I tell myself again and again, even if I can’t quite believe it.

I check to make sure I haven’t smudged my makeup, grab my travel bag, and head towards the school’s front door.



I’m happy to report that the presentations I gave all went wonderfully. It seems that as soon as I got busy with the task at hand, there was no more oxygen left for panic to consume. The children were amazing, the staff was amazing, and I suspect that donkeys gained some new, little advocates.

I write about this because there are many of us out there—many of us with anxiety, panic, and depression in our brains and I for one have spent a lot of time scared and ashamed to admit it. I’ve feared judgement, distrust, and condescension because to much of our society, mental health is still wildly misunderstood and often pushed aside or swept under the rug. The more we avoid talking about it, the more stigmatized it becomes and the more myths about it perpetuate. Studies show there are 40 million people in the US who have anxiety disorders. That’s no small thing. And it also means you’re not alone.

So my victory I share with you in case you might need it as a tool in your toolbox: apparently the remedy to my sudden and inexplicable panic was busyness with something that I couldn’t (and certainly didn’t want) to wiggle my way out of. I put one foot in front of the other until without me realizing the shift, I was breathing normally again. The distraction must’ve snuffed out the panic attack. I suppose it’s along the lines of what we give oxygen to is what will live and breathe—although I recognize that it’s not always that simple. An anxious mind rarely has the ability to compartmentalize, so it’s not always easy to pick and choose what you allow to breathe. But who knows, maybe in some instances, it’s exactly what’s needed.

The bottom line is this: your mind is a beautiful thing—lined with panic or not. It’s powerful and complex and nothing to be ashamed of. Love and care for it deeply and always because it’s you, baby. It is your most powerful tool, your most valuable asset, and it’s you. You are worth nurturing. You are worth taking the time to understand. You are worthy of love. You as you as YOU.

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Scatterbrained Showers

Finally, my favorite days. I’ve written about them before: the days where it’s warm in the sun and cool in the shade. On and off I take my flannel shirt as I move across the yard beneath spotted shadows of spring-heavy trees. The ground went from washed out to tangled jungle in a mere handful of days, so I’m tending to her with my myriad of second-hand tools that clink and clank with rusted age. Yard work is my favorite work, especially on temperately blissful days like this one. Like the eager plants around me, I could swear every cell in my body is reaching for the sun.

Bodhi and Tee are playing donkey games in the yard while Bunny stands at the fence  grooming the neighbor’s horse with her teeth. Around my legs, Ron Swanson the Rooster and Trixie the dog chase each other endlessly. This unlikely friendship is one that even the grumpiest of curmudgeons can’t help but smile about. I post about them often on my Instagram, if you’re a ‘grammer.



My last post was a dreary one in which I swore the storms were never going to end. It’s difficult to feel optimistic when the ground is continually washed away along with any real hope for stability and growth while the world around is a blur of colors that you can’t see through clearly even though you want to so badly. And indeed there is more rain in the forecast in the coming week.

But as I stand outside among my funny family of seemingly sunshine-drunk animals and leaves that are practically unfolding before my eyes, I’m reminded that all of this is just an infinite series of small moments. One after another they come, an endless film strip that moves so quickly sometimes, it’s hard to tell what you’re looking at until it’s passed—images already fading softly in your memory.

The sun has dropped behind the trees now with only small bits of light shining through the holes between the leaves as a chill crawls along my arms. I untie the flannel shirt from around my waist and head towards the barn where the donkeys bray because sunset means dinner time and they know I’ll be there with their hay. I always will. I suppose those routines are roots in their own way.

As light slips down the barn walls, I take pause with my donkeys, stretching the fleeting moment as long as I can because with them, I am present. I am here. I am rooted so firmly that no amount of scatterbrained showers can wash me away. Day after day, the donkeys remind me of this. They hold down my kite string when the wind turns wild.

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Like pulling eggs delicately from the chicken coop, I think the best we can do sometimes is pick up one moment at a time as they come, examine them, and tuck them carefully into our apron. Some of the eggs might be bad—it happens—but typically, as long as you’re handling them the right way, they’re going to be just fine.

Time for Silence

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.

NamasBRAY. ❤

 

 

Giving Tuesday

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.

https://donkeyrescue.org/

 

Magic Eye

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.

Much love and NamasBRAY.

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Falling Dominoes

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.’

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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.

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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/

“A Place For Us All Here”

They ain’t lying when they say it’s always darkest before dawn because it’s about a quarter of 6AM and the surrounding darkness is almost suffocating. I’m on a winding, two-lane highway which slowly and repetitively climbs up then dips down between heavy pines with dangling, skeletal fingers. Signs tell me that I’m fixing to cross over the Sabine River into Louisiana.

For the first time in probably thirty minutes, another vehicle appears around the corner in front of me and I quickly turn off my car’s brights. They do the same and I have to say how much I love the respect we strangers show each other during overnight driving. Rarely in my dark drives have I ever experienced the motorist who fails to turn off their brights and I think that says a lot about how polite people are just by nature. I’d wave, but they won’t see me—I imagine they think about waving, too. As soon as they pass, I click my brights back on. Long, curvy lines of yellow reflectors. Piney fingers. Slithering fog in ditches.

I’m ashamed to admit it being a native Texan and all, but I’ve never been to Louisiana. My friends give me a hard time for this. “What? You’ve never been to Louisiana? New Orleans? But you’re so close!” I know, I know, I’ve no excuse. But then here, around this corner, I come upon a break in the trees and the highway turns into a bridge and halfway over the bridge, my only travel companion, Google Maps, interrupts my audio book and says, “Welcome to Louisiana.” I smile.

The bridge ends and here I am: Louisiana. Maybe it’s the profound darkness, the solitude, or the fact that the fog sure seems to be collecting more and more of itself, but Louisiana feels different. Not even a mile past the Sabine and it feels like I’ve entered into a distant and strange land. As they say, Google Maps, we’re not in Texas anymore. I have about ten hours left to go on my planned drive to Atlanta, Georgia. I should get there by 5PM their time which will be just in time to head on over to The Tabernacle to see my most favorite band of all time, Old Crow Medicine Show.

My decision to make this trip is barely a day old: completely impulsive and last minute and the thrill attached to that kind of pseudo-recklessness is the real caffeine I need right now, just before dawn. This is exhilarating to me and also a bit chilling because coincidentally, as I’m making my debut travel through Louisiana, my audiobook moves to the next story: ‘Bitter Grounds’ by Neil Gaiman. For y’all who are unfamiliar with this story, (and if you are unfamiliar, I would recommend picking up his book of short stories, ‘Fragile Things,’ because they’re the kind that stick with you) it’s about a man who has decided to start driving without a particular destination and, on his own, ends up in New Orleans where…well…I won’t give spoilers. I begin to imagine that I am like that man, just driving and driving. This is not the first road trip where Neil Gaiman has kept me company. I hope he knows I’m grateful for this.

“Why are you driving to Georgia?” my mom asked me when she called yesterday and I told her of my newly hatched plan. I couldn’t really give her an answer. I didn’t know why I suddenly had this red-hot urge to just go somewhere and I suppose I still don’t really know. She wasn’t a fan of this plan, her being a perpetual worrier like me. I assured her I’d be fine and also, I had a knife in the center console which I know how to wield, so…all good. I could feel her eyes roll through the phone.

On I drive through an eventual pink sunrise, a small rain storm, sheep-clouds, no clouds, acres upon acres of cotton fields, and then fields of…what is that, soybean? I’m not sure. Corn, cotton, and wheat are the only crops I think I can pick out when they’re in fields.

Mississippi,

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Alabama,

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and then finally, Georgia.

I get to the venue early. I want to be in the front row because last time I saw Old Crow, I’d ended up in seats that didn’t give me any room to dance until I hurt which is, as far as I’m concerned, the proper way to behave at one of their shows: reckless, wild, and completely unhinged from everything. When they’re on stage, nothing else in the entire world matters. They are such, sweet freedom. (And darn cute, too.)

So I dance. I dance and I sing and I clap until my hands begin to bruise and sweat is winding down my spine and there, in the glow of the shifting lights and rhythm pulsing through the room, I am free…

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…free…

“Free from what?” I wonder as I bounce and sing and slide my gaze over all the elated faces around me while completely alone in an unknown place. Then I realize it: I’m free from my worries. Oh my dang worries, my parasitic worries. They stand no chance here.

I’m not shy about the fact that I struggle with anxiety. Part of my dealing with it is constantly trying to break the stigma around mental health issues. I have anxiety? You have anxiety? Or something else? Not a big deal. Let’s love each other a little more for it so that we can create platforms to deal with our emotions in healthy and supportive ways. Our brains and hearts are so utterly complex and can feel so deeply that it’s not surprising that they can get a little out of hand from time to time. It’s up to us to not judge ourselves, but to instead be grateful for our layers and learn to explore and manage them effectively. As Mechanical Morty says, “Your feelings are not only forgivable, they are the very meaning of life that only pre-silicon, carbon-based entities can ever grasp.”

Free. Hoo boy. Sublime.

Sadly, the show ends and as the overhead lights turn on, I wander towards the exit, my body buzzing with fatigue, excitement, and something else I can’t quite put my finger on. People are everywhere, chatting and laughing with one another. They’re holding hands and kissing and finishing drinks out of plastic cups. They’re laughing and singing lyrics to songs they’ve just heard and when I make it back outside to the fresh air, I realize how badly my face aches from smiling for so long. Everyone is smiling…everyone…big, toothy smiles; and we’re all smiling at each other. A tall man with an impressive beard gives me a high five for no reason. A woman with a long, purple skirt and braided pigtails tells me she loves my boots. We’re this migrating flock of dazed yet connected people wandering in all directions, drunk off our asses from the consumption of Old Crow’s heavily intoxicating energy. It’s glorious.

I want to stick around to see if somehow, someway, I can meet the band so I can tell them just how much they mean to me (because they really, really do) and also by this point in the night, I’m craving human connection. For a few minutes I linger, but in the nearly midnight air, the hours of my travel and sleeplessness begins to descend heavily upon me. Also, I’ll have to walk to the nearest hotel alone and while there’s still a crowd, I figure I ought to be on my way. Just before I wander off for rest, one of the band members, (who’s a hell of a whistler, come to find out) Mr. Cory Younts, appears from between some buses and I want to thank him for handing me a guitar pick which I’m rotating between my fingers in my pocket to ensure I don’t lose it. As I stumble to find some coherent words to say (of which I don’t really find any), he agrees to take a picture with me. I wish I could thank him again for that.

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In my hotel room, I lay and stare at the ceiling still rotating the pick around and around between my fingers. It’s one of those ceilings that looks like an aerial view of intricate mountain ranges. At some point, I drift to sleep because I dream of being at the show, only this time I had a faceless dancing partner, but then suddenly, I’m wide awake and it’s only 2:00AM.

After another hour of trying to fall asleep without success, I decide to just leave and head home. I’d be able to take my time this way. I could stop in Mobile or maybe even New Orleans since I’ve never been.

So I do. By 4:00AM, I’m driving southwest through Georgia towards Alabama. The roads are empty on this early, Sunday morning but for the occasional driver. We turn off our brights and turn them back on as we pass. A silent wave. Polite by nature. I love it.
As the sun rises in my rearview window, I’m back to wondering why I decided to make this trip. The handful of people I met before and during the show who learned that I’d driven all the way out here alone from Texas were surprised that I’d do such a thing. I guess I’m a little surprised, too, but I like the idea of putting on a brave face and doing something a little crazy. I like the idea of being brave (and I sure as hell like the idea of seeing Old Crow).

On stage last night, Mr. Ketch Secor asked the crowd to turn to the people around them and tell them “you matter.” I did. And I was told, too. In addition to just loving the living daylights out of their music, I love this about Old Crow: their humanism. The lyrics of their songs touch the rawest parts of us: our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses, our excitements, our ability to connect but to also let go. I love life in Old Crow songs.

Indeed, no one should feel a world away, even when you’re quite literally, 850 some odd miles away from anything familiar. I didn’t, despite my solitude departure. I didn’t because in Old Crow world, there is no stranger. There is no worry. There is freedom to live and to love and just be without anxieties and judgements. They create this space just by being them. In Old Crow’s world without any kind of goggles, there’s just humanity: beautiful, complex, deep, cosmic, and smiling oneness. There’s a place for us all here.

I realize now as I head home that I needed that place. It’s been a heckuva summer with lot of challenges, changes, and uncertainties about what the future holds and I think I’ve allowed myself to get swept up and a little lost in it all. But last night, free as a mocking bird and alone but not lonely, I realized that whatever is on yonder past that curious and uncertain horizon is just that: yonder. I’ll get there.

The rest of the drive home is mostly uneventful. I do stop and see a few things but by the time the afternoon rolls around, I start itching to get back to check on my sweet donkeys. Upon arriving home, dazed and light-headed, a chorus of brays erupts from the pasture. Before even going inside my house, I leave my duffle bag on the hood of my tired car and head straight for the barn where a few sets of long ears are waiting for me. They nip my arms and swish their tails and I’m quite positive that if I had a tail, I’d be wagging it, too without one little worry in the whole, wide world.

“There’s a place for us all here and ain’t it enough?” – From OCMS Song ‘Ain’t It Enough?’

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