Mellow

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Muted Bison, Watercolor, 6″ x 6″ original, $40

Remember when you were in 8th grade or so, loved your church youth group because the older kids had to be nice to you AND every week you got to sing songs about love in 4-part harmony with choreography, and at least once a year a LOCK-IN at the fellowship hall and auxiliary youth building seemed like a good idea? Remember how exciting the concept was, though in reality you hated spend-the-night parties and had you stopped to consider what you would eat, wear, or look like by 8 a.m. the next morning you would never have considered going? What grown-up EVER sanctioned these?

Last night I attended a lock-in for adult photographers and friends. It lasted all of 2 hours and 5 minutes, and I was there for work, not to sing, pray, or flirt with boys who never liked me to begin with but had to follow the acceptance rules of the youth group and the social norms of the South. There were no locks. It was a relatively interesting Fall Photo Festival hosted by Yellowstone National Park and the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, and the only real similarity to a lock-in besides feeling like my breath was getting worse by the minute and being fully dressed way past my bedtime was the feeling of being completely trapped. That is not nice to say when several of the slide shows were presented by personal friends and the final series was absolutely worth waiting for. I had to step out of the room during the next-to-last presentation into a dark, rainy, uncomfortable night just to prove to my face and my aching head that I was NOT locked in and to keep from yelling “SHUT. UP!!” at the man talking way past his 5-minute allotment about nothing and himself. As the representative of one of the hosting entities I could not yell shut up, which I don’t even say in real life, to a presenter at my photographic lock-in. It does make me wonder how many Sr High youth wanted to scream that at 13-year-old me.

Here’s the thing (don’t you know there’s always a thing). The guy who was last should have been #10 of 15 or 20 presenters. In truth he should have been first but didn’t sign the list when he arrived. He drove 2 hours to get there early, has to work this morning 2 hours from here, and sat through EVERYONE else’s photos wondering why he didn’t get introduced when it was his turn. When the mistake was realized and he was finally up he was cheerful, funny, warm, and delightful. Maybe even delighted. Certainly unfazed. He didn’t need rain on his face to mellow his mood and he wasn’t on fire with the injustice or exhaustion of being trapped and last. He even spoke with me before the shindig started about how he doesn’t really need photo credit for his pictures if they are promoting a cause he believes in. How do you remove ego so completely from creating? How do you keep your moods from going to your head or your mouth or your way of being with other people? How is he so mellow?

My newest goal – besides 14 consecutive days of yoga and digging my electric toothbrush out from the bottom bathroom drawer – is to maintain a level of warmth and love despite circumstances and surroundings. Mellow despite mood, considerate no matter considerations. I love a worthy goal almost as much as a youth group and I love a muted bison in blues and browns. We’ll see how it goes but it can’t hurt to mute a few raucous colors and soften a few edges. If the whole point of a lock-in is to love and sing in harmony and accept bad breath, and the point of fall is to trade in golds and yellows for greys and whites, then waiting to be last should not be a problem and yelling shut up should never cross my mind. A little snow and rain have put out the burning wildfires. I think a little patience and compassion can mellow my harmonies and choreography.

 

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Rain Dance

imageThis morning I did a rain dance in the woods. Not to bring the rain but to celebrate the four sprinkles I felt on my head. I do not know how to do a rain dance nor do I know enough about the beautiful and deeply held beliefs of those who do, and I hope my ignorance will not come off as disrespectful or stereotypical. MY rain dance was just a thank you to the sky that dripped water on the wildfires, that tamped down the dust on the road I was running, that fell in small drops just long enough to make everything smell different. There was quite a bit of kicking, some hopping and some spinning going on, and I called the dogs to me so they could wag and spin too. The music in my head was more of a hymn than a rhythm, and if the whole thing sounds beautiful you’ve got it all wrong. It was awkward and graceless, joyful and breathless, but not beautiful. Not a dance that would make the cut for reality TV, the Psalms, or any rain god who happened to be up and watching at 6:55 a.m. on a Thursday.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I’m thankful for woods to kick and hop in, and I’m thrilled it rained today and may rain more. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. A wet weekend would normally ruin my golden September but this year would send me off on a damp, grey spree of cartwheels. This is Dallas Jr., a horse I hadn’t planned on painting, but in this off week I’ve been having he’s appeared in pieces over the last few evenings, comforting me and surprising his sweet owner Carla. I don’t know where raindrops and paintings come from. I don’t know how to summon them. I’m graceless and breathless fairly often. But I know enough to celebrate when there’s something to be thankful for and to welcome what comes with a dance.

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Foreground

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Neighbors, Watercolor, 6″ x 6″ original,  SOLD

Everywhere I look there’s advice. Most of it is good. I can’t argue with drinking more water, getting more exercise, recycling plastic, taking the stairs, remembering to breathe, and driving the speed limit. Who doesn’t want to arrive alive? Offering hospitality to strangers, prisoners, hungry and sick people gets a little harder, but I get it, and turning the other cheek, well, maybe I’ll pick that back up again in September. I saw this list the other day and liked it enough to keep it: Show up early. (Check.) Think less. (Are you sure?) Feel more. (Is that REALLY a good idea?) Ask once. (Ok.) Give thanks. (Got it.) Expect the best. (Oops.) Appreciate everything. Never give up. Make it fun. Lead. Invent. Regroup. Wink. Chill. Smile. And live as if your success was inevitable, and so it shall be. I’d say this week I’m earning a solid C- if you’re judging by these criteria.

It’s all great, it is. I appreciate the tips, and sometimes it’s just the permission I need to carve out my own free time (because no one else is going to create it for me), or to go to bed a little earlier (because I’ll be a better AND more beautiful person with a full night’s sleep). Sometimes though, and maybe it has everything to do with the late August angst I mentioned in my last post, all this helpful suggestion business just tangles my way and obscures my view. You can’t exactly tell a motivational cocktail napkin or refrigerator magnet that you’re doing the best you can so will you Please. Lay. Off. Thank you preachy t-shirt, I’m being as kind as I can be today.

I am determined to start September without advice, sayings, lists, and tips. I have decided the key for me will be to do one thing at a time, and do it as well as I can. For the next month I will not muddle. Especially in the summer, which is probably why it wins every time, I do too many things not well enough simultaneously half-heartedly without finishing anything and wonder why no one is impressed. I will DO what I DO with gusto and clarity. I will RUN in the mornings even if it’s smoky and I’m lazy. I will not stumble along and play a Scrabble word with my mom while the dogs run ahead. If they are limping or I am sore, we will all walk together, on purpose, deliberately. No one will need to remind me to breathe or be present or wink or smile. When I’m driving I will DRIVE, and when I’m at work I will do one small task AFTER another until my list and my desk are clear. Not one task in the midst of another or instead of another. I will RIDE. Paint. And turn that other cheek if the occasion presents itself. Which I have to wonder about – maybe if you’re not doing 16 things in a C-minus manner, you never feel slapped in the face to begin with.

When I showed these cows to Pat some mention was made of kelp. Cows swimming in kelp. He was kidding, and likes the cows, maybe more WITHOUT the leaves in the foreground but likes them. A perfect portrayal though of how July and August have felt to me. One or two people who read Cheap Art have asked if I’m ok. If I’m sad. They sense a melancholy in my writing. Perhaps, but I don’t feel sad. I feel sleep-deprived, strung out, worn thin. I need more yellow, more oxygen, more clarity. I need less muddling and more focus. Welcome September. Cows weren’t meant to swim in kelp or take advice from cocktail napkins. I’ll let you know how clearing out the foreground goes, and if it opens my way to do better.

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True Colors

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Wild Herd Series III, Watercolor,  6″ x 8″ original, SOLD

I find myself humming little bits of this old Cyndi Lauper song lately, or singing odd lines while I’m thinking other thoughts. “I see your true colors shining through – almond butter or cashew butter – I see your true colors and that’s why I love you – rats I meant to text Megan back about hemming her pants – so don’t be afraid…” and then I realize I’m full volume in the grocery store for no apparent reason.

I heard a Maya Angelou quote quoted last week, and it resonated enough to write it down. Got your pencil handy? “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” It speaks to the part of me hurt more than once by the same person, the same behavior, the pattern I should have seen or paid more attention to. I’ve been cold-shouldered, overlooked, and seen the same ugly side of the same few folks enough lately to feel Ms. Maya’s truth: Fool me once shame on you and so on. I believe given enough time people will show you, perhaps over and over again, who they truly are, and sometimes those true colors, lurking all along, are not so pretty.

BUT. Last week I attended the most beautiful baptism in San Francisco. The bishop spoke of forgiveness and rebirth, of old ways dying and new shared values creating a “beloved community.” He reminded me that some colors we choose and some choose us as we try, perhaps over and over again, to get them right, to make them shine, to become more vivid or more subtle or both. That it’s less about the finger-pointing Aha! moment of true colors exposed and more about the forgiveness and grace of true colors accepted. Maybe you’ve got a red streak or you tend to be blue. I’ve got this thing for yellow. It occurred to me that if someone shows me who they are repeatedly, because we’re not always the same and we’re not always pretty, I can work with the way their colors blend. I call myself an artist after all. There’s no shame in fooling me twice or three times if I keep believing in and loving every beautiful attempt. Wild herds and beloved communities are messy and colorful, and we can’t know them with one glance or only one chance. I think Cyndi might have this one right: we’re beautiful like a rainbow.

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Yellow

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Wild Herd Series I, Watercolor, 4″ x 6″ original, SOLD

Just so you don’t think I’ve fallen off the artwagon and worry that three more years will pass before I paint again, everything is fine. July and August had to mostly come and go for me to find my rhythm again, but I’m fine, you’re fine, the artwagon is fine. Three separate cross-country trips, record visitation in Yellowstone with ripples felt in town at work and on every road I drive, the daily dog horse and dinner show, two solid months without oxygen due to pollen and wildfire smoke, and I think we can call it. Summer has kicked my ass again. Every year it happens, and every year I promise it won’t happen again. I see it coming, I know better, I will be proactive, I will spend time with my friends, I will balance work and home, I will ride and run and do more yoga, I will make time and homemade pie, I will devote myself to being efficient effective and present. I will be sweet. I will take one day, one task, one breath, one sneeze at a time, and I will appreciate every face, every morning, every trailhead, every day. I’ve done most of these things all summer with the exception of more yoga, and summer still won.

I have several friends who get sad when the days become noticeably shorter, when weekends left to ride can be counted on two hands with fingers to spare, when morning frost nips at vegetable gardens and noses. I understand. I get that winter is a much more formidable opponent than summer for many of my Montana crew, and the first frosty exhales and parting geese are like the scary music that foreshadows the head-spinning demon in a horror movie. I don’t watch those movies and no one I know would admit facing down another winter scares them, but that little niggle of “I’m not ready!” when the grasses change from green to gold is involuntary and universal.

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Wild Herd Series II, Watercolor, 4″ x 6″ original, SOLD

I saw my first yellow aspen leaf yesterday. Yellow has always been a happy color to me, a sunny welcoming color. My room growing up was yellow, and when I paint with all its versions it feels like Easter eggs. This yellow leaf was bright and quivering, and signaled summer’s triumph over my silly human efforts to outpace it, and welcomed the beginning of a slower, calmer season. Less green, more yellow, more time, more artwagon. Ready or not here we come.

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Why The Long Face?

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Long Faced Cow, Watercolor, 6″ x 12″ original, SOLD

Lots of bad news floating around out there. One story bleeds into the next, literally. Lots going wrong, lots of sadness, anger, fear, pointed fingers, long faces, tense bodies, curled mouths of hate. Why does a long face denote sadness? Is it the tug, the gravity, the womp womp womp of a face stretched downward that speaks of sorrow? Hey Cow, why the long face? In this case, it’s simply because her nose is too small and a little off-center, which from my point of view would be cause for celebration. My perspective was off when I drew her, and now she seems sentenced to eternal melancholy and slant. Don’t worry – turn that frown upside down: I have sent her to a happy home where her face will be toasted and her flaws embraced. A sweet shift in perspective and she’ll live out her watercolor days in joy and southern light.

A week ago I was cooking up something in my head about how we can maybe love each other through crazy times, how our everyday kindnesses and offerings can perhaps shift our perspectives and sustain us in small and beautiful ways, but Anne Lamott said it better, first, and to a slightly broader audience. Read her here. She took the words right out of my mouth. And then actually crafted them into a gorgeous, warm, delicious-smelling gift of homemade goodness that I could never have baked for you. Really. Read her here. I’d love it if you’d come back after, but if you don’t I will completely understand – I have trouble leaving her too. HERE.

Last time I wrote I admitted to throwing away an imperfect (if we’re being generous) painting. This time I’m sharing one. It’s all about the shift. The psychological term for it is “noncomplementary behavior,” though you may know it as turning the other cheek or loving your enemy or killing with kindness. It’s about changing your mind, changing the pattern, turning the tables with unexpected and opposite behavior. It’s responding to hostility with joy, meeting a challenge in a new and different way, finding a loving home for a flawed face instead of tearing it in half, or lowering a man on a cot into a house because you can’t fit him through the front door. Leaving lettuce from your garden for neighbors you don’t know, donating something you actually like and hate to part with to a cause that matters, taking the time to look and answer and think and thank. Anne says go band together and serve up hope; I say go find a home for something crooked with some sweet southern light. Either way, lose the long face, greet the sneer with a smile, finish what is half-baked and pass it on, and don’t be surprised at what happens next.

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Lean

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Lean, Watercolor, 6″ x 12″ original,  SOLD

I grabbed a peach, deceptively heavy like a water balloon, from the counter a few days back and bit in, dripping juice and noises across the kitchen, trying to manage the explosion before I stained another shirt. I was instinctively relieved Pat wasn’t home to see the slurping mess I instantly became, and even glad the dogs were outside NOT bearing silent, brown-eyed witness to my J. Alfred Prufrock moment. From upright, poised even, and a tiny bit hungry, to leaning over the sink, wiping my chin with the back of my hand and realizing I’m not quite as classy as I think, it only took about a second to travel that entire human span of surprise, damage assessment, rosy blush of embarrassment, and recovery.

I’m a tripper, clumsy with my feet, so I’m used to stumbling, looking up, smiling, silly me. Maybe we grow immune to our constant foibles and it’s the stand-outs that trip us up. And sure, we should all put our best foot forward. A couple weeks ago, summer solstice in fact, I painted after an early dinner. As the day moved slowly towards twilight (and winter – not to be depressing) I settled in with a wild burro whose face caught my fancy. The sun poured in the upstairs window, Linus snored nearby, and I sank into the zone and disappeared. A few hours later I looked up, paintbrushes down, and ew. Colors off, eyes crooked, muzzle too small, with an accidental splatter of paint topping things off like a rotten cherry. With wrinkled nose and furrowed brow, shoulders sagging with disappointment, my few inadequate lines with a pencil revealed there was no fixing him. Pat took one look at me, not the painting, and said “If you don’t like it, throw it away. Don’t dilute the brand.” Genius. So you’ll never see the painting I’m not proud of. I tore him in half and took a shower. Best foot forward, you know. We’re all better for not seeing and sharing THAT awkward struggle.

Or are we? Where is the line between sharing the vulnerable, imperfect, relateable moments – and just plain not trying? There’s honest and flawed, and then there’s please at least put some pants on before you go to the airport. It wouldn’t hurt to brush your teeth either. We all fall down, we all need our mamas (AND our daddies), and I would be lying if I said I don’t lean in and bury my face in a person or a pet every now and then. You could probably catalog my failures by a quick inventory of laundry: too much coffee, splashy salad dressing, blood, mud, paint, smeared lip goo or mascara, and the occasional red wine stain. And my weaknesses could be revealed by a quick look through the snack drawer and the various sizes in my  closet. Which brings me back to that peach. Stay with me. You know I like a double meaning and a story that comes around. There is surely a line, fine or broad, between allowing yourself the pleasure of chocolate covered almonds and homemade cherry granola when you’ve had a nice day or a terrible one, whichever you reward (I tend to compensate myself for both), AND a commitment to putting your best foot forward when your clothes don’t quite fit or your stomach feels funny. For me, allergy season and impending family trips involving cameras and bathing suits mean it’s time to leave human frailty behind for awhile and go for keeping the brand pure. Ta-dah! Hence the peach instead of the treat drawer! I will always be drippy and stumbly, and maybe “lean” gets to be more of moving target as I get older and  less interested in how I look in jeans, but right now I’m trying for a little less room for embarrassment and a little more room in my pants.

I’m flying today. Airports and Wal-marts must be the most human places in America, absolutely overflowing with J. Alfred Prufrocks, inadequacy, and yes, some juiciness. Not everyone is lean, not everyone is leaning, but when I look, there is so much beauty in the people around me I want to touch someone. Mamas & babies, couples on honeymoons, older folks in their Sunday best – some glowing, some dripping, some heavy, burying their faces in others. I’m a little hungry, mostly poised, and blushing at the tenderness and frailty here. Unlike my own stains and missteps, I wish I could share these people with everyone.

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Fourth

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Go Forth, Watercolor, 8 x 8 original,  SOLD

I’m a big believer in small town parades. I have always lived in places charming enough to wrap pickup trucks in streamers and march young children in matching outfits under street lamps and banners. Picayune, Mississippi held a bang-up Christmas parade back in the day, with majorettes and dance teams, tubas and tractors, pretty girls on horses, candy flying everywhere, dueling police car and fire engine sirens, and at the very end, waving his heart out, was a jolly Santa stand-in. I hope it still happens just like that. Tuscaloosa, Alabama specializes in Homecoming, and Birmingham loves a good Veteran’s Day procession. West Yellowstone, Montana? Fourth of July like only a small town can do.

This afternoon around 4:00 the streets will grow eerily quiet as locals gather in garages and under shop awnings to decorate bicycles, strollers, trucks, and flatbed trailers. Visitors will still be in Yellowstone National Park or napping in hotel rooms, dreaming of tonight’s evening rodeo and late night fireworks. A few wise souls who work in town and live somewhere out will be make a mad dash to get home before road blocks and parade watchers turn the town into one big gridlocked street party. By 5:00 lawn chairs will line the streets, cocktails will be camouflaged in travel mugs, and anticipation will hum from block to block. It’s the New Year’s Eve of summer, and revelers of all ages will be primed to celebrate. When the sirens start at 6:00, signaling the beginning of another Independence Day parade, it will be like opening the starting gates at the Kentucky Derby. OK, not exactly like that, but there will be an element of tradition, release, and GO! that faintly reflects the Derby. In a nice way.

Our parade is sweet. It’s authentic and patriotic and goodhearted. Most of the people cheering, waving, and grabbing stray candy from the paths of wobbling bike wheels will be stuffed with pie from the Historic Center’s fundraiser earlier in the day and the burgers the fire station always cooks up until they’re gone. There’s a free concert in the town park after the parade floats are sent home and disassembled and before the fireworks start scaring dogs and wildlife for miles around. The beauty of believing in a small town parade is that I can smile at the set-up and go home before the round-up. It’s the 4th – all about freedom and independence after all – and I have a date with a brown horse, hungry dogs, a handsome man, homemade lettuce wraps, and the newest episode of MasterChef. Here’s to going out, going home, going forth, going Fourth, going to bed, going big, going going gone. However you spend your holiday, I hope it’s happy, sweet, safe, and fun. I hope there’s an element of tradition and release, and a nice big piece of freedom served up with a scoop of togetherness. Whatever you do to celebrate, don’t forget the pie.

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Green

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Green Bison, Watercolor, 6″ x 8″ original, SOLD

This morning I received the following message:

You don’t have to take everything so seriously, Jenny. Life isn’t black and white, answers aren’t always yes or no, and absolutely nothing has to happen today. Act when you’re ready. Be led by your feelings. And the next time someone wants to fit you into a mold, just tell ’em that your jeans are in the wash, your angels are at the mall, and Oprah’s on the other line.

Fuzzy as dice,
The Universe

Yep. The Universe has my back and my email address. And yes indeed, like those who have known me since before I decided Jen was cool, The Universe still calls me Jenny. For the record I’m not sure I completely get the point here either, but I really like the tone. After all that whining yesterday about trading in idealism for groundedness, I’m afraid I’ve been talked in to keeping my fuzzy, fuzzy feelings after all, and trading in the black and white for green.

You can get notes from The Universe too. Check it out here. You can also paint green bison, take things less seriously, and change your mind any time. Join the herd.

Roll those dice,

Jenny

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Herd

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In the Herd, Watercolor, 6″ x 12″ original, SOLD

I’ve been struggling with herd dynamics lately, herd mentality, herds of tourists – caught in a roundup of hooves and hair and horns, crowding me, challenging my sense of balance and belonging, kicking up dust and sometimes heels. Wondering if two is enough to constitute a herd, while knowing at a deeper level we are all one. My composition feels off.

I helped throw an engagement party two nights ago and I’m STILL worried about invitations – who was missed, misunderstood, passed over, overlooked? I’m missing the funeral this week for my Aunt Karen whose eyes twinkled, not sure if I should send flowers because I’m sad for my family, or NOT send flowers because I AM family. At the ranch, new additions to our horse herd have caused needless and hurtful rifts in our band of horse owners. Out of a misplaced sense of hospitality or a naïve sense of oneness, I unwittingly put myself between the horns of the old and the new, and I don’t know how to fix our group portrait now that the new one is painted. And the grocery store? Are throngs and herds the same? All stomping and huffing and crowding the same aisles – the cashiers must feel so small and vulnerable against the endless stampedes. Then there’s the whole world of extremists splintering their herds and the herd mentality of those who want them dealt with. Globalism: one big herd. Brexit: oh no we’re not.

Everyone knows idealists are dreamers. Big picture seers, hopers, inspirational quote collectors, wishing well singers – cooing doves and all. No one ever mentions the whiny idealist. It doesn’t have much of a ring to it, except that little ring of truth. I’m one. I can say it. And you know what I’m talking about. “Why can’t we all just get along?” Ring a bell? Maybe there’s no such thing as one big happy family, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop sniveling about it. This morning Pat asked me if love conquers all. Of course it does.  Have you met me? I can love my cousins and my Uncle Derald through this loss and this week and the next from 1000 miles away. And I can love my way through the grocery store. Emphatic yes.  He volleyed. What about gravity?

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Gravity, Watercolor, 4″ x 8″ original, SOLD

So much for idealism. I cannot love Linus off the bed or up the stairs. Love cannot conqur gravity. And maybe I can’t love my way back into the horse herd or love America through the next election. But if love trumps hate and gravity trumps love, maybe navigating is easier than I thought. It certainly explains why I fall down so often, why dust settles, and why you can’t kick up your heels all the time. Whether you define your herd as humanity, clique, clan or coworkers, maybe membership is as simple as gravity, presence, and staying grounded. Funny how this works, but I feel lighter when I think about the weight these relationships have and can bear. Horses don’t always graze together and bison spread out across the range, but they figure out where and how they fit together and they settle down into the grass and gravity of the herd. They may fall down and bump heads occasionally but it’s not a constant struggle to balance and compose. No cooing doves, just 1,400-pound animals being and belonging together. Looking out for each other. Maybe I’m buying in to the herd mentality, but if they can do it so can I.

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