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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Oui and Merci 2.0

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Mac Grazing, Watercolor, 6″ x 6″ original, SOLD

Well, I thought I was finished but I’m not.

Yes, I will meet with the strategic planning committee and stop hoping someone else will step up. Yes, let’s do have dinner this weekend – you’re right it’s been too long. Yes, I have a few minutes to stand in the grocery aisle and ask about your mom. Yes, I can come in Saturday to help. Yes, I think your engagement party sounds fabulous, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Yes, of course I can run an extra errand in Bozeman to save you the trip. Yes, you knocked my socks off when I saw you in that Forbes Magazine article – I’m so proud of you! Yes, I would be happy to pick up dog food and I can bring the chicken salad. Yes I value your opinion, your contributions, your time, your kindness, and your haircut.

Thank you for carving that odd-shaped sweet potato into a duck and leaving it for me on the counter as a surprise. Thank you for filling the water troughs at the barn, even when it’s not your turn. Thank you for saying good morning to me and to every stranger and visitor making their way through the front door – you brighten this workplace every day you are here. Thank you for raising kind, funny, beautiful children. Thank you for welcoming me when I moved to West Yellowstone from another life, and making this life so vibrant and warm. Thank you for being a good boss, a good friend, a good teacher, a good human. Thank you for telling me the truth, holding my hand, letting me drive, being my best roommate back in the day, swapping clothes with me, walking dogs with me, and making mixed tapes and cds for my listening pleasure and musical education. Thank you for making me stick with piano lessons and letting me pick up the violin, thank you for Christmas cookies and good advice, and for patience, so much patience, with bad hair, bad outfits, and bad decisions. Thank you for meeting me for coffee, picking me up with your horse trailer when mine is out of commission, teaching a great yoga class, helping me with money management, staying out of my money management, and asking me to be a godmother. Thank you for trusting me that much, and for trusting me to press my face into yours while you eat and take your picture while you graze.

Yes I acknowledge incomprehensible violence and tragic loss. And I am thankful for more light, more hope, more good, and more life in this world than terrorism, politics, and fear can take from me. Another day of oui and merci has indeed rewritten Raindrops on Roses, reminded me of favorite, important things, and now I don’t feel so bad.

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What To Say When You Don’t Know What To Say

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Burros with Cactus, Watercolor, 8″ x 8″ original, SOLD

The last couple days have felt black and blue to me, confusing, heart-achy, dark. I’ve started a dozen posts to go along with these big-eared goofballs, and they all seem too flippant, too contrived, too removed from tragedy in Orlando, fear in America, hatred and chaos in the world. When so many people are hurting, and hurting each other, zippers on dresses, front door shopping, and cloudscapes taken for granted seem more like a rewrite of Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens than legitimate concerns. Curling up in bed and singing marshmallow songs with the governess is one thing in a cloudburst, but in a pounding storm of vulnerability, helplessness, shock, and sorrow, what do you say?

Just yesterday I suggested to my friend Sara, who is flying to Paris this week and knows zero French, that oui and merci could almost see her through. Talk about flippant, but I think we could all use a day or two of just saying yes and thank you. And this is what I can muster now in English. Yes this happened. Yes this world is broken. Yes there is darkness and anguish and blame. Yes I am hurting and uncertain, and I imagine you are too.

And thank you. To those who bring light and reason and humanity to my day and this planet. Thank you for being a voice of reason, for sharing your view, for making my coffee. Thank you for donating blood, loving old dogs, baking banana bread, sending beautiful pictures that inspire me to paint. Thank you for volunteering with Special Olympics, playing music, waiting patiently in a line, planting seeds, recycling, remembering my birthday, bringing me hope. Yes  I am sad, and thank you for loving me and each other and kitchen herbs gone to flower. When you make the world a better place, one deed and one oui at a time, well, the world becomes a better place. Merci.

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Eye to Eye

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Bison Long, Watercolor, 6″ x 12″ original, SOLD

Some days I spend a quiet lunch hour with Mac the Horse. If I can sneak away from work for an hour of sunlight, I will scoop Mac’s grain and supplements into a shallow rubber pan the circumference of a beach ball and call him in from the pasture. On a good day he nickers as he comes close. My arms fit around the edges of the tub and I hold it at waist level while he dips his face in and eats. This puts his forehead and mine at roughly the same height, and I, sleepy from a webinar or anxious from a grant I can’t seem to finish, rest my whole face on his broad brown head while he chews and I hush. I line my nose up with his star, slightly off-center, close my eyes and feel his muscles moving, sun on my cheek, rhythm of his nibbling lips eighth notes to the measures of his calm blinking eyes. His nose turns green and his mouth spills brown from the mash of alfalfa pellets and sweet grain, and sometimes when he lifts his head I feel wet lumps fall on my arm or my foot. He smells like dust and molasses and warm grass, and he seems not to mind if I rest on his beautiful, plain face and just breathe him in.

Faces seem essential and true to friendships and paintings. Eyes and noses can’t be faked and mouths can’t be in the wrong place. It’s why I’m not a very good liar or long-distance friend. I like to wrap my arms around a thing, and I like it to feel honest and wet and breathable. I like the smell and the feel of a person, and lose heart when I can’t see their blinking eyes. Mouths give away more than words with their tilts and wrinkles, though you can learn everything you need in complete silence when your face is next to his. Edges and colors of fur don’t feel literal to me, while eyebrows and nostrils need extra attention. A beautiful, plain face that never lies makes lunch with a horse so true and the head of a bison so calm and so close.

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