“It’s really cool. I think I went over to her room to ask for nail clippers or something, you know how you do in college,” said Jenni Jones, laughing as she explained her improbable first meeting with her partner of nine years, Sara Trinkle. The two were both first-year students at Southwest Missouri State in Springfield and, as fate would have it, living in the same dorm across the hall from each other.
Jones, who grew up in St. Louis, is the consummate performer: she plays piano, likes to ham it up and tells funny stories, but her calm self-confidence in the face of some recent turmoil is what’s most inspiring. Sitting in the screened-in back porch of their South Austin home overlooking Williamson creek, Jones is enthusiastic and charming as she describes her Midwestern upbringing, the unique development of her journalism career, and the life she’s building with her partner.
“I’m like, who’s this weirdo asking for nail clippers?” Sara Trinkle said jokingly. She works as a computer programmer and is also from Missouri, in her case, Osage Beach, which is in the middle of the state.
“You did not think that!” Jones said with faux outrage.
They became instant friends, hanging out and partaking in the college rituals of fraternity parties and the like. Jones, who had dated guys up to that point, said she knew right way there was something special about Trinkle but that when she learned about Trinkle’s girlfriend, she was flabbergasted.
“It turns out I had a massive crush on her and I was like, that’s weird,” said Jones, relaxed in khaki shorts and a t-shirt. “I didn’t even know that was possible.”
Although they’d met in September of 2000, Trinkle had a girlfriend and they didn’t officially start dating until one particular evening the following February. It’s a story that Jones enjoys telling. They were at a frat party in a bar and a band was playing. Jones, after having several drinks, belted out Tracy Chapman’s “Give me one reason” with the band to much applause. That was February 21, 2001, and it’s the ongoing anniversary that they celebrate as a couple (Trinkle had broken up with her girlfriend the previous December).
That night, Jones had long hair down her back that she’d spent some time ironing earlier that evening.
“I rocked it! From that moment on, she was all over me,” Jones said. “It took me being onstage and in the limelight and seeing everyone excited for me and I think it really worked!”
Chatting over coffee on a warm day in late May, Jones is a week away from taking a two-month leave of absence from work to deal with the deaths of her parents. Despite the fact that this Twitter-savvy video editor and all-around multimedia maven will be out in the rural reaches of Missouri without cell phone reception or access to the internet, she’s remarkably lighthearted.
Finding Her Niche
Jones studied musical theater for a semester before a conversation with her guidance counselor led her to switch. After telling him that she wanted to make music videos, he suggested electronic arts. This particular major was a highly selective program that students had to be accepted into, and Jones didn’t make it on her first try. Her persistence paid off, however, and she credits that program with teaching her much of what she does every day in her role as a multimedia producer at the Austin American-Statesman. Students in the program could specialize in audio, video or animation. She chose video because editing music videos was her initial ambition. Her senior thesis was a music video and mini-documentary on an indie rock band.
After finishing school in 2005, the couple considered where to move. Like many people raised in the Midwest, Jones had always considered Chicago, but it turned out that life had other plans. Jones had visited Chicago and always found the weather to be off-putting. Trinkle’s mother lives in Brenham and was tooting Austin’s horn quite a bit, describing the capital city as a cross between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Their first visit to the lone star state was a trip to Houston, which Trinkle said they didn’t enjoy. “My mom was like, ‘You’ve gotta go to Austin. They recycle.” after visiting Austin, Jones described their move south as a no-brainer. They toured Sixth Street and even went into Rain on 4th with Trinkle’s mother. “We hit on every bartender, it was a riot,” said Jones.
Jones recalled sitting at a restaurant on South Congress and seeing a lot of lesbians walking down the street, which at that time stood out for her. It wasn’t such a common sight back in Springfield. Although there are other cities the couple wants to visit, such as Portland and Seattle, they’ve put down roots firmly in Austin now that they own a house.
After several years of renting an apartment on the third floor of the Camden south congress, Jones and Trinkle wanted more space, a yard and more importantly, a place where Jones could finally have a piano. The house’s former owner was a friend of theirs who worked as a photographer at the Statesman. Jones and Trinkle were there for a party and Trinkle told him that if he ever sold the house, they wanted first dibs. Now they’re the picture of contentment. “You go across the bridge and you can see the water, the buildings, kayakers, people running and talking,” Jones said. “I just love that.”
Jones is an avid swimmer. It’s how she clears her head and gets rid of stress. She swam all throughout elementary, middle and high school, becoming a competitive swimmer early on, but she was burnt out by the time she turned 18. “I just wanted to hang out with my friends and have a good time and not have to go in the pool every morning and train,” she said.
“I worship the sun. And I have to swim all the time,” said Jones, noting that she’s no longer a competitive swimmer. “Swimming now is just a fun thing. It really is what keeps me sane, makes me feel good and nourishes me.”
She did, how- ever, take part in the Sweet & Twisted Triathlon last august. She trained with a group of her gay friends for awhile, swimming at Barton springs and biking around town. Jones finished 41st in the swimming portion; overall, she placed 175 out of 495 competitors. She plans to get back into athletics and triathlons in the future, and described them as empowering.” Barton springs is like heaven on earth to me,” Jones said. “Sara’s religion is karma and my religion is Barton springs! That’s really us.”
Jones and Trinkle have both been either vegetarian or vegan for many years. Vegan friends showed them the factory farm videos that tend to change minds. Jones, who is lactose intolerant, cites health reasons; she’s a pescatarian, meaning that she eats fish but not chicken or other meat. Trinkle alternates between full-on veganism and a modified version. “It wasn’t as fun being gay and vegetarian in Missouri as it is here,” Jones said, “which is why we’re here now.” In addition to swimming in the crisp water of Barton Springs, Jones loves to play on her piano in her living room – and she also worked as a volunteer with the Austin Humane society. In 2004 and 2005, she participated in relay for life, annual races held by the American cancer society to honor loved ones lost to the disease. Jones ran in memory of her mother and raised more than three thousand dollars. They also participated in operation turkey, feeding hot meals to homeless residents on thanksgiving.
Throughout the conversation, their two cats, Bo and jay, made their presence known. Jones was surprised because at first they seemed to be exceedingly well-behaved, lounging quietly on the floor not far from us.
“Look at the kitties, they’re passed out,” Jones said. “They’re never this good. Are you guys behaving? Thank you so much!”
Jones said that Jay, who they brought home from the Town Lake Animal Shelter, likes Trinkle the best. At one point, jay hopped up onto the ledge of the screened-in porch window to gaze at a caterpillar that was moving on the outside of the screen. Then his paw got stuck in the screen; he wasn’t happy when Jones jumped to her feet to free him as he meowed loudly.
“And that’s your fault!” Jones said.
Without missing a beat, Trinkle joked, “We’re gonna be known as the crazy lesbians with the cats,” which prompted laughs around the table. “I sent Sara out to get glasses from Wal-Mart a while ago,” said Jones, laughing. A woman was giving away cats in the parking lot of the store in Springfield and someone had already claimed Bo, but she never came back to get her. So Trinkle took her home.
“She came back with no glasses–and a cat.”
Besides playing piano at home and taking in the local arts scene, Jones also plays in a funk band called Mudbone Hustler. Although she always wanted a piano, Trinkler always wanted a trampoline. All of her friends pitched in to buy her one for her birthday last year.
“I love getting all of the bits and pieces of the story,” Jones said. “I love a little bit of something from everyone and then I get to tell the story by putting it all together.”
Jones arrived at the Statesman through a mixture of hard work, networking and fortuitous timing. Almost three years ago, a friend of Trinkle’s had alerted her that there was a part-time opening to assist the photography department in the newsroom. At that point, Jones was working several other part-time jobs, including producing films at UT and working with autistic children. She was also the production assistant for Texas filmmaker Heather Courtney on a PBS documentary called Critical Condition, which was about uninsured people who have medical emergencies or critical illnesses.
Since she’d been making a name for herself producing films at UT in 2006, she was contacted by Garrison, then board president of the Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival, who asked if Jones would volunteer as aGliFF’s technical director. “Jenni rocks whatever she does,” Garrison said. “She rocks it hard and leaves the crowd and her coworkers wanting more!” Jones worked very hard–lots of managing and coordinating and setting up screenings and finding volunteers–but she also enjoyed giving back to her community. “I would love to get more involved in a number of different communities and movements,” Jones said.
At the time, the Statesman needed someone to do these really mundane photo tasks part time. It’s a source of pride for Jones that the job has evolved so much. Almost four years later, it includes a multitude of responsibilities, from shooting and editing videos during SXSW or with breaking news to producing her own stories and working with the photo department to create audio or video slide shows for various events. surprising, even to herself, is that Jones has become something of a breaking news junkie. She enjoys being able to share breaking news with her followers on Twitter or friends on Facebook. “I love up-to-the-minute information and disseminating that,” she said.
Her final task before going on hiatus for two months is to edit the statesman’s videos of convicted cop killer David Lee Powell, who shot Austin police officer Ralph Ablanedo in 1978. After several appeals, his execution date was set for June and the newspaper conducted a death row interview with him. “I didn’t shoot the video, but I’m editing tapes,” said Jones. “It’s kind of spooky, you know, being up close like that with someone who knows they’re going to die.”
Jay Godwin, director of photography at the Statesman, had nothing but praise for Jones and said he appreciates her wicked sense of humor: “Her dedication and hard work has helped her quickly learn new video shooting and production skills in our fast changing, visual, story-telling environment.”
“You take this small slice of American life and you get to make it bigger by filming it,” Jones said. “You show it to people who may not have ever seen it before or known it existed and you can raise issues that way.”
Where’s The Party?
“Let’s talk about the wedding!” said Jones, looking over at Trinkle, who just grins. “You know it was fun! It was a blast.”
Describing the event, held at the Palm Door, as a little bit of green (the proximity to Waller creek) and a lot of urban (the downtown setting), Jones was quick to show off their wedding album, which was shot by their friend from the paper.
“We had been together so long and I wanted to throw a party,” Jones said. “that’s what’s great about being part of an alternative community: you don’t have to do anything by the book, because you’re already different.”
Their ceremony, held in front of about 100 friends and their relatives on April 4, 2009, wasn’t about the piece of paper. It was about the food, the vows, the dancing and having a kick-ass fabulous time. Trinkle even proposed with a ring on top of a mountain in Big Bend Park overlooking the Rio Grande. Eschewing tradition and wanting to publicly declare their love for one another allowed the couple to pick and choose everything that they wanted to do. In their case, walking down the aisle holding hands meant walking around the bar. They had karaoke at the reception: Jones sang Etta James’ “At last” to Trinkle.
Trinkle, who’s logical and introverted by nature, was embarrassed because she had to be the center of attention. Their relationship has worked for so long because they complement each other, basing their interaction on mutual respect and kindness.
“Being nice is what it all comes down to,” Jones said. “Being two individuals living a life together.”
When she took out their wedding album and showed me various photos and pointed out family members, it was obvious that Jones loved being able to share this moment with her friends. Jones was going to wear a purple dress as one option, but ended up in a more traditional long, white gown that she scored at Nordstrom’s off the rack.
“This is the happiest I’ve ever looked,” Jones said, as she flipped through the pages of their wedding album. “Sara’s such a good sport because being with me means being on show a bit. She’s a very humble and laid-back person.”
Trinkle in some ways is the opposite of Jones personality-wise. Where Jones is extroverted, bubbly and artistically inclined, Trinkle is quiet, grounded and technically adept. “I’m very into problem solving and helping people,” Trinkle said.
On The Cusp
Jones was away at school in May of 2001 when her mother called to say she’d had an operation and that it was colon cancer, but she assured her that there was nothing to worry about because they removed all of it. Jones returned to school but over the next three years the news just got worse. Tumors were removed and chemotherapy was administered. in October of 2003, the family was in Las Vegas for Jones’ twenty-first birthday and her mother looked thinner than before. This was particularly devastating for Jones, who was torn between her desire to be with her mother during the final days and weeks of her life and the fact that she was still a college student with typical academic responsibilities. Her mother insisted that she stay in school and finish on time. She died in February of 2004.
Her father, who’d struggled with a number of ailments over the years and who was lonely after the loss of his wife of 30 years, succumbed to liver failure in December of last year. The Statesman is allowing Jones to take a two-month leave of absence to deal with all of their belongings, spread out among five houses in Missouri, and also to emotionally regroup. “One thing I’ve learned if I start to feel sorry for myself is that I’m not the only one who lost parents at an early age,” Jones said.
Jones is on the brink of the next wonderful phase of her life. Thankful for everything that she’s achieved and grateful for the support of her partner and her friends, she can’t wait to move ahead and get back home to her city, her partner and her life’s work. “I’m the artistic one and she’s the nerd. Sara’s good at math and logic,” Jones said. “I can play the piano and look cute and dance around. We definitely fill in those holes in each other’s well-roundedness.”
The vibe that she got from Trinkle back when they were first-year students in Missouri is what’s kept them together. Their relationship has had its share of ups and downs, sure, but it all goes back to karma and how well Trinkle treats the people around her. “She’s really, really loyal and that was refreshing. She was a good friend and a good person, you could just tell that.”
Was there any type of courtship in the early days?
“A box–I made her a decorated decoupage box!” Jones said, prompting laughter once again.
Her family was always supportive; they told Jones to do what makes her happy. Her coming-out process, when she was in college, was atypical.
“When I was coming out, I was over the moon,” Jones said. “Not only was it, ‘I have a girlfriend, but I’m completely in love and we’re gonna spend the rest of our lives together.’ “
Although Trinkle has been frustrated at times, she’s nevertheless been supportive of Jones throughout the process of dealing with her parents’ deaths. She said that they balance each other and feed off each other’s energy.
They had said that when Jones was 30, they’d have kids, but as that day isn’t officially here yet, they have a laid-back take on what comes next. Most of all, Jones is looking forward to getting through this transition and finding closure with her parents’ deaths.
“A lot of people my age go through this. The most important thing is to just say goodbye to my parents right now,” Jones said. “I can be fully invested in life and be happy–that’s what I’m most hopeful for.”