Monday, November 9, 2015

A Burner Birthday

This weekend, my Burning Man friends and I drove three hours upstate into the Catskill Mountains to celebrate a fellow burner's birthday. We arrived at the 10-acre farm rental Friday night and spent the rest of the evening exploring all the nooks and crannies throughout the main house and the massive barn (think creepy dolls, taxidermy collections, and loads of odds and ends). In between introductions with new arrivals, we warmed up by the campfire gazing up at the stars and later moved to the toasty fireplace in the living room where we curled up and shared stories. I wanted to adopt everyone I met as a new friend. And the two dear friends who whisked me away to that magical weekend, I silently adopted them as brothers.

Saturday morning we were finally able to see what exactly we had driven into. We saw the pastures, the cows, and the woods that extended beyond the creek running through the property. The trees were mostly bare, but the scenery was still so calm and beautiful – such a departure from the city. I spent the day munching on food and catnapping in corners in my kitty ears, tail, and my red riding hood cape because wearing those things sends me to my happy place. When a group of us took a walk through the woods, I felt like a storybook character climbing over fences, crouching underneath low branches, jumping on stones, and walking on giant fallen trees to cross the creek. Afterwards, I took to the open pastures and ran with my blazing red cape trailing behind me. I just ran and ran because space, so much space.

During the day, the kitchen was a busy spot with most of us whipping up meals and treats for our housemates. The birthday boy's boyfriend baked the most delicious pork ever...for six hours. You can imagine how dizzy we were from the smells coming out of that oven. As for my offering, I baked a four-layer raspberry chocolate cake. It was my tallest concoction yet and I was just thankful that a) there was enough chocolate frosting to cover the whole thing and b) the leaning tower of cake didn't lead to a disastrous ending.

Saturday night, we blew up the sky with fireworks, ran around the dark field with sparklers, and burned a giant wooden 31. After cake time, we headed into the "party barn" and danced under the strobe lights until late into the night. It wasn't until "Single Ladies" came on that I finally realized that I was the only single lady there. I felt so comfortable around the group that I hadn't even noticed that everyone else was coupled off or a gay guy. Still, that didn't stop the crew from joining me in trying to remember the steps to Bey's song and running up the barn walls.

Towards the end of my "night out," the birthday boy and I sat on a platform while we watched the rest continuing to dance in the dark. We talked about my growing up in New York City, how it felt to be in this place with such wonderful people, we talked about Burning Man, how difficult it was for me to miss it this year, my wondering if I'll ever return, and his theory on the "trick" behind Burning Man's success and why that same formula can work outside of the playa. He also didn't know some of the attendees until that very weekend, including me, but he knew that his friends would know who would be perfect to bring along to such an event.

He then smiled at me and said, "When I first saw you walking into this barn in your red coat, I said, 'I don't know who she is, but I love her.'"

Later on, he asked what I wish I were acknowledged for and I said, my ability to connect with others and my creativity. And he did, based off of the 24 hours we'd known each other.

When "Genesis," my favorite Grimes song, came on, I squealed, so delighted that someone else loved it as much as I do. But then this sudden pang hit me because it was a song A. had introduced me to and one I'd shared with him, letting him watch me dance all over our room to it. So, in my red cape and hood, I closed my eyes and danced in the dark, allowing myself to feel both sad for what's over and grateful for whatever has led me to this moment in a barn in the middle of nowhere. I've kept fearing that my wild and fun days are over simply because he was such a huge source of it – the trips, the parties, the people we'd met – but that night I realized that there are so many more wondrous moments to leap into and that I can be pulled towards them just as I am, without forcing anything or trying to be something else. I danced and danced in this mixture of happiness and pain, nothing but music in my head. I was going to be okay, I needed to trust that I could still lead myself to whatever I wanted to experience, and I was going to be cared about by so many. The stories and my adventures, they are so not over.

Images: Shawn McGinniss

Monday, November 2, 2015

On Gratitude and the NYC Marathon

I'm not a runner by any means, but I do like catching the NYC Marathon in person to cheer the participants on. It's inspiring to witness the culmination of years of training and motivation. Qualifying for this marathon is feat of its own, but then watching them tackle the race itself is just humbling (FYI, this year's winners blazed through the five boroughs in just two hours!). They worked so hard and here we were celebrating this incredible milestone in their lives. The 26-mile course passes right by my new apartment in Harlem and so yesterday I took some time to join the other spectators and make some noise. My heart kept swelling up as I watched thousands upon thousands cross back into Manhattan for the final stretch down Fifth Avenue towards Central Park. Some were still going strong at the 21-mile mark and others were struggling, cramping up, pushing to keep on and we did the best we could to give them life with our claps and whistles. It almost made you want to run out there with them and feel that exhilaration of being thisclose to accomplishing what I can imagine for most has been a lifelong dream.

Now I say I'm not a runner, but the few times I've jogged I've thought, "Man, if I had ever chosen a sport when I was younger no doubt it would have been track and field." Granted, the most I've accomplished is a three-mile run, but I know that if the motivation were in place, I could go for longer. Back in May, I thought that signing up for upcoming races would be just the push I needed to hit the pavement again. Running a 5K was a goal I'd toyed with for a few years, but it hadn't been a big enough one for me to seriously pursue. In comes the Wanderlust 108 Festival in Brooklyn, NY and it sounds like a fantastic experience. The September event was pegged as "mindful triathlon" in which participants run a 5k, do yoga in the wide open lawn of Prospect Park, and then meditate under the sun.

Okay, somehow four months came and went and did I run a single mile in preparation for this thing? Nope! In fact, had I run a single mile in the last couple of years so that maybe I had a fighting chance of doing well at this thing? Nope again! And still I showed up fully prepared to kill it or have it kill me. I did my little "let me look like I totally know what I'm doing here" stretch and joined the sea of neon sports bras and tights at the start line. I didn't know how well I'd do, but at the very least I had shown up and I was going to give it my best shot.

Needless to say I wasn't able to run the entire three miles without stopping a couple times, but I definitely ran a good majority of it and that alone was enough to make me almost shed tears when I high-fived the MC in mid-air at the finish line. I also wanted to shed tears for the week following because I'd shredded my legs in the process, but in that moment I felt so damn elated and hyped that I could have very well kept on running for another mile (and promptly died, but that's neither here nor there). Instead, I grabbed my yoga mat from baggage check and hurried along to grab a spot for the next activities. The guided meditation was alright (I'm partial to the STFU school of meditation), but my reaction to doing yoga took me by surprise. I'm a very sensitive person, I know this, and emotional through and through, but I was still taken off guard by my wanting to cry throughout the whole routine. I kept wondering what the hell was wrong with me, but eventually I just leaned into the sensations; there was no sense in fighting back something that felt that good. My heart kept wanting to explode with each upward facing dog, basking under the warm sun with hundreds upon hundreds of others around me. I was overflowing with gratitude for sharing this incredible moment with all of these beautiful strangers.

It's been two months since that joyful experience and yesterday, while I was cheering those amazing souls on towards their finish line, I felt that boundless gratitude once again.


Friday, October 30, 2015

Creative Constipation

I know the title isn't exactly the loveliest one I could come up with, but I really do believe I need some form of creative laxative. I haven't been able to dive into my art or create anything new for the past six months and the bits that I have done - just to maintain my stationery company - have been mostly business. Receive order, package order, mail out order. A dream I'd put so much money and effort into making a reality crashed when I had to pull out of this May's National Stationery Show at the last minute. I haven't fully recovered from that disappointment yet and I know this because I've been too afraid to face several things since then.

My retreat from social media happened for a few reasons, but the first step I took in that direction was on Instagram right before NSS. I just couldn't handle seeing all my creative peeps getting ready and excited for the show while I was home, depressed and recovering. I felt so embarrassed because after all that hype I'd made about my upcoming debut, I was going to be a no-show. I imagined my booth space sitting empty save for a sheet of paper stating that "Porcupine Hugs" was supposed to be there. I wanted to crawl under the covers for forever and I pretty much did, but when followers started asking me for my booth number and saying they couldn't wait to see me at the Jacob Javits Center, I had to come clean. Everyone was incredibly supportive and I wanted to wish everyone a great time, but I still felt like a loser and some Instagram posts later, I stopped being active on there. It's crazy because I so loved Instagram above all other forms of social media, but it just hurt too much to confront that anxiety.

After I retreated from Twitter and Facebook, I closed down my Etsy shop. Everything was just too much. I wanted to hide and I didn't want people to find me.

But that's the crazy thing about craving isolation and then getting end up feeling lonely and that depression continues feeding back into the isolation. I had sidelined myself to such a degree that I didn't even know where or how to start integrating. I do have friends, so many of them, and am grateful that they've refused to let me become a perma-hermit, but I also keep thinking of those other people I had connected with via social media. The other small businesses owners, the creatives, the group that would cheer each other on through obstacles and victories. In my mind, I had closed this thriller of a book I hadn't finished reading yet and here I was obsessing over what happened next, but too afraid to flip it back open. Even after re-opening my shop some weeks ago (after the constant nudge and encouragement from a well-meaning friend), I haven't been able to tap back into those circles. I haven't created anything new either. I miss it, but I haven't been craving it as much as I used to. A friend once told me I should be gentler on myself. While art might have served as my therapy in the past, right now my mind is focused on healing itself in other ways. Eventually, I will be hungry for it again.

A few friends of mine have taken to adult coloring books to relieve stress and cater to that inner child. Some books are much more intricate than others, but they're still a fun way to be creative without the added pressure of making something that will sell. Some good choices (and the ones my friends have played with):

1. Adult Coloring Book: Stress Relieving Patterns
2. Creative Haven Creative Cats Coloring Book
3. Secret Paris: Color Your Way to Calm
4. Fantastic Cities: A Coloring Book of Amazing Places Real and Imagined

I bought that last book after falling in love with its wanderlust aspect as I've been dreaming of taking off and traveling the globe for a while. Whether it happens or not, it's been a most welcomed distraction. At first I thought the intricate cityscapes would kick my hyperventilating skills into high gear, but when I started coloring in the teeny houses of Bremen, Germany, I couldn't focus on anything other than painting that particular house in that particular color before moving on to the next tiny building. I hadn't meditated on a regular basis in a long time, but coloring something so detailed came close to it. I imagined this is what it would feel like to build a puzzle of 10,000 pieces. My mind has been going non-stop, obsessing over things said, not said, what I wish I had done or not done, mistakes I wish I could erase, moments when I wish I had stood up for myself over and over. All. Day. Long.

This was a break, a quiet from the negativity clamoring around in my brain. And while my best antidotes have been moments with friends and genuine connections, I can't be around others 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In fact, it was that very neediness and fear of being alone that partly led me to this situation. So here I am, learning to be on my own again and remembering how much I loved to draw.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Two Big and Simple Questions

Sometimes over the course of years and years of sameness, you might lose track of where the hell you're going. The days all blend together into a string of "I work today" and "I don't work today." Mondays are greeted with a groan and we start the race to Friday as soon as the week begins. What the hell are we doing with all those blurred days in between?

A couple weeks ago two different friends asked me 1) what is that one thing that you'd rather die than never do again and 2) when you're by yourself, at home, in the quiet, who are you really?

I've been keeping myself busy, surrounded by friends, and taking on fun hobbies in the process. I took swimming lessons through the summer months and in September, started learning to the play the guitar and how to pliƩ in ballet class. I'm loving my classes and seeing the progress I've made week after week, but I also know these are forms of distraction. And that's okay. I understand that I need that right now and hopefully eventually an evening at home won't be met with loneliness as I look around my new apartment and think, "This place is too big and too empty just for me..."

But this past Friday, I hit pause on my YouTube binge-watching, grabbed a sheet of paper and some colorful markers, and asked myself those questions again. When I was asked the first one, my answer came immediately.

"Write," I told my friend. "I really think that's it for me and can't imagine never being able to write again. That's how I express myself above anything else."

As for the second question, here's the very short list that I came up with:

1. Travel the world.
2. Share (my) stories. [blog/memoir/articles]
3. Inspire and delight youth. [art/Porcupine Hugs/books]
4. Connect with others. [friendships/volunteering]

And that's it. I couldn't think of anything else that truly defined me and would fulfill me without being dependent on somebody else. I've even dreamt of a way tie all four points together, but that's for me to mull over for a bit longer.

Remember, this isn't a to do or a bucket list, but rather the basic essential things that make your life meaningful. The goal is to then have your time, energy, and the jobs and activities you take on feed into those things. Think of it as a compass of sorts; judge your actions and decisions based on whether or not it nurtures one of the points on this list. If it doesn't, that's still okay. No guilt-tripping. I think having a little guide to where you'd like to be heading is a good reminder to have, especially when you feel as if you're just grabbing at straws sometimes. At the very least it's starting to help me think a little deeper about my current ambitions and job pursuits.

What would your short list look like? 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Adele is the Soundtrack of My Relationships

Over the course of my life, there have been few artists who have compelled me to buy every album they’ve released and have me listen to it in its entirety. I usually dabble in singles or enjoy a track I happened to catch on the radio or Shazzam’ed from a coffee shop. For every one song I like, there will be many more that would get the skip from me.

Enter Adele.

For the past seven years, she has been the only one who can string me along from beginning to end and back to the beginning on a never-ending loop. When I first saw the music video for “Chasing Pavements” off her debut album 19, I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. It was so haunting and her voice was absolute heaven. I couldn’t tire of it. That album saw me through my first breakup back in 2008. I spent so many evenings singing to those songs after lighting candles and settling into a hot bath, wondering when my heart would stop hurting and what I was headed towards next. Those moments in that candlelit bathroom were my tiny escapes, tears and all, and I found Adele to be the perfect soundtrack to that phase in my life.

With “First Love,” I thought of him and tried hard to let the relationship float away, but my hope and guilt refused to leave me. I was still so tied to “us.” After wanting to break things off so many times out of the fear that “all things would eventually end anyway,” I’d convinced him that it would not work out between us. And still, I was devastated.

Forgive me first love, but I'm tired
I need to get away to feel again
Try to understand why, don't get so close to change my mind
Please wipe that look out of your eyes, it's bribing me to doubt myself
Simply, it's tiring

Best for Last” made me wish that he’d remember what we shared instead of settling into the arms of a new girl, the one he would eventually marry. I was unapologetic when I sang “Melt My Heart to Stone,” a song about creating a relationship in your head, stringing bits of promises and delusions to form something that means very little to the other person. Isn’t it so easy to make yourself see something that isn’t there when you want so badly for it to be real? Sometimes you need to float on that cloud for a bit until you're ready for it to gently bring you back to earth so you can stand on your own.

I hear your words you made up
I say your name like there should be an us
I best tidy up my head I'm the only one, in love
I'm the only one in love

By the time I met A., at the tail end of 2009, I was able to listen to “Make You Feel My Love” and not be pained by it. Without realizing it, I had finally started to move on. Hope for something nearly two years passed wasn’t necessary anymore.

Her second album, 21, was released in 2011 and already my second relationship was rocky. We’d kiss and makeup more times than I could count and I found myself swirling deeper and deeper into this confusing mess in my head. One moment we were head-over-heels in passion and adventure and the next we couldn’t stand each other. I’d sing “One and Only” to him, envisioning us dancing to it on our wedding day some autumn in the distant future. When he’d ignore my calls after a fight, my mood would drift from a saddened “Don’t You Remember” to a defiant “Take It All.”

Didn't I give it all?
Tried my best
Gave you everything I had, everything and no less
Didn't I do it right? Did I let you down?
Maybe you got too used to having me 'round
Still how can you walk away
From all my tears
It's gonna be an empty road without me right here
But go on and take it, take it all with you
Don't look back at this crumbling fool
Just take it all with my love, take it all with my love

And then there was my song “Set Fire to the Rain,” which spoke to this growing fury inside me, the one that I tried so hard to contain until it just needed to be released. I found that lashing out the chorus had a sort of soothing effect on me…I just wanted to yell it out…

I set fire to the rain
And I threw us into the flames
Where I felt something die, 'cause I knew that
That was the last time, the last time

But it wasn’t the last time. It wasn’t going to be the last time for four more years. Something kept us together, trying over and over. Stubbornness, I used to say, but it had to have been deeper than that. We were invested in one another, we cared. The love was genuinely there, but as he’s said, “Sometimes love isn’t enough.”

And in the spring of 2015, A. stormed away.

Today, Adele released the first single and music video off her upcoming album, 25. After being away for so long, it’s fitting that this first track is titled “Hello.” In a post about her new album, which will be released November 20, Adele explained that her latest creation is a rebirth of sorts. So many have commented on her amazing ability to wrap up a broken heart and release that pain through her vocals, but what would happen if she finally found and maintained her happiness? It seems she might have (the soulful singer gave birth to son Angelo in 2012 with her longtime boyfriend Simon Konecki), but perhaps “this is everything we need” - a beautiful reminder that we need to be gentle with ourselves regardless of who enters or leaves our lives.

“My last record was a break-up record and if I had to label this one I would call it a make-up record,” Adele wrote. “I’m making up with myself. Making up for lost time. Making up for everything I ever did and never did. But I haven’t got time to hold on to the crumbs of my past like I used to. What’s done is done.

“I made the decision to go into becoming who I’m going to be forever without a removal van full of my old junk. I miss everything about my past, the good and the bad, but only because it won’t come back,” she continued. “25 is about getting to know who I’ve become without realising. And I’m sorry it took so long, but you know, life happened.”

In my attempts to please and make so much work, I tore myself apart and absorbed too much blame. I’m still learning how to piece things all together. I’m still in pain, I’m still reeling, but much less than months ago. Perhaps it’s because that “last time” still wasn’t the end of our chapter and after a summer of perhaps giving this more than it deserved, I’m finally closer to taking the training wheels off of this…break up. I've been here before, I know it'll get better eventually. Right now though, it still hurts too much to remember.

Images:,, and