Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Power of Empathy

I came across this video on my Facebook feed yesterday and wanted to share. It's about the difference between empathy and sympathy, narrated by research professor Dr. Brené Brown and animated by Katy Davis. Simply put, Brown says that "empathy fuels connection, sympathy drives disconnection." Empathy is about being vulnerable, putting yourself in the other person's place and really feeling what they're going through instead of patting them on the back and trying to put a bandaid on their pain.

"One of the things we do sometimes in the face of very difficult conversations is we try to make things better," Brown says. "Because the truth is rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection."

After my diagnosis, I was treated to all kinds of messages from people. There were those who wanted to help, who cried along with me or even without me, those who came along on appointments and radiation treatments, who wanted regular updates on my status. In the beginning I lumped them all together, sympathy and empathy, because I just wanted to be in people's minds, I wanted them to hope for the best for me, I wanted to feel loved when I was feeling rather crappy. But after the fog cleared, I realized what kinds of messages I was craving and noticed that the ones meant to shrink the situation left me feeling worse. While I understand that it was done to ease my mind, there's no need to tell me that the tumor is probably not that big and that I'll be just fine when I'm still very much terrified.

We do it so often, myself included. We want so much to make someone feel better, but sometimes there's no way out but through and you just have to be there to hold their hand and walk alongside them if you can. Sympathy is keeping your emotions at arms length and saying, "That sucks, I'll be here if you need me." Empathy is plopping yourself right there next to her and bringing her in for a hug for as long and as many times as she needs it.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Holiday Madness

With A. moving into the new apartment this weekend (we got the keys today!), me preparing Porcupine Hugs for the holidays, and a new part-time job helping a law firm with their website launch, things have been pretty crazy on my end. My mind has been swirling with gift tag designs, attorney bios, and packing up two households that will soon merge into one.

But I'm so excited by all the positive changes that are going on in my life. Next week, I'll be selling at the annual Holiday Handmade Cavalcade December 14 + 15 at The Space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn from 10am - 5pm. Not only is there a current raffle going on through the Etsy NY Team's Facebook page, but the first 100 people will receive a complimentary gift bag on each of the two days, there will be prizes raffled off throughout the event, and Brooklyn Brewery is sponsoring a free happy hour on both afternoons. So swing by to shop small, local, and handmade for the holidays.

I've been looking forward to this event since September, but for some reason the crazed factor always turns up to 11 the closer a market date draws near. For many of us, the holidays are the busiest times of the year and I'm just hoping all this work pays off. Not only does Porcupine Hugs offer single greetings cards and boxed sets, but today I launched the 2014 Wall Calendar! I know I'm biased, but holy crap it's so cute. Take a peek at the hand-illustrated beauty right here.

There are also gift tags and a special gift box set of 16 greeting cards, a hand-painted pencil, stickers, and a tag that'll have anyone prepared for whatever occasions might come their way. It's a great gift for the snail mail lovers on your list - or to just hog for yourself. Just promise you'll try to part with a least some of the cards, won't you?

Have you started your holiday shopping yet? My family is doing the Secret Santa thing for the second year in a row and I can't wait to start buying my person some awesomeness. I'll be keeping an eye out at the cavalcade as there will be all kinds of fun vendors there and it's important to support my fellow creatives.

To RSVP for the Holiday Handmade Cavalcade, click here and to enter the current raffle, click here.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Next Chapter

Did you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving? I hope so! This year I found myself feeling very thankful for my friends, health and family, which sounds so cliché, but after seeing firsthand how suddenly you can lose each of those things over the course of this year, I'm grateful for the good I do have.

So remember the happy news I wanted to share with you before? Well a couple weeks ago A. and I signed the lease for our first apartment together! After the stress that was our first go at it earlier this year, it's crazy how easily things fell into place this time around. Back in April I checked out more than 20 apartments and we couldn't agree on a single one to live in and when we started arguing on what borough to move to, we decided that we should just scrap the idea for the time being. Well this time, we only suffered through a couple crappy apartment showings (I mean really, how on earth do people live in these holes?!) before finding The One. We spotted our apartment on PadMapper.com and immediately made an appointment to see it the following day. When we walked into the apartment, I just fell in love. "I want to live here!" I mouthed at A. while peeking into the bedroom. The space was big and bright, the finishes in the bathroom and kitchen were beautiful, and A., picky as he is, will get the dishwasher he'd been requesting.

Unfortunately, another applicant was also vying for the same apartment so for three days we were anxiously waiting to hear if we won out or not - and we did!

The nice part is that I'll be living near my family in Washington Heights again - and just a couple blocks from where I grew up. Granted, what I've always wanted was to leave the country altogether (I'll get you someday, Paris), but this will totally do. Especially since I'll get an office out of the situation! Squeee! As a freelancer who works from home I honestly think I'm most excited by that than anything else. Well, I guess moving in with my boyfriend of four years will be an awesome bonus, too. The end to these exhausting Bronx-Upper East Side commutes is near! No more picking out an outfit in one apartment only to realize the coordinating shoes are in the other borough. No more schlepping my laptop and supplies to get work done from his tiny studio. Now I'll have my entire life and the person I love under one roof.

While the things I will no longer be doing are extra nice, I'm also thrilled for the new routines we have to look forward to: greeting A. home from work each evening, having the space to make dinner together, going to sleep and waking up together each morning, kissing him off to work for the day, and getting the apartment all to myself for 10 glorious hours. Because now that I'll be living with someone who's yet to develop a taste for holiday music, you'd better believe I'll be taking full advantage of every moment alone.

Aside from being excited over this next big step, we're also having fun going to furniture stores, testing out couches, and envisioning what our rooms will look like once we're settled in. Not going to lie, it'd be way easier if A. just said, "You know what Dorkys? I completely trust your judgement and will let you choose whatever you'd like." But noooo, the man needs to have an opinion on things like dark shower curtains that trigger his never-mentioned-before-now claustrophobia and whether a couch "looks too much like a couch." (WTF?) Still, it's cute to see him get so into chaise lounges and dinner tables because it's never something I thought he cared much about and I want him to feel comfortable in our new space, too. So much that I'm willing to overlook the fact that he wants to install a bench press workout contraption in our supposed-to-be-serene bedroom and a big ass subwoofer for our living room's sound system. Maybe I can throw a blanket over that thing, top it with a vase and call it a side table.

We get our keys this week and start moving in next weekend, but in the meantime I've been bookmarking ideas online because I can't wait to start seeing our new home start to come together. What are some of your favorite places to shop for housewares?

1. Chalkboard Spice Jars | 2. Farmers Market Baskets | 3. Textured Dip Bowls | 4. Two Person Desk | 5. Loveseat and Chaise Sectional Sofa | 6. Aqua and Green Shower Curtain | 7. Entryway Bench | 8. Wood Dining Table | 9. Overarching Floor Lamp | 10. Workstation with Shelves

Monday, November 25, 2013

One Minute You're Here

I was going to share some happy news with you today, but I hope you'll forgive me if that waits until tomorrow. Yesterday, I learned that an uncle of mine passed away in the Dominican Republic and since then all I've been able to think about is my grieving father and how fleeting life is. My heart is just heavy right now at the thought of having lost such a loving person and all those questions and feelings of sadness and anger that come with death.

I wish I spent more time with him as an adult since he was always so caring and kind when we'd visit as children, but I'm thankful for having seen him one last time during our trip there this summer. I'm so thankful that after nine years apart I got to hug him and kiss him and let him know that I loved him so very much. I only wish that weren't the last time I got to tell him so.

Image: etsy.com

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Presale: OMHG 2014 Letterpress Calendar

One of the coolest things about being part of the handmade/creative community are the connections that you develop with other makers. I've mentioned the Oh My! Handmade Goodness community here before and how I've enjoyed participating in their Thursday Twitter chats to talk with others about growing our small businesses. It's been such a useful resource not only for biz tips and advice, but also just relating with others about the ups and downs of striking out on your own. So I joined the OMHG forums a couple months ago and have since found such a supportive group of cheerleaders and teachers in there.

Collaborations are a natural by-product of being surrounded by talented creators and so we're thrilled to announce our latest: a 2014 letterpress calendar centered around the theme of community. We've been at this for months so we're over the moon that our launch day is finally here! We've each designed one month out of the year based on what we felt "community" meant to us (naturally I took my birthday month, January).

Once our designs started pouring in I was just blown away by how good these people are! Seriously, I have much to learn when it comes to graphic design and playing with software rather than paper and paint. Then our artists' blurbs started coming and I realized how human we all are. As an outsider looking in, sometimes it can feel like these names and brands have it all figured out, that everyone's lives are just neatly trotting along this path that allows them to create so freely and passionately. At least that's how I felt before I joined the cool kids, but upon reading the stories behind each design you'll discover that we all have our hopes and struggles made better with the help of others.

To see and learn more about our designs and order your copy, visit ohmyhandmade.com.

Image: ohmyhandmade.com

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Burning Man Dreams

It's been two months since I've been back from Burning Man and do you know I still get cravings for that festival? And I probably will until I set foot on Black Rock City again. I could be strolling along the street at night and as soon as a cyclist rides past me with a blinking light on his helmet it's like *whoosh* and the memories come rushing back. Today I get to relive those days once again as Latina magazine has published one of my favorite photos for its final page on the December/January issue, which hit newsstands today.

It's funny that with all the articles I've had published, I'm rushing out to buy multiple copies of this issue. But it's my picture...all big! Plus, A. got a photo credit in a national magazine so he's pretty happy about that.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


When I was a child, my dad bought me a map of the world. It was giant and I'd spread it open like a carpet to lay on it. I don't think I understood then how vast the world truly was as I'd search the U.S. states and tried to memorize their capitals. In fact, it wasn't until our road trip around the country last year and then standing in Black Rock Desert this summer that my mind finally started to grasp the immensity of this planet. How one person is to explore all she wants to see is still beyond me, but a girl can continue to search and dream as her slight obsession with maps and travel slowly grows.

It's in that same wanderlust spirit that my heart skipped a beat when 1Canoe2 Letterpress announced their super limited-edition handpainted globes featuring their custom artwork on five unique pieces. I'm so in love with these you don't even know. The ladies of 1Canoe2 will be auctioning off one globe a week starting November 11 and hosting a giveaway for a free globe until Nov. 8 at noon (that's tomorrow!). Visit their Facebook page for a chance to nab one for your own.

Image: 1canoe2.com

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Yakitori Tori Shin + Humans of New York

One of the things I was going to miss out on if I left to Cameroon was A.'s birthday, but I decided to go anyway because, you know, "it's Africa." Still, I wanted to make sure I fulfilled my loving girlfriend duties before I left and that I set up some surprises for him while I was away.

For over a year, A. had been wanting us to have dinner at Tori Shin, a popular Japanese yakitori restaurant by his apartment, but we just never pulled the trigger when it came to treating ourselves to a fancy meal. Plus, it's so full during dinner time that it's not a place that you can just drop into on a whim; reservations are the way to go. But like A. mentioned, you know it's a good spot when the tables are filled by Japanese men in suits so I booked us a table for the Friday night before I went away, got dressed up, left our phones at home, and walked on over to the restaurant for my first taste of yakitori. A., who's been raving about his dining experience in Tokyo for the past three years, was excited about what was to come.

I didn't know much about what to expect, but the night was just incredible. He and I spent the next couple of hours just being fed a stream of skewered meats - mostly chicken - and vegetables grilled to perfection and sipping plum wine. While you can order set entreés from the menu, part of the delight of yakitori restaurants is that you can choose to be surprised, which we did with the Chef's Omakase menu ($55 per person). The chef cooks up whatever he wants - a selection of fresh meat and produce with a few surprises - and you just decide to go along for the ride. It's not for picky eaters (though you can tell your waiter what you absolutely won't eat like, say, organs), but it makes for such an awesome dining experience.

You'd think 10 tiny plates couldn't fill you up, but by the time they wrapped up dinner with chicken and eggs over rice, soup, and then green tea sorbet for dessert, we just could not handle any more food and walked home happy and dizzy from our impending food coma.

As for A.'s other surprises, I had a box of his favorite cookies from Levain Bakery delivered on his birthday as well as a copy of Tumblr blogger Brandon Stanton's beautiful photography book Humans of New York, a New York Times best seller that happened to be released on A.'s day. We both enjoy following Stanton's work on Facebook every day and never cease to marvel at a) how many stories are lurking within all these strangers around us and b) how Stanton gets them to share something so intimate with someone they've never met. One of my favorite quotes was given by the woman below who said, "When I was 20, I made a plan to get a good job and be secure. Now I'm 35, and I need a plan to be happy."

Images: handi-eats.blogspot.com and facebook.com

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

On the Return

It's been over a month since I posted here last and my hiatus seems to have whooshed in and out so suddenly. I've been so busy these days, October feels like it never even happened. That's probably because for most of that month I was preparing for, experiencing, and then recuperating from a press trip to Cameroon. My social media followers already got little tidbits from my first trip to Africa, but I never got a chance to mention it on here. To be honest, the 12-day trip was a bit of a nightmare for reasons which I'll expand on in a future post, but let's just say I was so very glad to be home.

The recovery period has dragged on a bit in the last weeks I've been back because of the crazy jet lag, A.'s mom came to visit with us days after my arrival, and I fell ill with the flu during that time. *womp, womp* We still managed to have a lovely time taking her out to eat around the Upper East Side: Spanish tapas at El Porrón, Thai food at The Nuaa, and The Meatball Shop's newest (and biggest) location at 1462 Second Ave. I'm sure we sent her back home a few pounds heavier, but she wasn't complaining.

I'm still not at a hundred percent just yet, but I've no time to waste; the Etsy NY team's Holiday Handmade Cavalcade is next month and I'm working on some new products for the season. (Take a peek at the beginnings of Porcupine Hugs' 2014 calendar here.) In addition, I'm working on the business' wholesale marketing campaign (check out the first catalog!) and just finished an awesome collaboration with several members of the Oh My! Handmade Goodness crew that we just can't wait to reveal next week.

So yup, busy busy on my end, but I've been relishing lists, schedules, and routines as they're so necessary to my sanity these days. I still need to slowly ease back into my social life, but I'm on such a "do it do it do it" kick these days because I want so much for good and fruitful things to keep flowing my way and the only way the world will know what we're capable of is by continuing to create and outdo.

Did I mention that it feels so good to be back?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Doodles of a Little Monster

I have to thank my friend the Bantu Girl for recently pointed me towards Kerstin Hiestermann's work, a collection of minimalist doodles integrating found objects and the German illustrator's imagination. Her playful creations typically feature flowers, toys, and line drawings of curious little creatures being up to no good.

"Long ears, two small horns, large eyes, and a crooked grin. The little monster which appears in many of my pictures is the embodiment of the childish mischief maker in me," she says. "And that's the element that turns my minimalist pictures into a story. In the middle of a box filled with strawberries a single one is missing, and the monster sits next to it, its mouth covered in red. I didn't do it."

I also like the she fully admits to not knowing how to draw exceptionally well, but it doesn't stop her from recreating the silly visions that come to mind. To follow along on her monsters' misadventures, follow Hiestermann on Instagram, Facebook, and her blog. This will be a fun addition to my Instagram feed for sure.

Images: instacanv.as

Monday, September 23, 2013

Autumn Essentials + Free Watercolor Print

Autumn is here! Squeee! Ever since I started getting seasonal allergies in the spring, fall took over as my favorite season. The leaves turn such beautiful colors and it's not too hot nor too cold (though that perfect in-betweeny time is quite short in New York City). I only wish I could head back up to the Catskills during Columbus Day weekend for another fall getaway because even though I was DYING with the flu, it was an amazing time.

I celebrated the first day of fall yesterday with the Etsy NY Team at the Montague St. Summer Space festival in Brooklyn Heights and had a good time showing little kids how to make their own tiny books. It was a gorgeous and clear day, but the wind kept blowing our paper scraps all over the place. All I wanted was a thicker sweater and a cup of mocha to keep up with the stream of kids.

Now that the new season is here, I can't wait for pancakes flavored with pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon, coconut oil massages by candlelight, and finally busting out my cozy throws, tights and brown leather boots again. As much as I love summer as well, the hot flashes brought on by the tamoxifen made it so unbearable for me at times. Hopefully the cooler weather will even me out.

What are you looking forward to in the cooler months? To decorate for the season, download this pretty Autumn Essentials watercolor print from the Jones Design Company. Summer fans who still want to cling to summer days, can print this one instead.

Image: jonesdesigncompany.com

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Little Porcupine Hugs Update

I figured since Porcupine Hugs is slowly consuming more and more of my time, I'd give you guys a little update on how my stationery business is going. The collection is slowly growing (there are now nearly 70 items in the shop!) and I'm so happy that I got the ball rolling last year. I know I'd be kicking myself now thinking of how much progress I could have made if I'd only taken that first step. To be honest, sometimes I still do when I think of where I'd be now if I had started six years ago when I first toyed with the idea. Oh well, baby steps, right?

Right now I'm finishing up the first catalog for wholesale inquirers. I have a list of stores around the country that I'd love to approach and will be sending out mailers letting retailers know what we're all about. Hopefully some decide that they simply must stock Porcupine Hugs in their shop and I get some constructive feedback that will help me develop the line even further.

My pie-in-the-sky goal (aside from finally getting this catalog out the door) is to exhibit at the National Stationery Show in 2015. It's such a big deal and while I'm a bit bummed that I won't be able to make it work for 2014 due to having to pay off a major unforeseen inconvenience (coughcancercough), I'm setting my plan in motion now to prepare for the following year. It's good to have something to strive for and I feel like it's attainable if I start aiming for it now. Not only do I want to make a big splash for my debut with a kickass product line and booth to match, but giving myself time to grow and learn from my customers will also make my business stronger and leave me better able to handle that next step. At least that's what I'm telling myself so I can bury the idea of NSS 2014 into the ground.

For now, I'm having fun selling at various street fairs over the weekends. I've already sold at the Artists & Fleas market in Brooklyn and the Hester Street Fair in the Lower East Side and had a fun time at both. There's nothing like connecting with your customers face-to-face, hearing the stories behind their purchases, and getting feedback on what you're offering and what they'd like to see. I'll be returning to Hester Street Fair Sept. 28 and Oct. 12, both Saturdays. I'm also participating in the Crafts in Chelsea Fall Festival Oct. 5 so this fall is turning into a busy season, which is perfect by me.

But wait, there's more! This Sunday, Sept. 22 join me at Montague Street's Summer Space in Brooklyn Heights from 1pm - 4:30pm for a free crafting demonstration with the Etsy New York team. I'll be showing how to make cute mini books like this one I made as a gift for A. for our one year anniversary. Two years later, it became the inspiration for Porcupine Hug's Why I Love You card.

While you're there be sure to check out the Afro-Brazilian samba reggae performance by an all-women's drumming band, free yoga and Zumba workouts, food and games courtesy of local merchants, and the Brooklyn Heights dog show.

So yup! That's what's been going on with Porcupine Hugs these days. To keep up to date with behind-the-scenes peeks, events and fairs, special promotions and new product releases, please sign up for our newsletter and check the links below:

Web: porcupine-hugs.com
Etsy: porcupinehugs.etsy.com
Blog: blog.porcupine-hugs.com
Facebook: facebook.com/PorcupineHugs
Twitter: @dorkysramos
Instagram: @dorkysramos

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Alt-J, "Breezeblocks"

On Sunday evening, A. and I walked over to Central Park for Alt-J's concert at Rumsey Playfield. Now we didn't have tickets for the show, but were happy to lay in the grass just outside the open air venue and listen to the songs. I've only just been introduced to them, but "Matilda" and "Breezeblocks" are our favorites and it was nice to hear the band play them live (and watch A. quietly sing along).

I don't know if it's the sudden dip in the temperature or just the busy weekend that's left me starting this week off feeling super slow. I've been shuffling about all day wanting to keep warm and hide under the covers. So instead of continuing to rack my brain over what to tackle next, I'm going to tuck into bed early, listen to some music, and get another fresh start in the morning.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Inventing Your Own Life's Meaning

A friend recently shared the behind-the-scenes stresses of her dreamy sports writing job. After detailing how she had to pull over on the side of a highway in the middle of the night to file a breaking story for the paper, I was reminded of the few meet-ups we've managed to squeeze in over the years and how she'd have to stay connected with work at all times in case something needed to be covered immediately. We'd be enjoying a meal and catching up when suddenly hell would break loose on Twitter and we'd have to cut things short so she could whip out her laptop and start making calls for her next article. The woman is stressed out her mind, but still, I wanted to believe that she loved her job to put up with the downsides, right?

"I think I just want to prove to others and myself that I can be a legitimate beat writer and that I can break news as well," she told me.

I wonder if that validation isn't coming at too high a cost, but also have to admit that my situation is no better. Last month I found myself struggling financially, plowing through rejections, and doubting if I'm doing any of this right. Yes, I have the time to spend with family and friends, to pursue my creative ambitions, to relax when I want to, work from a coffee shop, the park, L.A., wherever, and spend an afternoon reading in the sun, but I don't feel like I'm building towards any real future. Because as great as these things may be for my mind and being, I think we can agree that making money is just as important. And while a high paying job is demanding and stressful, being broke is no picnic either.

A few days ago I stumbled upon Gavin Aung Than's illustration of Bill Watterson's inspiring commencement speech to the 1990 graduates of Kenyon College. In it, the Calvin & Hobbes cartoonist pointed out how choosing a slower path that satisfies your soul and allows you time to chase the things that bring you joy isn't always so popular. You're expected to climb ladders, throw yourself into a career, and work like a horse lest you be deemed a slacker. If you step off the hamster wheel or give up a lucrative position, people might wonder if you've done lost your mind. You might wonder the same if you pass up a fat paycheck in order to go pursue a calmer existence. "As if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth," Watterson said.

I definitely don't want my life to be consumed with earnings and getting to the top of some pyramid somebody else built. I have a vision for what I'd like my life to be: meaningful, productive, filled with creative projects that I'm passionate about, the ones that keep me up at night because I'm so damn excited about them. I want the freedom to work during my optimum hours, to not have to eat lunch while shackled to my computer, to believe that what I'm working on will inspire others to pursue their own dreams, too. I want to always have time for a drink with friends, car rides with Dad, to lay out on the grass and enjoy a free concert with A. at the park, to write in the mornings, draw in the afternoons, and go to sleep at a respectable hour.

See, I love the life I have now because I already have all of the above...I just don't know if it's a sustainable one for much longer and am struggling so hard to make both sides of the coin meet.

Images: zenpencils.com

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Wicked for Broadway Week

Last night my sister and I went to see Wicked and had such an awesome time. Have you seen it? It's the story about the witches of Oz before Dorothy and Toto dropped into the party and really makes you feel for what the Wicked Witch of the West had to live through. I loved the music and didn't expect to find the acting as funny as I did (*toss, toss*). I might have also gotten a bit emotional for most of the first act because the singing was sensational (Lindsay Mendez's rendition of "The Wizard and I" and "Defying Gravity" were phenomenal) and I just couldn't believe that I was finally watching this show. Broadway plays are usually so expensive, but thanks to Broadway Week we were able to snatch 2-for-1 tickets and make my wish come true. I so didn't want the moment to end so I snuck into bed with my phone searching for snippets of the play on YouTube.

What Broadway plays have you seen? This is only my third (Rent and In The Heights were the first two) and have my eyes on The Book of Mormon next.

P.S. Was anyone a big Oz series fan growing up? I've never watched the movie, but remember checking out book after book from the library as a child. This made me want to visit that fantastical place again.

Image: broadway.com

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My Breast Cancer Essay in Latina Magazine

When I was approached to pen an essay for Latina's October issue about my journey with breast cancer, I said yes, but also felt nervous about taking on the assignment. I'd covered breast cancer awareness and survivors' stories for the same magazine in the past so it was a bit surreal that I had now become the subject of a topic I'd written about so many times before. I wasn't sure how I felt about shining the spotlight on myself after knowing how many others had fought before and are still fighting now. What happened to my initial refusal to become a banner woman for this disease? I accepted anyway. More good will come from sharing and giving of oneself than from withholding every bit of you - even the not so pretty parts.

My life is a fairly open book, which is evident through this blog, and I function under the hope that my thoughts and stories somehow inspire someone else walking down a similar path. So maybe my personal essay will bring a little bit of kickass positivity and hope to another trudging through the dark days because as I write in those pages, "You will eventually smile again and focus on your goals, and life just keeps moving on."

Playa Names

Out on the playa it's common practice to adopt a new name for the week. The thought is to cast aside what ties you to the outside world, or "reality camp," and allow yourself the freedom to be your truest self while at Burning Man. It sounds a little hippie, but it's also nice to consider that you don't have to go by the name with which you were born. Lord knows I've spent most of my life wanting a do-over in that category. Some names are gifted while others choose to rename their own selves.

A few weeks before we left, A. and I gifted each other new names. I named him Kinsey, after the famous researcher of human sexuality, and he called me Quill because of my writerly abilities and the prickly mascot of my stationery company Porcupine Hugs. Granted I only gave out my playa name a few times - though I'm sure people thought Dorkys was my made-up moniker - but it was fun to toy with the idea of being a different persona out there.

If you could choose a new name what would it be? A., named after two princes, grew up wishing he was Tom and I figured if I became famous under a stage name, the tabloids would have a field day if my original name was ever exposed.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Logistics Behind Burning Man

Now that we've gotten the sentimental parts of Burning Man out of the way, I wanted to talk about about some of the logistics of living in the desert for a week. While it was definitely a lot less rough than I was expecting, we've already made notes of what did and didn't work this year so that we'll be much more comfortable the next time around.

There's no predicting the weather out there so you must come ready for anything: sweltering heat, frigid nights, rain, hail, dust storms, you name it. The desert does whatever she wants and you'd better be prepared out there. This year, I know I lucked out since the nights were still so warm, a coat was rarely necessary. The days though were a monster and a half. Even though we were still tired come morning, there was no choice but to get out of our tent early unless we wanted to continue baking in our sleep. A tent fan will be necessary for the future.

We also ate better than I expected, sometimes even better than what I eat in my own apartment. Pre-cooked Jack Daniels pulled beef made the best sandwiches. Pasta with ground beef, hearty breakfasts of eggs, bacon, and avocados. Fruit cups, grapes, squeezable applesauce pouches, and coconut water were refreshing out there. Things we didn't even touch: crackers with peanut butter, trail mix, and other dry foods that would make your mouth even more parched. It also didn't help that our camp stove and propane tanks failed us so we had to rely on the kindness of our neighbors and ended up not cooking things that might have taken more gas than necessary. (I'm sure they wouldn't have minded though.) Lesson learned: test all new survival equipment before driving into the middle of nowhere for a week.

Because the whole city and event is such a communal effort, the shared spaces were impressively clean. We tried to keep MOOP (matter out of place and my new favorite acronym) off the ground. I hardly ever entered a port-o-potty and was horrified by what was hiding inside. The floors and seats were clean, there was plenty of toilet paper to go around (though I'd always carry a bit of one-ply just in case), and I was usually amused by the ads and writings on the walls. Some even had pre-recorded messages to entertain you during your nature call. Going to the bathroom was actually as pleasant an experience as you could imagine. And for the ladies who would rather not venture out of their tent at night to do their business, the pee funnel I bought became my new best friend when we were stuck in the car for six hours trying to enter Black Rock City and for the days that followed.

You will bike everywhere on the playa so do yourself a huge favor and pimp your ride out. That includes soft handles, a good basket, hardy wheels, and the comfiest seat you can find. Trust me, your ass will thank you after the first day. The bike situation was what fretted me the most because I'm too petite for many standard adult sizes, but A.'s sister pulled through with a girl bike that I was able to get around in. Granted, it still could have been smaller (as is most things with me) and I probably wouldn't have been so opposed to biking around at night if I felt more confident in it, but when a middle-of-the-night prank had me thinking that someone had stolen my bike, I thought for sure my trip was ruined. Since then, I always locked my bike day and night (it's less for theft out there and more so someone doesn't mistakenly bike off with it) and might add on training wheels the next time around to help me bust through the soft dust. Ain't no shame!

Speaking of dust, you'll either learn to just become one with the thing or try hard to keep your belongings as clean as possible. The latter will be mostly futile (but it helps to package outfits into separate Ziploc bags). As soon as you step foot on your camp location and begin setting up, you will be covered in it. I'd return from a night out on the playa and my hair looked like I'd aged 50 years in one hour. It was fantastic. The alkaline dust will seriously dry out your skin so keep a giant bottle of lotion on hand and wipe off with vinegar to balance out the PH level and keep your hands and feet from cracking. Vinegar will also help get the dust off your clothes when you return home and dump half the desert into your washing machine.

You'd think that after a week of baking in the sun everyone and everything around you would reek - yourself included - but nope! We were meticulous about "bathing" with baby wipes a few times a day and apart from the time spent in the tent each blazing morning, we hardly sweated. It was so hot, the sweat would just evaporate right off of you. That's why it's so important to stay hydrated and follow the motto: piss clear. A Camelbak ensures that water is always within reach. I'm sad to note that my water consumption has absolutely tanked since returning to the city, but maybe if I start carrying my backpack around and turn the blinking el-wire on at night drinking water will be fun again.

As for other comforts, remember that not only is this a community built on self-reliance and self-expression, but also inclusion and participation. Some people go the "roughing it" route while others go all out for Burning Man, bringing in air conditioned RVs and mobile oases to the desert and it's up to each person to bring whatever will make their burn. Some will argue that these luxurious comforts are what's steadily killing the vibe each year, but who really cares? In the end, everyone's just out for a grand time and you're the one responsible for creating the experience you seek.

For more information on Burning Man and how to prepare for a fantastical trip to Black Rock City, I encourage you to read the Burning Man survival guide, learn the Ten Principles, and join this awesome Facebook group to have your questions answered by season burners.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Burning Woman

I'm back from Burning Man and have been wishing I were back on the playa all week long. It was one of the most special experiences I've ever been a part of and am at a loss for words to properly describe this magical event, this DIY Disney Land on Drugs. After A. returned from his first burn last year I gave him crap for barely taking any pictures for me to see. Now I understand.

While there, I felt this happy calm and quickly forgot about whatever could be going on beyond Black Rock City, Nevada. I didn't know what time it was, I couldn't be bothered to pull out my phone to check, and without any service or Internet connection, I was truly able to let go of all those obsessive habits. But it went deeper than just disconnecting from Gmail and social media because I also found myself letting go of the negative parts of my personality like worries, stubbornness, and judgments. I was in this amazing space that nurtured creativity, community, sharing, and joy. I wanted to experience it completely. It was liberating to roam around in whatever attire I wanted (or even none at all) and do whatever simply because it made me happy and seeing others do the same for themselves kept feeding into that pot.

The place is big. If you ever attend, this will be the understatement of the year as "big" cannot begin to describe this. I wasn't prepared to have my mind blown after biking out for more than a mile into the middle of the desert and still seeings lights from our city of 70,000 twinkling in the distance, pulsating 'til the dawn. I found myself amused by a constant stream of whimsy: hula hoops that radiated with streams of light, makeshift slides from construction tubing, howling at the setting sun, screaming in the deep playa, quiet pockets right in the middle of the mayhem, so much music, fire!, night skydivers who'd leave a streak of sparks across the inky sky.

"And to think we're in just one desert...in one state...in one country…on Earth," I marveled one night. "I feel so small."

But it was powerful to know that somehow I helped create this. We all did. The people of Black Rock City are the ones who make it the Wonderland I found it to be. We're kind to each other, we care for our shared spaces. Artists share openly without receiving any compensation in return save for the delight felt by those who gather around their work. I felt like Alice stumbling upon one random curiosity after another. Instead of ever satiating my craving, it made me want more. For nights we'd walk though dust storms and a parade of LED-lit wanderers, searching and searching for everything. I wanted it all, I wanted to devour the place. All my life I'd kept my soul from playing without my own judgement, from being whatever the hell it wanted to be and now here I stood completely famished before this beautiful feast for the heart. I wanted to explode. I cried instead.

I had finally found a place so nurturing to how carefree I wish I were in the real world that I didn't want to leave. I needed to run around, inhabit all this space. My usually socially-anxious self had no qualms about saying hello to the strangers walking alongside me and asking them how their burn was going. After going in for a shower at a nearby camp, I immediately grabbed the soap and hose to help wash up the other dusty playamates lined up behind me. Feeling rejuvenated after such a refreshing break from the heat, we all danced in the nude.

"What do you want to leave in the temple," A. asked the night before this year's space was to be set on fire.

"I want to burn everything. I want to start over."

We'd been taking such good care of each other, being gentle, loving, and kind that I wanted so much to bring it back home with us and didn't want my hang-ups to screw it all up in the real world. I felt such joy and peace just by breathing that I wanted to stay huddled in this bubble of unconditional acceptance. It would be hard to return without my insides feeling so different.

We never did watch the temple burn. The threat of an impending storm had most of us packing up early to avoid the city's shutdown Monday afternoon. But as I stood on the roof of the car trying to catch a glimpse of the flames from the road miles away, I told myself that I didn't have to leave the principles learned out on the playa behind nor did I have to wash off the person I became along with the dust. I was her there and so I still am her everywhere.

Friday, August 23, 2013

{Happy Friday} Philly, L.A., and Burning Man Prep

I feel all kinds of discombulated, guys. See I've been wanting to tell you a bit about my weekend trip to Philadelphia last weekend, but I've been in Los Angeles this week waiting for A. to arrive tonight so we can prep for Sunday's drive to Burning Man. Too much! But here's a little quick peek nonetheless.

The main reason why we decided to drive down was so A. could see his team, the Dodgers, take on the Phillies and do some exploring while we were there. I hadn't been to the area in more than five years while I was still dating Mr. First and always thought that returning to Citizens Bank Park would bring back memories of attending those games with him. Well nothing bubbled up. I enjoyed the games (the Dodgers won on Saturday and on Sunday I cheered for my former Phillies crush Cole Hamels) and the meandering strolls through the downtown area taking note of the places where our country took shape.

We also enjoyed stumbling upon random art like the buildings along South Street completely covered in hodge podge mosaics that led us to Magic Gardens. Unfortunately for us, it was closed for a private event when we passed by, but the labyrinth is made from a colorful (and somewhat inexplicable) collection of found objects, glass bits, mirrors, and painted tiles. The exterior of this sculpture garden offered so much to take in, I can only imagine what a trip the interior must be.

A. and I then took a little snack break at Tattooed Mom where we snacked on waffle fries, pineapple juice, and Dum Dum lollipops while we cuddle on the couch and wondered what on Earth was going on with the restaurant's window displays.

Sunday found us roaming around early in search for activities and food. See, aside from baseball and lunch with friends at the Continental on Saturday, we really had no itinerary planned. The night before we walked back to our hotel room at the Wyndham, giggling while I tried to follow the sidewalk footprint decals placed outside the National Museum of American Jewish History for its exhibition on Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day. Instead of going back out for drinks and mayhem, we tucked in for the night and enjoyed some bad cable TV (like Catfish!) before falling asleep on two separate full beds. It was bliss and honestly, I don't think I'd be mad if that was ever implemented in my marriage.

For Sunday brunch, A. and I wandered through the Headhouse Square Farmers' Market before sitting down at Bridget Foy's down the block where I ordered this banana and cream cheese stuffed French toast. He chose the white egg omelet with roasted tomatoes, turkey bacon, smoked gouda, and avocado crema.

Okay why is it that no matter what I order or how delicious it might seem, I always end up wanting A.'s dish instead? Without fail! After brunch we hopped on a bus and headed back to the ballpark to catch another game before heading back to NYC and continue the final bits of our Burning Man prep.

So I've been in L.A. for the past three days running errands and gathering the camping supplies we'll need for the week-long trip. Confession: the closer it gets to Sunday the more nervous I'm getting. Not just because it's Burning Man and from everything I've heard and read, it's NO JOKE, but also because I'll be traveling to No Joke Burning Man with my boyfriend. This is going to be one hell of a journey for us and I'm anxious to see how we nurture and help each other when stress and discomforts are flying at us for a week straight. See you all on the other side.

Monday, August 12, 2013


The closer it gets to head off to Burning Man, the more excited I become. I can't believe it's only two weeks until I set foot on the dusty playa and ask myself, "What the hell did I get myself into?" A. and I have already started preparing for the trip and while he just needs to gather the things he acquired for last year's burn, I've had to buy them for the first time. This includes goggles and a face mask for the dust storms, bandanas, a Camelbak to help me stay hydrated throughout the day, lights to stay safe and glowing while biking at night, appropriate shoes (I got these), and even a pee funnel. Before you ask, just understand that I'm not trying to make my way out of our tent, into the darkness, and to the port-o-potties if I have to pee in the middle of the night. Not happening.

Luckily, A. and his sister have amassed most of the camping gear we will need for our week-long stay in the desert including bikes to travel around Black Rock City, but he and I still need to buy toiletries, food, water, a larger tent, and a comfy air mattress to sleep on. I'm sure we'll come to appreciate the little comforts when we drag ourselves to bed exhausted from a long day. I also need to remember that while it might be blazing hot during the day, temperatures plummet at night so a winter coat will be packed in, too. If I have time, I might decorate it in some way, but I've yet to think of how and I don't want my usual fashion mantra, comfort over style, to make me feel underdressed for this occasion.

But that doesn't mean I haven't given any thought at all to costumes. I recently bought a black tutu for the rest of my bee costume and to rock on Tutu Tuesday. Guys, there's a Tutu Tuesday! I think I'm going to love this place. I'm also considering dusting out my floral cocktail dress to attend the Alice in Wonderland Tea Party event there. One can only imagine what that'll be like (live human croquet will be involved), but I'll be sure to return with a full report. There's really an endless string of events, camps, and parties so I hope I can keep up with the madness and not want to knock out at 11pm like I usually do.

Aside from all the partying I'll be doing, there's also a more serious moment I'm looking forward to while I'm there: visiting the temple. I've no idea what this year's design will look like because I want to be blown away when I see it firsthand. I still have to gather the items, thoughts, notes, or whatever symbols I'd like to leave there to burn when the week is over. I'll probably get emotional once I enter the temple and sit and think about the things I'd like to bury in the dust, but I'll be glad to have a hand to hold while I let those bits go.

What would leave to burn if you were visiting the temple?

Image: medium.com

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Americans in Bed

Next week, HBO will be debuting Americans in Bed, a documentary of candid interviews with 10 couples on sex and relationships from the comfort of their own bed. My friend Leon (pictured in the trailer still below) opened up his bedroom to talk about his polyamorous lifestyle alongside then-girlfriend Blanca. We'll also hear stories from a pair of newlyweds, a couple that's been married for 71 years, a pair trying to regain the trust lost from infidelity, and a couple navigating the joys of marriage and parenthood while another tries to find the sizzle their relationship once had. It'll be interesting to peek into these couple's lives and see a tiny cross-section of America while remembering all the different ways love can take shape.

Americans in Bed premieres Monday, August 12 at 9 pm on HBO. Here's the trailer:

Monday, August 5, 2013

Returning to the Dominican Republic

Apologies for the silence around here the last couple weeks, but I had a beautiful excuse: I was in the Dominican Republic! For years my father has expressed this wish of traveling back to Santiago with all three of his kids, something he hadn't done in 20 years. While my siblings have traveled there plenty over the last few years both with Dad and with other family members, I hadn't visited my DR family in nine years. (You might remember my vacation there in 2009, but I traveled to a different location on the island and so didn't get to see anyone I knew.)
One of my reasons for staying away was the fact that I spent practically every childhood summer visiting the same village, seeing the same people, doing the same things. So as soon as I had a say in where I could spend my vacations and a budget to make those travel dreams happen, I flew to new places: Mexico, St. Lucia, Costa Rica, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Czech Republic, Thailand, and planting my restless feet across the U.S. I wanted to see the world and it wasn't going to happen if I kept returning to the same places. I love my extended family, but I guess I'd grown to love my wanderlust more.
But the excitement my father felt in the weeks, days leading up to the trip was contagious. Oh goodness and when he realized we'd be there during Dominican Father's Day, he was just beside himself. It was complete coincidence as we barely even remember when American Father's Day is, but what perfect timing. Once there, I remembered all those little innocent escapades I had as a child, biking off with the local boys to climb hills and trees, poking the bats out of their holes in the trunks and knocking down fruits to eat, the women that I came to know as sisters, the smells, the tastes, visiting my godfather's farm to hose down the pigs and feed the animals. All the kids I'd said goodbye to nine years ago now towered over me and a new batch of faces had taken their place. And while I'm happy for the progress that has made its way into this village in Monte Adentro, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't yearning for the old dirt roads that used to lead us city children to their next adventure where frilly dresses stood no chance against the mud and our curiosity.

It was bittersweet, too, as a walk through the local cemetery made me realized how many people - including two grandparents - had passed on since I was there last. Despite all the faces that filled my grandmother's house as we celebrated our reunion, I still missed seeing her toothless grin as she sat on her rocking chair saying "crapola" about one thing or another. I wish I'd seen her more and I wish I'd grown up with a closer bond with my grandparents, but it's too late for all that now.
The trip was too short. Trips that mean so much usually are. But we filled those five days with laughter and stories that made me realize just how important it is to stay connected to family. There were people that I'd forgotten how much they used to mean to me and it shamed me a bit. So instead of acting as if goodbyes are just words you say casually, I listened, I made eye-contact, I didn't wipe my cheek after their wet kisses, I said, "You mean a lot to me." Because as much as I would love to return and nurture those ties, I know things happen. Work demands your attention, life picks up speed, goals pull you in other directions, unexplored corners call your name, you run out of money, and before you know it, years have passed, children have grown up, the old have moved on. When I hugged my older aunts and uncles farewell I wanted so badly to cling to those moments because I didn't want to forget.
Dad thinks this trip was our gift to him and it started out as such, but, I tell him, this trip was also an unforgettable gift to his children.