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

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

One Year Later...

I’ve spent the last year wanting to blog again (as I always say whenever a chunk of time quietly passes by around here), but, you know, life…

Whenever someone mentioned my blog or introduced me to their friend as a writer/blogger, I’d sheepishly mumble something about how I used to blog, how I used to write all the time, how I missed it, or how I just haven’t found time to get back into it. Weeks turned into months and months into a whole year and all the while my mind kept filling up with writing topics only to be emptied just as quickly by the mere thought of crafting a coherent sentence. After spending all day at the computer creating stories for other people, the last thing I wanted to do was write down my own. Still, I constantly wondered how the blogger community was doing these days. What happened to all those lives I used to follow? Was anybody even blogging anymore?

Last night I happened to pop on over to see if I had made the one year mark yet. I remembered my last post, a video interview for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, was published around the end of October and sure enough today was that day. And so I figured exactly one year later is as good a time as any to revive this old space. I’ve just published a new essay on my experience with breast cancer so at least I’d have that to share and slowly ease into this routine I once loved so much, I told myself.

But just like in 2008, when I first revived the blog because my life was a twisted mess and I had so much to say, I’d been craving this space for much of the same reasons. I initially thought I could saunter on in, dust the desk off, and whip up a few paragraphs about returning to the blogosphere (by the way, please tell me people don’t use that term anymore). Silly me. I should have known it wouldn’t come with its own emotional churning.

Dry As Toast was born out of my wish to write when no magazines were hiring me after I’d graduated journalism school in 2007. I told no one about it (aside from my sister) because it still seemed silly to keep an online journal as an adult. I tried to keep it going under wraps, but when there’s no community or feedback surrounding your words, the enthusiasm can die out fairly quickly. And so mine did. A year later, I found myself jumping right in, writing every single day, telling my friends about it, and eventually settling into a place that served as my virtual therapy. I poured so much of myself into this space - good, bad, confusing, inspiring, and devastating - that I’m sure you can imagine what it feels like to be back. It’s like opening an old diary and realizing that the feelings you had a decade ago have not changed much at all. Even worse is seeing how happy and hopeful the last several blog posts were and how different this year has felt.

In the past, reviving this blog has symbolized the beginning of a new chapter, and right now I don’t know that I even want to get over this mountain just yet. Even writing this is making my heart race because I know what will come if I start sifting through the things on my mind. I almost have to be in here with blinders on because I know that if I start digging, reading, remembering, longing, it will cause this knot in my throat to grow thicker.

So for now, I’ll just say…hello and that I missed this.