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.