LIFE OF THE BODY, LIFE OF THE MIND

It’s presumptuous I know to “apologize” to a blog and its readers for not posting in a while, as if trajectories of whole lives were thwarted in your absence, as if the earth tilted slightly off its axis, as if something felt generally amiss in the world until somebody looked up and said, “come to think of it, Tolly hasn’t posted in a while!”

Reader, I know this isn’t the case. And still: I’m sorry.

Allow me to explain. See, the creative sands have shifted underneath me, and while I use to be strivey and mentally obsessive in one direction – writing – it’s like all of those energies have moved to my arms and legs and I don’t know how to explain it, exactly. It just is.

What I’m talking about of course is dancing, something I feel sheepish even mentioning because the very term has been co-opted by inspirational posters at the dentist’s office. “Dance as if nobody’s watching!” is terrible advice, I think, if you’re dance training. Another term I feel weird about using, ‘training,’ because that implies a level of rigor I’m not sure I possess. But I want to.

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Photo by the very dear Earl McGehee.

It started in 2011, as readers of this blog will know, when I literally stumbled into aerial silks. Fast-forward to now, had a baby, got back (slowly) on the cloth, and while the cloth is my first love, I’m trying to branch out. Try other apparatuses, like harness and pole, and also fill in the wide gaps of my dance knowledge with the basics, like ballet (intimidating!) and modern (fun! Also intimidating!). I danced a couple years in high school on the dance team, and very sporadically otherwise, but ballet is still basically a foreign language that I’ve got a three year-old’s proficiency in.

I have this theory that any accomplishments I’ve had in life can be chalked up to the fact that I’m a nice person, rather than having native talent or skills. And finally, I’m bumping up against the limits of niceness with dance! Turns out, you can’t be a good dancer simply by being easy to get along with. It’s frustrating and exhilarating and totally engrossing.

So if you wondered at all where I was (“is it just me, or does planet Earth feel OFF?”), I was stretching, port-a-bras-ing, and pole spinning, plus cursing, head-scratching, and (still) stumbling as these arms and legs are coaxed into something like an aesthetic. I still write. I love our podcast to absolute confetti bits. But I’m sharing this with you as a declarative statement of some sort, though it feels more like a confession. I didn’t run off and join the circus. This has been happening in stealth mode. And maybe it still will? I guess my hope is that I can integrate life of the body and life of the mind, by sharing bits and pieces here of what’s happening in the movement department. By the way, THIS is happening.

Isn’t it scary when you admit something out loud, Reader? Something pretty personal? When you go ahead and make yourself emotionally naked on the Internet, of all places? (Cue new SEO compatibility on my blog, linking search terms “naked” and “Internet.”)

Oversharing is a thing, and we should all watch out for it. But I believe emotional nakedness is healthy sometimes. That’s my inspirational poster.

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HELLO TO ALL THAT

I think it’s safe to say that Aries are independent types. Do you feel me on this, my fellow Rams?

My own independence has always been a badge of pride, if not protection. I’m almost 33, and I think about myself at 23, walking back to my car at night by myself. It was a thing I did all the time, bold and naive.

“Oh I see. You tough,” a guy remarked to me once as I made my way alone down Red River, all big strides and icy demeanor. “You be careful,” he called after me.

Nothing bad happened, not that night, and not ever. Maybe I was tough? But more likely, just lucky.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be part of a unit: part of a couple, part of a family. I’m married to a fellow independent, and was raised by parents who took their respective individualities very seriously. “If one of us wants to take a trip, and the other doesn’t want to, then that’s OK!” my Dad cheerfully used to say. “No use forcing someone into something they don’t wanna do.”

But I’ve been noticing that it’s not like that everywhere, in all couples, or all families.

Some people do default to the other’s plans. And not out of weakness, either – they take turns doing it. And I wonder sometimes if this is generational. Millenials (of which I count myself a borderline member) are so used to building their own mini media empires online, via Facebook / Twitter / etc., that merging with another isn’t quite instinctive. Their own, singular identity has been the product of so much work and effort, that it hinders one’s ability to merge.

Which is why becoming a mother has been so interesting.

Me & Nico

Sunday before last.

Not that I’ve tried very hard, but so far, I’ve found relatively few new mom narratives that don’t echo one of these two themes: either A) having a baby gave my life meaning! or B) it challenged me in ways I never thought possible! And the thing is, cliches are cliches because they’re true, just like these two are. Having a baby does give your life immense meaning. Having a baby does challenge you, dramatically.

I don’t want to dismiss these, particularly because lots of new parents have it really hard. Single moms, single dads, single-income families, and that income is just barely enough. It’s hard to have emotional nuance when you’re struggling.

So these mom narratives are out there because they’re real and they’re inflected with circumstance, but if I can navel gaze for a moment, here is my own mom narrative: I’m still learning what it’s like to merge.

Nico is 10 months old now, which means she’s been out of my body longer than she was in. Her personality quirks are consistent enough to call them traits, and they include: liking people, the outside, and other babies; not liking being sprayed with a sprinkler, being put down on the ground, and dogs. That last one I think she got from me. I still see wolves inside of the big ones.

She’s a baby, but she’s one of my favorite people to hang out with, and I mean that genuinely. Not only because she is caps lock SUPER FREAKING CUTE, but because the contours of her emerging soul make sense to me. It’s not like she never cries. She does. And she’s constantly shoving leaves in her mouth and peeing while naked because, well, she a baby. But – and I say this knowing full well my capacity to project – she also has a kind heart. She amuses herself. She loves being tickled, and hates it when you suddenly walk away, and I get that.

So there is all this abundant delight. Nico is not a hard baby, not someone I’ve got to escape from with emergency date nights. And yet, I am still learning what it’s like to be a a part of a whole! With her, and with my family.

Where does it come from? I’m not sure. It could be American, could be only child, could even be zodiac (but who really knows with the zodiac). I’ve got this weird rebellious streak that asserts itself in funny ways, like a dry erase board I keep on my bedroom bookshelf with Monday through Sunday’s workout plans: “Monday: silks, stretch. Tuesday: stretch, abs, butt.” That kind of thing. Nico doesn’t mind it now, because I can put her on down on the ground for most of this stuff, but what about when she’s walking? Talking? Not so easy to plop down while I do my thing? I have a feeling I will chafe. I’ve had it since pre-pregnancy, before I had anyone else to plan around, my quiet defiance against parenthood’s strictures.

There are other headstrong acts, too, things I do to prove I’m still fundamentally a free agent. But the thing that Nico knows, and I am still figuring out, is that it’s often less lonely to just yield to the people that love you.

But, how hard that is! For somebody addicted to calling the shots of her own life. For someone who wants both spontaneity, and control.

A few years ago, when I was interviewing more musicians than anyone else, I remember speaking with a now-famous pop star whose songs were just starting to trickle in. We were getting ready to turn on the camera, and I told her: “I’m going to ask you about your tour, what you think about Austin, all that, but I can ask other things too. Is there anything else you want?”

She looked at me and, having only heard the last part of my question, responded:

“A someone. A baby! I’m super traditional, you know. I never really wanted to be famous. I want all the old-fashioned stuff.”

And that never left me, “the old-fashioned stuff.” Here was this person who was as free as you could possibly be, if free = lots of money to do what you want, a staff to help execute it, and a public to cheer you on. But there were a precious few tangibles that were tougher for her to attain, the kinds of hard-won things earned only by ceding some of your freedom, and leaving enough cracks in your schedule and identity for them to grow through.

There was a time when the life I wanted resembled something like Sex & The City, with coffee dates and fierce independence and ladies doing it for themselves. Sometimes, I look around and feel like I’ve achieved exactly that. But there was always a thread of sorrow in that show, wasn’t there? The longing for companionship and perhaps even family, coupled with the fear of finally getting it?

It’s really scary to merge. At least, for me it is. But I’m leaning in that direction all the time, and getting to know the freedoms available there.

Me, Ross, Nico

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THE NEW YEAR’S WORD 2015

Katy

Katy Hirschfeld, who has a really amazing Instagram. AND is from Austin.

I can’t remember exactly when this tradition started, but for the last five or six years, New Year’s has prompted me to do this funny thing.

It’s not that I’m bad at resolutions, per se. It’s just that historically, my resolutions have been less “Year of Magical Thinking” and more “A List of Things I Need To Get Done Anyway.” I resolve to finish my master’s thesis, for example. Or, I resolve to apply for a job. Kind of…uninspiring.

I fancy myself a dreamer, but really, I am almost unshakeably practical. These two sides bump up against each other on a near-daily basis, wrestling for central command, so that all thoughts of “Paris! Let’s just GO there!” are immediately followed by, “hey, you know what’s a BETTER idea is to to sit down and make sure you have all your 1099 forms.” Isn’t that sad? I contain multitudes.

Anyway, because of these battling sides, it’s never been ‘resolve’ that I need. I can get shit done. What I’ve needed, still need, is direction.

So in came “the New Year’s Word,” perhaps the most useful, as well as the most viral, (10 or 11 people!) thing I have ever created.

The New Year’s Word is a theme for the year, and acts as my anchor, psychic counterbalance, and cartoon arrow sign on a forked road. And while it’s personal, it’s also somewhat crowd-sourced, in that I choose something that feels like a collective theme for my people.

Because I began 2014 foggy with pregnancy hormones, I didn’t really choose or announce a New Year’s Word. BUT, over the course of the year, it became clear that the whole thing was about transition / clearing out / cleansing / burning down the fields to make way for new growth. Some of these shifts were lovely (Omar and I launched a podcast; other friends and I launched an aerial dance company), some of them were violent (a handful of break-ups, as well as a few deaths, among my friends), and some of them were violently lovely (like giving birth).

Because of all these shake-ups, I felt like everyone entered 2015 blinking away mortar dust. Not that it was all bad, it was just a lot to process. I was lucky: My year was about figuratively and literally giving birth to things I’m passionate about, but now, I feel like it’s time for something different. To not push so hard. To hang back a bit. To support other folks for a change, ya big egomaniac!

This is all a way of saying that I think it’s time for less doing on my part, and more listening, so that’s my word for 2015: “listen.” Listen to whom? Good question. Everybody!

Part of this has to do with being a rookie parent, part of it has to do with being a rookie podcaster, part of it has to do with wanting to be a better friend, part of it has to do with aerial training, and part of it has a spiritualish component that I don’t even quite know how to articulate.

A long time ago, I visited my friend David at his sweet little house in south Austin, where he pulled some tarot cards for me and told me what was what with my zodiac chart. At the time I was considering quitting my job, but was afraid to make the leap into freelancerdom. David pulled the Wheel of Fortune card, and explained to me that if I did in fact leap, there would be these little “filling stations” so to speak that would support me along the way. That I wouldn’t be all alone, hustling, but that there were already people and companies lined up to help me. Like everything in astrology and tarot, it sounded half believable, half “if you say so!”, but lo and behold, David was right. I found the people and the companies, I didn’t put Ross and I into debt, and everything turned out ok.

But the reason I went to David at all with those questions was because I sensed something was up. A big change was a-comin.’ And now, I feel like the same is happening with this “listen” thing. I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to be listening out for, exactly? Or who to listen to? Just that I need to…do it.

So that is my word, and in the spirit of listening, I’d love to hear what yours is.

Here’s to the new year, new words, and new ears to hear them.

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THE LONG RUN

Alex

Credit: the always-amazing Instagram account of Alexandra Valenti.

Here is something I think about a lot.

Is it better to have a body-centric job, or a mind-centric job?

I wonder about this because (as I’m sure I’ve mentioned somewhere before) my creative brain is basically divided into two halves: the writing side, and the movement side.

During times of physical stillness, pregnancy for example, I list far over to the writing side, and become a little story pitching machine. Then, the gears shift, a baby is born, and I swing back to the aerial dance side.

Rarely, if at all, do I devote absolutely equal energy to the two.

Anyway, I’ve been a freelance writer for almost two and a half years now, which is actually the longest I’ve had any job. Since my early 20s, something always happened around the two-year job mark that made it impossible to go on: the gears ground down, I got tired of the work, and subsequently tired of myself. I’d bitch and whine to whoever would listen, develop a growing sense of inauthenticity, then chastise myself for being ungrateful that I had work at all. Then a client would send me a passive aggressive email, I’d mentally punch them in the face, and the whole gross process would start over again.

But then!

The clouds parted, I became a freelance writer, and I don’t have those feelings anymore. I totally, unabashedly love my work, and when I hit the three-year mark I’ll buy myself balloons and send all my clients gushy thank-you cards.

So when I look far off into the distant future, I think, “writing FOREVER! This is how I shall earn my keep. Forever.”

Until, that is, something like this happens – in 2012! – and I think…”uh oh.”

Maybe it’s because I’ve been knee-deep in aerial stuff, or maybe it’s because I’ve been watching too much Black Mirror, but I have this growing suspicion that in the future, professional pursuits involving the body, rather than the wits, may be the way to go.

Now, we should probably stop right there and establish that the mind/body dichotomy is a false one. Everything involves both all of the time.

Still, though. I have mostly a speculative, but somewhat substantive, fear of the digitization of jobs, including my current one. Ross, my husband – a music teacher, I might add – says that’s silly.

But, Bill Cosby (stay with me here) couldn’t have predicted the Internet. Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, all the men whose past sexual sins are now coming to light, just didn’t know that we’d have these crazy machines in the future. Machines that would give us an audience, shift the balance of power, and enable us to tell anyone’s secret that we wanted to.

Which is all to say (in very bizarre fashion) that even though robots doing our jobs sounds like Jetsons stuff, maybe it’s not so nuts after all?

Here’s another way of looking at it:

Algorithms can deduce and replicate patterns. (I think.) They are predictive in a way that white-collar professions, especially those in tech or finance, also are. Tech/finance folks are also extremely innovative, of course. But they are diagnosticians, studying trends and predicting the future based on information that they have today.

Now, I do not know HOW Narrative Science (robot doing my job in the future) “automates” stories. But I believe it extrapolates from data, and rarely do their stories make mistakes.

But when you perform a body-centric job, especially if it is performative in some way…it is the small mistakes that makes things delightful.

Can you write a code for “human” mistakes?

I don’t think you can.

And this is what gives me pause.

Often, in this culture, we view performers, teachers, caretakers, yogis, etc. as idealists, rather than savvy business folk. At least I do. I think: “now, how long can you reasonably keep doing that? How long until your body gives out? Maybe find a job that you can always do even when you’re tired and broke-down, hippie artist person?”

But in the end, will hippie artist people who use their bodies for work have the last laugh?

Especially if it turns out that we can keep on using our bodies a lot longer than we think?

As it stands, I make a lot more money writing than I do for aerial work. But maybe that won’t always be the case. I guess my central question is: if info gathering and its attendants (data interpretations, trend projections, “narrative generation,” etc.) becomes cheap and easy work to perform, and is thus devalued, will the human touch become more rare? More valuable?

Will we be so sated by accuracy, that we start craving human slip-ups? Or at least the potential for slip-ups?

The sung note just a hair off-key…the flash of uncertainty in a teacher’s voice…the guitar string that snaps…the dancer’s foot with one funny, funky, unpointed toe – will these be our gems?

What is the work that you absolutely, cannot, never ever digitize?

That is what I’m wondering.

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UP IN THE AIR

I often feel as though I have a secret life, a life I don’t share that much online.

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Maybe because it’s hard to put this practice into words, or maybe it’s hard to verbalize in an authentic way how much important things mean to you.

What I’m talking about is aerial dance, an adventure that started for me as part of a 2011 New Year’s resolution to try new things. And, lacking the capacity for moderation – this is the same person who pursued a whole Master’s degree in Victorian Literature, after all – I went all in.

After about a year or so of training, my friend Susan and I started performing on silks around town, doing bar gigs with short ceilings and tipsy revelers. More recently, we started booking corporate shows (higher ceilings, equally tipsy people), and the last one happened September, 2013 at a yacht club out in Lakeway. Unbeknownst to me, while I was swinging around in the air for a bunch of oil and gas types, Nico was a little gestating bundle of cells.

Cut to me, several months later, full belly, stretching holes in the leotards I stubbornly refused to take off. I didn’t really know what to expect from pregnancy, and you know what? It might be better to go in blind. Armed with enough information, reasonable women can go totally insane while pregnant, and I know this because I went occasionally insane. My thing was constantly needing reassurance, from Ross, friends – even complete strangers – that I wasn’t killing my baby (me to Juiceland employee: is your juice pasteurized? Can I drink unpasteurized? DO YOU KNOW, EXTREMELY TAN 20 YEAR-OLD? DO YOU KNOW?!?).

But aerial silks and pregnancy? Ok, I knew (aka: my OB-GYN lectured me until I knew) that had to be a tiny bit dangerous. I tried for as long as I could, but at six months in, my belly made it very clear that it was time to slide off. I still wore the leotards.

Now, if you met me in real life, you’d think to yourself: “that’s a reasonable person, right there!” But the truth is, I am actually given to obsessive tendencies that are kept extremely well-hidden. I say this to help paint an accurate picture of my journey back on the silk, which did indeed involve lots of obsession. As well as lots of cursing.

All told, I took about a half-year break from the cloth. And when I first got back on, I could climb, kind of!, but that was about it. Most importantly, I couldn’t go upside-down, at ALL, which is somewhat crucial.

However! I had a support system: my new aerial dance company.

It’s name is Rapt Aerial Dance, and it was started by my girl Susan, along with a couple other silks friends. We get together and practice at Vamps Dance on the east side, and along with some truly wonderful private classes at Four Elements, it was by being around these people – these incredibly strong, intimidatingly talented, frequent-upside-down-going people – that pushed me to recover.

(I hesitate to even use that word: “recover.” It makes it sound like baby-having is a form of trauma, doesn’t it? How about we say…”heal.” That’s better, isn’t it? Less images-of-blood-and-afterbirth-inducing?)

Anyway. On Nico’s three month birthday exactly, I could go upside-down again, and on her five month birthday, I could pretty much do all the stuff pre-pregnant Tolly could do. In fact, motivation for any aerialists out there who get knocked up: my body forgot a lot of its preprogrammed bad habits! My wonky toes? Pointed. This spin-around-horizontally-on-top-of-a-silk-knot thing that I could never, EVER do in the past? It is happening! I try to play it cool on Sunday nights when the company gets together and practices, but inside, there’s a huge party going on every time I accomplish a simple breakthrough. And these people – my achingly beautiful, fellow company members who can do anything, ANYTHING! – held the space while I clumsily stumbled my way back to silks competence.

I’m willing to bet that if you aren’t into this weird hobby yourself, you know someone who is, or, you know someone who’s generally into physical movement. Like I said earlier, it’s tough to verbalize how thoroughly silks changed my life. You know that “tech loop” Portlandia skit? That was me! Me before silks! I could DIVE INTO the Internet and never come out. But silks got me back into my body, and it was waiting for me after Nico exited my body. My silks family was waiting for me, too.

On Thursday, we launched a big fundraiser campaign for Rapt. Eeek! Scary! Scary as in exciting. Here’s a little video we made for the fundraiser, which explains the things we need money for, and also gives you an inside peek into the company and where we rehearse:

We are small, we are very dedicated, and we are extremely passionate. We’re having a huge fundraising party in January at Brazos Hall!

But for now, we are pouring our hearts and souls into this fundraiser campaign. Click here to contribute, and to support the arts in Austin. I am hugging you as you do so.

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