Category Archives: ART

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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THE LONG RUN

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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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THURSDAY! AUSTIN BAT CAVE!

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In elementary school and junior high, I had a handful of teachers who encouraged me to write. One of them, Mrs. Beeler, read one of my essays aloud to the class, a little piece I had written about flowers in the spring.

“Can you believe these adjectives?” she asked a roomful of bored seventh graders. “And the imagery! Tolly! This is wonderful. Just wonderful.”

Everyone else doodled on their shoes, no one was paying attention. But I was beaming.

“Euphoric!” she cried. “You used the word ‘euphoric!’ Wow!”

Up until, say, the eighth grade, I was a dork with braces who didn’t have a friend clique going yet. I liked theater and English, but I wasn’t a “smart” kid, or a “sporty” kid, or a “pretty” kid. But, writing? Writing made me feel like I had a thing. Even if that thing, unlike A-team volleyball or clothes from Banana Republic, didn’t have any hard social currency yet.

“Tolly, thank you for this essay,” Mrs. Beeler cooed. “A-plus.”

Ok, so that day was a little embarrassing. But Mrs. Beeler, God bless her, entered that essay for a school wide award, which it won. So after that, I did feel kind of smart.

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Good English and writing teachers will always have a special place in my heart, so Thursday night, I’m incredibly proud to be a part of this local benefit: Austin Bat Cave’s Bat to School Bash.

RSVP.

TICKETS.

Just what is Austin Bat Cave, you ask? Oh, only the coolest non-profit ever. They offer free writing classes to kids (including many underprivileged youth), and it’s staffed by volunteer writers! Our dear Lauren Modery of Hipstercrite just started teaching, for example.

Many from Austin’s writing and magazine community will be in attendance, as will Mother Falcon, who’s playing a set. There will also be readings from Texas Monthly‘s Karen Olsson, novelist and J.J. Abrams writing collaborator Doug Dorst, and writer Elizabeth McCracken, who edits one of my favorite authors on the planet, Ann Patchett (drool).

AND! It will be MC’d by me! (Oh dear.)

There are a ton of rad prizes being given away too, including nights at Hotel San Jose, dinners from Qui, and handwritten and illustrated writing advice from George Saunders, who gave that beautiful commencement speech at Syracuse earlier this year (text, video; I recommend both).

If you’d like to support this extremely worthy organization, are a fan of the written word, or just want get your rocks off with famous writers for a night, come on out to the Gibson Guitar Showroom (3601 South Congress Ave) at 7pm on Thursday.

See you there!

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EAVESDROPPER INTERVIEW: LUMIERE TINTYPE

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I first encountered Lumiere Tintype last month, in that mysterious way when a fascinating bit of the Internet bubbles up to the surface, and it’s just perfect for you. Created by two Austin artists, Adrian and Loren, Lumiere is a traveling tintype photobooth that looks like a teeny tiny cabin on wheels. Inside is all this wonderful old wood flooring, enormous photography equipment, and even a darkroom.

Their work reminded me of this “ghost art” exhibit that AMOA hosted years ago, I believe in 2005.  There was all this 19th century photography there, and back then, it was thought that taking someone’s picture was akin to scanning their soul. The images (many of them tintype) were so haunting, that it’s perhaps not so surprising the public came to that conclusion.

I was reminded of that exhibit viewing Loren and Adrian’s photos, and  asked them if they wouldn’t mind swinging by ol’ Austin Eavesdropper for a chat.

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Eavesdropper Interview | Lumiere Tintype

1. What is Lumiere Tintype?
Lumiere Tintype is primarily a mobile photobooth, in which we shoot and develop authentic tintype portraits of folks while they wait. We use old cameras and make all of our own photographic chemistry. We stick pretty closely to the recipes used by the photographers of the 1800′s, which makes the final image very unique. We also produce commissioned photography for business, weddings, and creative projects of all kinds.

2. How did you both get into it?
Adrian – I got into it as a creative way to spend my time. I had spent many years shooting film of all types, until digital photography swept it all aside. I suppose I didn’t realize how much I had missed being in the darkroom. I really got hooked when I realized that the tintype process is outside the realm of even film photography, since we are essentially making our own film. It was liberating to know that our creativity is not dependent on the big film manufacturers staying in business.

Loren – I do not have a photography background but started to help Adrian out in the darkroom, making and developing the plates. Between the two of us we can shoot much faster than Adrian could on his own. I absolutely love being part of the process of creating tintypes. I enjoy discussing and providing input about what we are photographing, whether it is how a portrait is framed or a creative project outdoors. With every tintype we create I learn something new about both the process and the history of photography. I have started to view and evaluate my everyday surroundings with a new perspective. I constantly find myself awkwardly staring at strangers considering how their facial features would look in a tintype. Although that may confuse the few who actually notice me, it’s an enjoyable new element in my life that I would happily trade a few awkward moments for.

3. Your pictures have a haunting quality to them (they remind me of this exhibit at AMOA a few years ago about ghosts, actually). Do you get that feedback a lot?
Yeah, it’s a strange thing to see yourself rendered in the same medium as all the grizzly, old westerners that we are used to seeing in tintypes. People often look surprised when they first see the image. However, given a few minutes, they start to connect with the image because it removes you from the modern world and all of its bright, digital perfection. It’s an honest photograph and it won’t look dated in ten years. All of our modern photographic technology tethers you to the era in which it was taken. You don’t get that with a modern tintype, it is essentially timeless.

4. Dumb question. Why do people’s blue eyes look almost translucent in your pictures?
Good question! Photo nerd time! The collodion reacts very strongly to the UV end of the spectrum – so blues and whites come out very light in tone.

The opposite occurs with reds and yellows, the collodion is insensitive to these colors and will render them very dark. That’s how we find freckles that you didn’t know you had. Modern photography is extremely good at rendering color accurately, and with a tintype you are seeing the limitations (and beauty) of the early emulsions.

5. I love (really love) your ode to tintype. How has our relationship to photography changed over the past few years?

I’m conflicted here, you might want to take a seat.
Photography has never been more accessible. Everyone has a camera, and that’s a good thing. Every two minutes the world takes more photographs than were taken during the entire 1800′s. That’s incredible, no lover of photography can admit otherwise. However, photography has also become very disposable. Images are rarely printed, shared, held, hung on walls or stuffed in wallets. We have no idea whether or not the digital files of today will survive to be seen by our ancestors. We’ve had customers in the photobooth lament that the images of their kids as babies are stuck on weird disk formats at low resolutions. With a tintype, you get an image that has proven archival quality. The photographs from 150 years ago still look great today. They have been handed down the generations simply because they exist in the physical world, and they have a tangible value.

So, to answer the question, I feel that as photography becomes democratized and universal, yet only ‘exists’ in a digital realm, it’s important to take a step back and reflect on the future of those images. Analog processes allow us that reflection, be it film, tintype, daguerreotype etc. They allow us to hand make a body of work that is produced a little slower, but will last much longer.

6. Are you from Austin, or elsewhere?
Loren – I’m from Conroe, Texas.

Adrian – I was born in Birmingham, England

7. If elsewhere, what brought you here?
Loren – I moved to Austin for school, but stayed for the same reasons everyone does, food, music, culture etc.

Adrian – I came here on my travels, I stuck around after meeting Loren.

8. What is your favorite place in Austin?
Probably out on the Colorado river, east of the city. No one really goes out there. We are lucky to have access to it.

9. Describe Austin in three words.
Small. Creative. Evolving. △

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IS THE COUNTER CULTURE BEING LIVED OFFLINE?

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Source.

So I’m going through this “thing” right now.

It’s really not all that bizarre or troublesome, unless you tend to be the worrying type, like me. I do this thing when I worry that drives Ross absolutely nuts, and it is this: I scratch the back of my neck, and pull little hairs out as I do. Nasty business, but I’ve almost downgraded it to hair-twirling, which he says reminds him of Bunny Lebowski. I say it could be worse. I could take all those little neck hairs and make a mustache, and then I’d remind him of Hitler.

The thing is: I’ve fallen out of love with the Internet.

I know, I know I know. Nothing new here. My queasiness over the Internet is totally half-baked too, because look at me! We’re talking on it right now! Until I figure out how to operate this blog through the U.S. Postal Service, well, here we are.

More specifically, I’m slowly admitting to myself (and, eh, the World Wide Web) that I’m not cut out to be a big blogger person. And I never really was. You knew that. I knew that.

I got to thinking about this because I’m tearing through a hysterical book right now called Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. The main character is this reclusive, would-be architect named Bernadette Fox, who is brilliant, hermit-like, and famous for starting the green architecture movement. Yet, 20 years ago, she dropped her career entirely. Just left.

I’m beginning to feel that way.

No, no – not the brilliant part, silly. We’re not exactly operating Wikipedia over here. Just how you can be so terribly invested in something, and then? You’re not.

This isn’t a goodbye post for Austin Eavesdropper. It’s a Brokeback Mountain-relationship we have with each other: we just can’t quit ourselves.

But a while back, say, 2007-2011, I (secretly) thought that the whole goal of this blog was to get quasi-Internet famous, and then I could work in bed with my bunny slippers on and resolve the conflict between the work sphere and the domestic sphere. Or eat bon bons! 

I do work for myself now, but it’s not operating this blog. I scored a writing gig last year with a company that no longer exists, my first writing “client,” and this was how they found me: Googling “Austin blog.”  (If you want to quit your day job, start a blog.) I wrote for them as much as I could and looked for other clients on the side, and that’s what I do now, full-time. I’ve morphed into a self-employed copywriter. And it’s awesome! Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I’m like, for fuck’s sake, REALLY! I get to do this FOR REAL? Thank you, Universe!

My clients are amazing and I gave myself a raise, so quitting my job to work for myself was the best decision I ever made. And it was made possible by this blog. It’s my little engine that could, my lighthouse in the sea, my turn-of-the-century-metaphor-of-your-choosing. Blog, I love you! You are virtual, but that won’t stop me from air-hugging you.

But the reason I’ve kind of skipped town from the blogosphere lately is this: I got oddly obsessed with aerial silks. And movement in general.

So here we are at the beginning.

The reason I worry is this: It was this blog that helped me do everything good professionally. It made my Dream Life come true. But these days, each time I get a burst of creativity…do I blog? No. I slam the laptop shut, and go bounding toward the nearest dangling fabric.

Which seems unwise, right?

Impractical?

Try as I might to listen to that nagging business coach inside my head, the one that says, “if you want to stay relevant, you have to keep posting!” I’m just spending less and less time on the Internet, y’all.

At the expense of effective self-branding, I figure that every moment I spend on the computer is a moment I could be learning some freaky new silks climb that will probably cause me to fall on my head at first, but it’s ok. Ditto for yoga. Ditto for all the dance classes in this ridiculously great city.

I fell in love with Austin because people were out there, doing so much. It was this vibrant counter culture, and I longed to be a part of it. I used to sit on top of a stool at Quacks, drinking my coffee and looking out the picture window onto 43rd Street, and be like, whoa. I  just saw an ARTIST walk by. Wild hair and everything! I was still pretty square, but at least I could sit inside that bakery and be artist-adjacent.

That memory reminded me of this interview recently with Douglas Rushkoff. He said something that I’ve been holding onto for a few months now: “the counter culture is all offline now.”

Maybe that’s an overstatement. (Hi, Reddit!), but then again? Maybe it’s not.

What do you think?

All I can say is: Now that I’m spending less time on the Internet and more time out in the world…I feel like those wild-haired people walking down 43rd Street. Which is to say, I’ll always write. And I’ll always Internet-write. I’m a whore for your Facebook likes, your comments too.

But I feel like something deep and whole is moving in. Whether I’m in down dog or flipping around on the cloth, just enjoying these little offline pleasures that are available to anyone, I’m out of the Internet echo chamber and something is being healed.

Something got called back.

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