Category Archives: PEOPLE

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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I GOT YOU BABE

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So I’ve been sitting and sitting on this blog post, trying to unspool something insightful about having a baby. But in the two and a half weeks since she’s been here, you know what I’ve come to realize? All the cliches about babies? Totally true.

Maybe you’ve heard things like this before from sniffling new parents, or have come across them on an Anne Geddes card:

Babies are miracles.

Babies are adorable.

The moment you have a baby, your whole life changes.

Looking at your baby, you finally understand true love.

In other words, babies inspire sap. Babies = Sap City! And I am Sap City’s new mayor.

Historically, I’ve never really been a baby person. Two years, three, when kids are starting to talk – that is my jam. My absolute favorite age. Babies, I always thought, were…fine, I suppose, if a little blob-like. You eat, you expel, you sleep? Ok. That’s cool, baby. I guess.

Until (and you knew this was coming) Nico arrived.

Now, I have to physically restrain myself from staring at her and openly weeping fat, salty tears all over her pink baby body.

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We’ve had a lot of delightful family and friend visits lately, and when they come over, I usually tell them something like the above. Then, I quickly qualify it with: “But that’s just the oxytocin talking.”

Why do I do that? Why the reflex to undercut my admittedly sappy and enormous affection for Nico with some cool-girl quip?

I’m not sure, but I’m trying to stop. As I told a friend the other day about having a baby, “it erases all of your cynicism and makes you feel like walking love.” That is how I actually feel. More to the point: I never thought I would joyfully cheer for chubby baby legs, or more surprisingly, diapers. Because every one is this unbelievable affirmation that things are working over here, and that holy shit — I’m keeping you alive! My body is making FOOD and you’re EATING IT and we’re DOING THIS THING! Game on, baby!

Here are some other realities / feelings I didn’t expect about having a baby:

* “I will never exploit my baby over the Internet.” Hahaha! Tooooooo late. This is something I said to myself a few times during pregnancy, born of some high-minded resolve that Nico would choose the time to share her own picture over the Internet. Sorry, Nico! I want to show the whole world my beautiful baby! Privacy be damned; the NSA will also be receiving your birth announcement.

* “I will never co-sleep.” As soon as you have a baby – hell, as soon as you’re pregnant – you start trying to figure out what kind of parent you’re going to be. You do this by assessing the available baby-rearing tribes out there: the attachment crowd? Bringing Up Bebe? Religious? There are lots of labels out there, but in the end everybody kind of mixes things up based on what kind of baby they get. Still, I knew enough about attachment parenting to determine that I’d never be into co-sleeping, the practice by which you and baby share a bed. Because, dude! What if you rolled over on them?! Or worse: had an eventual 15 year-old who insisted on crawling into bed with you? Terrifying.

What a surprise it was, then, that co-sleeping turned out to be 50 times easier than anything else we’ve tried. Maybe because Nico is still transitioning out of the good ol’ days in the womb? Whatever the reason, she sleeps the most soundly all cuddled up in our bed. I still feel guilty admitting this, because I’m still worried about rolling over on her; as a result we keep a bassinet next to the bed and usually start her off there at night. And even there, I thought I’d be such a hard-ass in terms of self-soothing (“oh, let her fuss! That’s what babies DO!”), but as it turns out, I’m just like every other freakin’ softie who jumps the very second their baby whimpers. And when she does, up into bed she goes.

* You’ll check if they’re still breathing roughly 100 times an hour. I always, always think Nico has stopped breathing. Even when she’s grasping my hand like a miniature vice grip, and her eyes are physically open as if to say, “hey, look! Still breathing!”

* You’ll constantly worry about dropping them. Here’s another paranoid thing: I envision her falling out of my arms constantly. My brain has no shortage of twisted/ridiculous scenarios for how this could happen, either, including but not limited to me stepping Three Stooges-like onto a rake and it stunning me into full-on baby drop (note: we don’t own a rake).

* You really will want to kiss their eyeballs. A fellow mom told me this once on Facebook when I mentioned I was pregnant. And actually, I think I successfully have (owing to the fact that I kiss Nico compulsively all over her face while she is crying, a new practice she probably finds extremely annoying).

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More to come.

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PHOTOS: WHO’S SEX POSITIVE? PREGNANT WOMEN ARE SEX POSITIVE.

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Moi.

So I’ve gone back and forth on posting these pictures. On the pro side, it’s:

“YAY! Pretty photos! To share on the Internet and prompt people to say nice things about me!!!”

And on the con side, it’s:

“Umm, ok. My pregnant body on the Internet! That’s a little weird! Vulnerable! Potentially embarrassing!”  

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that the concept of self-branding eludes me entirely and I’m just not very good at it. As an aerialist/yoga person, I am a-ok with pictures of all bodies, including mine, because human physiology is fascinating (to me) and its capabilities beautiful (to me).

But as a writer, I have a knee-jerk hesitation to showing any skin, because, because…well, I’m not entirely sure. Life of the mind vs. life of the body, I guess.

However, as previously discussed, a topic that captures both my interest in bodies and my interest in thinkerly, writer things is that of sex positivity for women. And specifically, pregnant women.

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Hence, this maternity photo shoot. I did it a few weeks ago with a very talented local photographer, Whitney Martin, and my dear friend Fannie, a stylist-slash-video game programmer. (Slash-badass.)

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(Slash-model.)

We shot it at Bull Creek, a craggy park in Austin overhung with ancient oak trees and wrapped in mossy caves. It’s one of my favorite places in the world.

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Over these past 37 (whoa) weeks, I’ve found that it’s very, very easy to feel infantalized as a pregnant women. The maternity wear complex creates clothes that make you feel like a giant baby yourself, with frilly, pastel outfits and message T’s that say things like, “I’m baking a GIRL!” with appliqued cupcakes or “Mama’s little RASCAL!” with an arrow pointing down to your belly. Why?

Maybe it’s because pregnancy is a clear, visible sign of sex being had, and cutesy outfits like that take the edge off, making a woman’s sex-having body less threatening.

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Anyway, that definitely wasn’t the route I wanted to go for a maternity shoot, but conversely, I knew I didn’t want a pregnancy boudoir shoot either. I’ve seen beautiful, sensual examples of that, but I’m just too immature to pull it off. I’d be snickering the whole time and acting a fool for the poor photographer.

So what did this picky photo subject want? Well, something that felt like me.

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I wanted something that captured the all-encompassing womanliness I’ve felt during this pregnancy, something that felt nature-y/natural, and something that felt interesting. And, maybe, something like Stevie Nicks.

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So Whitney, Fannie and I collaborated on putting together a session that didn’t divorce sexuality from the whole maternity experience, which is a very formal way of saying we shared a Pinterest board.

And how do I feel about the result?

I am THRILLED. I love them! These photos will probably humiliate my daughter to no end one day, but until that time, I’m happy to have a visual memory of this little sliver of my life, thanks to Fannie and Whitney.

Pregnancy is a time where I haven’t always felt 100% awesome about my body, but you know what? I think that’s good for me. I like to think I’m a feminist, but my perception of what is beautiful is just as influenced by media / American culture / the “male gaze” as anyone else’s. On top of that, pregnancy always seemed like this freaky, science fictional thing to me (probably because most science fiction is written by men), akin to Alien or Gremlins.

But now, corny as it sounds, I’ve been converted. I’m shocked at what the female body can do, and I like the idea that baby and I are working together as a team to make her strong. Nutrition / good sleep / prenatal care / blah blah are all parts of that, but sex was (obviously) a pretty essential part of it, too. “Sex positive” and “belly proud” don’t have to be mutually exclusive concepts. You can celebrate the cute little baby growing inside your belly, and simultaneously celebrate the sex that brought him or her here. I don’t think anyone openly disputes this; I’m just ready for a culture that finds a portrayal balance between hyper-sexualized moms (i.e. MILF’s) and one that pretends moms are these harried, sexless creatures who are only focused on motherhood and THAT’S IT!

There’s a middle ground, I like to think.

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Thanks again to Whitney and Fannie – I love you both.

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ADVENTURES IN PODCASTING

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Omar Gallaga’s Statesman story about local podcasts from 2.10.14.

Forgive the sparks that I fear will shoot out of this blog post at any moment, Reader. Not only am I terribly excited, but I’m currently drinking coffee, REAL COFFEE, which to a pregnant woman is like Adderall combined with Four Loko combined with cocaine. I am hyper.

But I’m exercising restraint, because I want to tell you about this new culture podcast from the Austin American-Statesman that I’m a part of, without overselling it! You know when someone tells you about a movie, and they are like, “you have to see it. No, seriously. This weekend. F-k that. Right now! I will take you to see this movie RIGHT NOW and you will love it because I loved it and I have already seen it six times it’s just that meaningful”? And that creates pressure on your viewing experience, and then you just like the movie just ok, but you have to insert fake enthusiasm into your voice because your friend is so fanatical? (If you’ve ever discussed the claymation classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with me, then you already know what this uncomfortable situation is like.)

So I don’t want to do that, but I do want to say that the new culture podcast that Omar Gallaga (tech/culture writer at the Statesman) and I put together – “Statesman Shots” – is causing me a lot of happiness.

Each week, Omar, I, and a third guest talk about three items that are popping up in local Austin conversation – items mostly culture, and mostly local – and intersperse them with games. Sometimes our topics aren’t local at all: this week, for example, we discussed House of Cards and it’s return to Netflix with Season 2. Why? Because it’s amazing. But we also talk about things like Austin’s food scene, the evolving mission and huge-ness of SXSW, and Disney characters we feel very strongly about.

Right now, our third guests all come from Statesman‘s own newsroom, but we’re eventually going to expand that net to include other local folks as well.

It’s a project Omar and I have been cooking up for nearly a year and a half, after we spoke on a panel together for Online News Association and discovered we both had mutual geek affection for podcasts. WTF with Marc Maron, Radiolab, The Dinner Party…all the hits. That’s when we realized, uh – why doesn’t Austin have a culture show? Could we make a culture show? (If you’ve followed my weird little blog for a while you know this has been a longtime dream.)

So we put together a treatment for our show concept, pitched it around…et voila! Omar’s very own professional home, the Statesman, picked it up. We started it for real in January, and we love, love it. Maybe you’ll love it too! Here’s how you can listen/connect:

Statesman Shots Blog

iTunes! (i.e. your phone)

Statesman Shots Facebook Page

Statesman Shots Twitter

This is a weekly show, so we are always looking for topic and guest ideas. Seriously.

As a result though of the story Omar wrote about both our podcast and Austin podcasts in general last week, I realized that – duh! – Austin actually does have a lot of culture shows. Other programs like When in Austin, Austin Sessions, and more. It’s kind of a scattered community right now and reminds me of the early days of Austin’s blog scene, when we were all little islands and wondering how to do what we did better. We are very fortunate to have a platform like the Statesman to launch our show, and I personally am very fortunate to have a co-host like Omar, who is a hard worker, sharp writer, and overall gracious and kind human being. He midwifed our show into existence! But as Austin’s podcasting scene matures, perhaps we’ll start having little meetups or something where we can coalesce and get to know each other better, those of us in the podcasting scene.

Do you listen to podcasts, Reader?

Also, since we haven’t talked in a while, and because I’m still flying high on caffeine, I feel compelled to catch up on other aspects of life. Can we do that? Can we have a proper Cawfee Tawk?

CAWFEE TAWK #1: I’m still pregnant! Wow, I’m pregnant. This is how I look, and this is how I feel. I’m officially in the third trimester now, and we’re still dutifully attending our hummus-laden birth classes. Still teaching yoga, and even doing the teensiest, tiniest bit of aerial, but once baby girl is on the outside I’ll be very eager to hop back on the silks again.

CAWFEE TAWK #2: Speaking of silks, I’m in a new silks company! Did we discuss this already? I can’t remember. Anyway, it’s called Rapt Aerial Dance, and we’re putting together an open house during SXSW to celebrate our brand new space on E. Cesar Chavez. If you’d like to come by during the open house and take some free aerial classes, email me! Or leave a comment. And if you’d like to be an edible/drinkable (non-alcoholic) event sponsor, or a band that wants to come play, let me know too.

CAWFEE TAWK #3: Writing. I performed in a storytelling event for Austin Bat Cave on Tuesday (Story Department) that was a ton of fun, telling (naturally) my story about attending a naked yoga class. That thing just doesn’t get old. Also, I wrote a short piece for the Statesman about the House of Cards connection to Lyndon B. Johnson, and if you’re a fan of that show (like me) as well as a dork for presidential history (also like me), then perhaps you’ll enjoy it – it comes out this Sunday in the culture section. Oh, AND. Wrote a story for Citygram Magazine about moms with tattoos – “Mom Ink” – that came out today. Was a serious blast to write, and it probably deserves its own proper post. Other than that, just pitching my strange little ideas around, often getting rejected but sometimes accepted. (<–Which should be the title of an after-school special.)

Whew. I think that’s it. And you, Reader? How goes it on your end of the computer screen?

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