Category Archives: stories


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




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.



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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Nico and Ross, Monday.

For a while, I’ve hesitated to write this blog post. Partially because I didn’t have the vocabulary yet to describe the way I was feeling, and partially because I was afraid of pissing people off. I believe I’ve got the former figured out now. The latter remains to be seen!

Anyway, the question I’ve been circling around and around as a rookie parent is: what does it mean to be a progressive parent?

As an Austinite, and left-leaning person in general, my knee-jerk response is:

*organic food

*cloth diapers

*breastfeeding, but if we have to do formula, we’ll make it ourselves out of goat’s milk

*baby wearing

*A charter / private-ish school for Nico when the time comes

*Either no vaccines, just some vaccines, or hand-wringing and fear if we do in fact vaccinate (note: we have).

These are all things that we do with Nico, and I love them. We probably won’t stop.

But they are also big, flashing markers of social class. And that is what I’m conflicted about: not about having the resources to do special things like private school or organic food, but because I have this sneaking suspicion that by diverting these resources to Nico and Nico alone, I’m taking away resources from larger systems that could make things better for EVERYBODY’S kid.

Allow me to explain.


So that whole set-up sounds pretty damn self-important, right? Yeah. It does. It also sounds like Ross and I are kinda rich. We’re not, but we’ve admittedly got a lot of great things going for us lifestyle-wise: we both work from home, we live in a city where access to organic food and alternative education is easy, we have parents who bought us a monthly subscription to a local cloth diaper service (I love you Mom and Dad).

As I say, I looooove all these things. Love ’em! Baby wearing shouldn’t be a political choice, but let’s face it: it is. I feel more crunchy or natural or just “better,” for some vague and not well-thought out reason, when I put Nico in a sling and carry her around that way. (I also like kissing her fuzzy baby head.)

But lately, I’m beginning to feel like my draw to crunchy/natural/Dr. Sears-esque stuff may not in fact be “progressive,” if by that term, we mean “progress for all.” I guess what I’m getting at is: opting out of more traditional, mainstream, and government-involved systems of childrearing has become synonymous with “caring.” Because I care, I won’t vaccinate. Because I care, I won’t enroll Nico in public school. Because I care, I won’t make a fuss out of the fact that no soy-free formulas exist in the U.S. formula market (more on that in a minute); I’ll go out and buy pricey ingredients for a goat’s milk (soy-free!) version and call it a day.

I’m troubled by the fact that it’s that way.

There’s a book out there by Emily Matchar called “Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity.” It’s pretty fascinating, and while I don’t necessarily agree with the whole thing, there’s a pretty bracing paragraph at the end of her chapter titled “DIY Parenting,” which I read while I was pregnant, and read again the other day:

“In the twenty-first century, parents with resources and education feel they can best protect their child by “opting out” of the system. If the government isn’t doing a good job at regulating the food supply, then parents with money and education can buy organic, local food from the farmers’ market. If the schools aren’t good, parents can homeschool or choose a charter or private school – weathy parents are “abandoning public education,” Golden says. If parents worry about chemicals in household products, then those with the time, money, and inclination can make their own cleaning products or buy pricey VOC-free rugs and paints. Which is all well and good, but these options are not so freely available to working-class parents with less time and money. They’re the ones who will be left behind if we collectively abandon the effort to push for better social and governmental solutions.”

A-ha, there it is: “they’re the ones who will be left behind.” That is what’s giving me pause, now that I’m a parent.

Matchar is basically saying (I think) that in our move to privatize parenting, we’re creating a competitive market for those who can enter it, and generate demand for better food/school/etc. And trust me, looking at Nico each day, I want to sing to her sweet little face: “only the BEST for you, baby! Corn syrup solids shall never pass these lips!”

But again, back to my central question: is that really progress?

I don’t think this is a simple question with a simple answer, so I’m putting this post out there mostly as a way to start a conversation. I am genuinely curious to know how parents who think of themselves as “progressive” define that for themselves, and I apologize right now for the abundance of scare quotes in this post, which is making the whole thing sound more sarcastic than I want it to. But by using those quotes, what I’m really trying to signal is the fact that I’m not convinced by current definitions, and am ready for other interpretations.

Now, full disclosure: this post has also been written by a card-carrying Democrat, so in theory, I’m a fan of social systems. But in practice, am I really supporting them as a parent? Not really. Am I agitating for free, quality child care? No, I’m pre-registering Nico at a neighborhood Montessori. This isn’t anything I feel guilty about when it comes to my own child – I can’t wait to see her carrying home her special little books! And singing her special little Montessori songs! It’s going to be so freakin’ cute and I think about it all the time.

The thing I feel guilty about, though, is that it took me this long to even stop and consider that this lovely, early school experience isn’t normal, and perhaps it should be.

Here are two more examples of parental privilege from my own life, the way they got complicated, and the way I now see those complications as good things:

1. BREASTFEEDING VS FORMULA: When I was pregnant, I reflexively thought I would breastfeed Nico exclusively. We still do breastfeed, but she wasn’t gaining weight quickly enough, so her pediatrician asked us to supplement with formula. I cried about this for about a day, feeling like a failure. And then, I got over it.

Now forgive me, non-parents, if I lose you here: this next part might be pretty boring. But (whips the chair around backwards), we’re gonna talk about milk supply! PARTY!

Long story short, my supply was low, and at first I projected all kinds of evil thoughts on Nico’s pediatrician for telling me this. Typical mainstream, Western doctor, I thought. Only going by the weight percentile chart. When was that thing created, anyway? The ’70s?

But once I got over myself and we gave Nico some formula, she was, in general, a happier little baby. Exclusive breastfeeders might argue it’s because formula takes longer to digest, resulting in short-term satisfaction and long-term obesity. Maybe they’re right. But if there’s anything I’ve learned about being a parent, it’s that you can find scientific studies to back up basically any point of view, and just as many scientific experts who can point out why the studies that oppose your point of view are flawed in their methodology. So…I’ve let it go.

Anyway, because this post is about class more than anything, we should point out that exclusive breastfeeding is definitely a privilege of mothers who can afford to live this way, i.e., nurse their babies every few hours. This is not to say it’s wrong, it’s just to point out that in the crusade to exclusively breastfeed, we should be real about the class of people that is even able to do this. (The other way you can make exclusive breast milk happen as a working mother is to pump a LOT at your job, which may or may not be possible in one’s particular work setting. So bottom line: a lot of people have to do formula because it’s the only practical way they can also go to work and earn money.)

So what was I really lamenting in giving Nico formula? Health-for-baby guilt, or class guilt? Probably a bit of both. In fact, definitely a bit of both, because as I mentioned earlier, we’re totally doing the DIY goat milk formula thing which pacifies both my class reflex to pay for better (“better”) solutions, and also my genuine befuddlement that formula, even the organic kind, has about 80 ingredients and that seems weird.

2. VACCINES VS. NO VACCINES: The lion’s den of parental ideology! Here we go.

So we ended up saying OK to Nico’s first round of vaccines, except for one which was against an STD that neither Ross nor I possessed. By now, you’re all probably familiar with the debate surrounding vaccines: there was that study linking vaccines and autism which was later dismissed, but anecdotes linking the two are still out there scaring people (including me).

I know parents who don’t vaccinate, and they aren’t refusing because they scare-quote “care,” but because they care! Genuinely! They don’t want to give their kids autism, and I completely, 100%, totally get that. Oh man, I get that so hard.

The second half of this debate is now starting to emerge, though, and it’s the resurgence of diseases like whooping cough, and that scares me too. There are basically no good solutions here, because you feel like an asshole parent either way.

We went with the vaccines, though, in a collectivist spirit. Am I still a little bit terrified of mercury in vaccines? Yes! Holy shit, yes! But do I also think that the issue has gotten politicized, and that maybe it’s time to not be so reflexive in our immediate dismissal of vaccines, or to think of those who decline them as more “progressive?” As more “caring?” As more left-leaning and therefore more embracing of natural things?


I want to think of myself as progressive, caring, left-leaning, and embracing of all things natural. Parenting yields a whole host of egoic concerns, and these are mine, the labels I want to stick on myself.

But I also want to (cue violins) live in a world where the collective, social solution is actually one that we can trust, ‘we’ meaning families of all classes. And I guess I want to shift the locus of what it means to be a progressive parent to a more activist, populist approach, rather than creating my own sparkly baby bubble that Nico alone benefits from. I’m not sure what that approach looks like, yet…voting for people who support child care initiatives?

Signing petitions that ask for corn/soy/whatever ingredient to be taken out of formula?

Actively seeking out good public school options for Nico, rather than just assuming they’re “lesser” and thereby diverting both my child, and taxes, away from what could be a really neat experience?

Being part of the social media conversation that asks doctors to keep on educating us about vaccines?

Maybe it looks like all of those things. And, maybe it looks like things I haven’t thought of yet. But let me know – please let me know! – if you have ideas.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go dress Nico in a yoga onesie.




Austin Kleon and I, promoting literature.

On Wednesday, I was inspired by author/speaker/creativity dude Austin Kleon, our guest this week on Statesman Shots. In the mode of his new book, Show Your Work, and also because I’m trying to get back into the swing of blogging more regularly, I thought I’d share a quick post about a particular writing gig I scored recently.

As any freelance writer can tell you, writing for high-profile sites are like the pot of gold at the end of the blogging rainbow. We put our work out there for months, often years, shouting into the yawning void for anyone who will listen. We hope that one day, our words will fall on the right pair of ears, and we’ll be invited to contribute to The Hairpin, or This American Life, or Modern Love. Everyone I know wants to write for Modern Love.

The problem is, it’s often unclear how one makes the leap from blogging to uptown classy, website property writing. In my case, it almost always come down to relationships.

My latest gig is with The Atlantic, reporting for the health section of their website. My first piece was on Williams Syndrome, a condition that compels people to trust too much, and I’m reporting a piece now on the effects of capital punishment on prison wardens. I do most of my reporting with a baby on my lap, who nurses happily while Mommy discusses hardened criminals.

Now between you and me, the pay is just OK. But! The writing is still worth it, because I’m trying to expand my “beat” from Austin-y stuff to broader cultural issues: health stuff, sociological stuff, and sometimes TV stuff. Also, if you told my 25 year-old self – who would have been crazy thrilled  to get a byline just about anywhere, including your refrigerator door – that I’d get to write for The Atlantic someday, I would have died, revived myself, and died again. What I’m saying is, I’m not complaining.

So how did it happen? Here’s how:

A few months ago, I was part of a storytelling night for Austin Bat Cave. It’s called Story Department, and takes place once a month at Home Slice Pizza. I was very pregnant/hormonal/bloated at the time, but thought, what the hell?  This was probably the last time I’d get to do something like this for a while, with a baby coming and all. So I went, and told the story of attending a naked yoga class. (More on that in a moment.)

There in the audience was a fellow writer for The Atlantic, a guy named Jon Fortenbury. He wrote me after the event to say he liked my story, and we set up a coffee date / networking meeting of sorts to talk about freelancing. So we traded editor names over cappuccinos, then nervously pumped each other up over email for the next few days:

“Hey, have you pitched Salon?”

“Yeah. Haven’t heard anything. You? The Atlantic?”

“Same. Here’s what my pitch said. It’s stupid, right? It’s stupid.”

Writers are very insecure.

Anyway, fortunately – we both got accepted! So the moral of the story is: go on those coffee dates. With other writers, I mean. Mine each other for contacts, then exploit those contacts. It’s an economy of connections.

But the second, and what I consider to be more important, moral of the story?

Go to a naked yoga class.

By which I mean, your metaphorical naked yoga class. Keep your ears open for that irrational, scary experience that you would normally never do but would make an amazing story, then go do it. Exploit it for material. In absence of great connections / an impressive degree from a journalism school / an internship at The New York Times, I find that weird, unique, off-the-wall material can also open doors.


Wholly unrelated, but can we conclude with a baby picture? Can I exploit my child for your love and Facebook likes? OK, let’s do that:

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In the words of my wise friend Jason Silverberg, “this is what I’m like now.”