Back at It – The Hearth: Lives and Selves

It’s been eighteen months, but I’m back. Finally. In that eighteen months I spent a lot of time – well, most of my time, really – finishing my PhD thesis. But that is behind me now, as is the semester – for teaching kept me from writing, an easy excuse – for a while too. So I’m brushing the dust off the keyboard (if I were to use a different keyboard for blogging, for some reason), and getting back into it. I’m not sure the shape of my blog from now on, but I’ll just write as things come to me and we’ll see where it goes.

The first occasion of which I wish to speak is The Hearth. Another key event within that eighteen month period was that I, along with some very dear/rad friends of mine, initiated The Hearth Collective as a means to launch a series of readings events in Adelaide. We wanted to create a space not just for creative readings, which I’ve been involved with for many years through Speakeasy, but for a broader sharing of creative practice and discussion through themed nights. I think we’ve succeeded in this, and so far The Hearth has held three events in the beautiful Jade with wonderful performances from fiction writers, poets, memoirists, essayists and dramatists. We’ve then had amazing discussions through out Q&A sessions between the writers and the audience.

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Me and the Hearth Babes, Melanie Pryor, Emma Maguire and Alicia Carter, setting up for Lives & Selves

On Thursday the 17th we met again for the theme of Lives & Selves, with guest readers Ben Brooker, Kathryn Hummel, Kylie Cardell, Alison Bennett, Threasa Meads and Houman Zandi-Zadeh. They spoke about digital lives and relationships, recovering from illness and trauma and the insights of our childhood diaries through fiction, memoir, poetry and essay. It was a beautiful night, and I was really struck by the resonances between some of the themes that arose. Particularly, as someone who lives with two men whose muffled skype calls to distant girlfriends permeate my house at weird hours of the day, I was drawn to Kathryn Hummels’ reflections on long-distance/digital relationships. She shared a fictionalised series of messages sent over the course of a day to someone who would not see them until many hours later, when they would be received as a series of unified text. But this is not how they were sent, and that sense of immediacy, distance, and time, and they way that affects what might be compulsive, or measured, or whatever it might be in that moment was really interesting to me.

There were then parallels too with Ben Brooker’s ‘5 minutes into the future’ fiction, which explored the passive acceptance of how technology invades – in this case, literally – not just our lives, but our concepts of self and even the body. In the Q&A he spoke of the kinds of permission that we give to companies online to mine our data for personal information in ways that we never would were physical people coming into our houses to rife through our desk drawers which really got me thinking. This then connected with Alison Bennett’s performance and her notion that the permission we give for strangers to hear the most intimate details of our lives – such as illness and trauma – is mediated by the stage/the microphone/the screen. She would never share the details of her relationship with her father, or the ways that she self-medicated to leave her body, in conversation. Yet, her powerful, fully-embodied performance to a room full of strangers somehow had the ability to render that state – strangerness – uncanny, as the intimacy of her poetry allowed us access to her inner world, its complexities and universality, but didn’t somehow un-stranger us all. I’m not sure that I know how to say what I mean. Perhaps I’ll leave it at that.

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Threasa Meads and Kathryn Hummell’s artifacts of art (otherwise known as ‘books’)

Threasa Meads had some powerful overlaps with Alison as she shared her experience writing childhood trauma through the creation of her other selves, January and Lola, reflecting on the transformation of the self – and herself – through writing and art. She forgot to bring an art-piece that she referred to, but I know it well and as she spoke imagined it and considered how the products of our art can capture and embody process, experience and, maybe (well, perhaps not but something like it) finality . Though, of course, nothing is ever final even if it is ‘finished’. Kylie Cardell also spoke of a physical product of experience – her own childhood diaries – from which she shared snippets as she discussed the distance between past and present selves and diaries as artifacts of lives. My heart burst with something like affinity and tenderness for the awkwardness and, let’s be honest, mundanity of being a 12-year-old girl. My own diaries are probably no more thrilling but, as Kylie stated, does that mean that being a 12-year-old-girl is boring? Of course not. There were some fascinating recollections and insights into puberty and prayer and Judy Bloom that really resonated with me. I suppose the distance between our adult selves and child selves renders the reading process as something like a translation which brings us – ba-doom tish – to Houman’s bilingual poem, ‘Morgan’. He performed alongside Piri Eddy who read English to Houman’s Persian, alternating every few lines and eventually overlapping in terrific crescendo. What really struck me with Houman’s performance was the resonance of the words, how the emotion and experience was conveyed through inflection and sound so that despite the distance in language, we could still understand the affection, despair, love and heartbreak, of which he spoke. It was a terrific way to end before we moved into our Q&A session.

These were ideas and connections that were picked up on by our audience who engaged with the readers so brilliantly after what was a little bit of a quiet start. All it takes is one good question to get the ball rolling and then, of course, it doesn’t end. All in all it was a fabulous night, and I’m so excited about our upcoming Fringe shows, Mysteries & Wonders and Earthly Delights where we get to do it all over again! Speaking of which, the call for pitches is open, so head on over to the site for info about how to pitch.

 

*Cover photo by Ben Duffy

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