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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

The Discovery of Fringe Time – Only You Can Save Us, Michael Burke’s Arena Spectacular and River

In Fringe Time, everything exists all at once, and anything can happen. Isn’t it wonderful? (In case you can’t tell, I’m having a pretty rad few weeks). Friday was one such warped and wondrous Fringe Time evenings. In fact, Fringe Time has stretched so far that I’m writing this post nearly a month after the fact. The rest of time just got sucked up in to the Fringe Void. The wonderful, wonderful Fringe Void.

I was invited to see the spectacularly nerdy Only you Can Save Us at Tuxedo Cat. It was enormous fun. Following a crew made up of archetypal sci-fi characters – Captain Hero, to Sarge, The Girl, Doc Science and, of course, John Villaine ­– Only you Can Save Us takes us into the depths of the imagination, where heroes still exist, and the world can be saved. There were perfect dosages of tongue-in-cheek and self-awareness to balance the earnestness and cheese, but it while hinting at adult cynicism and realism, it still managed to be utterly joyful and optimistic. I had a great time! Here’s the review.

I found myself tagging along with most of the crew – Laurence Rosier Staines, Caitlin West, Michaela Savina and Pierce Wilcox (Brenden Hooke darted off  after one drink for a date) for the remainder of the night. The first unexpected show of the evening was Michael Burke’s Arena Spectacular.

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Michael Burke’s Arena Spectacular is the kind of experience that is difficult to articulate in any concise or even moderately coherent manner, because the experience itself is so strangely and wonderfully absurd. I stepped into Burke’s two man tent, nestled in the corner of Tuxedo Cat, with three other unsuspecting Fringe artists after being urged enthusiastically by a friend who refused to reveal anything about what would take place. So what can I say about Michael Burke’s Arena Spectacular? What the hell kind of experience occurs for fifteen minutes in a tent with laser beams, sound mixing, and a random assortment of toys and ornaments strewn across the crinkled canvas? Anyway, here’s the review.

From there we headed a few blocks away to the Bakehouse Theatre for Claire Lovering’s beautiful one-woman show, River. It was a beautiful story of a naive woman, an aficionado of google-poetry and aluminium crafts, who befriends an old man in the Woolworth’s cafeteria and begins an unusual but very touching friendship. As I wasn’t there in any official capacity I sat back and enjoye the show, rather than reviewing it, but I will say that it was one of my favourite performances of the festival. Lovering’s characterisation of sad and sweet River was completely compelling and very moving, as she dealt with themes of loneliness, friendship and finding your place in the world.

Claire Lovering in River at Fringe World

The night wasn’t over, of course, because there was still the dance-floor at the Fringe Club beckoning, but I will leave the details of the rest of the night, mostly as they’re quiet fuzzy in my memory now. Extraordinary, this Fringe Time is.

 

The Fifth Horseman, Tres Miserables and James Pender, with a Brief Interlude on Creative Perspectives

Friday the 20th began at the Crown and Anchor for the fantastically absurd Gothic comedy, The Fifth Horseman.  I had no idea what to expect. The description of the show mentioned a prophetic dead cat and cosmetic salesmen, and featured an image of ghoulish, white-faced figures looking searchingly into the distance. As we entered the theatre, those two same white-faced, black cloaked figures stood waiting on the stage. As the lights dimmed, their faced became illuminated by a torch shone campfire-horror story style, and they began gliding across the stage. When a pair of those dark-rimmed, red eyes locked on mine, I honestly felt chills! Then, a torch was dropped. ‘Shit’, a voice said. ‘Just keep going!’ hissed a reply. Thus, the scene was set for an outlandish, absurdist, semi-meta exploration of contemporary Australian suburbia. I love semi-meta theatre, and the ridiculous plot reminded me a lot of the kinds of plays my friends and I used to write in high school drama – and I don’t mean that in any kind of derogatory way – I thought we were pretty brilliant in high school drama. There is a playful tongue-in-cheek style, an odd sly wink from performer to audience that conveys the purposeful and constructed multi-layered narrative which manages to be both funny and thoughtful. I especially liked the ending, which I won’t give away, but I was left in my seat, hands in the air, exclaiming, ‘what! What was that?’ in the best kind of way.

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I didn’t have much time to bring myself back from the brink of that strange limbo world where I’d been for the last hour, as we had to cross the road to the Producers Bar for my second dose of the brilliant Elf Lyons in Being Barbarella. Whoo! I did sing my praises for this show in my first blog post, and so I won’t repeat myself (too much). There was one critical difference in the show in the week that had passed since I saw it the first time – Lyons had broken her foot. She hobbled in on crutches! A superwoman indeed. I think it has been well established that I think Elf Lyons is rad, so I’ll move swiftly on.

I feel like I spent the rest of my weekend in more of this flitting and fluttering from Garden to Fringe Club – well, I suppose I feel like I did because I did – but it was spent hanging out with a range of wonderful people – catching up with old friends, making some new ones, and hours spent on the Fringe Club dance-floor, but not seeing shows. It feels strange though, because I thought I had so much content to write about (perhaps it’s because it has all made it into my personal journal, where it shall stay). So without going into the details, what I do want to briefly touch on (and in a similar vein to my last post) how freaking refreshing and totally rejuvenating it is to interact with so many amazing creative people. Not that I have a lack of them in my life on a day to day basis, because I have an incredible network of amazing creative people around me – but it’s important to remember the different perspectives that different creative types bring to the fore. After hanging out with actors, I’ve decided that when I finish my PhD (because I so don’t have the time right now, ha!) I would love to get back into some amateur acting classes. There is so much about character development, empathy, and just plain raw emotion that can be accessed through the body in ways that actors seem to have totally nailed – something that sometimes might seem more elusive to those of us who spend all our creative hours in front of a computer screen. But perhaps I can reflect on the interchangeable dynamics of various collaborative arts at another time!

On Sunday evening, on what was a horrible hot day following a series of horribly hot days, I was greeted at the entrance to the Piglet tent at Gluttony with a zooper doper (winning!) for the fabulously funny Tres Miserables. I am a big fan of the original, and so this show was always going to one of two ways for me: it would either be hilarious and amazing and I would rave about it for days, or it would be a terrible disappointment and I would hate it with a fiery passion. Luckily, I loved it. It was clever, witty and high energy fun. I especially liked the tweaks to Javier’s intentions towards Jean Valjean, because, after all, pursuing a man so relentlessly for twenty years does raise some questions. So too, was the contemporarily problematic meeting of Marius and Cossette turned into a sharp, satirical look at gender politics in these kinds of romance plots, and, needless to say, I adored Eponine’s grand testament to do-it-yourself-love. I was particularly chuffed to find a quote of mine retweeted by the team. That really did make my night.

UntitledHere’s the review.

I hate writing bad reviews. Like, I really, really hate it. I feel sick about it. I still feel sick about it. It haunts me for days – weeks (I’m still haunted!) – was I too harsh, was I too subjective, was the audience really that quiet? Were there perhaps one or two jokes that landed better than I gave them credit for? Unfortunately, I cannot help it if a show fails to get an audience reaction, nor a reaction from myself, and as much as I hate to write it, James Pender was my first bad review. I don’t even want to talk about it. It agonises me. I really wanted to like him. He’s seems like such a nice guy! I honestly think he’d be great to have a beer with. But there was just something about his comedy that was just not working. I’m sorry, Pender! I’m really, really sorry! I guess I have to stick with my gut though, and unfortunately, as much as my gut wanted to like James Pender, I just couldn’t quite get there. Here it is, I guess.

Musings on Writing, Creativity and Voice

I began posting about the Fringe on this blog initially because I wanted somewhere to link and store all of my public output. I have reviewed before, and there are smatterings of my work out there in the big wide world, but it made sense that as I’m (finally) consciously trying to make my voice more public, it would be great to store it all in one easy to access place. But as I began linking my reviews, I found that I couldn’t help but narrate them – I suppose because that’s what I’m drawn to doing. And so it’s been making me think about what it is that this blog is, what I want to achieve and why I feel compelled to write it.

Firstly, I feel so extremely at home in all this flitting – this flirty fluttering from Fringe show to Fringe show – and the engagement I’m having with other artists and creatives as I’m doing it. Perhaps it’s an Adelaide thing – a symptom of little city syndrome, where all these bright lights and riotous babbling has me dazzled. I’m unaccustomed to finding extraordinariness in so many ordinary places, and so it is exciting and energising. It is astonishingly refreshing too, to be writing in my own voice. My Own Voice. What a concept. When did it get so far away from me? And how did it happen? I am writing a novel, a novel which I love, and am constantly excited by, but, for some reason, currently has me stuck. There’s an intense inertia that is puzzling and anxiety-riddling and, until the Fringe began, had me in a downward spiral of Oh-God-What-Am-I-Doing-With-My-Life-I-Can’t-Write-For-Shit-ness. But then this flittering and flirting and fluttering happened and suddenly I have that thing, this weird thing that used to happen to me every single day where all I can think about is writing. Imagine it! A writer who can’t stop thinking about writing? What a concept! But the weird truth is that it really is an uncanny feeling, one that hasn’t possessed me quite like this in such a long time. Is it simply a case of academic and long-form fiction fatigue? Is it because I feel less pressure on this blog for words and sentences to be perfect? Is it simply a matter of uncaging this natural voice – this me voice – for this is what this is – and letting it loose upon a world it so feverously (or so it seems) wants to ravish? But it is thrilling and so I feel like I have to finally just run with it and see what happens.

And so that brings me to the secondly: I like this idea of continuing my engagement in this vague arts and cultural musings style which seems to be where the blog is naturally heading, and so that is what I shall continue to do. But what is important to me is for this blog to act as a vehicle for this, my natural, personal voice. Along the way, I would also like to consciously address the question of writing – what am I writing, why am I writing, how am I writing it – because I certainly do not live in any kind of remotely special anxious writer bubble, and if there’s scope for engagement with other anxiety ridden (particularly local, though of course not necessarily) writers, then that sounds worthwhile to me. I also find it very interesting to examine the sources of creativity and inspiration. Hopefully there is something fruitful here. Or so I’d like to think. And so, without boring my miniscule (and perhaps non-existent) audience, I shall leave it here. Hurrah for writing!

Kicking Things Off with Fringe – Part Two

It’s already been a week somehow. And what an incredible one! I’m not quite sure what happened. It’s all a frantic dust-blown haze of pretty lights, pub nooks, hot nights, cold beers, paradisiacal tiki dance floors and, of course, comedy, theatre, cabaret and circus. Phew! It’s killing me with love. Then there’s also been my new job in the Flinders Learning Lounge, preparing lessons for the new semester, and, of course, trying to overcome the anxiety my novel is giving me. Yikes! No wonder I need a lie down. Incidentally, it’s taken about three attempts to get this post happening, which, when I write it all out like that, is hardly surprising. But I love it! It is definitely true that busy people get things done. I haven’t been this productive in months. And so, onward! And by onward, I really mean let’s reflectively look backwards at what happened two weeks ago and is now largely superfluous as many of these shows have finished their runs. Hurrah!

My first official Fringe assignment kicked off at the Royal Croquet Club on a Saturday the 14th (a weirdly long time ago now!) and wow was it busy! I didn’t’t have time to explore the Chinese Laundromat or the hedge maze, but they look like intriguing adventures for another day. Instead, I rushed over to the Black Box (a weirdly ominous name, is it just me?) for Daniel Oldacker’s Dandyman. It was a little slow to get started but I soon fell for his cheeky Dick Van Dyck-esque charm. It was a great first taste some circus and physical comedy. It’s easy to forget in a seen-it-all age how effective perfectly choreographed, well executed physical comedy can be, and how simply it can be achieved. I’ve also never seen a watermelon used in the ways that Oldacker used his, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get those images out of my mind – not that that’s a bad thing!

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‘As I sat reflecting on how utterly I was enjoying this nostalgic throwback to the childlike and innocent physical comedy of Dick Van Dyke, Rowan Atkinson or Jim Carrey – those wide eyed larrikins who turned the everyday into the wonderful – Dandyman birthed himself from a straw vagina and I exploded.’ Here’s my full review.

It was to the Rhino room on Monday night for an unexpectedly crazy evening of burlesque, cabaret, comedy and circus. Bacchanalia has everything in one. Hope and Gloria of Titty Bar Ha Ha were fabulous, and I think the highlight of the evening. They were cheeky, charming and totally charismatic. I particularly loved their kazoo battle (which, strangely, was only the first of several kazoo related cabaret performances I’ve seen since.) The Rhino Room is an excellent venue and although I was there alone, I was soon forced to become rather intimately acquainted with my neighbour as we all played suck and blow game. It was fantastic fun, and probably wouldn’t have been far more so had I had someone to share it with (ahem, you all know who you are!) The audience were rewarded for participation with tequila shots squirted into the mouth by three burlesque nymphs, so what’s not to love? Actually, there was one part not to love. I totally dug Imaan Hadchiti’s cheeky humour and the, ahem, enthralling muscular young men from Elixer, but Mickey D … Well, I suppose if you’ve never seen stand up, like, ever, you might find ‘what are you thinking about’ (insert whiny, high-pitched ‘wife’ voice here) jokes funny. I just don’t think I’m in his demographic. I imagine he’s very popular in pubs in the outer suburbs. Is that mean? Probably. Other people found him funny, so maybe I’m just being nitpicky. Here’s the review.

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Right after Bacchanalia, the Fringe took its first harsh bite. I caught up with some other fabulous Flinders writers, Callum and Simone (hey!) at the Coffee Pot and left sans little green Florentine leather purse. I’m mostly sad at the $40 cash that was in there. But that’s okay, it’s not like I have much that’s worth anything! I didn’t have much time to dwell on it as Tuesday night I was off to Limbo.

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Limbo!! Amazing. I don’t know that there is much that I can say about it that I didn’t already say in my review. It was an eerie, fantastical spectacle of feats that literally had my jaw-dropped for most of the show. Sxip Shirey’s compositions were particularly atmospheric, blending the ethereal and strange with more traditional hip-hop, folk and pop. But I will say this. As much as I was completely enthralled by these otherworldly feats, I was distracted by something. The cast’s two female performers kept appearing in various stages of undress, particularly the all-in-white, blonde beauty Evelyne Allard, and there was really no reason for it. Of course, the male performers too appeared in little, but it was functional, rather than purely aesthetic, semi-nudity. I was relieved when, finally, Allard performed her aerialist routine and proved herself more than a beautiful prop. In contrast, though Heather Holliday, the fire-breathing retro-babe, appeared similarly scant, she totally owned her presence, and oozed a composed, confident and completely self-realised sexuality. The contrast was difficult to miss, and I wished that Allard’s performance had been as similarly assertive. I don’t think it detracted from my enjoyment of the show, it was just one of those niggly things that I wish wasn’t still an issue. I also know that not everyone will have viewed the issue of ‘objectification’ the same way as me, and  that Allard herself would probably disagree with me. There’s nothing wrong with nudity, I’m all for it, I just hope for it to be performed in a way that moved beyond objectification. The subtlety in tone and intent is important in such cases. But I don’t mean to say that I didn’t completely and utterly love the show, because I really, really did! I incidentally met Heather Holliday a few nights ago at the Fringe Club and she is every bit as bombshell sassy as you would expect her to be. She stood at what seemed to be several feet below me – because I am a giantess – but I felt tiny in her presence. She introduced herself with a flecks of attitude bursting out of her and then followed it up with a bold, ‘I’m sorry that I’m aggressively introducing myself!’ So yeah, she’s pretty great. Another review!

The next afternoon I was off to Sparrow Folk. They call themselves Glam-Folk, and honestly, I was expecting something that looked more like this:

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Than this:

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But that’s what too much Boosh will do to you I suppose. I do get how they arrived at the term ‘Glam-Folk’ now that I’ve seen the show, and while it was unfortunate that it didn’t involve the Bowie-Dylan hybrid I was hoping for, it was a fabulously fun glamorous-in-the-suburban-sense folk-pop cabaret with songbirds Fox and Lark. It was a proper suburban party – bunting on the Hills Hoist, aprons, ukeleles. Seems like a standard Wednesday evening. I particularly liked the way they welcomed us all into the tent, asking ‘how our holiday was’ and telling us about which other neighbours they were expecting to arrive – and which to avoid!

Here’s some words I wrote about it: ‘Fox and Lark’s cheeky style, with innuendo that borders on the fun side of risqué (as opposed to the downright dirty) keeps the tone perky and mischievous, like the pair of songbirds themselves. With songs about from the joys of marital sex, to the horrors of parents’ sex, the endangerment of gingers and the nature of friendship – ‘Friends are like tampons – they’re always discreet!’ – the ukuleles and pleasant, melodic voices blend better than your Thermomix to create a catchy, sweet and funny show.’

Here’s that one too, if you want some more.

Well that’s where I’ll leave it for now. At this rate I’ll have the Fringe covered by sometime in mid-June.

Kicking Things off with Fringe – Part One

Since I have all this free time with which to not feel guilty about all the things I should be writing, I thought I’d just pop on WordPress and start a blog, because why not? It’s not like it could be hard or time consuming at all. Right??

But it seems like a pretty good time to get this thing kicked off, not simply because it’s the last week before the craziness of semester begins, but because it’s FRINGE! Glorious, magnificent, all-things-that-are-good Fringe. And thus, I have content to write about – how convenient! The Fringe has a remarkable ability to bend and stretch time like tiny French-Canadian acrobatic putty, and so somehow the first week and a half has already cartwheeled by and I’ve spent most of it too dazzle-eyed and puppy-dog-excited to finish an actual post. But that’s okay, because I have been writing for the rad new rag, Dirt & Candy, and so my adventures have been sufficiently articulated and chronicled.

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The first tantalising taste of all things Fringe began at The Producers Launch Party which I was SO excited to attend. I got to meet the rest of the Dirt and Candy crew, drink free wine and substitute a responsible adult dinner with sour worms from the candy bar – um, yes please! But best of all, we got to dart like curious little birds between free preview shows. I was super impressed with the bendy-as-what?! Taylor and Marina from Point and Flex Circus. There were marshmallows, piercings, animal traps, hula hoops, contortion and juggling and I was totally enraptured.

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The next decision was difficult, Tamar Broadbent’s All By My Selfie, or Elf Lyon’s Being Barbarella. Since I’m drawn to 60’s cult sci-fi, and Barbarella the film is an exceptional piece of cinema, I decided it was necessary to head upstairs for Lyons’ show. And wow! I was glad I did! (I’m sure Broadbent is brilliant too, I hope to fit her in still!) I couldn’t quite believe how uncannily Elf managed to be inside my head. It’s like we share the same brain, only hers is much funnier. I must confess I developed a bit of a girl-crush. I got to go back and review her show properly and I’m SO stoked (like, kind of weirdly star-struck) that Elf herself has shared it on her blog, Facebook and twitter (not that I’m stalking her. Much). So here’s that review for anyone who loves a good pro-sex, feminist, hummus-loving, shark-defending, sexy nerd as much as I do.

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Floating on a how-awesome-is-this-night high, and after a handful more gummy worms I entered Geraldine Quinn’s MDMA: Modern Day Maiden Aunt. Quinn is the kind of sassy, no-fucks-given woman any aspiring modern day maiden aunt should look to. Aunt to nineteen – nineteen!! – nieces and nephews, Quinn knows her business, and I chuckled along as she belted out original numbers about the highs and lows of single, middle-aged womanhood. Though I don’t necessarily aspire to single middle-aged, maiden auntiness, as someone who is really not ready to give up the freedoms of childlessness, I found a lot of resonances in Quinn’s derision of her peers’ constant baby-talk. I still can’t believe that other people my age actually own houses and cars let alone are getting married and having babies.

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I could have finished off the night with one more show, but it was a Wednesday night, I hadn’t eaten any dinner except gummy sour worms and though I’m loathe to miss free things, I did have to decline the opportunity to catch one last late show in order to pedal my bike home to my flatmates and leftover vegetarian gyoza.