Sunday, 24 March 2013

Women of Letters recap

Ah, another weekend, another glorious Women of Letters event. I tell you, I could get used to this. And I'll be mighty ticked off if the next one sells out before I can get tickets. Today I nearly wet myself with excitement because Miriam Margolyes was going to be reading and she makes me crazy. But Michaela McGuire and Marieke Hardy are in NEW YORK at the moment, bringing Women of Letters to the US, so sadly they wouldn't be there to stalk.

Instead we had the hilarious Jane Clifton, who was a wonderful host in Michaela's absence, and made the audience roar with laughter nearly as much as the readers did. We made our way to the Regal Ballroom in Northcote and ordered drinks and squeezed into a table and chatted and then- DISASTER. Miriam had unfortunately been caught up in something and was unable to attend :( But being amazing, she had recorded her letter and they were able to source a player and a massive screen so she could share it with us. I love you, technology. A beautiful moment when the classic and timeless art of letter-writing meshes with a 21st century USB stick and creates something completely badass. So with the promise of digital!Miriam to look forward to, we settled back to bath in the lyrical prose of some amazing women, all writing 'A Letter To Something I Was Happy To Lose'.

First up was Jenny Niven, associate director of one of my fave places in Melbourne - the Wheeler Centre. Before she even got into her letter, I was hooked. She has the sexiest, most beautiful Scottish accent. It was like listening to music. She regaled us with tales of growing up in a small town in Scotland, and her subsequent travels around the world. Her descriptions of Beijing did more for me than any travel book I have read and it is now added to my bucket list. It wasn't just world-discovery, but self-discovery she was describing, and it was wonderful to hear how her mind had been moulded by her experiences. It seemed, that what she was happy to lose was the naivete that came from growing up in her quiet town. Not that she resented it, not in the slightest. But she seemed so passionate and grateful for the way her horizons and her world view had widened, the way her travels had exposed her to a beautiful, tangled mess of humanity spread across the globe. Such inspiring stuff.

Next up was Jess Ribeiro, a singer-songwriter who I have sadly never seen perform. But if her speaking voice is anything to go by, I know I would love her stuff. She had this cheeky, warm, smooth tone to her voice and she was adorably nervous. She wrote about losing her status as the eldest sibling - after fantasising for years about what it would be like to have an older brother, she discovered in her early 20's, that she had one. 11 years older than her, to be exact. Her letter was laced with humour, particularly as she described the anxiety she felt regarding her new brother meeting his extended birth family - basically she was afraid that they would come across as a bit rough and tumble. Using the word 'shitbox', when she thought her new brother might use the word 'lavatory', for example. Her delight at the connections forged with her new brother and his adoptive family was evident. She had a bit of a teary describing the ways that their new, melded family have changed, and it made my heart ache. I will definitely be buying her music.

Then...MIRIAM!! After a false start with the video, it played perfectly. The only qualm I had was that, being pre-recorded, Miriam couldn't pause for laughter, and while the audience were wheezing at her jokes, and tiny beginnings of sentences were missed. She informed us that she was going to write to her youth, but then realised that would be a lie - she wasn't glad to lose her youth. She valued things youth gave her, like functioning knees. (Oh, Miriam. I can relate). Instead, she wrote to her womb, after losing it in 1974, aged 33, to a hysterectomy. Being Miriam Margolyes, her letter was chock-full of the most delightful and vivid impressions of people. Everyone from her uber-awkward Games Mistress at high school, to the West Indian nurse who told her to be quiet and stop disrupting patients while she was in recovery was trotted out using her impeccable talent for voices. UGH, words can't describe how much I love listening to her speaking voice. Her diction and tone are perfection.

Then it was time for Women of Letters veteran and writer/broadcaster Jess McGuire. I've read quite a bit of Jess McGuire's writing, but have never actually listened to her speak (the radio in my car has been broken since forever, so I only ever listen to my iPod). I tell you, I was spoiled with the speaking voices of all the women today, and let's just say that Jess McGuire was no exception. I can see why she is such a beloved radio personality. She wrote, rather interestingly, to the year 2012. A year she said made her 'an expert on loss'. Of the many losses she experienced, she wasn't glad about any of them (though she had a damn good stab at finding the silver linings), so she was writing to the entire year of loss, 2012. She was glad to be losing that year. To summarise, her house was robbed, her car was totaled, her close friend died of cancer and she was let go from her dream job. Not an easy year by any stretch of the imagination. There wasn't a dry eye in the house by the end of her letter, but, like the skilled writer she is, she married terrific (at times, very dark) humour with the kind of pathos that makes you want to carve out your heart. Perfection.

Last but not least was Adrienne Truscott, an American choreographer and performer who I had never heard of, but who I was thoroughly in love with by the end of her letter. She wrote to a waitressing job she lost around the time Linda McCartney died. She can date it, because Linda McCartney's death was the catalyst for her losing her job. One morning when she arrived at work, after reading the biography of a suffragete who I WISH I could remember the name of, she watched as a customer picked up the paper with the headline of McCartney's death, and promptly announced Linda McCartney to be so ugly, that he was surprised cancer didn't take one look at her and run away. At that moment, something inside Adrienne twigged, and she sat down and wrote this customer a scathing and clever and condemnatory letter. The letter called him out on his disgusting comment, and also assured him that if physical aesthetics determined if cancer was attracted to someone or not, he could rest assured that his own physique ensured him a cancer-free life. She then gave him the note as he left with a sweet smile and the request that he read it when he had some time. No doubt assuming it was a come-on, he left, with a patronising smile. Adrienne then called her manager and informed him that he would need to fire her by the end of the day, got herself some lunch, and waited. About an hour later, the phone rang. Adrienne's voice barely suppressed her glee as she recounted the fun she had with that customer on the phone. Apoplectic with rage, he assured her that he would have her fired, that she was in trouble yada yada yada. Her response was a much more articulate form of 'NYAH NYAH YOU CAN'T GET ME'. Applause shook the Regal Ballroom. What a wonderful high to finish the show with.

After a break where we were encouraged to write our letters, there was a quick Q&A session with the readers, using questions from the audience. By the time it finally finished up, I was emotionally exhausted in that satisfying way that makes you want to lie down in the grass and stare at clouds. Sadly, I had to get home quickly. But it was a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

And now I really need to wrap up this blog because I need sleep. Peace out.


  1. Hi Emily, I think it's Victoria Woodhull whose name you're trying to remember. I fell a little bit in love with Adrienne Truscott that day too, and that's how I stumbled across your blog post. I've been meaning to read Woodhull's biography ever since. I'm reinspired now, thanks to you.

  2. Thank you Alison! I'm so grateful for the comment, and for you remembering Victoria Woodhull's name. I'll have to hunt down her biography now - I hope you enjoy it xo