Come see our play ❤️
I read this letter to my secret at Joe's Pub, as part of Women of Letters with Sofija Stefanovic, Audrey Gelman, Ji Min, JD Samson, Elena El-Husseini, and Amanda Duarte.
I hope you’re doing well. How’s your summer going? Don’t tell me, I already know.
You are the feelings that I wake up with, that I carry through the day. Feelings that sometimes follow me into my dreams, leading me to wake, blurry eyed, and pad to the toilet, reaching for my phone on the way so I can read Web MD while you wreak your midnight havoc on my butt.
I’m not talking about emotions. I’m not talking about sadness, or happiness, or fear, or pride. I’m talking about the constant, private communication between my body and me. Those urgent telegraphs - I need to shit, my thumb hurts, is that pain coming from my ovary?
These are the feelings that run my life, more so than emotions. The last time I cried, it was because there was a ringing in my ear that wouldn’t stop. I felt that more than love. When I look back on my life, I will talk about romances won and lost, about family, travel, books I read, career highlights. And I will forget that, through all these events, my immediate thoughts were taken up by needing to pee, by a callous on my middle finger that I touch all the time.
When I reminisce about this summer, I will pass over how annoying it was that the socks I like have a hole in them, so that, even though my ankles are perfectly adorned with the Calvin Klein logo, I can always feel my second toe wrestling free of its cotton prison, poking towards freedom only to hit against the darker, more solid limits of my shoe.
Maybe one day I will see a photo of myself this summer, smiling next to a friend, or playing an instrument in front of an audience, and I will forget that the whole time, I was thinking, ‘Fuck this, fuck this, I am so uncomfortable, fuck my socks.’
That’s the nature of our communication. I take it for granted, I don’t notice everything you’re trying to tell me. But you are my most loyal companion, the physical realness that roots me in existence.
Consciousness is unmapped. Some think it lives in the brain, others that its a web we all share. Some people think we have eternal souls, that will flutter, perfect, up to heaven when we die, leaving our bodies behind. But where does this empty, untouched soul finish, and our body-beholden, mortal personalities begin? In heaven, a place without hormones, or PMS, will I weep less, smile more? Without backache, or bug bites, or pants that ride up my crotch, what will I think about? Where will I put my hands?
According to the neuroscientist David Eagleman, we are more likely to say we had a good relationship with our mothers if we are holding hot coffee, rather than cold. If we are in the vicinity of a bad smell, we will make harsher moral decisions. Does it blow you away, my body, to know how much you control? How much power you have over who we are, and how we behave?
It’s enough to make you wonder how many times the world has gone to war because a man has undiagnosed IBS.
In these precarious times, I find myself wondering more and more about the bodies of world leaders. I wonder if Donald Trump is the first male politician to receive this much scrutiny about his. I don’t need a show of hands, but I’m sure I’m not the only person in this room who has wondered if his rumoured diet of carbs and dark meats, and the absolute gridlock it must cause in his intestines, are the reason we are living under the shadow of the end times? As the Doomsday Clock ticks closer to midnight, I imagine the thing pushing its second hand as one great, unspent turd, inching through the gut of the 45th president.
Henry the VIII had leg ulcers, Mao Zedong had venereal disease, but what historian could catalogue every tickle and burp that accompanied the arbiters of our world as they drew their lines across it? We will never know what it was like inside anyone but ourselves.
In George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, a ghost inhabits the body of Abraham Lincoln as he mourns the death of his son, Willie. In this moment, as well as the grief and the regret, the ghost feels the sloped back of a tall man, and the chafe of a boot that is too tight.
I wish I could inhabit bodies. I want to feel Marie Antoinette’s UTI flaring up during a banquet. I want to know the ache of Mary Seacole’s bunions. I want to sense every nerve ending on Buzz Aldrin’s skin, as he steps onto the moon.
I would like to go inside the audience's bodies. I would like to feel a baby squashing up against my kidneys right now, I would like to hear the rumblings of their dinners rolling down their systems, warning that this speaker better hurry up.
I would like to invite others into my body, to see the web of floating spots between my eyes and the world, to hear that ringing, that has not yet gone away.
But our selfhood is personal, it’s intimate, it’s erotic. It colours the world with our hormones, with the food we ate, with the amount we slept last night.
Many people have longed to escape their bodies. The bohemian Ida Johns wrote, in a letter, “Wouldn’t it be lovely to be free … just be a beautiful mind growing from outward impressions.” The artist Genesis P Orridge refers to their’s as a ‘flesh suitcase’, which they will one day transcend.
But you, my body, are my friend, my reminder that the day begins and ends, that the earth rotates around the sun. That no matter what I am going through, no matter what comes to pass, I am just an animal who turns food into poop.
Without the machine, we would only be the ghost. This letter is just to tell you I can hear you. I am listening all the time.
ps Write back
Research and development workshops for Sara Pascoe's Pride & Prejudice took place last month at Nottingham Playhouse, and I'm pleased to say that it's going to be amazing, and tickets are now on sale.
Please do come, if only because I finally fulfilled my dream of writing a song about 19th century inheritance laws. Also, it's really funny.
Pride & Prejudice is written by Sara Pascoe, directed by Susannah Tresilian, with costumes and sets by Carla Goodman. I think I speak for everyone when I say we are thrilled to be collaborating with best-selling author and literary celeb Jane Austen.
You can also join the Playhouse's Longbourn Lending Library book club on their Instagram, and enjoy some of the books we've been reading as we work on the play.
I am so proud to be a part of Sod This! For a Laugh, the campaign benefitting homeless charities across the UK, founded by Susannah Tresilian.
Sod This! was founded in honour of Susannah's friend Paddy, who died of exposure on New Year's Eve, 2016. You can read more about their friendship, and how his death galvanised her into action on the Guardian. To date, two events in London and Manchester have raised £6500 for local charities.
As part of the campaign, I auctioned a living room gig on eBay, which was bought by the lovely people at Siren Music in Soho. The gig took place on a sweltering June day in their office. I couldn't have asked for more welcoming hosts, a better atmosphere, or more pizza. 100% of the proceeds went to Streetlink.
The next Sod This! living room gig will take place in August at a private residence in Hackney, with the money going to Manchester's Booth Centre and Coffee 4 Craig.
Please keep your eyes peeled next summer for opportunities to purchase one of these shows! More information on Sod This! For a Laugh can be found here.
You probably didn't notice me being away, but I was, and I'm back.
For the last month, I've been in China as part of the British Council and PRS Foundation's Music in Residence China programme. I was in Xiamen (formerly Amoy) in Fujian Province, working between the city and a tiny, pedestrian-only island called Gulangyu.
I was there to write an album that told the story of Xiamen as it exists now, encompassing the ghosts of its former lives, and its status today as one of the fastest growing cities in the world. I spent my time interviewing locals, looking for stories in unexpected places with the help of my translator, Iris. Every day, we were lucky, and our instincts were rewarded with amazing coincidences. I came to believe that we were following a magical force around the city, and halfway through my residency, a woman that we met by chance told us the name of it - Yuan Fen (緣分). It means something like destiny, karma, or synchronicity.
You can read ten things I learned in China (Ten Things I love about ¥?) on the Guardian Music site
Mahal Kita is a song about my time interviewing brilliant women who are members of the domestic worker community in Hong Kong.
They belonged to Hong Kong’s population of 380,000 migrant domestic workers, the majority of whom are women. Many of them are mothers working to support their families back home, on US$550 a month.
On Sundays, tens of thousands domestic workers will spend their one statutory rest day in Hong Kong's public spaces, transforming it into a venue for the expression they are denied during the week.
I wrote about how these public assemblies are a form of resistance for the Guardian, accompanied by Jessamine Barnieh's striking photography.
I hope Mahal Kita to be a tribute to the women I met, and every domestic worker who took Hong Kong's public spaces and made it their own.
I spoke about rediscovering my Chinese roots and singing in my mother tongue at TED x NYC, in a night called 'Rebirth' curated by my favourite writer, Jon Ronson. It was a privilege to be there and share a stage with four amazing speakers, Mona Chalabi, Ariel Leve, Amy Green and Megan Phelps.
Their words gave me better tools to live in this world. Previously all I had were emojis!
I'm going to China for the first time this April, thanks to PRS Foundation and the British Council's Musician in Residence China programme.
I'll be going to Xiamen to make music documenting my time there.
When I get back my Chinese will be soooooo good.
More in the Guardian
I am so happy to be composing the music for a new production of Pride and Prejudice, adapted by Sara Pascoe and directed by Susannah Tresilian.
Opens September 2017 at Nottingham Playhouse and York Theatre Royal.
"The most famous love story our country has ever produced, yet the women don’t work, the servants don’t speak, and who cares how filthy rich Mr Darcy is when he is so arrogant and RUDE?
Georgian England was a world where men had property whilst women had smelling salts and piano lessons. Lucky them.
Elizabeth Bennet is witty and clever, has terrible manners and muddy shoes. But with no independence, is her ending actually happy? Or have we been distracted by Colin Firth and frilly shirts?
If you’ve always heard people saying “Austen is so funny” and you never got it – you will now!
In a brand new comic adaptation by stand-up comedian Sara Pascoe with an original score from Emmy the Great and directed by Susannah Tresilian (Posh) prepare yourself for a playful, truthful and occasionally disrespectful* take on this brilliant novel.
*Don’t be uptight about it, it’s what she would have done."
I’m going touring in the EU this spring
Dates and tickets below…
20 PARIS, FRANCE Pop Up Du Label | tickets
22 GENT, BELGIUM Trefpunt | tickets
23 AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS De Roode Biscoop | tickets
24 COLOGNE, GERMANY Theatre WG| tickets
26 HAMBURG, GERMANY Haken | tickets
27 COPENHAGEN, DENMARK Ideal Bar | tickets
28 BERLIN, GERMANY Auster Bar | tickets
30 FRANKFURT, GERMANY Zoom Club | tickets on door
31 LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND Bleu Lezard | no ticket info yet
1 VARESE, ITALY Twiggy | tickets
2 CARPI (MO), ITALY Mattatoio | tickets