Go hug someone you love, ASAP!
On Saturday the 13th of August, I sacrificed an hour of my busy afternoon to the gods of the Canberra Writers Festival. The event? Love Stories: In Conversation with Trent Dalton. The attendee? Me, alone – I had failed to convince any of my friends that this was an event for normal people (I.e., non-bookworms, people who hadn’t read his book and therefore didn’t immediately begin writing a series of letters to all the people they love). Love Stories is Dalton’s most recent book, inspired by his best friend’s mother leaving him her antique typewriter. In honour of her and her life, Dalton took to the busiest corner in Brisbane with a sign saying, “Sentimental writer collecting love stories. Do you have one to share?” The stories he collected and the conversations he had with people, safe to say, had quite an impact on me.
Having attended another Canberra Writers festival event that morning, I was dubious about this one. Although I love, admire and deeply respect Trent Dalton, the morning panelists had made me want to (in order):
- become a leader of industry (maybe like a CEO in a male industry type vibe), using her position to pull other women and disadvantaged groups up with her;
- pursue journalism (idk, one of the panelists was a journalist and she sounded like a baddie);
- hug my parents (and thank them for never telling me women should be seen and not heard);
- hug my (dearly departed) grandmother and tell her that while I understood why she was forced to be polite, accepting etc. etc., things had changed, and I wished she hadn’t been so strict on forcing my sister and I to become nice, quiet, polite young women.
The ability of this event to inspire these feelings within me came from the honest and inspiring connections between all the panelists and the discussions of their experiences. I was therefore unsure that the one white man on stage (being interviewed by the wonderful Lisa Miller) would be able to provoke in me the same thought-provoking, inspiring, empowered ideas that the morning event had. And yet, it kinda did??? Maybe even more so?? Weird. The fact that the first event managed to instill so many immediate and forceful feelings within me and yet not be the best event of the day is still disturbing to me.
When he (Mr Dalton, naturally) first came on stage and began speaking, I was a little shocked and offended at the number of times he used the word “like.” Although I study linguistics and am aware that no forms of language are inherently better than any others and I shouldn’t judge people for how they speak and so on and so on, I’ll be honest, it made me cringe. It made him sound (in my humble opinion, speaking with all the authority of an undergraduate university student) rather inarticulate. The opposite of the eloquent, moving speaker I expected him to be.
As the event went on, I began to see how wrong my first impression truly was. Not that Dalton didn’t use the word “like” a lot, he did. And not that he didn’t swear, because he did. Or have a bit of a bogan accent (he definitely did). I just came to see that there was far more to him and his message than his initial appearance led me to believe. And like, I knew this before, but he really made me believe it. Because he appealed not to my head, and my university education, which said, rationally, the first event had been better, but to my heart. And my heart said that any person who could make me, over the course of an hour, want to:
- Go and hug every person in my life,
- Fall in love (straight away, if possible – anyone interested?)
- Send a message to all the people I’ve lost
- Begin saying ‘I love you’ more (maybe even to my tutors? Life is too short)
was someone that I should really take notes from.
I could tell that everyone around me was affected in the same way. As Trent (calling authors by their last name is so outdated) spoke about his dead best friend’s mother, who bequeathed him the typewriter he used to write the book, the two women in front of me hugged, clearly having also lost someone recently. As he spoke about his mother’s experiences of horrific domestic violence, the audience all around me gasped. When he joked about his former teacher telling him he would one day be the head of an outlaw bikie gang, we laughed. That was the power of this event, and what the first event had, in some way, been missing. Trent speaking so openly and honestly about love, and its importance in all our lives, made us all feel a little closer to the person sitting beside us than we had been when we first sat down. He used love, his experiences of it, and others’ experiences of it to weave the common thread of humanity through every row of that theatre.
I was also deeply impacted when Lisa Miller, the interviewer (or conversation partner I suppose), asked Trent what the whole point of his book was. While most of his responses to questions were rather roundabout, he did directly answer this one in the end. And the simple answer was: love.
He described it as the kitchen scene within his Brisbane home. The environment that you look forward to returning to at the end of the day. The place you tell your loved ones about your stuff-up at work. The place you laugh and hug and cry and get relief from the world at the end of your 8-hour workday. The place you feel safe. And while not everyone has the luck and incredible privilege of having a place like this to return to, many of us do.
And I, on behalf of Trent (and I hope he would approve of this, as I am not sufficiently close to him to ask), would like you to appreciate that extra hard today, or tomorrow, or whenever you are next there. Appreciate the people who make you laugh when you’re on the verge of tears, and who make every problem seem smaller just by sharing it. Appreciate the fact that we, as humans, have the need, the desire, the drive, to create these connections which give our life meaning. And don’t forget that you, too, are part of this ongoing and resilient chain of humanity, and that you deserve a pat on the back for your role in it.
After all, if you go and hug someone, or tell someone you love them, or you, personally, get yourself through a tough period in your life, you are contributing to the loved and lived experiences of others, and of yourself. We are all a little patchwork of the love we have given and received over the course of our lives, something which Trent made me incredibly proud of and grateful for. Thanks, Trent (love you!).
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