Thanh Hằng Phạm + Jeannine Ventura
Hằng & I met at an audio making workshop they were co-leading in Los Angeles called Sound Bodies. We’ve kept in touch via email since.—Jeannine
Sat, Aug 18, 10:03 PM PST
Regarding the Sound Bodies workshop and how it was healing: it was interesting because my partner and I in the workshop got to discussing the sketches we worked on to indicate sounds. When I got to thinking of the intersection of bodies and sound, I got to thinking about the noises fat bodies make and those living in larger bodies. I thought of how sounds signified taking up space and existing and how as a fat femme this was often a sight of hypervigilance, body dysmorphia, shame, paranoia. I was always afraid of taking up too much space or the over-creaking of a chair, breathing too heavily, huffing, etc. It was illumination on the ways even sound can marginalize or police certain bodies.
Wed, Aug 29, 9:16 PM PST
Thanks for sharing with me your healing experience. That sounds powerful. Sound workshops like that are healing for me too.
I’m having a tough mental health day…one of those days where my body just feels raw. Burying myself in work seems to help me from getting sucked into a vortex. I made a radio doc on the weekend about my mum and I, and I think I’m feeling the effects of it now. When I woke up I was thinking about internal sounds, “loudness” in the world and sound footprints. I’m such a sound nerd.
I’m hoping to move overseas next year—at least for two to three years. Either somewhere in Southeast Asia or NYC. Both feel like similar places to me.
Aug, 30, 2018, 12:35AM
Sometimes we are left with what we’re left with even when we embark on projects that, to others, may seem like they’d bring healing or insight. Sometimes the digging and the looking back and into and deeper gets romanticized. It calls for so much and takes so much and we give so much. So much is conjured too.
What motivates this move? What do you find yourself daydreaming about re: location?
Sep 1, 2018, 5:14 PM PST
Yep, it’s so easy to romanticize the “digging deeper” into a feeling or a project, and social media has this weird but not surprising way of glorifying every emotion.
The story is called “27” and it’s about the limits of motherhood in the face of adversity. (FYI—there is content of domestic violence. )
In terms of moving, yeah, it’s exciting! Nothing concrete (no plane ticket yet), but working towards it feels good. Melbourne has always been home, always will be. In ways I am so lucky to have grown up here with solid connections to some family members, grow up on land where First Nations people have been very vocal and active here in Narrm (Melbourne). But now I really want to try the challenge of living somewhere else and learning to build from the ground up again. Sometimes I think social media makes me feel like I know everyone already…and I don’t like that. Social media has been amazing to connect with other queer POC diaspora folks, but I wonder what connections could be made outside of that. What’s your relationship with Instagram? Right now I’m gonna take a bit of break from IG because I see myself moulding into someone that others can “like.” It’s weird.
Sep 10, 2018, 11:20 PM PST
(TW—mention of body dysmorphia, eating disorders, trauma, etc.)
I listened to “27” as well as other stories like “Gravel Road of Love,” and “When I Loosened My Grip.” Your work is stunning! Thank you for inviting me to your private, familial, ancestral and painful stories. I love the way you work with sound. Your stories made me travel. It felt like a dream or soundscape as well as a story. There is such beauty and realness there. I can’t speak boundlessly and irresponsibly about the beauty of your work without acknowledging the immense pain there too. Particularly with “27.” What has been the aftermath for you? How does it feel documenting this and evoking those memories, stirring spirits and emotions? We did touch on how difficult it can be and how that work isn’t all that it is cracked up to be in practice. It isn’t always life-changing or freeing or liberating.
I noticed how there are similar patterns (as in the rest of the world due to colonization & imperialism) of settler colonialism and oppression in Australia and the U.S.A. (of course with important distinctions) but the similar notes are hit and a cadence emerges. How does it feel to have grown up in a place (Narrm or Melbourne) as a queer child of the Vietnamese diaspora, a non-white person, in a settler colonist state, on First Nations land? What was your journey and education like when thinking on and coming into yourself in these contexts?
As far as social media—I hear you! For me, it is so complicated. As someone who has a lot of social awkwardness and anxiety, it has been both good and bad for me. On the one hand, when my depression and anxiety is too much to take and I do not leave my house or my room, it is a way I can speak to people and still feel like there is a world out there. I have made friends around the world and I cherish those relationships. The other side of it is that, well, it can become an obsession and a tool that encourages and enables avoidance, comparison, and posturing in me. I sometimes find it becoming yet another method of isolating myself. It also becomes a tool by which I bludgeon myself. I often use other people’s carefully crafted and curated stories and feeds on as a way by which to measure and devalue my own experiences, accomplishments and life. It erodes at my mental and emotional health. I’d love to learn to balance my use of it.
I recently saw a story of yours wherein you were very honest about your body dysmorphia & history with E.D. Thank you for sharing this. I know the journey to realizing our past issues is non-linear and quite messy. No neat bow or happy ending in sight. I very recently have started to realize that I went through disordered eating and excessive/obsessive exercise for most of my adolescence and young adulthood. Unfortunately, due to the fact that I’ve always existed in a fat or “plus size” body (though there have been times I was on a thinner point on that spectrum) my issues were never on healthcare professionals’, teachers’, or my family’s radar. My rapid, erratic weight loss was applauded or overlooked due to toxic diet culture.
I’m particularly interested in hearing more about the origins, development, production and intention behind Mình. I am so struck by the fact that the heart is not the core of the body/being but rather it is the stomach. Wow!
Sep 11, 2018, 5:29 AM PST
My motivation to keep working in sound is about connecting with others (near and far) and maybe in some sense it makes me feel less alone. I also think that there is so much room to play around with this medium—from podcasts, to sound workshops, to documentaries and so on. I have had a couple of people, including yourself, reach out to me about “27” and some other radio work I’ve done. People sharing their own experiences and it is so precious. If my work can give people some meaning or feeling in their life then it’s worth making something.
What inspires you to keep doing the work you do? How do you stay true to yourself and your practice? I have yet to really develop a practice, to be honest.
Regarding my history with E.D….yes, those reflections have been coming up lately because it’s been a year since I was in a very difficult place. I was in a toxic intimate relationship and had a toxic relationship with my body. Grief is definitely not linear. There are still some “sounds” and movements in my body that remind me of that difficult time. I hope one day I can really free myself from those reminders or at least learn to calm them.
I am definitely in a better place but I also am trying to make space for the little things that creep up every now and then. It frustrates me that our society upholds toxic and narrow beliefs around food and bodies. E.D.s among people of colour are definitely misunderstood and I want to keep having conversations with people about it. I would love to hear more about your experiences around E.D.s if ever you want to share. I’ll listen.
Sat, Sept 22, 2018 1:42 AM PST
I’ve been thinking about Hiroshi Yoshimura’s Green album you and Jessica played at the top of the Sound Bodies workshop. I’ve been playing it for the plants in my home. I’ve been thinking on the communication styles, intelligence, and social networks of plants. I forget they’re alive and intelligent. I also have been thinking about the intricate or diverse ways we communicate with each other and the world around us. What we’re listening to and what we’re not or can’t even perceive.
I’ve always struggled with taking up space in the world, expressing myself verbally, and feeling comfortable with myself and my identity. Writing has been something I’ve loved doing ever since I was little. I couldn’t draw, I couldn’t sing or play an instrument, I was terrible with numbers and all things logical (to this day as well). Writing was always something that came so easily and was the only thing that felt right. I could explore painful, deeper, beautiful things and process them through writing in ways I could never otherwise. Still do. I haven’t been writing much lately. I have a habit of denying myself things that are good for me or that I derive joy from. Without avidly reading, my writing tends to dry up.
Undertone was born from frustration and loneliness. I always wanted to put other POC on while creating on my own terms. Luckily, I met other women who felt the same. We are pretty much aligned in our goals and intentions for Undertone. I am motivated by trying to create a space where folks can tell their stories and learn to expand their creative capabilities. All while prioritizing womxn and femmes of color in a nurturing environment. I want to learn how to better amplify these voices and perspectives.
How important is community to your work? I think community is integral to my work, whether it’s Undertone or if it’s my other side projects. The few episodes I have recorded for my podcast are all featuring guests from my friend groups, community, or internet friends (I actually need to edit all that raw audio. I’ve been avoiding it, as I do most things). All this work is created in community. Folks submit their work to Undertone Mag. It’d be nothing without their sacred work. The Undertone collective team works together to produce, publish, print, promote and distribute the publication, together.
I don’t think I mentioned that I’m trying to resurge my novice oral history collection for CLRJ’s Speaking Story project. Do you take oral histories? What importance do you think oral histories have? Any tips for gathering oral histories? I learned some tough lessons from my mistakes thus far and this project has been dormant for a LONG time. I want to start this endeavor up again! I need to. Wow, I guess avoidance, stalling, and stasis are common in my life. The CLRJ Speaking Story project is created in and for community. The histories are stored for posterity in an archive and they’re derived directly from the community. It’s a way to get at history, direct from the source, gathered from the community itself. It’s a way to capture unspoken or undocumented experiences that often get obscured, ignored or denied in dominant historical narratives. The lives and experiences of womxn, femmes, gender non-conforming people of color and marginalized folks. I don’t know where to start again. With yet another thing, I feel lost.
I don’t know how I stay true to myself and my practice. I don’t know where to even start. Everything is in process and nascent for me.
Well, I’ve been highly insecure lately. I’ve started a new job. It has potential but, I find myself floundering in professional environments, per usual. The trauma and unresolved issues really do overlap into all relationships and aspects of our lives, don’t they? Even in professional spheres. I can kind of already feel the self-sabotage creeping in and it shows. Recently, I’ve been thinking about work and my trajectory and my future. I kind of panic at the thought of it. Also, I’m finding waking up harder and harder. Often, the first thoughts I have in the morning are quite dark and a little hopeless because I get to thinking about how plan-less and directionless I am. I stir awake with a pang in my stomach and a nervousness, anxiety flaring in the early morning. I feel as if I’ve wasted time with no navigation or destination. I feel out of options for some reason.
I’ve also been thinking about legacy, lineage, family, familial history, ancestors, culture for some years now, the older I get. There have been a few milestones and medical situations occurring in my family over the years. I feel so disconnected from them—they’re in southern California. At first, I created this distance through my obligations, now I choose to have distance, in a way. Time and their lives have progressed without me, as they should. But in many ways I don’t know them. I am not a part of their lives. Little ones are so much older now and I don’t have a presence in their lives. I don’t offer them comfort or guidance. Elders are aging and falling ill. I am not there to care for them, love them or listen to their advice, experiences and perspectives. Those are all finite resources and gifts that disappear once their vessels and carriers pass away. I feel like I am losing time and connection. Who am I without them? How will the stories and essence of my family be carried on if time is not taken to capture them? I’ve been wanting to record my family’s oral histories for a while now. Due to my distance (physical and emotional) after all these years, I feel mildly estranged and like a fraud if I tried to re-integrate into the fold.
I wonder what is the link between sound and pain or trauma? It is ok that these difficult sounds and movements still exist. It is ok to not be ok. We are so solutions- or answer-oriented in our culture, that liminality and the long, hard, complicated process of healing or processing is overlooked or rushed. I think, exacerbated by social media, there is such a focus on the “glow up,” on the Before vs. After, on achievement. This is so prevalent in toxic diet culture or self-improvement culture, for example, due to capitalism and the cult of positivity. It’s even permeated our emotional/mental/spiritual well being too. This obsession with linear progression and “coming out the other side” better or wiser or more “well rounded” can stunt us from actually feeling what we feel, on our own time. There is no end destination. But striving for one is ok as is wanting to be able to control our emotions. Sometimes, I do feel overwhelmed by how comparison, competition, and linearity has even infiltrated personal healing and growth. What if we don’t want to, cannot, or won’t heal. Is that ok? I think it is. I think it is ok to exist with liminality. The liminal in many ways and expressions interests me.
Regarding food and bodies: Well, it is complicated. I seem to be developing mild forms of agoraphobia this past year. I think it is definitely linked to my moods and mental/emotional health but, most of all, it is linked to fatphobia I experience often. It has led me to kind of hide. I’m not proud to say it, as we live in a culture where the cult of positivity and the marketable, somewhat vapid and narrow #bodyposi perspective has taken over. But this is the reality. Fat folks and people with “unruly bodies” (as Roxane Gay would say) don’t have the pleasure or luxury of simply “loving themselves” out of marginalization, aggression, and oppression.
Sunday 14 October 2018 10:56AM (AEST)
I feel some deep shifts happening as well as a need to keep going. I’m thinking about what it takes for us to connect deeply to ourselves, be our very most and help our friends, family and community to be their very most without being sucked up in capitalist and ableist ideas around “proving yourself/productivity.” Navigating your new job, do you think all these feelings about ancestors has come up for a reason? For me, everytime I go through a shift in my life what happens is I get a bit fixated on what’s happening on the surface (conflicts with people, my upset feelings, frustration, etc.) and then I eventually realise that there’s deeper work to do.
I used to think that distance was a barrier, but lately I am seeing it as a bridge—a door, an invitation to change something (hopefully for the better!). I really hope you get to capture some of your family’s stories. They are very important to document or even just listen to. Even if you just do it bit by bit and you can’t do it alone! In my mind, sometimes the best recorder is your own body. I would like to think that we can listen deeply to our ancestors/family stories and pass them down by word of mouth or at least express them in some way with our bodies. Sadly that’s becoming more of a challenge, hey. I am very much supportive of documentation.
When I made my short radio story “27,” my grandpa visited me then…sending me some kind of message to keep making radio. I have been feeling defeated by my office job lately… I always told myself I’d only stay there for one year but lately it’s been tough to be there and then switch to doing what I really love—working with sound and radio. I’m working it out…crying a lot too.
I think right now in the world with social media as you described perfectly—“the glow up”—and with the political climate, there is a lot of verbal vomit. I support people telling their stories and bringing balance to what is unjust, but at the same time I really crave quietness and non-verbal ways of expressing ourselves. I also really crave sustainable systems of care. It’s okay to not know the answer and it’s okay to not be able to access ourselves sometimes.
Thursday 18 October 10.08PM (AEST)
I was reading back on our conversation, which has been so nourishing for me, and I am thinking about the labour of listening and complex feelings around “doing what you love.”
Today I was recording two hours worth of interviews for a freelance podcast job I’m doing. By the end I was exhausted. I couldn’t really work out why until I got home later today and just felt tired and needy. I craved someone to care for me and the first thing I thought of was my need for a lover to do that for me (I’m not currently dating anyone, but the thought came to mind). After crying I realised that I do a lot of support work for others and listening is part of that. When I’m recording interviews it requires me to “tune in” and listen. In the projects that are close to my heart I immerse myself completely and sometimes I find myself exhausted later on. I wonder if this process is necessary to doing what I love. Is it my frame of mind? Or do I need to work out better boundaries with my practice?
Sometimes I think my deep romantic relationships are not that different from the projects that are close to my heart—a mix of struggle and intense bliss.
Saturday October 20, 2018 8:17 PM PST
Lessons I’ve gleaned from the mistakes I’ve made during oral history gathering: I am responsible for after care and it isn’t humane or sustainable to just extract stories without follow up, relationship building, and some kind of reciprocity. I need to apply this among ourselves too. How do we create sustainable systems of care? What would you find most beneficial and supportive to you in an ideal sustainable system of care? How do we ask for this and model this in our own lives?
You really struck me with this: “sometimes the best recorder is your own body.” How does your body record, capture, channel or manifest things: stories, ancestors, happiness, happenings, etc? Despite popular belief, I like to move my large body. I like to sweat and move and dance and be active. I used to like to dance (badly) alone in my apartment to disco and salsa or cumbia music. I haven’t moved my body in a long time. I haven’t been to the gym in a long time or out in public so much (again, that kind of agoraphobia and embarrassment forming). Today, I thought of you and your words as I danced to one of my favorite tracks, “Enjoy Your Life,” by Oby Onyioha. I don’t own the record but I find her to be so beautiful and stylish here:
Reading your words made me happy even if the words or subject matter itself weren’t wholly cheerful. I thought I should dance that out in some way so I did.
Yes, I do think that these feelings/thoughts about ancestors have come up for a reason. I’m aging, they’re aging. Now that I haven’t been a student for quite some time and I’ve matured a bit, I see how finite time is. I notice how long I’ve been away. I notice how I don’t know my family. I notice how many events and important happenings I should have been present at. I notice how little I see my grandmothers and how smart, precious, integral, strong they are. I am left in awe when I think how I am related to these brilliant matriarchs. I take it for granted. Also, I feel especially vulnerable. I am kind of out in the world trying to make and ascribe meaning to myself and do something worthwhile. Because I am so uncertain and because I haven’t created a clear destination for myself, I long for their wisdom, love and energy.
I find we’re so wrapped up in being perceived as useful, productive, successful (by whose metric, anyway?) or hardworking in order to feel valuable or worthwhile. I think that it is a big deal that you’re honest with yourself about your feelings of defeat around your job. There is such shame around not having it all figured out or if we aren’t satisfied with the job we’re in. We’re deemed as completely “ungrateful” or told that we’re doing life wrong. Listen to yourself. You are right. It is ok to feel this way. You feel this way for a reason. You deserve to create a reality for yourself wherein you do as much of what you love as possible AND make a living. I know it is far easier said than done.
Office/corporate environments are so unnatural, unsettling and draining. I get certain people thrive in them or at least learn how to cope and make it work in their favor. I truly have trouble with it. I have trouble with the sitting all day and the non-stop computer work, the quick turnaround time for tasks and projects, demands that don’t have much meaning for me. It is ok to want more for ourselves. It is ok to feel disconnected and dissatisfied and off-track. We aren’t failures for it. We aren’t hopeless for it. We’re allowed to realize our method of paying the bills is just that for now. We can demand more and believe in ourselves, I think. But this is hard…and what if it never comes? Some days are better than others.
I am happy you’re crying a lot, especially if it’s restorative and expelling. There is such an energy behind crying and letting the water flow out of you. I hope it feels good. If not, that’s cool too.
I admire that you were blunt about the fact that you wanted a romantic partner to be there for you and to reciprocate the labor you put in elsewhere. Romantic love, attention, affection, being cared for romantically is a necessity for a lot of us even though it isn’t treated as such. We’re constantly told to restore ourselves or look within or solely rely on ourselves. This is all well and good and necessary. But it denies us what we need and it denies us from receiving too. We become convinced we shouldn’t ask for these things from romantic partners. Maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe we can never glean this from romantic relationships. I’ve never thought about that.
You ask such important questions about doing what you love. Boundaries seem easiest to erect in situations that are black and white not so much when it is murkier. For instance, like when it has to do with work we love. Popular discourse around following your passion or whatever, is extremely classist, sexist and ableist. Certain kinds of people are afforded this luxury with ease. Certain kinds of people are given the freedom and respect to do so full time. Doing what you love doesn’t look a certain way. It can’t look the same for everyone, can it? I think you’re right in asking if a certain kind of love is required to “do what you love.” Often people who embark on their own passion projects or enterprises state that they had some kind of obsession with their goal. The workaholism and dysfunction that emerges around achieving their obsession is scary, quite frankly. Is that feasible and sustainable for everyone? Is this possible alone? I’d argue no. I’d argue it’s somewhat of a ruse. If it’s not a ruse, the models out there, again seem to be highly exploitative or dysfunctional. Maybe the kind of love required to “do what you love” is more nuanced. Can it not be obsessive and manic? Why does that get romanticized? Maybe it’s a tempered love that is more tied to a greater love of self and a desire to tend to ourselves. A kind of love that doesn’t engulf and become rabid or self-exploitative in its pursuits? A love that doesn’t expire or that doesn’t need to be proven by how many angel investors, hours, awards, or how much debt we go into to make dreams happen? Can you imagine a kind of love applied to your work like that?