Filling up the Static: French Onion Soup, Science Fiction and SPELLING's The Turning Wheel


Originally published in Farrago Edition Three (2022)

Recently I've noticed that whenever I lie down on a hard, flat surface (kitchen floor, bedroom floor, pantry floor), something in my lower back clicks into place. It is so satisfying to hear things realigning comfortably and without hesitation.

It is easy to grow fond of the idea that at any point, with a flat, hard surface, I can correct something out of place, return it to its home, give it back a required direction. This autumn, once again on the turning wheel spokes of the day, it is easy to feel magically realigned. I sleep….. I get tired... I lie down and my back clicks.

I've been thinking about cooking French onion soup again. Onions are an earnest ingredient. They care deeply about you, working so hard to sweeten or sharpen a meal's foundation. It is good to watch sharp onions soften in the pan with my watery eyes. The sucrose in their cells transforms into new sugars,
ones we can recognise and taste.

The first time I listen to SPELLING's The Turning Wheel, it slides off me. It is shiny sweet water, dribbling back into the pan from my mouth. If I try to pick it up, something in my body goes, No! It is so sincere and full of slippery wet oniony hope. Her voice is a river stone I have swallowed and now it lives in me, weird and thick and optimistic!

Things that are earnest are hard to swallow, but sometimes I swallow them anyway, and then they become either a heavy, sad weight with no levity, or bright magic I can barely control. Like a stone that flies despite its deep sincerity. SPELLING's songs seem to care deeply in multiple ways: her voice reaches like a bird. There are careful references to Ursula K Le Guin's The Dispossessed. The album is imbued with science fiction and all the optimism the genre can muster. The sounds are polished and reflective
and there is very little grit or twang or any of those sweet interruptions that remind you, ah yes this is a song that has been made with hands and mouth and imperfect but lovely machines. It says: this album is trying to sound good, and it does. How does that make you feel, hearing something try and succeed?

It is my first month back on campus; I return to The Turning Wheel, ready to try again to absorb its steady and sweet sincerity. I hear her sing that all she has is desire in a world of doubt. She's in a permanent revolution, she insists.

The idea of return (to routine, people, places) without loss and change is a fantasy, and perhaps not even a sweet one. Nostalgia doesn't reanimate me. Sometimes it steadies me. Mostly it feels like a dull ache. Sometimes, very rarely, it feels like a spine returning to where it is meant to be--but then I stand up, sit at a desk and grow stiff again while moving forwards towards change.

Waiting for onions to caramelise, lying on the kitchen floor (gross), nose full of onions softening in butter, my spine settles with a now familiar click. I wonder if I need to stretch these muscles more often or if I should take up yoga. I wonder if I should listen more closely to the recorded lecture playing from my computer set up on the kitchen bench above me. There are sharp, thick rings of a weak grief collapsing on the cast iron with thyme from the garden at work. They could burn and stick to the metal, but I've seasoned that pan recently and I am so full of hope these days.

At some point, SPELLING's optimism softens in my ears. It turns from crisp and grating to a sweet and much-needed foundation. It is a cool, shiny relief, like standing in a river in the heat or watching onions take a deep breath before they melt into sugars that taste like sugar. The collapsing-into-itself. There is magic in the transformation that can't be undone. Magic in permitting yourself sincerity and optimism. Magic in deep change. Magic in return.

Farrago's magazine cover - Edition One 2024


It’s 2012 and you have just opened Tumblr. A photo pops up of MGMT in skinny jeans, teashade sunglasses and mismatching blazers that are reminiscent of carpets and ‘60s curtains. Alexa Chung and Alex Turner have just broken up. His love letter has been leaked and Tumblr is raving about it—”my mouth hasn’t shut up about you since you kissed it.” Poetry at its peak: romance is alive.

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