Art Workr #2 Mystical Sweetie

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Mystical Sweeties is the new ‘closet run’ podcast by writer and editor Tara Kenny, that explores all things witchy and ‘woo-woo’.

Woo-woo is a term that she explains ‘people often use to describe and dismiss anything that is spiritual and mystical, as irrational, naive and unfounded’ and her interest in finding out why that is forms the basis of the themes and topics she explores with the guest speakers on the podcast; like Intuitive healing with teacher and author Maryanne Sea.

Tara grew up in Melbourne, but is now based in New York where she works in advocacy for incarcerated youth, and as a staff writer at South Asian diaspora publication Kajal. She has been published in The Guardian, Interview Magazine, Catalogue Magazine, Overland, Good Good Girl, and many more, and was the online editor for Melbourne women’s collective and zine, Ladies of Leisure.

For ArtWorkr #2 we spoke about her grand plans for the Mystical Sweeties podcast, cleansing rituals, and the 'very New York' art of pitching yourself in the elevator.

SABINA — Hey Tara! What made you want to move to New York – apart from it obviously being an excellent place for a writer to live?

TARA — I originally came to New York back in 2013 to do a three month internship at Amnesty International and fell in love with the city. It was a very specific moment in time: I was 23, living with a member of a polyamorous love tribe, working my first meaningful job, and just felt this immense sense of openness and energy.

I convinced myself that I would never be happy anywhere else, then promptly went back home and kind of forgot about that dream, although properly building a life overseas was certainly in the back of my mind. Then last year my boyfriend decided to move here for grad school and I was kind of faced with an ultimatum. There was certainly a level of discomfort for me around the prospect of being a passenger on someone else’s journey, but I also knew that this was an amazing opportunity for me, with or without the romantic relationship.

There are just endless potential realities to explore in New York (mine is still definitely a work in progress), which makes it a very entertaining place to pick up and move your life to.

SABINA —Definitley! So tell us about what you do for work and what you are passionate about?

TARA — People love to ask this question in New York, you really have to get good at elevator pitching the shit out of yourself!

I just started a new job as an advocate for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated young people in New York City. Currently these young people are predominantly held on the notorious Rikers Island prison, and the organisation I work for is concerned with getting them out of jail and assisting them to stay out and build meaningful lives. So far it’s certainly been a lesson in the dark underbelly of the land of the free, but has also exposed to me many very smart and resilient people who have to navigate this system or are working to mitigate its damaging effects.

Creatively, I’m passionate about writing and storytelling that is playful and funny but also thoughtfully executed. At the moment I’m working on a podcast called Mystical Sweeties that explores spirituality through a self aware and humorous (but still woo-woo positive) lens, and also plan to develop the short satirical romance stories I’ve been working on this year into a more substantial work in the future. Using my writing to highlight the activism and art of people of colour by doing interviews is another passion, and it’s also provided an avenue for me to connect with my internet heroes in this new land.  

SABINA — Do you feel like writing gives you the tools to explore those things to the extent you’d like to (in terms of publications interested in publishing the work you want to write)?

TARA — At the moment I’m building a career in the nonprofit and social justice space, which means my writing is a true creative outlet and I don’t need to be constantly pitching hot takes to big publications in the way I would be if I was a full time freelancer. It’s been super exciting for me to have my writing published in outlets with large readerships like Interview Magazine and The Guardian in the last couple of years, but what I’m interested in writing at the moment is niche: smutty stories about love affairs between intuitive healers and bored office workers, and essays about my Sri Lankan grandma’s superstitious ways… This kind of writing has led to me work with some very thoughtful and quirky smaller publications in the last year.

I’m currently a staff writer at South Asian diaspora publication Kajal, I’ve got a piece coming up in “new new age” publication Muff Mag’s body issue (their Insta gives me life), and I have some pieces I’m really excited about coming up on the Sister Studios blog.

Tara Kenny Interview - water

SABINA — What prompted your interest in podcasting?

TARA — I’ve been writing for years and feel really comfortable with that medium, and wanted to extend myself to express ideas through a new platform. I’ve always considered myself bad at technical stuff – a very common misconception for women – and it’s a confidence building exercise to realise how much I can do with patience and Youtube tutorials.

I have lots of experience doing interviews and then transcribing and writing them, but it’s a whole different beast when you have to be aware of the way your voice sounds and keep the energy of a conversation up. I’m also super uncomfortable with my voice and think I have some kind of psychological blockage that affects my ability to express myself vocally, so podcasting forces me to practice articulating myself and literally speaking up.

I think it’s a good exercise to experiment and put things out in the world while you’re still learning once in a while, instead of always enlisting other people to help or waiting until something is perfect to share it. It’s a good ego-leveller.

SABINA — There has been a lot of material that I have been listening to about spirituality, as it pertains to things like astrology, mysticism and witchcraft. It is definitely being revisited at the moment in media, popular culture, and even by big corporations like Urban Outfitters who were recently stocking spell books. A lot of the discussion around it points to it being such a deeply feminist thing (kind of just by default because it involves women and power), but also because of the history. What do you like/think is important about it?

TARA — I’ve always been low key drawn to the idea of spirituality and astrology but never really bothered to go beyond magazine horoscopes, but in the last couple of years after spending time in Sri Lanka I’ve become specifically interested in Sri Lankan superstitious traditions and folklore as a way to understand my own heritage. This then led into deeper explorations of other spiritual and mystical traditions.

What I really want to explore through Mystical Sweeties and believe there is a space for, is contemporary manifestations of spiritual fulfilment. As in, maybe many of our generation feel disconnected from organised religions, and don’t want to read The Secret like our mums, but still have this deep need for meaning and a connection to something greater than ourselves. Things like astrology memes and experiential sound baths are a contemporary answer to that age old need, and I find that very interesting. Of course it was inevitable that this recent wave of interest in witchcraft and spirituality would be co-opted by the likes of Urban Outfitters, but the nexus of spirituality and capitalism is also fascinating and nothing new.

SABINA — Do you have an ideal vision for the podcast, in terms of expanding it or who you’d like to feature?

TARA — For now I’m just going to focus on improving my recording, editing and interviewing skills over the next handful of episodes. I’m excited to explore South Asian folklore with poet Manisha Anjali in July, then I want to do episodes on accessing your subconscious through dreams and hallucinogens, and something on Internet and meme magic. Also I want you to come on and school me about cleaning rituals so I can keep my damn room clean.

If I’m still feeling it after that I will invest in getting it in front of a bigger audience by getting a logo designer and posting it someplace other than my humble Instagram. I had a hilarious conversation with my boyfriend about how I should do an episode where we cast a hypersigil to get more people to listen to the podcast, so maybe I’ll do that and it’ll go viral and I won’t have to bother about the marketing!

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