Sing with the voice your god gave you. But know your song before you take to the stage.
In 1997, I auditioned for my secondary school’s annual musical show. I was in transition year, a time of academic, creative and legal experimentation. Or, as it is often called, a doss year. Lacking any friendships that would last into adulthood, I was a good student of English and technical drawing and a poor student of nearly every other subject I thought I had to take. During the course of this year, I took modules in Italian, music, art, Celtic Studies and, I think, archaeology. However, with my sights set on a life designing buildings, I opted for physics, chemistry and higher-level maths to get me there. By the time of sitting my pre-Leaving Certificate, I had dropped chemistry in favour of technical drawing; I had moved to ordinary-level maths and my knowledge of the physical world was limited to the first portions of a few theories and the simplicity of displacement. It’s fair to say that I was pretty lost for those six years and sometimes the hardest thing was to speak my mind. I listened in on conversations but I didn’t really hear. Later, at home, I’d think of a response or an idea and I’d practise it, for a next time that never came. I looked but I did not see what was around me. I spent a lot of time in my own head, reciting what I would say, and what I would do, if given half the chance. Those who know me now may find that hard to believe, as I am a foaming, conversation-hogging, arm-waving motor-mouth even at the worst of times. Those who know me now also know that I do not sing.
And so I auditioned for the school show not because I was musical, or knew the songs and wanted to sing them myself. Nor did I do it to perform or be seen. I did it because everyone else was doing it. And I sang the worst, least Vaudeville song around: something by Alanis Morissette. Well, I didn’t get in and instead I worked in ‘costume’, a job for which there was no precedent. Not having a voice that day meant, officially, I became one of the silent ones, the crew the audience is not supposed to see or hear. I wasn’t even one of the crew; many of them skipped outside during scenes to mix Coca-Cola with Paracetemol and wait and see and hope that something would happen. But when the tuck-shop man told me, looking me straight in the eye, that I was ‘the only one around here doing their job properly’, I smiled, inside, quietly, so no one could see.
My point in sharing this familiar story is to say that ‘voice’ arrives when you least expect it. Sometimes it is not yet perfectly formed when it gets here. And sometimes you have to momentarily bury one voice for another to be heard. THE SOUTH CIRCULAR is still, at this moment in time, the best expression of my abilities and my interests and that expression or new found ‘voice’ could not have been realized without the support of all of those who have graced these pages or swiped them. Since moving to Toronto, it’s been my calling-card and has given me access I could only have dreamed about before coming here. And yet, there are other voices, private, domestic, familial and social, which have become marginally muted while this process of introduction and adjustment runs its course.
The theme I am choosing to assign to issue 10 of THE SOUTH CIRCULAR then, is a theme of voice/lessness. All of the muted characters in these stories find ways to lay their mark on their environments and the wrongs they wish to right, some with tragic results. Along with the four stories picked from this quarter’s submissions, by Australians John Bartlett and Mark Brandi and Canadians Laurie Myers-Bishop and John Christensen, we are delighted to welcome special guest writer John Connell to our ejournal. John, though raised in Ireland, has lived in Australia for the last five years and moved to Toronto late last year. He is a producer, curator and investigative journalist and his debut novel, The Ghost Estate, will be published by Picador Australia in 2015.
We chose the cover image, of a work by Irish artist Aleana Egan, because it carries an insistent hush. Her work, ‘on the one hand . . . draws our attention to the way things look, how they settle, sag, curve, or hang; on the other, her forms and shapes act as traces or memories, and as a tentative articulation of shifting responses to remembered places or everyday moments . . . Similarly, her frequent literary and historical allusions, which are never explained, are reticent and elliptic.’ We hope you enjoy these stories of doing, not saying.