An open letter to readers of Impossible Music
Impossible Music is about a teenage guitarist, Simon Rain, who suddenly and unexpectedly loses his hearing. Music is his greatest love; he doesn’t know how even to begin living without it. Instead, he sets out to invent an entirely new kind of music, one the Hearing and Deaf can equally appreciate.
Simon’s companions on his quest are friends, family, counsellors, and a girl with extreme tinnitus whose disability more than matches his own. The terrain is present-day Adelaide, South Australia and the stages of grief. He’s armed with philosophy, humour and passion, but the villain he’s fighting is the shadow of his own fears. There is no magic solution. There is only greater understanding of himself and those around him.
Impossible Music is a love-song to both music and Deaf Culture. It is also the most autobiographical novel I have ever written.
Deafness is sometimes called the “invisible disability”, and not just because people who can’t hear look the same as those who can, although that is certainly true. You could walk past any of the thirty thousand Auslan sign-language speakers in Australia and not know.
There’s an ever more pervasive invisibility that affects the one in six--about the population of Melbourne--who are hearing-impaired. It’s expressed in a lack of funding for Auslan translators, the lack of high-quality captioning on TV, a general lack of understanding of what it means to be culturally Deaf in the hearing community, and so on.
Australia is a vibrantly multicultural society, but somehow Australians consistently overlook the traditions and language of this community that exists all around us.
My great hope is that Impossible Music will provoke the kind of discussions that will benefit everyone on either side of this invisible wall.
I am myself, however, neither deaf nor Deaf.
So how did I come to write a book about a teenage rock god who can’t hear?
There are two answers to this question.
The first is that I started writing music at the age of fifteen and have dabbled on and off ever since, between novels and short stories. In my early twenties, in fact, I had to choose between potential vocations--composition and creative writing--and although I have never once regretted the choice I made, I can’t help but sometimes wonder where I might have ended up down another trouser-leg of time.
The second answer reflects my experiences with anxiety and severe depression arising from chronic pain. Writing was the cause of that pain, to the point where giving up the career I love seemed the only option available to me. Like Simon, I endured feelings of intense powerlessness and isolation that took long periods of soul-searching to overcome. The benefits I received from reaching out for advice and support cannot be overstated.
For many years, I tried to write about my experiences on both these fronts. Only by combining them have I found a voice and a story that is authentically my own, even if, like all fiction, it takes some liberties with the facts.
Simon is not me, and his disability is not mine, so making him him has taken a great deal of work. Impossible Music owes a debt to everyone who helped ease his story into being, most particularly the members of the South Australian Deaf community who generously shared their knowledge and experiences with me.
This included teaching me an entirely new way of communicating.
If you have seen sign language in action, you’ll know that it is so much more than the shape and movement of hands: it encompasses the face, the entire body in ways that a Hearing person often struggles to fathom. It is literally a dance of words.
Despite many classes, social nights and Auslan immersion camps, I remain a fairly inept speaker of this beautiful language, let alone the sign languages of other countries. There are, however, two signs that I particularly love.
To sign “thanks” in Auslan, touch the tip of your fingers to your chin, then swing your open hand forward from the elbow. For emphasis use two hands. For even more emphasis, repeat.
Then there’s an international sign for Deaf pride that also doubles as “solidarity” or “friendship”. It looks like the heavy-metal devil’s horns gesture, but with the thumb extended.
Together, they don’t form anything like a sentence, but they definitely speak back to everything I hope to achieve with this novel.
Many people are in the process of losing the thing they think defines them, fighting battles that will change them in unforeseen ways, or discovering that there’s more possibility in their future than they ever imagined. We’re always changing, with all the pain and confusion that process entails.
Impossible Music has come out of a period of painful confusion in my own life. I hope it will help those who are going through their own journey.
I am making the two signs I described earlier to you now, in solidarity and friendship.