The author has determined my daily work of writing and teaching; he has also provided friends, colleagues, lovers, and once, a husband.Even my social life is arranged around Joyce, anchored each month by a meeting of the once accused, ‘the most pretentious book club in Sydney’.)In many ways, Joyce has been my longest long-term relationship.
I wonder now why I ever wanted to be your friend in the first place. The need to be seen hanging around with an Important Man. You always believed that thirteen was an unlucky number. So it was absolutely true that his mother has been in the employ of James Joyce for as long as he could remember.
My son was nine when a professional man in a suit asked: ‘And what does your mother do?
Even the stars in Ireland have literary connotations.
I stared up hoping to see a comet or a shooting star, a sign of some sort, something special I could make a wish on.
My companion waved the bottle away and then cocked his head to one side, asking me to speak up, explaining he had recently suffered sudden and complete hearing loss in one ear.
Immediately I was reminded of the central male character in characters, has multiple names and identities.Which was why I realised that adding my own unsophisticated southern-hemisphere thoughts to the gazillion books and articles already written about Joyce was a complete waste of effort. And yet here I am, having finally given up on the enterprise altogether, only to find myself seated at a long table with thirteen artists from all over the world – and James Joyce at my side. Or at the very least, an ‘unexpected simultaneity’.I have been allocated the Butler room, named after Hubert Butler, Tyrone Guthrie’s brother-in-law, and the most coveted room in the entire estate.Joyce had a knack for picking up just what he needed.‘Chance furnishes me with what I need,’ he wrote, ‘I’m like a man who stumbles; my foot strikes something, I look down, and there is exactly what I need.’ Nora Barnacle was the most important chance stumble of his life.The great man’s shadow falls far and wide and writers, especially Irish ones, continually complain about the effort to crawl out from under it.I am just one of many cowering under his monumental weight.For as long as I can remember, I have looked for signs and patterns; anything to help me navigate the impossible map that is the business of living.And I have realised that my attempt to craft a narrative is little more than an attempt to discern patterns.So perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I’ve tried to give up the dependency. The only way I can really give up is by putting myself in the thick of it.So I have taken up a residency at the Tyrone Guthrie House in Country Monaghan to write, ostensibly, the first draft of a manuscript that, for the first time in decades, has nothing to do with James Joyce. I have brought no Joyce books or copies of the chat groups. On my first evening at Tyrone Guthrie House on the Annaghmakerrig estate in Ireland, I sat down at the long table for the communal meal and was immediately introduced to a crime novelist whose name I assumed I had misheard.‘I beg your pardon? The middle-aged gentleman showed me his blue Visa card to prove it: James Joyce.‘I use a pen name instead,’ he said. ‘Until recently.’ Just a few months ago, he confessed, he finally and wrote an essay about the curse of being a contemporary writer named James Joyce. Do I break my commitment to abstain from reading, thinking or talking about Joyce?