Voiceworks #105 ‘Nerve’ editorial
By Lucy Adams
It was a Friday afternoon when Professor Charles approached my desk, placed upon it a large book and a piece of paper and said, ‘Have a go at mapping this.’ The book was The Rat Brain in Stereotaxic Coordinates, 6th Edition and the paper depicted a coronal cross-section of a rat brain. As a seventeen-year-old ostensibly employed in his office to scan things, I was unqualified for this particular task.
Before I go on, let me clarify that no, he is not Professor Charles Xavier, the one with the psychic superpowers who educates mutant teens in his Westchester mansion. Rather, he’s a neuroscientist who, though not a telepath, is equally brilliant—the kind of person who has a mind palace, who can recite The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, who decided to pick up the saxophone at the age of sixty-five. On the other hand, I was pretty much a mutant, and not the kind with cool laser eyes or the ability to control metal. It was my first year out of school and I was out of sync with my friends, who all seemed to have some idea of what they were doing. With my deferred arts degree, I recoiled from the Perth sun and assumed the mutant persona of Beak, the repulsive humanoid-bird who can open a jar of jam while breaking only twenty-three bones, or Eye-Scream, who can turn into any flavour of ice-cream.
Working as Charles’s research assistant gave purpose to what could have otherwise been a grim time. We’d get excited about the highly contested existence of rhombomeres and the many delights of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for, among other things, pair bonding in prairie voles and the onset of contractions in childbirth. In the latter it operates via a positive feedback loop—a process whereby the output of a system (oxytocin) produces an effect (contractions), which in turn produces more of the initial output (oxytocin) to form a self-escalating circuit. Think stampede or avalanche, for two less terrifying examples.
At a time when I had the self-esteem of an avian aberration, Professor Charles pulled me out of the funk and into a positive feedback loop. ‘You will map an entire rat brain atlas,’ he said, and, once I’d done this, ‘Very good. Now you will publish an article in a neuroscience journal.’ That someone believed I was capable of something beyond my existing skill level tricked me into sticking at it for long enough that, eventually, I could do it for real.
For young writers, the process of trying to get your writing published can too easily become a negative feedback loop. You send your work out into the void and, for the most part, the void, as voids do, stays mute. It’s a well-trodden path: lay your soul bare in an uncharacteristic leap of faith, face cosmic silence, and never do that first thing again. For some, the brain’s emotional reward centre atrophies from underuse, removing the incentive to write at all and transfiguring them into a disheartened word-hermit.
What Voiceworks does is draw young writers out of that cycle and into a positive feedback loop. Regardless of whether or not your work appears in our pages, you’ll hear from us—we provide feedback to every writer who submits their work. And our feedback should, in turn, increase your output. But here’s the thing—it’s not a simple matter of linear cause and effect. While A influences B, B also in influences A. It’s a relationship of interdependence. We rely entirely on your submissions to make Voiceworks what it is. The more you give us, the more we can give back.
Voiceworks is Professor Charles—both of them—for young writers. We’re here to foster positive mutant–human relations and help you control your powers, even if they consist solely of spewing acid, or just having a grotesquely long neck. Finding your way into a positive feedback loop lets you summon storms, map rat brains or maybe even feel good about something you write. Mentees and mentors, writers and editors—we need each other. Keep shouting at us. We are the void that shouts back.