Iowa Writes

JIM JOYCE
The Many Joyces I Know, Part II*


*(Hey, if James Joyce with his goatee and one-eyed pirate look could publish Ulysses back-breaking volumes, I, Jim Joyce can publish in 2 parts.)


So here I am at 22, finally trying Southern Comfort five years after my liquor-store employer Tom Joyce thought I stole it and feeling collateral guilt, I helped fellow worker Tim Stagias hurl Icehouse beer out the backdoor for cemetery drinking. At 22, my great-great-grandfather John T. Joyce led 45,000 packinghouse workers to victory with the 8-hour workday. Tremors hit unions across the western world and slowly the slaughterhouses and warehouses and factories in the United States began to reform accordingly. That was in 1886. John T. Joyce was a cattle butcher. Blood under the fingernails, kid. His name has a tremendous thunder that hits in the mouth, it's the thud of his middle initial, "T."
        To me, my name Jim M.V. Joyce reads like a box of missalette prayer books, overburdened with Catholic confirmation weight, its heavy piles of pamphlet leaves. When I tell my name in job interviews, I feel like I'm dumping a pile of mail on the table, rearranging letters and explaining addresses.

*(Hey, if James Joyce with his goatee and one-eyed pirate look could publish Ulysses back-breaking volumes, I, Jim Joyce can publish in 2 parts.)


So here I am at 22, finally trying Southern Comfort five years after my liquor-store employer Tom Joyce thought I stole it and feeling collateral guilt, I helped fellow worker Tim Stagias hurl Icehouse beer out the backdoor for cemetery drinking. At 22, my great-great-grandfather John T. Joyce led 45,000 packinghouse workers to victory with the 8-hour workday. Tremors hit unions across the western world and slowly the slaughterhouses and warehouses and factories in the United States began to reform accordingly. That was in 1886. John T. Joyce was a cattle butcher. Blood under the fingernails, kid. His name has a tremendous thunder that hits in the mouth, it's the thud of his middle initial, "T."
        To me, my name Jim M.V. Joyce reads like a box of missalette prayer books, overburdened with Catholic confirmation weight, its heavy piles of pamphlet leaves. When I tell my name in job interviews, I feel like I'm dumping a pile of mail on the table, rearranging letters and explaining addresses.   
        And then there's my Uncle Chuck, not a Joyce but a Corcoran, used to call our house for my dad and I'd pick up the phone and he'd say, "Am I speaking to James the Greater or James the Lesser?"
        James is a name of two apostles. When Jesus thought of James, he did so with two minds. James the Greater is St. James of Spain. Great cities are named after him: San Diego, and Santiago. (St. James=St. Iago drop the "d," and there you have it—Santiago.) I couldn't find anything on James the Lesser.
        And then there is, of course, my dad, who is also James Joyce. When I was 10, he sat me down with my brother, Colin, and explained a possible future. "Which one of you is going to be the next bricklayer?" And my brother turned his eyes to me.  Dad expounded: "The Joyces have always had a bricklayer. . . .  It's something I want you both to think about."
        My grandpa retired from laying brick in his fifties and became a union rep. He retired from that at 86 when his vision was shot to hell from glaucoma. When he was an on-site bricklayer, guys would come to work wearing sunglasses. "Hey, Hollywood," my grandpa would say, "where the hell do you think you are? Take off the glasses or take a walk." And the guys would fold their sunglasses away and get to work, squinting their eyes all day. The story of Grandpa who's now half-blind gives me perspective.

When I was 16, a lady from Peotone emailed me when I was 16 saying she liked my zine. Those are self-published magazines, my ticket to millions. "Jim Joyce," she wrote, "your zine is nice, but you're no James," and that's about the time I learned about the famed Irish novelist. Thirty-two years after John T. Joyce's strike, James Joyce the Irishman abroad published his collection Dubliners. I've never read his novels. They scare me. I've just read "The Dead" in which snow drifts down and takes the city in heavy flakes and in a house with a heavy chandelier where eyelids are perpetually heavy. It's the first documentation of a distinct over-thinking and paranoia that thrives inside the blood of all of us Joyces. We are the type of people who can look at beautiful morning and think, "That might be my morning sun on the horizon, or it might be hellfire." 
        When my parents moved in together, my mom got a joke gift for my dad, a portrait of James Joyce the author. He's looking off camera and at what he knows not. James Joyce is dapper with his dramatic eye-patch, put in place after his dozen-plus surgeries. "My eyes are so capricious. . . ." Joyce notes in a 1922 journal entry. 
        At certain times on certain streets I was convinced everyone had the same name as me. It's not just the Joyce, it's the Jim. High school guys drove yelling out of their car windows at Jimmies across the street, Jims in Kennedy Park with baseballs clanging chain link fences, or an old lady yelling for some James unknown down the echo of the freight tracks, and still I kept turning around thinking that someone was talking to me.

        So many James Joyces, and for the sake of my name, I know whatever I write is redundant.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


JIM JOYCE

Jim Joyce is a high school teacher in Chicago and was recently accepted into Bennington College's low-residency MFA Writing Program.  He has taken several classes at the University of Iowa's Summer Writing Festival.  Once a year, he self-publishes the zine Let It Sink.

If you missed yesterday's Palette, be sure to read The Joyces I Know.

This page was first displayed
on September 11, 2014

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