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Thomas Joyce

  • Thomas Joyce, Business/Accounting FocusThomas-Joyce_web  

    Thomas's moving story, "Making a Snowball," was published in Volume 14, and a lighter essay, "The Hovel," as well as two photographs, appeared in Volume 15. Illuminations caught up with Thomas to catch his thoughts on how writing, photography, and music bring him joy and healing.

    Illuminations: You dabble in both photography and writing. What do you find to be the rewards and challenges of each?

    Thomas: I grew up in a household where the written word was very important; both of my parents were and still are voracious readers and there are some published authors in my family. The biggest challenge that I have found in my writing has been to make what I write interesting. Just because something is meaningful to me doesn't guarantee that anyone else will devote any time to it. The reward is the flip side of the challenge: putting together words that convey emotion, or describe circumstances, or a time and place in such a way that it is accessible. I think I've achieved that with some of my writings. Photography is different. While in writing I feel like I'm building something from the ground up, with photography the image is already there, waiting for someone like me to capture it. The challenge is to be alert and aware of the opportunities for capturing striking images - what makes it rewarding is that I can share the things that I see as I live my life.

    I: In your bio for Volume 14, you mentioned that you had "a passion for music." How has that manifested itself?

    TJ: When I moved to Nebraska over 30 years ago, two of the things I discovered quickly were The Zoo Bar and KZUM radio. While I never took the time to learn how to play a musical instrument and my singing voice will scare livestock, both The Zoo & KZUM expanded my musical horizons. I spend as much time as I can spare listening to live music, and music is always part of the background of my life. I'm a huge fan of Jazz Fusion, Alternative Country and Blues of all shades. For seven or eight years, I was a programmer at KZUM spinning records (yes, they were records back then) and reveling in sharing great music with my listeners. I also must mention that I met my wife Susie at Duggan's Pub during a Monday night "Open Mic" night ten years ago.

    I: Although you've taken root in Nebraska for the past 30 or so years, you were born and raised in New York City, a city known for its artistic excellence. What's your opinion of the arts scene here in Nebraska, and what role do you see Illuminations playing in that scene?

    TJ: I really don't have a basis for comparison. I didn't partake of the arts scene in New York all that much; regular Twisted Sister shows were the best I attained to! To get back to music for a minute, I find our music scene rich and varied, but I am only just tapping into what we have to offer in the visual arts. I do see Illuminations being a wedge to introduce people to an appreciation for the arts.

    I: The stories you've submitted to Illuminations have their share of cynicism and wit. How has your writing style developed over the years, and what do you see yourself writing ten years from now?

    TJ: Until the last few years, most of what I wrote was short poetry. I was at my most prolific following my divorce from my first wife twelve years ago. Back then, I was pretty sad and depressed, and what I wrote reflected that. My submission last year, "Making a Snowball," was in some sense my moving past that stage of my life and fully putting it behind me. This year's submission, "The Hovel," is the first part of a series of biographical short stories ranging from the late 70s to the early 00s. My inspiration for that project was Jean Shepherd's In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, and I aspired to outline and describe my life in, as you say, a cynical and witty manner, as Mr. Shepherd did. As I learn more discipline in writing, I look forward to writing book-length descriptions of my life and times.

    I: What are your favorite photographic subjects and why?

    TJ: I have a Flickr page where you can see some of my work: You can see that I have a lot of landscapes, alleys, close-ups of nature etc. I mainly go with these because I just see things that look cool! My favorites are action shots of musicians, mainly at The Zoo, where there is access behind the stage allowing close-ups of the musicians. If you can get in the right place at the right time, you can really capture the excitement and buzz of a live show. I've spent a lot of time at The Zoo honing my techniques. I enjoy these shots mainly because they are an expression of my love of music. I'd like to do more portraits, like the ones of my wife and father that were chosen for Illuminations, but I feel uncomfortable asking people's permission on the street!

    I: You and your wife have eight kids (right?). How have you shared your love of the arts with them?

    TJ: My two oldest were my first wife's children from her first marriage who I adopted; we had four more together. My wife Susie, who I married eight years ago, has two children who I claim as my own; so yes, eight is accurate! My daughter Elizabeth seems to have inherited the writing and photography gene, she has taken some great photos and writes some very moving poetry. I've seen potential in a couple of others - writing seems to be a dying art and everyone takes pictures on their cell phones.

    I: Unlike many of our Illuminations contributors, you're not 20 years old. How does maturity and experience affect your artistic work? What advice would you give the young'uns? J

    TJ: You're right, I'm not 20 years old, although I am young at heart! I think that anyone, no matter their age, can have the experience and insight that translates into artistic expression. I've lived an interesting life so far, but as I've learned from being in a family of natural story tellers, anything can be turned into a good story if you tell it right. Looking at some of the incredible work in Illuminations I would not presume to give anyone any advice other than that.

    From "Making a Snowball," by Thomas Joyce

    She stood in front of him, a cigarette between her fingers. She darted it like a wasp to her lips and back to her side, punctuating her sentences, doing everything but extinguishing it in his eye. While she stood almost a foot shorter and a hundred pounds lighter, she seemed to tower over him, dominating, crushing with words and more. She invoked her God; she quoted from her Holy Book, her voice sing-song like a televangelist, and she intoned the list of his sins. He was cast out, cast out from their marriage and from his children. The fog from the cold and the cigarette smoke mingled together, like a veil separating him from all that he loved. He slunk away, got in his car, and drove, watching his life dwindle in the rearview mirror.