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That time I wanted to pass myself off as Joyce Carol Oates #TBT

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I submitted my first piece of writing when I was seventeen, a story about my first job, working at the employee cafeteria at General Telephone where my mother was a dispatcher. Rolling the 20# white bond backed by a sheet of thin blue carbon paper into my Smith Corona, I typed it out slowly, carefully, on a piece of erasable paper—and mailed it off to Cosmopolitan along with a cover letter. Not just to any editor at Cosmo, by the way, I sent it directly to Helen Gurley Brown. 

The piece itself, meant to be comical, was full of clumsy attempts at self-effacing humor.  I strived for a similar tone in the cover letter I addressed to Brown, completely clueless that the high powered editor in chief wasn’t the one reading unsolicited manuscripts. After I signed off I added the following PS. I could have said I was Joyce Carol Oates. What I thought that would accomplish I can’t imagine. That an unsatisfactory submission would get published because of a lame joke? 

No surprise, in the SASE I’d …

Bon Voyage: Our TransAtlantic Crossing


Over on Chapter1-Take1, I shared a French-dubbed trailer for the movie Brooklyn starring Saoirse Ronan. In the film, Ronan’s character, Eilis, emigrates from Ireland onboard an ocean liner in the 1950’s. That’s how they rolled in those days. Er, that’s how we rolled in those days. 



We came to North America on an ocean liner too, sailing across the Atlantic Ocean from Liverpool on the R.M.S. Sylvania in the middle of winter. It was during the last days of trans-Atlantic ocean crossings; the Sylvania was the final ship built by the Cunard Line before the whole world took to the skies, leaving ocean liners to the pleasure seekers and cruise goers. Unlike Brooklyn’s Eilis, who landed at Ellis Island in New York, we landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was February 1960 and I was five. We’d already moved from England, where my brother and I were born, to Libya, then in ’57 to Turkey where my sister was born, and back to Libya. And now we were leaving the shores of Tripoli where winter days went down to the low 50’s, for Canada. If I thought I knew what cold was, I didn’t. 

That’s me wearing the scarf and the glasses with my leg hooked on the railing, with my mother and my little sister, Nancy, between us. My father would have taken the picture while my brother was likely off exploring the ship.Taking a look at my lightweight garb, the photo must have been taken in the early days of the ship’s passage, before it got really cold. 

I still have an old metal steamer trunk, the iconic Cunard line stickers on it, and the photo above, but few real memories from the trip. Except for one small snippet stuck in my head, like a stray earring lost in the lining of an old suitcase, useless without the other earring; a memory of my brother giving me a tour of what he’d discovered, opening a  door to reveal the empty movie theater in a deserted hallway we weren’t supposed to be in. Just our luck, he told me, the cinema was closed for the winter crossings. 


I texted my brother, confirming the name of the ship we sailed on. He told me Cormac McCarthy sailed on the Sylvania too, except he was going the opposite direction. McCarthy was taking his fellowship money from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and going to Ireland to rediscover his roots. McCarthy met his second wife, a dancer on the ship, on his 1965 crossing. A dancer? I don’t think there were dancers on our trip. Like the theater, were the dancers shut down for the season? 

I wonder what else my brother knows about our voyage.

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