Once upon a time in a mall in Orange County CA with my paternal aunt and her husband, as we were exiting past Barnes & Noble Jody and I noticed a display of William S. Burroughs' newly published novel, Queer, which naturally we rushed over to look at. Dozens of copies, stacked high, the word queer repeating over and over in large, bold type.
My Catholic aunt (rabid fan of Elvis, who once gigglingly exclaimed, "He can park his shoes under my bed anytime") and her husband (soon-to-be transplants to Colorado Springs CO, birthplace of the 1992 anti-gay hate bill Amendment Two, of which they were staunch supporters- not that we knew that then of course) were shocked.
It was scandalous that a publisher and a mainstream bookstore in a mall in conservative Orange County, and Jody and I by our attention, together with some degenerate writer were forcing the "gay agenda" upon their delicate heteronormative sensibilities. Or so I assume it seemed to them.
Which anecdote I share with you because it's sadly absurd, but also apropos as introduction to this month's Censorable Ideas post about William S. Burroughs, Jody's minor connection to him, and some musings on queer and other "outsider" writers who influenced Jody and WSB.
Michael Stevens is a Burroughs scholar who recently contacted me about WSB's connection to Jody (he wrote a nice comment about I, Vampire when it first came out) for future editions of his book. The Road to Interzone: reading William S. Burroughs reading is "an index to the books known to have been read, blurbed, or cut up by the author of Naked Lunch," including any known commentary on that work or writer, and it is surprisingly revelatory as a portrait.
While this may not be the sort of titillating page-turner you read cover to cover, it is a fascinating treasure trove of insights, influences and previously unknown writers you'll want to dip into again and again with your laptop open to google and your favorite bookseller. Highly recommend.
Two writers that were unknown to me are Jack Black
and the POET LOUISE BOGAN.
"Jack Black’s You Can’t Win was probably the longest lasting literary
influence on Burroughs’ writing . From his first novel to his final memoirs he
was making references to its characters and philosophy. He incorporated the
hobo jungles, the criminal code, cat burglars, safe crackers, robbers
and rodriders into his mythology and virtual worlds. WSB’s appreciation
of the nobility of the criminal and the underground lifestyle found its inception here. Many readers are not even aware that the Johnson family and Salt Chunk Mary are not Burroughs’ creations, but key players in Black’s work. Burroughs first read the book when he was fifteen and it had a profound effect, not only on his literary life but his personal life as well. His reading of You Can’t Win was his earliest exposure to the criminal lifestyle that he attempted to recreate in his life and his fiction from that moment on." (Interzone)
It's worthwhile asking here why artists are attracted to the forbidden and the outlaw. The great American sage Ralph Waldo Emerson explains it this way: "Society is a joint-stock company which the members agree for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs."
To violate these customs is to invite society's punishment, be it ostracism in the schoolyard, mass incarceration of black folk, or coercive economic duress.... What artists, writers, and outlaws have in common is an instinctual rage against this. ("Society represented law and order, discipline, punishment. Society was a machine geared to grind me to pieces." -You Can't Win)
In the case of the criminal, this manifest as self-destructive sociopathy; in the case of Burroughs, Jody Scott, et al it gives us great art and literature, music and philosophy- all that counterbalances the oppressive side of society and makes of it (sometimes) a civilization.
Another who influenced both Jody and WSB- and celebrated the outcast and criminal- was the french novelist Jean Genet. Jody considered him a tremendous stylist and her transgressive gay novel of the 70's, Kiss the Whip, was greatly influenced by him. "Burroughs consistently listed Genet among his favorite writers and on several occasions said that Genet and Samuel Beckett were his favorite authors. 'Every man, no matter what his sexual tastes- likes the characters in Genet'" (Interzone)
For your pleasure and scholarly edification, here are excerpts from Genet, Burroughs and Scott:
You should have listened to me lover and abandoned this journal but now it's too late, much too late. To pry into St. Michael's life is to invite that most terrible curse, the Deuce of Vapors. Do you know how serious this is? Remember one thing. Whatever happens, dear reader, I love you. Watch closely as I come to the forefront of the canvas and look you straight in the eye--lock eyes!, Goddamn you, you evasive little bastard, and listen: "love" is much too timid a word; I adore you, my stone angel with the greedy greedy mouth. We deserve each other! For despite my flaws and crimes I am the One you've waited for, such a long time, such an empty, barren, windswept, crying-in-the dark long time, my darling.
-Jody Scott, Kiss the Whip
Before Armand had granted me the esteem of which I have already spoken, I probably would not have betrayed him. The mere idea would have horrified me. So long as he had not given me his confidence, betraying him had no meaning: it meant simply obeying the elementary rule which governed my life. But now I loved him. I recognized his omnipotence. And though he might not love me, he contained me within him. His moral authority was so absolute, so generous, that it made intellectual rebellion within his bosom impossible. The only way I could prove my independence was by acting on the emotional level. The idea of betraying Armand set me aglow. I feared and loved him too much not to want to deceive and betray and rob him. I sensed the anxious pleasure that goes with sacrilege..
― Jean Genet, Thief's Journal
A curse. Been in our family for generations. The Lees have always been perverts. I shall never forget the unspeakable horror that froze the lymph in my glands--the lymph glands that is, of course--when the baneful word seared my reeling brain: I was a homosexual. I thought of the painted, simpering female impersonators I'd seen in a Baltimore nightclub. Could it be possible I was one of those subhuman things? I walked the streets in a daze like a man with a light concussion--just a minute, Doctor Kildare, this isn't your script. I might well have destroyed myself, ending an existence which seemed to offer nothing but grotesque misery and humiliation. Nobler, I thought, to die a man than live on, a sex monster. It was a wise old queen--Bobo, we called her--who taught me that I had a duty to live and bear my burden proudly for all to see, to conquer prejudice and ignorance and hate with knowledge and sincerity and love.
―William S. Burroughs, Queer
There are many authors I could include here, and I may well return to this fertile subject in future Censorable Ideas, but for now I will conclude with the other new-to-me writer from Interzone (though not a direct influence on either Jody or WSB), the poet Louise Bogan. a brilliant minor poet of the ‘reactionary generation.’
Yes, Bogan is indeed a “minor” poet, but that does not mean she isn't worth reading. As the Poetry Foundation website puts it, “her poetry is modern and emotive without being sentimental, and her language is immediate and contemporary.”
A woman born in 1897 insisting upon her right to live her life her way (something hardly acceptable for women today, revolutionary then) definitely qualifies as a societal “outlier.” In a letter to Theodore Roethke she writes, “I, too, have been imprisoned by a family, who held out the bait of a nice hot cup of tea and a nice clean bed. . . the only way to get away is to get away: pack up and go. Anywhere. I had a child, from the age of 20, remember that, to hold me back, but I got up and went just the same, and I was, God help us, a woman.”
"Burroughs may have been familiar with her work as a youth, but didn’t make reference to this poem until The Western Lands,” writes Stevens in Interzone. The poem that caught his eye was SEVERAL VOICES OUT OF A CLOUD and it seems a fitting note to end on:
Come, drunks and drug takers; come, perverts unnerved!
Receive the laurel, given, though late, on merit, to who
and wherever deserved.
Parochial punks, trimmers, nice people, joiners true-blue,
Get the hell out of the way of the laurel. It is Deathless
And it isn’t for you.
* * *
Jody knew a lot of interesting characters in her life, one of them was Noel Wickman, sculptor, trailblazer, raconteur at-large, whose fascinating story, as much as I know it, I will share with you.
Canadian by birth, Wicky was one of three siblings who early in life watched their mother commit suicide by drinking drain cleaner. Parked by their father in an assortment of brothels until they were adopted (to serve as free farm labor), Wicky had a large repertoire of dirty limericks she learned from the prostitutes who took care of her.
Wicky was a sculptor, she made paper mache figures at half or 2/3 scale. When she died, her partner Susan asked Jody if we wanted Wicky's sculptures. We called her back two days later to arrange to get them, and after a lengthy and very pregnant pause, she informed us she'd thrown them in the garbage. So we never even got to take photos of them. They were quite good. Susan was quite bad.
Wicky was the owner of a music box shop in Seattle's famed Pike Place Market, and was the source for much of the Market material in Death in Seattle.
("The bewildering morass put him in mind of a cannibal-pot, it was so carnal and so mundane; all clamor and tumult with its oyster bars, barbecue, incense and spice, the spiny lobster, the whelk and the prawn side by side with smutty magazines and blatant perishables, the vulgar trinkets of the multitude hawked along sidewalks crammed with bric-a-brac and crawling with loafers, street walkers and dope addicts whose antics Rawlence eyed with scorn; all of this intermixed with steaming cauldrons and smoking grills and always the new faces backdropped by the same old many-colored kites, windsocks, marijuana pipes, tourists in perpetual rejoicing, the strife and babel of polyglot tongues of savage nations (including his own) not to mention drugged teenagers smacking their lips over chili dogs that dripped hotsauce amid the glitter of inconsequential baubles and posters and T-shirts and rings and necklaces and knives of every make, set out on wooden tables open to the wind and the rain, everything permeated by a democratic reek of bakery goods or stir-frying that drifted on the Puget Sound breeze.")
Noel worked in the 60's at The Blind Lemon in Berkeley and once saw Bob Dylan (before he was "Bob Dylan") playing there. Wicky mistook him for a woman and liked the song, commenting, "Not bad, but she can't sing."
They met when Wicky answered Jody's ad for Irondale lots. At the time she was with a woman named Amy. Later when she was no longer with Amy but with Jody, Amy reported them to immigration for being gay. Agents came to the house to investigate, Jody also became freaked out lest that somehow spread to an investigation of her fitness as a parent. You know, because she was a lesbian.
I don't know the details, but Wicky was never deported, and Jody was never investigated. (She was later investigated by the FBI for her involvement in the distribution of an interracial porn film in the south, but that is an unrelated story.)
Wicky was the first female draftsman at Boeing Aerospace Company. Some of the material in I, Vampire about the character Blake Reardon came from Wicky.
("In any big company, a drafting room is a sham. It’s a complete lie! Hypocrisy in motion! You sit and draw pla-pla. Pretend to draw something that might work. Act busy. Then along comes the engineer supervisor. He takes ten minutes and redesigns the whole thing you’ve been working on for six months. Correction: he doesn’t redesign it; he copies it out of the book. Didn’t the old Romans design a thumbscrew pretty much like this one? But the point is, Boeing has got to hire ten thousand bodies, because the government says ten thousand people must work on the project, or else money won’t be funneled into the Seattle plant. It’s a nuthouse!")
Wick was also diabetic. Once when she hospitalized, Jody and I were waiting on bench in Denny's for a land appointment, who was late. We went into a roll of silliness and hilarity while we waited, riffing on anything and everything, cracking ourselves up. After the appointment Jody called the hospital and asked for Noel Wickman's room. "We don't have any patient by that name," she was told.
Turns out Wicky died in the hospital while Jody and I were laughing in Denny's.
We liked to think that Wicky was with us, part of that hilarity, a sort of bon voyage party.
Want to send your name to Mars?
NASA is offering another chance to do so.
New submissions to send names aboard NASA's InSight lander will be accepted online through Nov. 1, 2017.
Jody is going! This is her boarding pass.
Reprint of article from Samantha Mathewson on Space.com
Want to send your name to Mars? NASA is offering another chance to do so.
When the InSight lander launches to the Red Planet next year, it will contain the names of members of the public, and you can submit your name for it to be included.
In 2015, the space agency invited people from around the world to add their names to a silicon chip that will be affixed to the InSight Mars lander. With nearly 827,000 individuals already signed up, NASA is now adding a second microchip, giving members of the public another chance to put their names on Mars.
"Mars continues to excite space enthusiasts of all ages," Bruce Banerdt, the InSight mission's principal investigator, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. "This opportunity lets them become a part of the spacecraft that will study the inside of the Red Planet." [NASA Mars InSight Lander Mission Gallery (Images)]
NASA's InSight Mars lander is expected to launch in May 2018 and arrive at the Red Planet in November 2018. The mission, whose name is short for "Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport," will study the planet's deep interior to gain a better understanding of the processes that helped shaped rocky planets like Mars and Earth.
Specifically, the lander will use a seismometer to detect "Marsquakes" (earthquakes on Mars) and meteor strikes, using the seismic energy of these phenomena to study material far below the Martian surface for the first time, according to the statement.
People can submit their names to be etched onto the second microchip. In doing so, they will earn "frequent flier" points, which reflect their participation in NASA exploration missions. Participants can also download a "boarding pass" with information about each mission that flies their names.
NASA's Frequent Fliers program spans multiple missions, including the first test mission of the Orion capsule, in December 2014. For that mission, more than 1.38 million people earned points when their names flew aboard the spacecraft, which is designed to help NASA astronauts travel to asteroids, Mars and other deep-space destinations.
NASA frequent fliers will have another opportunity to rack up points in 2018, when Orion and NASA's Space Launch System megarocket launch together for the first time. That uncrewed flight, known as Exploration Mission 1, will send Orion on a seven-day trip around the moon to test out many of the capsule's critical systems.
New submissions to send names aboard NASA's InSight lander will be accepted online through
Nov. 1, 2017.L
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Britannica, Part I of a 3-part series: ( part I, part II, part III )
Jody Scott, "the greatest writer you've never heard of," (F&SF Mag) and recipient of enough critical praise and peer recognition to choke a small pony, did not make money from her writing! And yet she wrote full time, 5 or 6 hours a day almost every day for 40 years without having also to hold down a job.
How she managed that has been the subject of some speculation. As Jody's spouse and business partner for 30 years I figured I would spill the beans here and now, entre nous as it were, as to exactly what we did to earn a living.
When Jody and I meet in the late '70's she is selling Irondale Lots. This becomes the model for the land business we will found a few years later. But to understand what Irondale was, how it worked and how it came about we need to flashback a couple decades.
Some time after the Leites and Berkeley and Circle Magazine, Jody meets OT Wood, a brilliant painter, but not a model of mental stability. She thinks to herself, 'We should make a baby together, it's bound to be brilliant.' So they do, make a baby together that is, but OT's mom commits suicide in LA and they decide California is for the birds and make the grueling, pre-interstate trek up Highway 99 to Seattle. At that time considered the uncivilized end of the world, just before you tumble off the map.
OT is worthless as a breadwinner and soon gone anyway. With a kid to support, no family or friends in the area, no money, no savings, no welfare state to fall back on, Jody answers an ad in the paper for an Encyclopedia Britannica sales position, gets the job and hires a babysitter- even though she has no money with which to pay the babysitter.
The training and sales routines for the "Sperm-of-the-Month club," in chapter 17 of I, Vampire is based on that Britannica experience.
With her usual determination and skill, Jody is a smashing success! The babysitter gets paid and the checks started rolling in. She even manages to pen a novel during these years, but selling is a job and like all jobs, if you stop doing it, it stops paying you.
There has to be a better way than selling all day, raising a child alone and squeezing in a little writing when time and exhaustion allow.
Enter E.P. Jeff Jaffarian, one time pal of Richard Nixon, sometime photographer and pornographer, recent tax auction purchaser of a platted-into-lots-but-since-reclaimed-by-the-forest town on the banks of Puget Sound called Irondale.
Part III- Okanogan:
I write about how Jody and I meet in 1977 in the foreword to the 2015 Strange Particle Press edition of Passing For Human. It isn't long before Jody recruits me to help with the Irondale business. I'm young and inexperienced enough to be flattered to be entrusted with the bookkeeping. (Note to young self, "bookkeeping is not a thrilling piece of adult business, it's just an onerous repetitive pain in the ass.") But to be fair, Jody has been doing this alone for a long time and how I handle this will be an indicator as to whether I can be trusted with greater responsibility.
In 1981 we buy our first parcel of land in Okanogan County. By now I have learned how the business operates and how to communicate and sell. Jody is an excellent teacher.
Turns out our skills mesh wonderfully, where Jody is weak I excel; where I am weak she is strong. So while she writes full time, I am tasked with finding a new location where we can replicate the Irondale success.
There's no internet so research is via phone and mail and in person. After months of searching I find the place where county regulations, beautiful terrain, views and price align.
The plan is to buy a large tract of land at a 'wholesale' price, divide it into smaller parcels, and sell those to people in Seattle at a 'retail' price. This "spread," or difference between wholesale and retail, is our profit.
We do everything ourselves. We find the land and buy directly from owners. We sell the land for $99 down and $99 per month on a Real Estate Contract we carry ourselves. We tramp and measure and stake and take photos. We figure out how to divide what we buy and write the legal descriptions that make it so. We advertise in The Little Nickel using inexpensive classified ads and we meet people at the local Denny's Restaurant where rent is the cost of a meal plus generous tip.
We have no competition, no one is doing what we are doing. In later years others begin to offer similar terms, some of them legit and some of them scammers. But we have an advantage because society does not recognize our spousal relationship. For this technical reason we can buy two adjacent tracts of land as separate individuals and each of us divide our parcel into four pieces, giving us eight plots to resell. A married couple can only divide the same whole into four parcels. (And that's how to take a crappy hand dealt you and turn it to advantage!)
We enjoy quite a bit of freedom, but also there is no corporate daddy to fall back on; the bucks stops with us- for good or ill. Nobody funds our retirement account or provides us insurance. We take all the risks, we get all the rewards and we assume all the responsibility. It takes a bit of courage and a whole lot of ethics to pull that off successfully for decades.
So, we begin our Okanogan business in 1981, we model it after the successful Irondale Lots, which is built on Jody's successful Encyclopedia Britannica experience, and the last Okie property we sell is in 2007, just months before Jody dies. (We have a lovely time that summer clearing brush growing up in the road and find a big jade rock (OK probably not jade, but pretty) that takes the both of us to lift into the trunk to bring home.)
Over these 30 years we buy and sell hundreds of acres of land, dozens and dozens of individual parcels. By creating our own unique business model, to supply exactly what Jody needs to write full time (a modest but steady income from a few months part time work each year), she is able to spend her life doing what she loves; producing the body of work that we all are the lucky beneficiaries of.
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