On offer this time round at RCN is a touching concatenation of fragile biographical reminiscences rescued from Jeffrey Jones’s former Web site; the header of the HTML source lists a “publicationdate” of “122197” (December 21, 1997) and a “version” date of “12.20.2003” (December 20, 2003).
A RECOLLECTING REMEMBRANCE
Born, January 10, 1944, Atlanta, Georgia// Not dead yet
I believe in Atlanta, Georgia in the year 1947. That was before I met my father. I was three and he seemed a myth. My dad, I was told, was somewhere in a place called Germany, busy dropping bombs on people. I didn’t believe in him.
In the mid-forties Atlanta was beginning to build itself into a place that I’d never again recognize. What I remember were ancient buildings, ancient trees, and a drumming sound that the South shall rise again.
I lived beneath the daily fragrance of impossible magnolias and a giant holly-tangle that shook with screaming, evening bats.
There remain impressions along with false memories with which I’ve been storied. I was born into the great southern house of my grandfather, resplendent with ivy carpeted yards, privet taller than he and clay tennis courts, dry and powdery, spreading quietly behind gardens of Victorian wildness. I remember garages of mystery: red painted wooden buildings with doors that never opened. Five cars wide, they spread across a gray cracked pavement where I learned, first with stroller, then with uncertain feet, to walk.
My grandmother moved in and out of rooms like a shadow, leaving a glimpsed but not always certain presence. In the earlier part of this century she had been an outspoken suffragette, marching and rallying womankind to awaken. Now she rarely spoke.
Memory: My great grandmother, tiny and sick and silent, dying in a great bed in a room somewhere in the back of the house.
Memory: My great, great aunt, Ottoline, downstairs, secluded in a lace and sunfilled room. She was the the matriarch, 96 years old — born just two years after the great California gold rush. She spoke to me once of gold — she had held a nugget, smooth and heavy in her hand, but had never seen its brilliance because she was blind. Ottie had never seen anything. She had been born without sight. A large and kind woman who occasionally, with the help of crutches that seemed to grow from her upper body, struggled out into the backyard. She also in 96 years had never walked alone, nor run nor reached out toward the sun.
The grounds that spread about the house were green and lush and smelled of age and invention. My grandfather, Dunkie, we all called him was a retired mechanical drawing teacher at Georgia Tech (‘Yellowjackets’ as a team — “Georgia Tech, a rambling wreck and a hell of an engineer”) or so I always heard. Above that mysterious row of garages, in a kind of attic, was a lengthy space he always called “the laboratory”. Here he heaved strange objects, built and rebuilt and at times cried, “Eureka!” as if he had invented or reinvented something.
When first I saw my father I must have been about three. Back from Germany, he telephoned, and expectantly my mother and I awaited his appearance. When he knocked on the door there was a rush of big and little feet. My mother opened the door to the man she loved and said, “Jeffrey, this is your dad.” I was speechless, for he just stood there on the porch, moving not an inch — huge, about ten feet tall, perfectly straight, in full pressed uniform with bars and medals dripping from his chest. I don’t remember what was said. I didn’t know who this man was, but I did know right then and there that I would be always defenseless against him.
— My life describes the stories of boys and men for thousands of years: boys who were beaten by their fathers, boys whose capacity for love and trust was crippled almost at birth. Men, whose best hope for contact with other human beings lay in detachment, as if life were over. It’s how we keep, in turn, from destroying our own children and terrorizing the women who have the misfortune to love us, how we absent ourselves from the tradition of male violence, how we decline the seduction of revenge. ___AFFLICTION
Ponce de Leon Avenue in the ’40s, the street which ran before our house, was a wonder to a small boy. While I sat in rocking chairs along the planked front porch, great overweight Dodges and Buicks chugged their way up the hill which led to Peachtree Street and the Fox theater (the 4th largest in the world.) It was a city block of turkish domes, gilded with that precious metal mined in Delonega in the north. I sat there often watching movies like “Gone With the Wind” on a screen that rivaled the sky. High across a hemispheric ceiling there were omnipresent stars and clouds moving slowly and silently real. The lobby was carpeted and vast, narrowing to a golden stairway that led me to the show.
When I was young my passion was art, eventually comic book and fantasy art. I’ve seen a lot of people lose their childhood passions, not only for art but for life — just getting squeezed. I don’t have any answers. My passion was and is my art. However, there was a time when I became aware that I might be losing it. Having used my ability to draw to buy approval from my childhood peers, I entered the real world with my “cash” in my pocket. I wanted to be published so badly that in the beginning I took on a lot of work that I hated. Ah, but maybe a million people would see it and love me. I lived in fear. What happened? I found that the more I went to the drawing board or the easel to do work I hated, the less I wanted to go there. I was losing my joy, and I found eventually that my joy was more important than approval. I began to get “difficult to deal with” and began to lose jobs. I became determined to, well, not so much “have it my way”, but to do work I loved. It’s not so easy to pursue, or even know what your heart’s desire may be. We as human beings have different stories but we’re all the same in that we identify the same feelings in each and every one of us. Fear is probably the most basic. All else is built upon fear. Hate grows out of fear, envy out of fear. But I think that basically fear is certainly self-centered. It is the fear of not getting what I want or of losing something I have that keeps me out of the perfection of the present moment and suddenly living in the future. I have no control over the universe, of events yet to happen. Each and every moment, if I need to, I must remind myself that right now everything is ok. Right now I am alive, and have in my life those things that remind me to stay alive. I am loved, and more importantly I have the ability to love. There is an acceptance of events beyond me that I must have in order to ground me and allow me to let go. What is the very best thing that can happen to me next? I don’t know — but I always know what I want to happen, and there I dare not go. So I ask myself some hard questions and I find, if I am fearless, and want what I have, the rest is a grand adventure.
Some of my early memories come from about the age of 4 or 5. By then I knew I wanted to be a girl. Maybe I was born with a kind of gender inversion– some call it a birth defect. I know nothing of these things. I do know that my identification has always been with females — in books, movies, art and life. My best friends have always been female and I have always been exclusively physically attracted to females. So, along comes puberty. Whoa! We were all confused, I know, but within that maelstrom was my desire for, and the desire to be, a girl. Until the age of 12 I knew nothing regarding sexual matters. I saw boys with girls. That’s what I saw. In the south, in the ’50s there were no gays and no lesbians, and certainly no one like me. So I became secretive. In my own mind I became ashamed, guilty and worthless — this was the road I started down so long ago. After many years of therapy, and many years of trying to drink away the shame, I arrived, ziiiiiiiiiiiiiiip in the year 1998. In August of that year I decided to stop the denial and start living as a woman. In October I finally obtained the name of and saw the leading expert on the subject — the New York endocrinologist who wrote and rewrote the book. After extensive tests, both mental and physical, I started hormonal gender re-assignment therapy. It’s been about a year now, but back in May blood tests showed that I had become medically female. The process continues. Hair and androgens are tenacious. As my doctor put it, “I will induce menopause in you so you can enter puberty again. This time as a female.” My development is just that. People have been unimaginably supportive, and slowly that shame is passing away. My wife, Maryellen, has been my backbone through all of this. I’ve never known such acceptance and love. People have also said to me how brave I must be. If I understand courage to be self-possession and resolution in the face of fear, then there is certainly no bravery here. I had no choice really. There is certainly no fear of being female. Is it the fear of castration or the loss of testosterone — that wall of defense around the precious y-chromosome — the fear they speak of? Who knows men? And I WAS one for 55 years! I suppose I could go on forever about all this.
MEN AND WOMEN IN ART The can of worms, eh? The artist was Mary Cassatt, and Degas, upon seeing her work declared, “She draws like a man!” Well, there is good drawing and not so good drawing. Gender makes no difference. However… There is an educational theory that states on the whole men are better at physics than women. First, there are more men in the physics field than women. Why? That is one question. The accepted theory is that from a very young age men are more likely to become physically intuitive than women bacause of their early desires to throw rocks at each other (trajectory consciousness), hit each other (spatial relationships) etc. There are also more male pilots, sports figures –in fact in most all hobbies and occupations having to do with the space we live in. There are, probably, and have always been, more male artists. (though chauvinism and defensiveness is what puts more men into museums). Art though, and this is another question, I think, is much more primal than the above stuff. Basically, the survival of our species depends on procreativity and creativity. Most animals don’t need the “creativity” part, but humans are pretty inefficient at coping with their teeth and claws. Early on, men, with a built-in envy of the purpose and certainty of a woman leaving something of herself behind — a man can’t be so sure the baby is his — scratched, in anger and displacement, a gouge on a cave wall. He KNEW he did this! He created it . Obsessive creativity is primarily a masculine trait. My 1976 word-thing, which to my peace and serenity no one has ever asked me to explain (I fear villagers with torches coming up my driveway), can be seen at: WORDS Men, to insure their chances of leaving something of themselves behind, also demand a woman take their name, put a great value on intercourse with virgins, make the laws against rape sometimes as severe as murder, call God a “He” (the Creator), and give a double standard to infidelity. A “man’s world” has everything to do with this anxiety. Not to mention the northern African sometimes the circumcision of girls. Good drawing is perception, observation and expression, and has nothing to do with gender. Men — and I used to be one — can’t draw any better than women.
Early one morning, I mean before sunrise, I walked into the Studio I shared at that time with Kaluta, Windsor-Smith and Wrightson. It must have been sometime in 1978, I think, because by that time Michael and I had all but moved into the Studio, visiting our apartments occasionally only to pick up the mail. We would cross paths about this time of day because I slept at night and Michael slept… well in 1978 he was a very important sleeper. On this memorable morning, as I opened the big horizontal steel lock on the big steel door, I found Michael crouched behind his drawing table, now swung into a vertical position, with a gun. A pistol. “Welcome to ‘Desolation Row'”, he said as he peered with one eye over the top of the table. I have to back up a month to say what led up to this seeming desperate situation. From the time we moved into the Studio in June of 1976, Michael came some months later, we heard scurrying noises in the quiet hours of the night. Mice. Well, at first some of us thought they were cute and some of us didn’t. By the time the mice added chewing on artwork, stacks of posters and electrical cords to their scurrying, (one mouse was discovered stiff and dead with it’s teeth still clamped to an extension cord) we all decided they weren’t cute anymore. But we being peaceful children of the sixties, “death to the mice” was not an immediate option. It was decided that the answer was ‘Have a Heart’ traps that would capture them alive. Then what? Well Michael and I acquired an aquarium to house the mice in, sort of like pets. We couldn’t find authentic ‘Have a Heart’ traps but got some pirated copies at the local hardware store. Needless to say these didn’t always work properly. Some mice would get caught, some would get away and a few we would find dead or almost dead with a trap door pinning their rear ends halfway out into the room. The mice we caught Michael and I would put into the aquarium and feed peanut butter. One midnight when we decided the aquarium was full enough, Michael and I took it down the elevator from our 12th floor aerie to the lobby and out into the night. Across the street we went, feeling for all the world like saviors of mice, to an empty parking lot. Buildings rose tall and dark on all sides of us and I guess we wondered where the mice would end up. But that would besomebody else’s problem. As we tipped over the aquarium with a stick, all the mice swarmed out into the night. Yes, swarmed. They moved as a herd, a dark mass, back across the street and back into our building. Michael had been sitting for hours behind his drawing board with his pistol, a BB gun, watching as a mouse would creep along the far wall beneath the radiators. “The BBs don’t really kill them”, he explained. “They just get stunned”. “What do you do with them”, I asked. “I put them in a paper bag and drop them out the 12th floor window”, he smiled.
I’m back. Why don’t you go on this little adventure with me. We need to go out so we make our way to the car. The rain is coming down in sheets but it’s not too cold and soon the heater will be perking. I back up carefully, because now the driveway, which has been plowed 14 times by Howard, has no snow on it but is still a 200 yard downhill sheet of ice–wet ice. As we back and carefully brake, the car doesn’t. By the time we stop moving we’re pointed downhill. Yay! So off we go (slowly, of course) down the driveway. As we approach the steep part near the road I look over at you and smile, “easy.” I apply the brakes once again. After what seems like no time at all, the front of the car is suddenly pointed back toward the house and the back is in a snowbank. You, of course, are lovingly trying not to laugh. I ease on the gas and nothing moves. I ease on the gas and nothing moves. I ease on the gas and nothing moves. I look over at you and say, “hi.” You decide to accompany me on my walk up to the garage where I have a bag of potting soil and a bag of sand. I kiss you. Awwwwwwwwwwww. “I can do it. It’s too slippery for a girl.” So off I go, earrings, jewelry and painted nails glinting in the rain, trying to step in the snow along the side of the driveway. Ten minutes later I’m at the garage. Now, I never realized just how heavy a bag of potting soil and a bag of sand can be. I think, “I may die on the way back.” So I empty one of those large square plastic storage boxes I have flat artwork in and load it with the potting soil, the sand, me and a shovel to use as an oar. What must you be thinking down there in the car seeing all this? I push off. Yup, I’m coming down the driveway in my “sled-boat”, in the pouring rain, jabbing at the ground with the shovel in an attempt to stay out of the snowbanks on either side. I am picking up speed, I am jabbing more frantically, and the car with you in it seems to be racing up at me. I wave the shovel and yell into the rain. Should I stick out the shovel and crush the grill to stop or just throw it and cover my head? At the last second I roll from the plastic box, piroutte a couple of times on my butt and end up in the snowbank with the car. You’re trying to climb out to help me. “No, no, I’m fine,” I say. The box has, in the meantime, come to rest against one of the front wheels of the car. So, I retrieve the shovel on my hands and knees and spread sand and soil around the tires, wash off in the snow, get in the car, ease forward, back into the road and we’re off as if nothing happened at all.
As I said on the back of one of my trading cards: ‘If I am lucky all my triumphs will go unremembered until the end.’ This is of course extreme, but the last thing I need is for me to think I’ve done something great. The next to the last thing I need is for the world to be hailing me as great. I am an entertainer. I make pictures with stories (however oblique they may be). Have you ever sat down and said to yourself, “Today I’m going to do something great. Today I’m going to do real art.”? It doesn’t work. Greatness or mediocrity or ‘who?’ can only be judged by history. Most of the living artists who are considered great today will be forgotten by history. Yes, I enjoy it when people like my work, because I want to have added something to this world, or whatever gave me life, instead of just taking from it. Every work, hopefully, will leave me unsatisfied. This drives me on to the next one. As soon as I think I’ve done something great it’ll all be over. And I’m not sure I believe in talent, either.
— You have raised your disunited kingdom on the vacuum of your own most intensely doubtful soul. — James Joyce
It was 1961 and a friend and I, on a summer trip, found ourselves in Blue Valley, NC — named for it’s abundance of amethyst crystals. We were rockhounds. Give me a chalcedony ridge upon which to throw steel or even hematite, limonite or magnetite and I’ll give you fire. That was a season of plenty. One mineral led to the next and we eventually came to rest at a creek where we panned for gold and rhodolite (found only here in all the world, washed down from the oldest mountains on Earth — erosion for the keeper).
Cherokee, NC was the base — a town of pride and history, also as the selling place of trinkets in an effort to survive the new world. There were rivers of shale and slate in the valleys, dikes unearthed by water, risen from the remote geologic past. It was heaven in 1961. I still have a garage full of treasures, from beryl to ruby.
In 1951 or so, I, a six year old squirt, peered way up at a circular comic rack in a drug store and spied Kubert’s TOR 3D comic. I had no idea there was a Kubert back then, but I know that I suddenly wanted to draw comics, to create heroes (maybe to protect me from my parents and other bullies in the neighborhood). I grew, I drew, I took art history and saw what painters had done with visions. Now I wanted to paint (to protect myself from the bullies in life). I drew comics for fanzines starting around 1964 and did my first professional comic job for Witzend in 1966, thought it was published years later. I went “underground”: Last Gasp comics, SCREW Magazine, THe East Village Other, while fighting with publishers all the while in New York. Comics are “real art” to me. The combination of words and pictures is a literal, vastly unexplored territory. The only other combination of words and pictures at the time was illustration, which I quickly came to believe as immoral (even though I was a part-time illustrator).
In all those wasted fields of enchantment where we deem our scurrying to be true and important, going there fearful and choiceless. For this is the idle place in our lives. I am a being of this sort. I fill my fields with the self importance of discovery and invention, games and small talk. But all the while a tug unnerves me and the wash of some enigma begins to cleanse my frivolities. And finally I find and understand that all the toils and tasks, fun and rushes of my daily life is but an interlude — an employer of time that I pass between the reality of my acts of love.
I was about 13, I guess, when my father decided to get rid of the stump. I had seen him staring at it for two seasons. It was the fall of 1956. My best friend’s father had just gotten a new, red ’55 chevy — neat — and a pine tree had come down in our backyard. In 1956 there were no neighborhood backhoes and no chainsaws; there was, however, dynamite at the local hardware store. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The first thing my father decided to do to get rid of the offending stump was to burn it out. Gallons of kerosene and weeks of smoldering wood later we were left with a large black lump in the backyard. I could see my father wrestling with himself. This stump had become the enemy, and Dad had been in WWII. There was only one answer, explosives. Ah, those were the days, the innocent ’50s, before “politics” and before terrorists-dynamite to be had by millions at the neighborhood shopping center. I had purchased the fuse, by the foot, a number of times myself, for launching my homemade rockets, but I guess you had to be 21 to buy the dynamite. Daddy came home with a brown paper bag, with a telltale fuse licking our air. He was smiling. Mama was scared. My father had told us a story many times, from his Air Force days in England, when driving a Jeep along a runway a bomb had fallen out of the belly of a plane. The Jeep was destroyed but my Dad just brushed himself off as he arose from a ditch. Now it was dynamite. I don’t mean to make this a shaggy dog story but let’s just say that my father survived, the neighborhood survived, and our house had only three windows blown out.
My cat, Cody, went out one day. That was a month ago. He did not return. Coyotes abound here. Hope is a dangerous thing. Does a tadpole care if another tadpole dies? I am cursed and blessed to be human. On Hallow e’en, about midnight, I woke up to pee, and I heard a plaintive meow, mgneunow, way far, far away — and thanks to Maryellen who put batteries in my flashlight, I went out and cralwed through the thickets and the bush, following the sound. Down to the bomb shelter I went, flashing the light all around — meow and meow I heard. I flashed into the interior and to the roof and the trees. Meow, I heard. Low and behold up in the eaves through a vent was a cat. I ran back, crashing into trees, to get tools. With a claw hammer I ripped open the vent and Cody, rebirthed, fell into my arms. He is fine, but a bit skinny. Four weeks without food, he has eaten and eaten. A miracle.
I was married in 1966 to my college sweetheart, Mary Louise Alexander. We lived in Georgia for a while with three cats, Aeschelus, Medea and Petronius the Arbiter. I remained in school, mostly because of the draft and “Weezie” worked for the phone company. One day we arrived home — we left one window partly open so the cats could get in and out. I opened the door to find about fifteen cats sitting in the living room, apparently having a group discussion. All fled. We moved to New York City in February of 1967 and our wonderful daughter, Julianna, was born in July of that year.
Do I have a handle on it? Not on your life. I make it up as I go along. Love is daily and not afraid. I have lost and I have gained and I thank God for all that is left.
As it is, I am apolitical, philosophically libertarian at best. I have never voted, never marched, never protested. It would be, I feel, presumptuous of me to think that I know what is best for the evolvement of the Earth. Can I save the world? Only through moral art and my daily work.
All during 1966 I had been corresponding with Larry Ivie. He never told me he liked my art but he must have because he invited me to New York. Leaving my pregnant wife — Weezie — I went to New York to find a place for us, February, 1967, in the middle of a great blizzard. Staying with Larry, I walked up and down the streets in 3 feet of snow, coming back to Larry’s place to put my shoes in the oven. Knocking on doors of supers I found an Apt. on 82nd st, $100 a month. First floor down beneath street level — roaches, dirty, small and no ventilation.
I went back to Atlanta and told Weezie we didn’t have to go if she didn’t want to. She said, “We’re going!”. So we drove the fifteen hundred miles with a small U-Haul behind us. I had so much confidence with her behind me I knew I’d make it as an illustrator. I was willing to do anything, sell shoes etc., until I sold my art. I went to Ace Books and Warren’s an immediately got a job from each.
Some where along the line I met Roy Krenkel ( more about him later ) who became a fast friend. He was doing book covers for Ace and having a lot of trouble, so he’d bring his unfinished paintings to Grey Morrow, myself and Frank Frazetta for help. Frank told him just to hit it where it counts. Some advice, eh? Roy called me the “Master of the Meaningless Gesture”. I think he meant “arbitrary gesture”, but the first sounded better.
Weezie gave birth to our divine daughter, Julianna, on July 14 1967.
Diane and I were living in NY city on west 11th street, right across from the building the “WEATHERMEN” blew up their own building.
Sometime in 1978 there was a knock at the door. I opened our door only to find a tall man, about 60, turtleneck and bronze medallion around his neck. He said, “Hi, my name is Theodore Sturgeon”.
I didn’t know what to say. An all-time favorite writer of mine. He wanted to know if I still had the comic page LUCE from SWANK magazine. I told him it had been sold. We decided that I could matte and frame a tearsheet from SWANK and that I sign the matte to him. He then went on to ask me if I had ever made love on top of a grave at midnight. Things got a little weird from there on. I didn’t need to know this stuff — my hero was killing himself to me. Too much information!
ADDED HERETO AS I REMEMBER
Copyright © 1997-2003 Jeffrey Jones