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08.20.03 12:24 a.m.

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.

 -Mark Twain  

Previously in Xenology: Bryan was an unusual little brother. Xen was socially anxious, but still zen. Zack met The Betsy.

New Beginnings
Tomorrow, likely before I am anywhere near ready to flutter my eyes open and flip off the dawned day, my little, tiny, baby brother Bryan will be well on his way to establishing something of a new life at Marywood College. Tonight we had our going away meal with the boy. He was allowed the breadth and depth of the culinary panorama that surrounds us and he chose the nearly Chinese buffets. I am not exactly complaining and I am certain he had some vaguely political reason for so choosing.
I have been offering to help him pack. I do not deny that this is at least partially done to accomplish my ever so pragmatic goal of scourging his room so that Emily and I may safely inhabit. He denied all help I offered, assuring me that the room was showing a vast improvement as he checked his e-mail for the tenth time or answered a pressing IM. He did allow floor to be see for the first time in literally years, so I suppose this is progress.
I know I am being rather cynically and cold-hearted about this, but you should understand that I did not merely put myself at his service for my ends, but because I wanted to do the whole "helpful older brother" thing before he went away to college.
Emily asked me a few days ago whether I envied Bryan.
"In what fashion? How so? Explain."
"That he is going away to college," she offered.
I bit my lip in thought and answered, "Yes and no. I wish very much that I could have had the option to go away to college and live the college life. Do I wish that I were going to Marywood? Gods no. Do I envy the situation Bryan is in? Not at all, save in the most abstract and divorced way."
This seemed to content her morbid curiosity.
So Bryan will go into the great beyond of a Pennsylvania college. This is a big step for him. I asked my mother whether she would cry, because I have my own morbid curiosities. She explained, quite certainly, that she wouldn't because she was happy for Bryan. This is a situation Bryan needs in his life in order to... well... pretty much in order to give him a life. He has been preoccupied with melodramatic and lonely teenagers thousands of miles away for too long. I think it will be marvelous for him to be forced into socialization with people who are:

  • in the flesh
  • his own age
  • not cyber obsessed social malcontents.
He tells me that his roommate is a goth. This is precisely the level of malcontent that is appropriate.
Not only will Bryan be able to try his hand at creating a new, different, and better life for himself, but I firmly believe that this is going to improve the quality of life for my household. Take this not as a jab at Bryan. It isn't. Merely, I feel that every degree of financial and emotional stress that my parents can be spared in the short term can be nothing but positive. The boy is a bit of a slob in the same way that wasabi is a bit spicy. This is not to say that the addition of Emily to this household will not create potential stressors. However, I think temporarily subtracting one before adding another is ideal. I think I got this idea from a manual on puppies, actually.
And if all of this doesn't work, we can just lock Bryan in the basement with a litter pan.

Grassy Knoll
I wrote this a while ago, but things got hectic. Nonetheless, I present it.
I have just returned from a party at Dezi's. I'm not exactly sure the occasion, it seems possible that it was just one of those parties that are had because there is an empty house. I was... if not excited, at least interested about the party all day.
I arrived at 5:30. I had left by eight. It is nothing against Dezi. It is just... I felt so alone there. This is not because Emily had to baby-sit. I am not yet that pathetic. I can enjoy a party outside the company of M. But it was lonely.
I sat on the grass and watched Dezi and Zack play in their band. They are not particularly mellifluous, but they put on a great show. I think someone like T.S. Eliot or Hemingway said that the state of a writer is loneliness. You understand that I think that is bullshit, right? A writer thrives on the experiences his accompaniment share with him... at least I do. But I sat at this party, looking at distant acquaintances from high school (High school was four years ago) and Dezi's college friends from the city. I don't have any college friends that I can invite to a party. I won't ever really have college friends. Well, save Emily, who is my girlfriend, and Dave, who was my teacher. What does that mean? Everyone who I am really close to I have known beyond Dutchess or New Paltz, M and Dave aside. Anyway, I am rambling. The point, if I had one, is that I slinked away from Dezi's party amid the obvious disappointment in his eyes when I announced to his twin that I was leaving. Annie followed me to me car.
"Where are you going?" she chirped.
"Home. To my car."
"Oh. Okay. I could chase you with a stick, if you'd like," she suggested.
"That would give me a bit more motivation. Could it be pointy, for the jabbing?"
She considered, but noted an absence of pointy sticks. Perhaps, I suggested, she could run at me with a blunt stick and I could break it.
She looked at me as I fished my keys out of my backpack. The wind carried a waft of her scent, like lilacs and baby powder. It seemed like she wanted to say more, though I don't know what. I wish she had chosen to speak more words to me sooner, perhaps I would have seen more motivation to stay other than Dezi's giant trampoline (of which I made liberal and excited use twice when a song was taking fifteen minutes to end). This isn't to blame her for my mood. Only I am in control of how I feel.
I don't know, perhaps I am depressive. I just get so damned lonely in groups of people when I am extraneous; places where I don't have much to add. It is different to people-watch when they can see you and they are wondering what you find so damned fascinating about a bee in the angel's breath.
You know what I was thinking of as I cradled my cell phone to my chest, full of red bumps from the heat rash of too many sleepless summer nights, and was cradled in kind by Dezi's hammock? I thought about you, my dearest readers. I thought about how I would phrase all this, if indeed I chose to write it. I don't joke when I say writing is my addiction. The thought of my words made tangible and read by the masses is sometimes a better companion than people.
Emily says that I hide in my work. She isn't wrong.
I went to Dezi's party thinking I would enjoy it. And it isn't that I did not. It was merely that... I needed to share every word in my head and there were no proper ears into which I could pour them. Dezi was jumping about, singing the ballad of the spider cow. Zack was backing him on the drums and, frankly, I sometimes worry about divulging myself to him. He seems culturally superior to me and I am think he would know exactly the right answer to stop my tongue. Annie... well, I frankly didn't consider her someone to talk to until I saw her staring at me from over her smiling cheeks. I couldn't very well return to the party then, proclaiming that she showed me the error of my party-leaving ways. Aside from seeming a bit too strange, it would be read uncomfortably by her boyfriend. It would not be a romantic overture for reasons too numerous to list, it was mere that I could see her as understanding the moment that she extended herself to walk me to my car.
To whom else would I have spoken? One twin that was expelled from a local church cult because she gave birth out of wedlock? A girl who feigns drunkenness for attention and threatened to grace this soirée with a 33 year old divorced Marine with two kids? Dezi's dog Sky?
So now, rather than enjoying a party with... well, Zack and Dezi... I am sitting in my bedroom, writing to you. And maybe I am hiding.

M&M Minis
Emily flounced onto my bed exclaiming, "I'm broke."
She was one late to work because she was staring at her tongue.
I was startled; we had money-spending plans. "Why?"
"I spent all my money getting my new inhaler and then found out my taxes are due, so I spent, like, $450."
"You spent your money on medicine and taxes?"
I jumped at her, "How could you be so frivolous? We were going to use that money to go to the water park."
She was unmovable, "It's raining."
I stopped and sat down, "Oh, that's different then."
Later that same day...
As Emily and I were checking out from another time wasting trip at Wal-Mart, I noticed a foreign body being uncovered as we placed things on the conveyor belt. "Why are there Sour Skittles in the cart?"
Emily gleefully confessed, "I put them there when you weren't looking."
I glared plastic swords at her and rhetorically asked, "You operate by three-year-old logic. You know that right?" as I put the candy on the belt.
"You're right, I really do. But only for Skittles."

The Betsy
I met Zack's illustrious and new girlfriend a bit ago. She is a wholesome sort of comely with long dark hair that seems both exotic and girl-next-door. I was apprehensive about meeting her, frankly because I wished to make a good impression upon her so she would mark me her peer. She attends MIT, which is reason enough to be wary of her for it speaks of a dedication I lack. Perhaps it bespeaks intelligence too, but it seems a rather technical and analytical sort of intellect, so I couldn't precisely compare and contrast.
The Betsy  
The Betsy
The moment I saw her, riding aloft Zack, I could see Zack through her eyes. She really has it quite bad for the boy. Perhaps it is the glimmer of new love I spied, which is really luminescent in itself, but I believe it to be more. Of course, you, the reader, have the unique perspective that you can flip ahead in the story and see the route this relationship takes. I must only tell you of the moment.
Zack, she, and I caught a movie the first night I met her. I felt a bit like the metaphorical third wheel and wondered with guilt if Emily and I cause others to feel as such. This is not to say that either of them did anything to provoke this response. It was just uncomfortable to make alluding asides during the previews and not receive full comprehension. Betsy was to my left and appreciated some of them. I would guess the percentage at 47.6%.
Another night, in a field, we watched cars go by in the night. She gobbled down a fast food meal in the blink of an eye as she spoke of her hectic school schedule and her college career thus far. Evidently she is an engineering with a double minor bioelectrical engineering and theater.
"So, you make robotic techies to do your unholy bidding?"
She glanced to the side suspiciously.
"No... No! You are a cyborg! It's all so clear now. That is why you can handle this massive technical workload. That is why you are The Betsy! Model 896, unless I miss my mark."
You know why Zack and she will work out? This little tirade against her humanity did not even faze her.

Bell, Book, and Candle
I read Franny and Zooey in its entirety a few weeks ago. This may seem unimportant, especially if one has never read it, but it was the catalyst for much. Previously and at the request of Kate, I had read only the beginning part with Zooey where he is lounging in the tub reading an articulate and admonishing letter from his older brother. Kate had felt this was deeply significant in some fashion that I have long forgotten, but advised me not to bother with the rest of the book. After this and owing to my preferred employment, I acquired tens of lovingly used copies of this novel.
I will not bore you with the details of the novel, though I do not find the details boring. I advise you to read the whole thing, cover to cover, preferably within one sitting, as I did.
A core concept in the novel is that of constant prayer. This wasn't to any specific religion and it was pointed out that the idea could be found in many paths. Basically, and I am making this far more basic than it deserves, one prays a certain prayer so much that it becomes synced with ones own heartbeat and thus one is constantly in prayer. This put me in a decidedly spiritual mindset and the night was dawning for me. Therefore, it seemed only proper that I visit Glenham field for a bit of meditation and witchcraft. Good for the soul.
Though I felt spiritually motivated enough to sit on dewy grass and call it enlightening, I needed something a bit more to compel me. I settled my gaze on my mojo bag, an unobtrusive little leather bag with various rocks and herbs therein (including the moldavite). It was looking a bit empty. More so when I dumped the contents of it into a Ziploc. Obviously it needed refreshing and that required some manner of witchcraft.
I raided the Magick Cabinet, pawing through herbs and powders espousing to do any number of fantastical things, finally settling on those that smelled the best and had the best names (skullcap, mugwort, etc.) I tarried for a moment over the bag of hair Kate gave me years ago when she was shorn. I decided that involving any of her parts in my mojo bag was likely a terrible idea and instead went for a bag of my own hair when I was a kid. Yes, I know this is creepy. No, I don't think it's gross. No, I am not going to make a voodoo doll of Kate and tie it upside down over tapioca pudding.
As I walked to the field, I became quite aware that I hadn't done anything even vaguely as spiritual in months. It felt as though I used to run every day and now was getting winded walking to the car.
I watched as the fireflies alighted in the trees near me and fantasized that they were simultaneously insects and fairies, depending on if they are being closely observed. Perhaps that is why M and I could bring one back. Or perhaps they are just clever little bugs with bioluminescent butts.
I wander the field wishing aloud that there could be some dramatic mist before settling in a dark alcove near the forest and setting out my supplies. I set up my circle with my new phurpa dagger, an instrument that is purported to kill demons in the literal and figurative sense (as in, it kills nasty ghosts and negative emotions/attachments).
I had no real ritual to follow, so I did my customary act of talking to a candle as though it is a microphone to the heavens. I expressed deep sadness for the loss of Tina's mother, who I could only remember as a shadow in my mind. She once made me hot dogs and Kool-Aid. I can't even really draw her face in my mind. She was struck suddenly. She was to receive therapy for a just diagnosed bit of cancer and died a few days before. As far as I can tell, everyone was stunned. She was supposed to make a full recovery. I missed the wake because no one told me when and where it was. I don't blame them, really. I can completely understand how it would be assumed that I was told. Still, I have guilt for not being there when Tina needed me.
I told the candle, for what it is worth, that I would be there if Tina ever needed me and I would do my best to make sure she was happy and healthy. I don't actually know what that is worth, though, since I haven't even been able to get a hold of Tina since she returned from her semester in Utica.
Finally, after repeating nonsensical prayers to the air around me just to hear their syllables, I got around to consecrating and pouring the herb-rock-hair mixture into my bag. I was hoping it would feel more charged. It definitely was a more significant act that just pouring an amalgam into a leather pouch, but it didn't feel like enough.
I sat for a while longer, not quite feeling that this trip was worth it, save for praying for Tina's well being. Slowly, in the midst of my rambling, a phrase started to develop. Originally, I was going to tell you what this phrase was and share the wealth, but Emily stiffly admonished me against it when I tried to tell her. Evidently, this is my mantra and I am not to tell anyone its contents ever.
Where is the fun in that?

Soon in Xenology: More weddings. Lake George. Nuns. Dave. The city. Emily's realization.

last watched: Freddy Vs. Jason, American History X
reading: Life of Pi, Night Siege
listening: The Laramie Project soundtrack
wanting: Not to envision being $35,000 in debt.
interesting thought: beginnings and endings are synonymous.
moment of zen: talking to a candle.
someday I must: confront my demons.

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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