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06.07.04 1:17 a.m.

Art is a human activity having for its purpose the transmission to others of the highest and best feelings to which men have risen.  

-Leo Tolstoy


Previously in Xenology: Xen met Brooke and Eliot while working at the Howland Public Library, which he no longer does.

My Current Agendum
The malaise has set in and though I wish I could credit the persistent rain storms out of my windows, I know that is specious. I awoke this morning from a dream where the library was treating me decently and honestly. I was not working there, but I was respected by those with whom I worked in the past. I am well aware of what a pathetic insight into my psyche this must be.
I had forgotten how utterly dispiriting the job market is. Somehow it largely slipped my mind that the only way to get a job is by calling potential employers until they tell one to sod off or ask one to fill out paperwork and be hired. I don't want to have to settle. I don't want to serve people food (though I have complete respect for those who do). I want work that nourished my soul as well as wallet.
The only job offer I have yet received is from Hospice. They didn't call themselves Hospice, instead using some suspicious euphemism. Only after researching the number I was given did the truth come out. I can't imagine caring for the dying would do my mental health any favors, though the real reason I have not called them back is that the commute would have been far too long and I no longer have the comfort of audiobooks.
I have applied to twenty places on-line (one of which was apparently Hospice, though I cannot imagine I thought that a good idea, even right after the trauma of being fired) and at least ten in person. Seven of those ten outright told me they had no position for me, despite not given a cursory glance at my résumé. The others I am pursuing over the phone. This is the game I loathe. Arrogance aside, I am a highly qualified candidate for most of the jobs to which I apply. Certainly The Hudson Valley Conservatory of the Arts (which is housed within a mini-mall) should be showing a passing interest in an education major with a theater background.
I received an e-mail from Kate, responding to my early birthday wishes. For her birthday, she and four friends are going to her company's beach house in Florida. After a passing and irrational jealousy, it hit me that Kate actually has a life. I know it isn't a competition and that our paths are different, but I felt chastened. I honestly only half remember what Kate actually does to afford her city apartment. I vaguely regarded it as a secretarial office job and left it at that.
I rationally know I shouldn't compare her and me, but I am envious of her success that allows her to live in the city and vacation at a company beach house. What am I doing? I attend obvious graduate classes for a major about which I am apprehensive at best, I write a novel much more slowly than I had anticipated, I hunt for jobs that might as well be coelacanths for all my successes, and I cuddle next to Emily for two hours a day.
Though I would prefer otherwise, it seems that having a job is part of my self-image. I worry that I am financially burdening Emily, though this has yet to actually be the case as I have not put that much of a dent in my savings.
I've been out of a job for less than two weeks. If Emily were here rather than working to keep us on our landlord's good side, I know she would tell me that I shouldn't expect to find the perfect job quite so immediately.
Yesterday, however, Emily casually asked if I had been looking in the newspaper for jobs.
I dropped my General Tsao's chicken and sputtered, "We don't get any newspapers," by way of defense.
"You could always buy one from the gas station down the street. There are jobs there that might not be advertised on-line."
"I've been looking for jobs, M. I really have."
"I'm not criticizing you. I know you've been looking for jobs. I just thought that might help." Her voice affected a lower timber, which I knew meant that she was trying to placate me. As such, I felt like a beast, though I don't think I was actually angry as much as nervous and defensive.
I know I am not my job - or my lack thereof - but for the first time in my life, the money I earn directly benefits someone I love. To have no means of income feels like I am disappointing.

And And
"When were we supposed to meet up with Brooke and Eliot?" M asked.
It was fifteen minutes past our prospective meeting in front of the Brother's Trattoria, known to the locals, the unpretentious, and those with memories beyond their noses at Brother's Pizza. A new sign, faux brick façade and "quaint" interior cannot supplant the knowledge of what they were and are, under a few coats of paint and a hardwood floor. During my junior year of high school, I used to take my senior lunch at this pizzeria with Nick and Jen. The proprietors got to know us as team, so that they were confused when I began to come in alone during my actual senior year. As I was still feeling the sting of heartbreak and betrayal, when one of the Italian owners asked me in clipped English where my "friends" were, I answered tersely and unthinkingly, "They died... in a car accident." I politely declined his condolences and felt a bastard for telling this lie. I just wanted to leave that part of my life behind me for now. I would have rather pizza shop owners not remember what I was trying desperately to forget.
I left the Emily in the restaurant to call Brooke and Eliot's apartment in hopes of catching them. As Emily and I had so recently experienced our friends neglecting to come to our housewarming party, we were resignedly ready for more of the same. The aforementioned party was our endeavor to persuade the bulk of our friends that our new apartment was synonymous with fun and thus they should visit often. Though we played the odds by inviting fifteen more people to this soiree than could ever reasonably fit in our apartment were it totally unfurnished, only five guest arrived, one of which was too young to attend middle school. Brooke and Eliot had been on our list of invitees, but they were not among the five. This is unfortunate, as I can imagine them having a lot to talk about with Dave and his girlfriend Nikki, who were among the five.
Eliot and Brooke  
Brooke and Eliot
Only halfway into leaving the message did I click Flea on and realize that our appointment with them was not for another forty minutes and that I was therefore accidentally early for one of the first times in years. Damn.
Emily and I did the most reasonable thing, given the circumstances. We got a drink from a seedy bodega that resisted the influence of the Beacon gentrification by continuing to sell chocolate pumpkins from last Halloween (we hope). Given the low quality of the wares and the longevity of the business, I would be surprised if their business were wholly on the up-and-up.
We walked back to Brother's and got a table. Brooke and Eliot materialized at the door not a moment before they promised they would. They slid into chairs next to Emily and me and almost immediately explained that they needed to return to their respective studios as soon as was possible, but would take some time to eat with us. They are artists, understand. Not like normal people. I'm not wholly sure what normal people are, having lived in this town that catered to gang members and mental patients one year and the nouveau riche city scum the next. What had once been my nearly inner city high school was gutted and divided into studio space, which was sold off to the most ambitious artists. In turn, the actual high school moved closer to the prison and entered the nineties technologically. It would all be used up and wrecked before long - that was beyond certainty - but it made this little community seem progressive enough to bilk strangers bearing thick glasses frames and thicker checkbooks into willingly tarrying for a year or so.
We four chatted amiably over our meal, Emily doing most of the speaking while I silently took mental dictation.
"You can't write everything I am telling you," Brooke reminded me, though I had given no outward indication that I was making a list of notes.
"I know that. I know my limits and the limits of human decency," I assured her, taken off guard. "They are different." Her intuition was too keen for comfort, but I marked her a worthy companion if she could so rightly chastise me. My closer friends know when the secretary living in my skull has begun recording their stories and order the Dictaphone unplugged, metaphorically speaking, but I never expect anyone not occupying a starring role in my life to know my habits.
After the meal, we went to Brooke's studio. It was on the second floor of what was a costume and novelty shop by the train station prior to the dramatic influx of city money. I could never quite deduce how it had stayed in business for so many years, so I cannot say I was wholly surprised that the business had been supplanted by a store selling kayaks. I didn't mark this as a more logical or profitable business, but I could well understand why it was assumed city people would hold more interest in personal boat than rubber mice.
The studios were up a coarsely lit wooden staircase. It seemed to me that all that separated one studio from the next was dull, blue plywood. The floors, like the walls, were dingy wood and were covered in a season of footprints. I'm not sure I could have explained how I pictured an artist's studio looking, thus this can't say this was not it. Brooke had decorated her space with a hundred empty frames, books held open to certain glossy pages and action figures in pained poses. "I am creating a series about the monsters people fear," she reminded me in a tone suggesting that she thought it was the first time. Eliot quickly left for his own studio across town and Emily and I politely stared at her various framed pictures. Aside from the common ghoulish monsters one would expect, she has drawn demons such at Republicans, hippies, and the homeless. There were sundry frames to be filled with paper tape labels such as Scientologists, liberals, and Jews.
I stopped in front of a drawing of a nuclear family, confused as to the monstrosity within. "What is wrong with them?" I asked Brooke over my shoulder.
"Look at the daughter," she called back, punctuating her response by breaking the edge off a large pane of glass, the serrated edge of which she taped. She only seemed to regard the inevitable shards one they were on the floor.
I squinted more closely at the picture and saw that the aforementioned preteen daughter was desolate, looking past the left frame of the picture. Her mother and brother were smiling ordinary family photo smiles. Her father, behind her and with a possessive hand on her shoulder, was smiling a million dollar rictus. This was a monster against my own heart; the incestuous pedophile. I was struck by her subtlety in rendering it. Once I knew the content, the picture jumped out of the frame and suggested a whole story. I could practically name the daughter, though I suspected she had the same name as some girls I dated in my youth.
Soon after this, we moved out toward the living room of the studio, if such is the appropriate appellation. It was heart of the studios from which all others branched. On the far wall rested an old couch and a wall of various books. Brooke explained that she only owned some of the objects here, all intermingled with those of the other artists. Despite this, she began to sort and organize the books to the best of her ability. I kept darting under her arms to look at the novels these collected artist felt worthy of inclusion in their studios. There were few surprises - Hemingway, Salinger, and the like along with various art and art criticism books.
"I think that my favorite line from any book is, 'isn't it pretty to think so,'" Brooke confided as she pushed a stack of books into a more orderly place.
By way of response, I walked over to her and hugged her fondly. I have overwhelming affection for any girl who can casually quote an important line from The Sun Also Rises and told her as much.
We three conversed for an hour in this main room, mostly about literature. I felt nourished, though I had been without this food for so long that I had forgotten I was hungry. I wasn't aware of it at the time and it only occurred to me as Emily and I descended the stairs, but this had been something of a holy moment. It is so hard to keep an awareness of a holy moment one is experiencing because that tends to detract and distract from the holiness of the moment.
I need more Hemingway quotes in my life. And discussion of poetry and good books. And trips into the hidden recesses of the outdoors. And wholesome meals on china plates shared with people not related to me by blood or other bodily fluids. And concerts outdoors at dusk. And catching fireflies in perforated jars. And...

Soon in Xenology: Interviews. A wedding. The Strawberry Festival.

last watched: Donnie Darko
reading: Breakfast of Champions
listening: Bachelor No. 2
wanting: more holy moments, though I would settle for a fulfilling job.
moment of zen: It's kind of what we have instead of god.
someday I must: go on a roadtrip.

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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