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10.20.04 2:15 a.m.

Some people think only intellect counts - knowing how to solve problems, knowing how to get by, knowing how to identify an advantage and seize it. But the functions of intellect are insufficient without courage, love, friendship, compassion and empathy.  

-Dean Koontz


Previously in Xenology: Xen was a writer, and a teacher too if he sees cause.

Robbing Goodfellows

I am feeling artistically stagnated and unappreciated. I write something like fifteen to twenty pages a week in various forms, be it Xenology entries, Deaths Worse Than Fate, or school work. The latter kills a lot of my literary energy, of course, and makes me feel further from where my soul aches to be. However you gentle readers don't help matters.

I know you read what I, along with my beloved friends and columnists, write. The hits creep steadily higher whenever something is posted, but you offer not the slight peep that you liked what you read. Twice a month, Melissa receives hate mail for daring to have an opinion that differs from the talking points of the GOP. However, as entertaining as messages sent entirely in misspelled capitals are, they are not for me.

One problem may be that I am facing a time of great transition and soon. I had been anticipating for months that I would be student teaching at the Randolph School. I had spent a few days observing students there, I had been delightedly interviewed for spontaneous hours when I happened to stop by, I had felt utterly jubilant that I would have this opportunity. Mount Saint Mary had even agreed that, since the school was so keen on me, they would be fine with my student teaching there. Then the call came from the head of student teaching, the very woman who had okayed my doing this. She rescinded what she said, going so far as to deny she had ever said so. Instead, she informed me that I would be teaching at the inner city high school from which I graduated so many years ago and I would do well to be grateful.

I deflated at her message. The nights of restful sleep truly filled with visions of the students I had met drained away and the stomach churning despair I had long forgotten made my body clench. To have found a place where I felt I truly belonged, to have the school reciprocate my feelings and treat my as an eventual member of staff, to have heard the teacher introduce me as their future teacher... and then, because Mount Saint Mary bureaucracy decided that the school wasn't right, to have it taken away. The director of student teaching, who is responsible for knowing who I am and what I am taking, left a message telling me that the Randolph School would require me to "teach English as well as history and you can't do that." Heavens bleeding forefend I student teach at an interdisciplinary institution where they care about the students.

I had to make a call the next morning to the Randolph School. Even writing this now, my throat grows thick and I find myself having trouble swallowing, the gall is so great. I got a hold of their secretary, who is also ten other things at the school. There is no overhead administration. Every teacher is a member of administration, so there is no vast chasm that makes teaching all the more infuriating and erodes the teachers' authority. The woman knew at once, just from my voice, who I was.

"So, when can you start teaching here?"

It felt contrived, how she asked exactly the most painful question. "I can't. Mount Saint Mary feels that your educational style is too liberal and forbids that I teach at an interdisciplinary school. But I promise you, the minute I am certified, I will be at your door."
Sadness in the mouth

There was just a second of silence. The woman did not know me well, only from passing conversations as I observed and my phone calls. I thought, though, that she could still hear every ounce of disappointment in my voice and would know that I was telling her one of the greater truths I knew. "I'm sorry to hear that," she said, though not as heavily as I thought she might have. Others at the school might be more discomfited by my lack, particularly after having geared their classes up to my arrival in January, but they would have been teaching when I called.

I feel that it is silly to have been so attached to this school so quickly, but it was like the architectural equivalent of the best friend you never knew you had. During my first visit, the third through fifth graders I met with discussed the vision quest they had gone on during a field trip the Friday before and then discussed the meaning of a Native American prayer. An epicene ten year old to my right explicating that the writer of the prayer was using the masculine form in a neuter way, in those words, was the closest I have ever come to wanting to be a teacher.

Even the student I was observing owing to her behavioral problems was so precocious that I was accidentally condescending to her. She asked during recess what my favorite Shakespeare play was and I told her that I liked A Midsummer Night's Dream. When she nodded that she knew the play, I asked her the name of the lovers.

"Lythander, Hermia, Helena, and Demetriuth," she lisped as though telling me the names of cartoon characters. "Puck puth the juithe on the eyelidth of the thleeping Athenianth to make them fall in love. It'th fairy magic from Oberon."

I blinked back my astonishment and offered her my impressed apologies for having doubted her. Let me stress that these are not intellectually gifted students. While they do attend a lovely Montessori school, they are very likely as innately gifted as any cross section of students. These kids are just taught to their interests instead of to a standardized test. They are respected and engaged. All of my academic struggles thus far felt more than worth it if my reward resides in an institution like this.

Instead, I will have fourteen weeks of rigid, awkward teaching for the privilege of which I am paying a disgusting amount and having to severely cut down on my hours working at my actual job. I don't deny the reasoning behind this indentured servitude. It's all well and good to be able to write stultifying lesson plans about O'Henry stories and wholly another to actually be able to execute a successful lesson and I only write mostly from my own impending pain. However, I sat next to a woman a few weekends ago who had just realized that she doesn't know how she is going to care for her children if she is bringing in no income. The system has flaws, but I know this beast and it will not change in a logical way until I am sporting many grey hairs.

Perhaps my academic angst will make for interesting reading. As long time readers can attest, I react to any overarching pain by writing excessively and loquaciously. Feel free to read the entries produced in the interim between Kate leaving me and my finding Emily (and, for the sake of truth, many thereafter). However, I want to write from a well fed by Shangri-la, not the run-off from a factory.

I have spoiled myself, perhaps, by having the time to write endless words few ever see. This will stop when I am working over sixty hours a week for less than fifteen hours of pay. It is possibly you do not actually care, which I acknowledge. Just know that this imminent conflict preys upon my mind when I want nothing more than to sit in my broken chair in my shoebox apartment and spin forth the tapestry into which I am woven.

I am not asking for your money (though, like all web leeches, I am not opposed to liberal donations from anonymous sources). I just want your attention. I want feedback other than "you have a typo." I want to know that I have provoked a reaction. It doesn't have to be about Xenology. Though these entries are coming more slowly now that my artistic conceit is that I am at least partially a novelist, I know that they don't usually contain apt fodder for a lengthy post in the forums.

However, the river of inspiration that feeds Deaths Worse Than Fate is trickling down. I don't much care if you dislike it. I just want to have proof - in writing - that someone is reading and reacting to the story. I roughly know where the plot is going, though my characters are having a bitch of a time showing me the path. I want to defend my choices or realize that I have created a plot hole that needs spackling. I want someone to challenge the internal logic of the story. I want to be able to feel passionate about this endeavor that has taken root in my psyche, but I can't do it alone.

A month ago, I made someone almost cry owing to the story. I need you to tell me if I have lost that.

Soon in Xenology: Estrangement. The Haunted Mansion. An election party.

last watched: Ferris Bueller's Day Off
reading: The World According to Garp
listening: Dilate
wanting: You get one guess.
moment of zen: Being impressed.
someday I must: One guess.

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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