Thomm Quackenbush, author

11.30.04 1:52 p.m.

The world is full of people looking for spectacular happiness while they snub contentment.  

-Doug Larson


Previously in Xenology: It's all fairly well covered below.


For Emily's birthday, she and I went to the Gilded Otter at her request. I personally like my birthday meals flung at me from a hibachi, but to each his or her own. We had tried to enlist the accompaniment of any of our friends for this occasion, but found them unsurprisingly unavailable for the impromptu celebration. I was certain that it would be their loss.

Over our meal, Emily informed me that we would be going to FreeSpirit this year. FreeSpirit is a multi-day Pagan gathering in Maryland. A month after having met me, Emily had gone with her clan but had always been busy on subsequent years. I take no credit or blame for this, though gatherings of Pagans I do not know (and often those I do) make me more that a little uncomfortable.

"Are you okay with going?" she asked. "And with my going? And only wearing a sarong?" This gathering is clothing optional and, when she last went, she spent much of the gathering wearing only the sarong as a skirt. This made me uneasy, more so when she informed me that a member of her clan had felt the need to take photos (which have never been recovered), but I was the new boyfriend and had very little right to tell her that her public nudity did not inspire the best emotions in me. I am long since past that, as I know Emily in responsible and conscientious enough not to do something she will regret. Additionally, there is very little reason to get jealous or suspicious as Emily is more devoted to me than anyone has been before. It is her body and, aside from using it to sleep with over people or do hard drugs, I don't really have much of a say in what she does with it. She is not of the mind where infidelity or altered states are enjoyable.

Answering each question in turn, I said, "I am okay with going. I am definitely okay with your going. And I am fine as long as you don't sunburn. I, however, will be keeping my clothes on."

She shook her head doubtfully. "I don't know about that, Thommy. You'll see when you get there."

"No. I won't be naked. I have no use for that. I don't need to be waving in the wind to know the spirit within me. I am more comfortable in clothes. I am not comfortable being naked around strangers. I'm not generally comfortable with naked strangers. Plus, I burn easily. I'll be wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and the belt on which my PDA, camera, and voice recorder live." I, as should be obvious, am more of a techno-Pagan. My gods manifest just as well in microchips as in quartz crystals. I'm not a particularly publicly spiritual person, however. I am not going to try to push my beliefs on anyone, save for the belief that I won't push my beliefs. It's one of those paradoxes about which one should not think too long.

Though they espouse an anti-dogmatic creed, I have met a disproportionately large number of Pagans who feel anyone not dance naked to the nameless goddess is some narrow-minded fuckwit. It is not Emily or her clan that make me worry about Pagan gatherings, but these people who try to enforce their will upon the whole world to which they are exposed. As is the way of these things, Pagans like these are the ones of which everyone seems to think; you don't give a thought to the Pagans who act like normal people, but the idiot in the tie-dye muumuu who it trying to slap the chicken sandwich out of your hand because it isn't made of free range tofu or the predator that realized the general lack of body issues is a good way to see adolescents naked jumps right to the front pages of newspapers.

Perhaps I am too jaded, having seen more Pagan politics in my twenty-four years than I have any right to, and this gathering might do me some good. This is not to say that I would not prefer a gathering of writers (No one wants to see Eudora Welty in the nude), as I would more immediately identify myself by my passion than by my faith, but there is certainly the opportunity that this will be just as good for my soul. Or I might get sucked into a sinkhole of mud and harassed by a woman who lost her personality in a sweat lodge and now thinks she is a beaver.

Either is good and both are expected.

It is entirely possible that Emily is a better witch than I am. She goes to classes to learn to better her spiritual workings and is a part of a grove. She's friends with Isaac Bonewits, supposedly one of the more respected Druids in America (even if he does try to slip her the tongue). Me, I did a ritual to Anubis and ended up watching my computer screen morph with the lyrics and interpreting the lyrics as prophesy. This does not make me a good witch. A good stoner maybe, but not a witch.

The aforementioned ritual came about when the library, possibly as an unconscious test of my self-denial, procured hundreds of dollars in rather serious occult books. One of them was a beginner's guide to worshiping Egyptian deities. As the task before me was to copy the books for cataloguing, I cannot help having made additional copies of certain invocations to my favorite jackal headed deity-force.
It was a little like this

Hours after arriving home and working the invocation, I sat in front of my computer staring at the visualizations the random music produced like they were hidden prophesy. I clutched a stuffed Anubis to me and occasionally petted my basalt one. Even gods of death and judgment need your love. I had begun burning sage to cleanse the apartment and because I thought it was a nicely witchy thing to do. This sage, procured I know not where, infected my apartment like a nineteen thirties nightmare of a pot party. I thought the music was bringing me to an acceptance of the universe, but retrospection suggests it was closer to being stoned.

I wrote the following coming down from this meditative state:

Music became my pornography. While not a particular fanatic for the latter, my tastes leaning toward the artistic, ironic, or animated (ideally all three), I now need music. It needs to be fresh, live if possible. My computer vibrates and undulates with the tones and I can enter a state of Zen mindlessness in its presence. I would like to think this is a component to being stoned, but it is days later (I really don't know what I am talking about. -Xen) and I just discovered an untapped vein of Tori Amos concert outtakes. I don't care overly for Ms. Amos - suckling pigs should be at a spit, not a breast - but her vaguely Irish lilting keeps the words flowing.
An a cappella rending of Ani DiFranco's song Untouchable Face is bleeding this paragraph out. Coley made me read the lyrics to this song after I left her for Jen. I recall crying and holding her sympathetically. I later recall fondling Jen and her in consort on my bed. I may not have been a particularly good person as a teenager, but likely only a seven or so on the bastard scale. But that is irrelevant at the moment.
Has music always felt this way? I enjoyed it, of course. But this is... addictive. I think this is what the skeksis drained out of Kira. (Ah, yes, referencing to fantasy movies. Stoners never do that. -Xen)
I read the invocation and ego-petting to my Anubis basalt statue. I have two that rest side by side on our narrow altar, the reappropriated mantle of a fireplace that is full of insulation, and I tend to speak to the one that is no more than a jackal head because it has stone black eyes into which I can look as I speak.
I said the invocation many times and felt very little. I am jealous that, years ago, Anubis found Emily to be more receptive to his energy than me. I like him better and henotheistically recognize him as a distinct being, which I imagine he would fancy over Emily's Buddhist pantheism. I want to get the scent of what Emily felt.

In my quasi-religious stupor, I am lucid, if suffering from acute attention deficit disorder. Emily's connection to the divine, though she sees all gods as faces of The One, is something I envy and seek.

I just won't seek it through burning herbs.

Spectacular Happiness

I will cut to the quick and save us both time: my life would be measurably better if I just lived in or near New Paltz. A lot more is necessary for me to be near nirvana, but this is a credible start.

My social sphere, if indeed I still have one, has greatly morphed. There was a time in the not terribly distant past where everyone seemed to know me. I could not walk through the mall - not that this is an activity to which I much cotton - and go wholly unrecognized. People have aged and moved away, the old friendships and enmities likewise mellowing. Even those who I considered extensions of my soul even a year ago are shades in the periphery of my vision, leading lives of which I know little. I cannot live a life indulging the neuroses of some, thus exiling me from their sight. I cannot wait forever for some to remember a world exists outside of their own skull, narrowing the sphere further. Even I am so busy pursuing a life less ordinary (which is turning out to be considerably more banal than I like to give it credit) that I cannot always see the forest for the trees, as the saying goes.

I live with Emily, as you well know. She does her thing, training to fulfill the soul of a warrior that pounds within her. I do mine, trying to carve out a name for myself in the bits of paper and computer parts surrounding the desk. I am irritated that I don't get to see her nearly as much as I would like to though I see her every day. She gets home late and is, out of necessity and proclivity, asleep by eleven. Not all of that is cuddling and foreplay. Most of that is making dinner and cleaning up so and we have maybe 1 and ˝ hours of time a day tops. We have our Sundays together, where we go on small adventures and often clean up the accumulated detritus of weekly life, but it never satisfies. I need to spend a greater potion of my day with her than I do toiling in the book mines. For the world to be a more perfect place, I need for her to sing often, because I consider it a sin to have that voice and not use it. While I am demanding reality conform to my will, Emily should have much more accurate self-esteem and therefore wear more clothing not of the "sweat" variety. She needs to see in herself what I see.

While I am spinning forth a world in which I can more comfortably function, I need to be a published writer (and I am trying). I don't expect to be or quite want to be internationally known and celebrated. I would content myself with steady enough residuals that I can write for a living, articles, novels, biographies. I need something of a fan base, just to feel the electric thrum of the universe validating that I am on the right path. Don't discount the money though. A starving artist I do not desire to be.
My future roommate

Zack needs to be as far as he can get from his roommate, lately dubbed The North Wind. As long as his name is on the lease and it hasn't expired, he cannot afford to get out of his apartment. I prefer the world where Emily and I lived with him instead of the Ice Miser. We could even have a big dog that I would feed and occasionally pet. I want Zack's life to be more than working at the diner, apparently lucrative though it is, and taking solitary courses at Dutchess (though these will lay the foundation for an eventual career in Sign Language). He could be the next Bob Dylan Thomas, or at least a serviceable masseur. He needs to play music as a biological function. He needs to strum as Emily and he duet folk tunes.
Little drummer girl

Then there is Lauren, a drummer beating out the rhythm of desire. I haven't spent nearly enough time with her to be nearly as emotionally attached as I am. Every time I talk with her, I am struck loquacious though thoughtful silence has been more my speed for the last few year. I want her as part of my life on a constant basis. I want her interwoven into the center of the fabric. I really dig her so much and I miss her when she is not around, which is all the time. I cannot help but blame myself more than her, as I think that I am just as unavailable as she. These obstacles should not exist, so they won't in my universe.
New balance

Sarah needs to rediscover her balance with the world. She should understand that she is at best a prophet, but not the messiah, and interact with the rest of the world as such. Never again would she accuse Emily of being jealous of her, or anyone else. Nor would she assume that she is lusted at as she walks down the streets. She should be playing coffeehouses and clubs, building a reputation for herself as an artist with which to be reckoned. She should not have to sleep in cars or deal with adolescent dramas that drag her down. She should be speaking with me, as I do not think she is right now. Nor, incidentally, do I imagine she will be upon reading this. But she is in my purposed world. She is better than all of this, no matter how easy that may be to forget.

Conor needs to be present in my life in any capacity. It has been over half a year since last I even shared a solitary word with him. I do not know what life he is leading. I do not know if I have somehow fallen from his sight. Only in the past few days have I pieced bits of his life together. He works in a bookstore in Cold Spring. He has a girlfriend in the city. This is hardly the portrait of a tertiary character, let alone one of the stars in this twilight sky. I do not know how else to paint my ideal world around him, other than to insist that he is present in it. I have grown so embarrassed at the tone of his answering machine.
Stevehen and Tina  
Eight asleep

Stevehen and Tina, a couple that has lasted longer than any other two non-married people in my life, should live together in their private sanctum that I can periodically despoil. They should have an apartment within walking distance of wherever I am. I should be able to visit with them and walk bad movies or play off-putting board games. Walden feels isolated from everything, but especially those friends that live across the Mid-Hudson Bridge. Furthermore, Emily and I are a couple and, according to the rules of this world, need at least one pair of couple friends. Stevehen should have a job writing for an independent newspaper in some fairly cosmopolitan town. Tina can remain a teacher, I suppose, though I can't really fathom why she would want to.

In my fantasy world, Melissa also lives within walking distance and doesn't smoke cigarettes so that visits require fewer tissues and allergy pills. Otherwise, I think Melissa is pretty close to already existing in my universe.

Keilaina, similarly, is pretty close to meeting me needs. Perhaps she could work a little closer or in a sit-com perfect café minutes away from the main setting, but she seems happy with her internet boyfriend Dan and doesn't seem dissatisfied with her lot.

While I am at it, it should constantly be fall foliage, spring days, summer nights, and the occasional flurry. This seems almost as likely as everything else coming together, but why aim low?

Reno 911

Melissa's friend Matt won the Reno 911 contest. As such, he won $5000 and was flown to Reno to meet with the cast. All of this is wonderful, but this is not even the snowflake on top of the iceberg. While in Reno, Matt and his friend really bonded with the cast, so much so that there are pictures of them and the cast pretending to sodomize one another. We all know that fake sodomy is next to godliness in the progression of a friendship. The producers of the show were witness to these acts, along with Matt and his friend otherwise being as funny as is normal for them. The producers stated that they were very interested in the both of them and would like Matt and his friend to send them a few sketches. To reiterate, the producers of one of the most popular shows on Comedy Central asked them to send in a tape of them being funny.

They didn't. They had months in which to do this. Melissa lent Matt her expensive video camera. She even offered to edit the sketches together. I was more than willing to allow Melissa to send in a video of Matt and me reenacting the pottery scene from Ghost, if only because my name is in the credits. But, after having the camera for months, Matt returned it to Melissa without ever having used it. He turned it on only to watch the video of Liz accidentally flashing the camera. Matt said that he and his friend couldn't agree on a script and he was too busy with his band to do this. He was given the sort of chance for which I would poison orphans and he lets it slide.

I am getting most of this information second or third hand, but accepting all of this as accurate, his mindset could not be more foreign. I cannot stand the idea of the universe handing you something so obviously and totally ignoring it. True, he is more committed to his garage band that has existed as long as I have known him, but that shouldn't preclude success coming from another direction. If someone were to approach me wishing to audition me for a paying acting role (and I am not suggesting that this is what occurred, merely that it is a comparable scenario), I would see this at worst as something that could foster my writing career. No good can come of ignoring the hand of destiny.

Soon in Xenology: Zack's girlfriend in the flesh. Christmas. Sacrifice. Kei and Dan.

last watched: Shrek
reading: The Librarian
listening: Our Endless Number Days
wanting: Spectacular happiness.
moment of zen: Hugging Anubuis.
someday I must: find a deeper Zen.

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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Works by Thomm Quackenbush


Find What You Love and Let It Kill You by Thomm Quackenbush
Pagan Standard Times: Essays on the Craft by Thomm Quackenbush
A Creature Was Stirring: A Twisted Christmas Anthology by Thomm Quackenbush
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At Double Dragon