Thomm Quackenbush, author

12.13.04 10:11 p.m.

To me, it seems a dreadful indignity to have a soul controlled by geography.  

-George Santayana

 



Previously in Xenology: Xen was a little too serious about books. Emily did various things that brought her tidbits of fame, but then she kicks things a lot.

Book Apartheid

Today, I placed a sticker over Chinua Achebe's name designating him as a black person. Thing Fall Apart is no longer by Chinua Achebe, but instead is the work of an anonymous black person. This sticker will prevent his book as being classified as literature or even being filed with the rest of the fiction written by people whose skin is lighter than cocoa. It will be stuck on a separated shelf next to a book by Omar Tyree or Sista Soulja about an unfaithful black man and his equally adulterous partners. Apparently, a classic novel about early Nigeria colonialism is identical to books perpetuating systematic denigration and stereotyping.

If I took the initiative to do this on my own, I would be a rabid and ridiculous racist and would quite rightly be fired. After all, the color of one's skin means a great deal less than the content of one's ideas. Libraries are a place for people to uncover ideas. However, patrons of African descent have specifically requested this book apartheid, so that they don't accidentally pick up a science book written by an Asian, Hispanic or - heaven forbid - Caucasian. (Non-fiction is similarly segregated away if the sticker touched the spine. One can extrapolate from this that darker skin epistemologically affects angle of refraction or the details of the Spanish-American War.) This is the only differentiation the library offers. It would be ludicrous to put books by Catholic or Jews in one section (unless they were non-fiction about the religion, of course), or making sure books written by women didn't mingle with male authors. There is not a row of books solely for Native Americans or Protestants.

People should be outraged. I have complained to my coworkers and supervisors, as I feel this is a huge step in the wrong direction. I cannot fathom why this is an appropriate use of library resources and certainly would be disgusted to learn my tax dollars were being spent to discriminate. Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka is over fifty years old. Separate is inherently unequal.

"But it is what they want," came the retort for all sides, as though we actually care what the patrons want. If we caved to the patrons wants on a regular basis, the library would be two floors of computers pre-loaded with pornography and Doom and a floor mimicking Blockbuster. Removing books by African authors from general circulation seems a suspicious place to begin caving into their opinions.

"I am doing this under protest. I am personally opposed to putting a book by James Baldwin in a section based upon how dark his skin is. I didn't know he was African American. It doesn't matter to me that he is. If I thought he was anything, it was French." The only James Baldwin book I have read to date is Giovanni's Room, which didn't seem to concern itself with the protagonist's epidermis (except as it came into contact with Giovanni's) but did take place in Europe.

My objection was meaningless. This was what those above us wanted, I was told, so we were charged to do it with a smile.

I was finally willing to compromise and only segregate away those authors whose primary identification would be as a "black," rather than as an author, writer, essayist, novelist, poet, etc. There were quite a lot of books that easily fit that bill and I am not criticizing them for this. At least, not in this entry. However, James Baldwin and Chinua Achebe are amazing writers. They transcend racial demarcations, though this theme may play a part in their writing. I would like to believe that they would share my indignation at this abuse of rights having both suffered under the yolk of discrimination.

I am a white person, if it comes to that. I would be horrified to find my work categorized by how tan my parents could get. If Emily went to a competition and was only allowed to fight people of Jewish descent, I know she would walk out. Why is this okay? Why would people complain so that authors belonging to their race would be segregated? Didn't their grandparents fight hard for the right to be treated like everyone else? Should we have different water fountains in the library as well? There would be shorter lines, after all. Or, since they would like to read only books written by people who share their skin tones, we can put all of those books into a different building, where only people as dark as them will be allowed to enter? Would that be better?

B-List

M feels that she is a B-list celebrity. Granted, aside from this website, there is a very good chance that you would not know who Emily is. If she were not the wampeter of my karass, I most likely would not and my world would be considerably less for it. However, she is well respected and well known in her field. Sharon Williams, who Emily had long considered her main opponent, ran into Emily when they were both competing in Colorado a few weeks ago. Sharon effusively informed Emily that she has a picture of Emily on her wall. Certainly, and with good reason, no one has me tacked above their bed. Sharon became Emily's coach for the competition and Emily was thus thrilled to have so impressed a woman who didn't know she was M's main rival.

This is to mention nothing of the fact that she is not even slightly aware that it is unusually that she can point out that tap-dancing legend and apparent bastard Savion Glover went to her school and confused her with slang. Or that she was childhood friends with Christina "I used to wear Garfield underroos" Ricci. Or that Kevin Smith slipped her the tongue one New Year's Eve. Or that Frankie Faison gave M her first agent. Or that James Webb's son and she got along famously for all of high school. Or that she once sang her beautiful heart out for James Lipton, getting rewarded with primo tickets to Les Miserables. Emily doesn't consider any of these important or tokens toward her celebrity. "None of them would remember me," she always says, though I insist she is deluded and more memorable than she will ever know. None of these associations are meaningful, though they are covetable connections to anyone who wants to get into show business.
B-List Ninja Spaz  
B-List Ninja Spaz

To M, celebrity only exists within the realm of Tae Kwon Do, where she has punched and kicked out a nice niche for herself. Because I consistently fail to write this column in a properly chronological fashion and you, my dear readers, are never any the wiser, I will tell you that Emily and I came dangerously close to living in Colorado and her celebrity is the only thing anchoring us to this area once more.

After her visit to Colorado for a major competition, resulting in Emily becoming concussed and being coddled by Steven Lopez (who was in the Olympics, on a McDonald's bag and who is not - despite what Emily thought prior to this - a bastard), the spirit of wanderlust rushed into her once more. Colorado holds not only the Olympic Training Center but Naropa University, once of the few institutions of higher learning that offers a graduate degree in Indo-Tibetan Studies. Emily and I had shared several vague conversations about what it would mean if Emily were accepted to Naropa or if she just decided to leave for Colorado. What it would mean for us, especially.

The Hudson Valley is my home and it is gorgeous. It is also disgustingly cold sometimes and I feel much less of the attachment I once did. I did not want to have to make this decision if I did not have to and Emily knew something of this, never pushing the issue beyond the plain of hypothetical questions one might ask on a first date.

The call came last night, as I was playing some video game to entertain Emily. A sensei had seen Emily's posting on a Tae Kwon Do message board and had tried to contact Emily, to no avail. This gentleman, apparently the best teacher on the east coast, offered Emily a position at his school. All of the most important competitors, none of whose names I ever manage to remember, are his students. He only has three female students, Emily making it an even quartet of femme fatales. As she explained to me, training with this man will boost her from being in the top third of her class to the top one percent. As I always do, I tried to shift this into a context that I could better appreciate, deciding it would be like Vonnegut asking to teach me at Vassar once a week.

I was oddly sedate about the situation, given how utterly and rightly thrilled Emily was. She made me stand up and do a dance with her, though a reversed dance as this call had come at ten at night and she was thus in her jammies without a bra.

This changed Emily's plans, as training is the most important thing in Emily's life. I know that, if I were the sort of insecure prick to make her choose, training would trump continuing to date me. I do not fault her this, as I would be hard-pressed to understand a world where my lover would ask me to stop writing. Instead of Naropa or any of the other graduate school expressing interest in her, Emily will be returning to the hollow halls on New Paltz to get a graduate degree in secondary education social studies. I know that this is her pragmatism and I much prefer the universe in which she can follow every path to her bliss, as I live in the one where I chose the practical over the preferable.

Added to this, as though this needed more factored into it, Emily's parents need her to take her greyhound off of their hands as of April. Our apartment does not allow the cat we have and a greyhound is a far harder beast to obscure. We will need to move to New Paltz, very likely, which is a path to something like bliss, New Paltz being the fishbowl that holds Zack.

All this from sleeping with a B-list celebrity.

Soon in Xenology: Zack's girlfriend and Kei's boyfriend in the flesh. Christmas. New Years. Conor.

last watched: Dark Crystal
reading: The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove
listening: Tide
wanting: celebrity.
moment of zen: the happy dance.
someday I must: Not be a tool of the Man.

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

The Night's Dream Series

We Shadows by Thomm Quackenbush

Danse Macabre by Thomm Quackenbush

Artificial Gods by Thomm Quackenbush