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07.12.05 10:42 p.m.

Fashion your life as a garland of beautiful deeds.  

-Buddha

 



Previously in Xenology: Xen and Emily began dating several years ago. Zack and Cristin smooched slightly thereafter.

Walking

There is freedom in walking a suburban road well after dark in the beginning of summer.

No one was on the streets. The odd car would pass but I didn't fit in their worldview; I was neither a potential victim nor was I likely to be causing trouble of any sort. So they drove on and I walked on. I went for quite a while between cars, something like half an hour. Unless someone was returning to their home, there was no reason to drive this way, no stores, no through roads.

My soul needs to walk at night. It is part of my function, a genetic imperative like building a web. Winter and teaching both restrict my movement, so when the restriction is lifted, I must listen to the solitude of night. Or, in this case, my Palm Pilot playing MP3s, which nearly qualifies.

I have the best conversations when I am walking with someone. Perhaps it is the idea of moving toward a shared destination, though I had none in mind this night. I just moved. I wished I had my voice recorder, as ideas for my book kept coming to me unbidden, but I lent it to Emily to record her thoughts and feelings about her father.

The City
Bee Man  
We have to hide in bullet-proof boxes

"This isn't my city anymore," Emily whispers to me. She is not being tactful and, though there is sorrow in her voice, it is not low for that. She is quiet because a police officer in full body armor, including a bullet proof shield, is standing in front of a church. In his hand is the sort of immense automatic weapon that would require at least two hands to fire. He holds it in one, a finger resting on the trigger. He is pleasantly speaking to a man in a suit speaking to him, but it is easier to speak pleasantly when you are the most heavily armed entity within a hundred feet, where your equally equipped compatriot stands glaring at the public.

Emily and I had planned our visit to the city a few days earlier. Aside from some movie being filmed a few blocks away, nothing was going on that would even slightly justify the nature of this police presence. Nothing we knew about, at least.
Bee Man  
But some can escape

Emily and I had just visited Ground Zero, which just seemed empty. I cannot wholly divorce myself from the idea that I am breathing in the dust of people when I am there, but I am always breathing in the dust of people.

On the black plywood that surrounds the standing buildings around Ground Zero someone espousing in silver marker to be a cop had penned several poems and quotes, all of which took a pacifistic and Christian stance on the attack. This graffiti did not look new, though nothing else adorned the walls aside from signs telling people to post nothing here.

Emily is unfortunately right, this isn't her city. It may not even be a proper world for her, not without some heavy revision. Police shouldn't have to be soldiers. I shouldn't know what body armor looks like up close. I shouldn't be scared to play tourist and take pictures, but I am.

Big Buddha

I stare up at the largest Buddha in the Western hemisphere and am literally stunned. To turn around after a whispered conversation with Melissa and see a benevolent smile larger than my entire body is a discomfiting situation.
Big Buddha  
The Big Buddha

Melissa had asked me to join her in visiting a Buddhist monastery in Carmel. I had never known of this place prior to Melissa's invitation and, even then, could not have elicited a true grasp of what I was being told.

The temple in which we stood was immense, quite obviously having been built around the gargantuan statue, as there would be no other way. The Buddha, hewn from a mountain, was solid. The building seemed like a matchbox next to it, flimsy and ephemeral. The roofs were the shining red curve that would fit perfectly against the sky of the orient. In the middle of the Hudson Valley, it is gorgeous, but constantly unexpected.

When we arrived at the monastery, Melissa looked over the other people entered and whispered, "Isn't it nice to be the minority somewhere?"

While we were well attired, I in a seventies style shirt that combined flowers and skulls in subtle patterns and Melissa in a flowing shirt, we certainly felt like the Other. I do not complain here, it is nice to not belong and still feel implicitly welcome.
Melissa  
Overlooking Kwan Yin

The foot of the entrance path features two stone lions, each as large as a man, and the path is dotted with smaller statues of men. I did not know who they were, prophets or philosophers I supposed. It was strange to realize how little I knew about a system of beliefs I so greatly respected.

When we reached the temple, when I got the first breath-depriving look at it, I was greeted by two white elephant statues, each piled with coins. Coins are placed on almost all religious artifacts. I smirked at the thought of a monk whose main job would be to wander around the grounds collecting loose change.

There was peace in the air. Melissa told me that, the last time she had been here, she had spoken to a monk who gave her a mala and told her that she shouldn't worry so much. I know they are just men and woman, but I considered these monks sacred and apart from the world. I wanted to encounter one and speak to him or her at length, to benefit from their wise eyes, but I did not get the chance. Melissa tells me that the monastery is sometimes full of monks and other times, none are seen. She hadn't been here enough to know a pattern and we saw only one counseling a family while walking.
Kwan Yin  
Kwan Yin

We went down to the lake, free to walk the grounds however we wished, and lied on a damp hammock and just watched the clouds roll by.

Being here was a beautiful experience that almost made my soul a still, quiet place, but yet I desired. Next time, I wanted to visit here with Dives Dives and Emily, my dear near Buddhists. I imagined picnics (vegetarian, of course; meat is verboten on the grounds) on the shores of the lake and smiled without a second thought. I needed them to both come here with me. I needed to share this experience with Emily in particular, who did not even know this place existed.

This place shouldn't be here, but I am utterly grateful that it is. I shared this with Melissa, asking how a place like this made any sense in Bush's America, and she explained, "This place is like Giggles; people look at it, but they don't really see it. So it is safe."

On Writing

"So how is the writing going?" Dezi asked from the driver's seat of his minivan. I had intended to walk home from the party, but he offered a ride and I was not one to deny him the pleasure of driving me home at one thirty in the morning.

It took me a moment to process his question. Dezi had spent the night absently mentioning luminaries of the world of comic books with whom he pals around or from whom he had taken classes. I did not know many of the people of whom he spoke, but those I did were impressive. As such, his asking me about my writing seemed incongruous, like Jesus asking John where the showers are.

"It's going okay," I admitted, "I am about one hundred and fifty pages into my novel." I do not even know if he was aware I was writing a novel. It isn't the sort of thing I frequently slip into conversation, even with Emily. It is still a strange thing for me to talk about, particularly to someone who dedicated to making his prodigious creativity his life's work. At the party, he had been planning his trip to Comicon, one of the country's largest comic conventions, and had been working diligently to produce a six-page comic of Batman fighting Venom to show to the respective comic bigwigs his skill using characters from two rival companies.

Dezi made impressed noises at how prolific I had been and then told me how impressed he was with a short story I had sent his sister years ago, one about the Devil begging his way into Heaven and being told that he has his part to play so he must still suffer. It doesn't play a part in the novel I am now writing, which takes place in a more pantheistic world where I am avoiding the Christian god and devil. I haven't looked at the story in at least a year, but I thanked him for the compliment, though I doubt this was his intention.

I will look at the story now. I will revise it and submit it to a writing contest, because the world is endlessly meaningful to me.

Writers tend to talk about a well from which they draw their inspiration. When they draw too heavily, the well goes dry and they cannot find the ability to write again until it is refilled, if through a shower of inspiration, a stream of books, or simply time off to replenish from the source. Mine is less a well and more like a farm.

I must creatively rotate my crops. The writing I do for Xenology is very different and somewhat easier than the writing I do for Deaths Worse than Fate is different from the theoretical writing I do for other sections. Here I need only to describe what I see and hear from my perspective with the occasional anecdote and editorial thrown in for flavor. DWTF requires a whole new universe that demands constant revision. Everything I read - mostly nonfiction right now - gets processed and filtered, as though there is a divine plan to get me back on track. Only through writing does the physics of that world become plain to me and I admit that I am occasionally as utterly baffled by what is going on as the readers (I have the privilege of being baffled three or four chapters ahead of you).

Still, the uncertainty of cannibalizing one's imagination for money is always there, for Dezi far more than me. What is Dezi does is more of a craft, careful sculpting with his hands. What I do involves only a keyboard and a screen. Typing lacks the art, I only have to know how to put words in their better arrangement.

I write incessantly, but I often despair at the knowledge that I might not be good enough. I know I say things like this occasionally, usually when piqued by a chemical lashing of depression, but none of that makes what I say invalid. I can write for days and week, but I don't. Life gets in the way, as I always excuse myself. Maybe I am replenishing, but it just feels like procrastination. Dezi doesn't let life get him away from his art. He stays up until dawn drawing if he has to, working at the toy store exhausted. He literally has a degree in comic books, tens of thousands of dollars for something that is only useful if he is a success in a very specialized field. I hedged my bets. I lacked his confidence.

I want money from what I do. I am not writing wholly for the art of it, but because I want some kind of recompense. Why shouldn't I? Does anyone not fantasize about seeing their knitting, painting, racecar, or the like seen and acknowledged? Acknowledged ideally with a multiple digit cashier's check? Others dream of seeing their passions bear fruit on which they can sustain themselves, I don't see why I can't.

You might excuse my analogy and apparent greed. People forgive writers a lot because they expect eccentricity. I happily read books on vampires and invoking spirits at work, where I am in direct access to small children. During the rare moments where someone asks me about it, I just state that I am writing a book. No more be said. He's a writer. Obviously the art of diabolism is only research for whatever this book may be. Though, while I am being honest, most everything I read that is nonfiction has some seed within that I end up weaving into Deaths Worse Than Fate, or that gives me an idea for an entry here. So my eccentricity doesn't make me a dishonest man, just a strange one.

Dezi and I had been at a party that Zack asked me along to. I knew the hostess, but not well enough that I wasn't surprised when she hugged me when I offered my hand in greeting. She had been a sweet and pretty, if distant, girl in high school a few grades below me. We knew one another and were both involved in the drama productions. We therefore moved in similar circles and knew many of the same people, but I wouldn't call us friends. Were I not with Zack, I can't imagine having been invited along, though I do not doubt having been welcomed had I showed up with anyone else.

Everyone else was better friends and Cristin occupies much of the attention of Zack. So I watch others and listen. I do not drink and do not want to, though the alcohol seems to relax the steady influx of strangers into the house.

Surmount Beacon

I should have anticipated that I was not in good enough shape to hike up Mount Beacon, but the limited testosterone in my system could not allow this. I might have a little difficulty in spots, but my brain assured me I could handle it.

It seemed adventurous, and certainly held the capability of birthing lasting memories. This was not an opportunity I should let go by simple because I want to sit home and write.
Cristin looking at Zack's tongue  
Cristin contemplating Zack's tongue

That it was a mountain was not so much a problem. I have hiked up mountains before and Breakneck certainly had to be harder that Mount Beacon given that four-wheelers tear up the paths nightly. The problem was when we set off, half an hour past midnight when the moon was but a sliver in the sky. This was supposed to be the appeal of the journey, walking through the night to watch the stars a little closer.

I did not have a flashlight. Is it naive that I did not think of this? As we waited for the rest of our group got off work, I indulged the fantasy that I could leave. I would just hang out with them until they decided to attempt the mountain, but there were not enough cars. Fate had pressed my hand and I didn't mind having the decision taken out of my hands. Fate usually knew what she was doing.

Once we began the ascent, I could not sit and wait for my hips decide that they were actually a part of my body and were not in need of rejection. I had no flashlight, of course, and had to keep up with the slowest group in order to not become horribly lost. No group would allow this, however, by shining the flashlights in my face every minute to make sure I hadn't been eaten by a silent bear. Mount Beacon bears are the silent killers about which you hear so much.

Whenever a flashlight beam fell on me, I smiled widely to show that I was a good sport about my hips rebelling. Possibly I was just showing that I was not terribly bright and had lost enough blood flow to the brain that I could not stop smiling.

The mountain was much higher than I would have imagined. We stopped at a reservoir become the more industrious members of our group (including Zack, who sought commiseration for the fact that he used to be able to run up the mountain, the healthy bastard) were lounging there. I sat and began relaxing as well, poking my toes in the water.

"Time to go to the top," Annie said from behind a headlamp that obscured her face.

"But... this isn't the top? Well, it's close right? We're almost there?" I begged.

The people who made a practice of climbing this mountain, the sadists who suggested this as a fun endeavor, said nothing. Someone patted me on the shoulder and said it was only a little further.

It was not only a little further, but by now the pain was monotonous and I had resigned myself to the fact that there was nothing I could do but continue to follow them. There is an odd comfort in admitting your destiny is in the hands of people who think this sort of thing is fun.

They wanted to stop at a place called the casino, though it was late enough that I wasn't going to ask why there would be a casino at the top of a mountain. Just seemed like a bad place for such a thing. Unfortunately, the people at the head of our loose group were not informed of our destination. They had just kept walking until we started to descend the mountain from its other side.

"We'll just go back to the top and search around for the casino," Dezi said far too cheerfully.

"Did you know that I hate you all? Because I do."

"Well, we did hold that gun to your head and make you come," Zack informed.

"Cristin did. And don't think I'm going to forget that. She could have told me that it was unloaded sooner."

We did eventually make it to the top, or a close approximation that I'm calling the top. We sat on large rocks and looked across the county at a view that would be beautiful if there was any light by which to see it. Various permutations of alcohol were produced from backpacks, along with a few rolls and meat. I indulged in the latter, forsaking the former for a bottle of water and sobriety when I made my way back down. Alcohol is simply not for me, having a taste I long ago learned to associate with medicine and thereby sickness.

This was not an unpleasant experience to have, though it was far better to have climbed then to be climbing, though I wished I had Emily or Dives Dives with me. The group cared that I was there, but I wanted someone who would sit with me and wait. I wanted someone to forge new inside jokes with. Someone to admire as I climbed. Zack was too athletic, too far in front of the group, and he had Cristin as the focus of his attention.

On the way down the mountain, I found Zack and informed him that Keilaina was engaged. I had yet to actually hear the happy news from Kei, but her sister was very informative.

Zack was not at all surprised, perhaps his only shock being that they were not engaged from the moment Dan arrived on the East coast.

"Dan's making me look bad," I smirked, my common joke in these situations.

"He should be," Zack protested, "when are you going to propose to Emily?"

This was not the reception I was expecting. Aren't men supposed to discourage their mates from marital bliss? I'm pretty sure that is encoded on our DNA.

"I will. This summer. I have plans." I told him my specific plans, which I obviously cannot reveal here. Killing one person for leaking the secret is easy. Killing all of you would take too much work. Also, Emily will likely read this entry a day after it is posted.

"You shouldn't just propose, you should get married this summer. Her father isn't going to get any better, is he?"

"Zack, I am not going to rush into marriage because Emily's father is sick. That isn't fair." Zack is not the first person to have said as such to me, but it is an idea I cannot help but resist. I want to get married because it is right and I am in love. If I start off this union doing it for the wrong reasons, where will that lead?

Up the mountain and back again.

Soon in Xenology: The further, further adventures of Dives Dives, Emily, and Xen.

last watched: Land of the Dead
reading: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
listening: Real Gone

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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