Thomm Quackenbush, author

07.25.05 8:25 p.m.

Why one writes is a question I can answer easily, having so often asked it of myself. I believe one writes because one has to create a world in which one can live. I could not live in any of the worlds offered to me - the world of my parents, the world of war, the world of politics. I had to create a world of my own, like a climate, a country, an atmosphere in which I could breathe, reign, and recreate myself when destroyed by living.  

-Anais Nin

 



Previously in Xenology: Xen and Emily moved into a new apartment. Dives Dives broke up with Oberi.

Keys Depressing

I have lived at least four lives today - worn four sets of clothes - and it is only a little past one.

I awoke, if that is the appropriate word, before eight. I spent little of the night actually sleeping, equal parts anxiety and heat annoyance because the apartment complex did not deign to actually install working appliances in our apartment prior to our moving in. This included the air conditioner, which has seen better decades.

I dressed quickly, though Emily criticized and adjusted until my clothing made me look slightly less like a sixteen year old in her eyes. I had gotten wind of the news that the middle school at which I was permanent subbing was looking to hire on a full time English teacher. I just happened to be one, but my hopes were not high.

I did not do well in the interview, sleep deprivation having deleted critical parts of my pedagogical knowledge. The only question I think I answered at all adeptly was that respect is more important than safety, because there cannot be true safety if there is not mutual respect between the students and the faculty. Teaching is not in the words anyway. I know, unfortunately, that I can teach. I cannot interview well, the latter point having been far more pronounced than the former to the principal. I have never been able to read him however, but will not be surprised to not receive a packet informing me of my acceptance.

Then I returned to my EZBake oven home. The clothes came off and I crawled onto my air mattress - the real bed is still twenty-four hours from occupying the apartment - and tried to sleep for an hour without any apparent success.

Emily came home, eschewing my kisses on her arm and insisting that it was too hot to even touch. I would like to believe that affection is not reliant on temperature, but know better.

I showered, feeling alone with my thoughts for a few rare moments, happy to be out of clothing entirely, and not merely because of the heat.

Now I am at the library, yelling at kids because it feels cathartic and they are unusually annoying. This is why they pay me $10 an hour. Fridays are always dead for me in the library, a chance for me to catch up on some writing between admonishing.
M and Dives Dives  
Amazing. Are you?

Before the day is out, I am to play good son-in-law-in-waiting and have dinner with Emily's family. Perhaps I am to play photographer for Dan and Keilaina. Perhaps I am to play utter geek and vie for copies of the new Harry Potter book with Melissa and Angela.

None of these roles feel like me. I am not sure who I am, the sort of existential malaise that overcomes me every few years. I do not deny that some part of this is based on how easily I could slip into a bed and sleep for hours.

Last night Dives Dives came over to our apartment, though we did not stay there while the sun was up, it being too hot to be hospitable. Dives Dives has met a boy through one of those on-line networking sites. They seem keenly fond of one another, though I worry about mutually rebounding given that he is also newly out of a long-term romance. This effectively cancels Dives Dives's and Emily's attempt at a triadic relationship.

This is nonetheless nice, but it is not my immediate point. It is evident that Dives Dives is amazed by this boy, a musician who calls himself Chrysater. He is just as stunned by her grabbing him and dancing to Tom Waits songs as he exits the bathroom. The newness of this relationship, the little discoveries, saddens me by contrast.

I do not feel that I amaze. Yes, you have heard this tune before. You probably own the sheet music by now.

Chrysater creates this polyphonic electronica, not really my speed but discernibly good from what I have heard. It is something beautiful to Dives Dives, something that makes her like him the better. It should, of course. It is a part of him, two CDs worth of little discoveries. I create nothing beautiful. At best, at the very best, I write something slightly amusing, describing a character's emotion as "like he just saw the Little Engine That Could run over the Pokey Little Puppy." It's not enough, not by a long shot.

I am not melodic. I can appreciate music, but have no craft at producing it myself. I cannot paint, nor draw particularly well. My hands are not those of a sculptor, too soft and blotchy. I have not acted in years. Even when I did, I don't think I was particularly good or involving, just not utterly distracting most of the time. I am not an athlete, my steadily declining frame good for nothing more than moving me and a keyboard from place to place. This is the only way I understand beauty.

I confided this to Emily once Dives Dives had left, and she said that she would prefer not to just be blithely in love with me. There could be some blitheness, though. It would not go unappreciated. Do I deserve this? Has anyone ever just stood back and been amazed by me? Am I projecting my worldview onto others and wondering why they do not accommodate?

Perhaps I am not amazing, in the most literal sense. The closest I can remember having come is in Dives Dives's reaction to Emily and me as a couple, our constant banter. She claims, and with much corroborating evidence and many witnesses, that we are fun to listen to. And that is nice, but I am greedy for something more. Why would I have this site but to impress people? Actually, I would have this site because I need to write and only do it fluently when there is the threat that someone is going to read it.

Only one person has seemed appreciative of what I write, and she happens to be a wheelchair bound woman who is being told that she should make a living will, as she is likely not long for this world. I have known her for several years, though never in person. She was just someone I chatted with and tried to convince that I possessed nothing approaching wisdom (in every sense) through letters. Now she seems to be dying and says that what I write helps her feel as though she were a greater part of the world, lets her see through my eyes. Maybe that is enough. It is enough to her certainly and I was shocked to have had this effect on another person, to have anything I write equated with seeing the sunrise.

What I write here is solipsistic, by its very nature. While I expect my limited audience to understand that I can only present small moments, glimpses of people who amaze me, this medium does not regard people as real unless they are mentioned.

Yeah, I am selfish and jealous. I want people to be amazed, but my efforts to be amazing are inwardly driven. I write because I have to write. If something isn't written down, I may forget; it might not be as real. I am imperfect in every way, but I want you to see rainbows in my flaws.

Am I yelling to the wind and ghosts, asking why they do not answer me back? I do not understand why anyone not mentioned would bother with this column. It is not A Remembrance of Things Past, not that I managed to get more than a few dozen pages into that series.

Last night, reading Dives Dives some of the pithy comments Emily has made in my presence, Emily said that most people only get one clever sentence in their whole lives. If they get that remembered, they have done better than most. I retorted that this was because Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde had said so many quotable things that they took the opportunities away from other people, stole their rightful turns. And I am so utterly green with jealousy at my literary superiors.

I exist only in relation to other people, which may actually be the opposite of solipsism if it isn't the casebook definition. It's codependent at the very least. Am I clever on my own? I do not know. When I am bantering away with Emily, we are clever. This, as judged by the reaction of Dives Dives and countless before her, is fairly certain. But clever alone? Hard to judge, because who would be judging? Even you, my silent and implicit reader, are someone I need. I have to believe that someone is reading this, or I do not think I would write. It is exhibitionistic.

All of the roles I occupied today, Showering Boy aside, were not roles I chose for myself. I didn't want to be interviewed, I didn't want to come to work. I wanted to sleep restfully. I will go to dinner, but it won't be something I actively want for myself. Except for writing. Writing is just something I am compelled to do, something that feels nearly as good as getting my sleep. It does not make what I am doing beautiful or amazing or worthwhile. I shouldn't expect it to, but I do. I define the goals that will disappoint me, attaching my self-worth to offhanded comments and page rank, externals that I shouldn't allow to matter.

Who am I when I am completely alone? Who am I when the lights are off, in the dark? Who am I outside of pens and papers and keyboards? I can't just tell a story, you know. Not out loud. My fingers tell stories, my hands do. My mouth is awkward, my voice trails off. I cannot think with my mouth, it does not move as it must. I am acclimated to touch, to the feeling of keys depressing.

The answer to so many of these questions seems to be "I do not know." I am in a state of pronounced, overwhelming ignorance of my place and purpose.

Who am I to you?

Sick Cat
Sick Cat  
Sick Cat

Emily and I are settled into our new home. It is larger than our previous apartment, as it would have to be to at all comfortable accommodating the two of us, our cat, and dog. We have a sliding glass door that overlooks a patch of grass and a patch of forest. I have explored neither as devotedly as I would like, but will.

In the forest lives a herd of twenty feral cats. Our neighbors feed them, so the cats rip up the grass and lounge in bare brown spots to cool off during the day. The king of the ferals is one I call Sick Cat. He is very near dead, but clings through some fundamental tenacity to life. I asked a mohawked ten-year-old to whom Sick Cat belonged. In an indefinable accent consisting only of vowels, he explained that Sick Cat belonged to no one, but roamed with the other cats. Sick Cat does not roam; he just lies on the pavement, behaving as through he were already quite dead. Sometimes he rests under the back wheels of parked cars, exercising some death wish, though he never dies. He may seem an odd cat to choose as a King, but this is the only way to explain his continued existence. He is frequently flanked by at least two other cats, who seem to care for him and bring him the food our neighbors leave directly behind my new apartment.
Sick Cat  
Sick Cat, suicidal

Our upstairs neighbors enjoy throwing table scraps off their balcony and onto the herd of cats. This is not mercy (though Emily would like me to remind you that feeding ferals is never mercy), as they also shuck corn off their balconies. Only the occasional landscaping mower prevents my little patch of backyard from wholly becoming a compost heap.

Two neighbors have taken time out of their busy days to warn my younger brother (mistaken for me) and Emily, respectively, how hellish the apartment complex truly is. The funny thing is, they both warned using the exact phrases I found on the complaining website weeks ago. I seem to be in the very thick of the whiners, the same people who blare Bollywood and use airspace as their personal dumpsters rant about obnoxious neighbors and a lack of hygiene in the anonymity of cyberspace.

Soon in Xenology: The housewarming party.

last watched: Sore Losers
reading: Influence
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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