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11.23.05 1:13 a.m.

Though we may have our disputes
This family tree's got deep roots
Friendship is thicker than blood

-Jonathan Larson


Previously in Xenology: Sarah and Xen had a falling out.


I had intended to write some pithy and forgettable entry about Thanksgiving and that for which I am thankful. You know the sort. However, I am just seen the Rent movie, so you are going to be subjected to my musings about that instead. Aren't you lucky?
I love her so  
She's allowed

I am very much into Rent and the whole phenomena thereto. I can't report that I was one of those Rent-head - and, yes, this is the proper term - who spent days camping outside of Nederlander Theater in NYC to get the good and cheap tickets and build community with likewise impassioned people. That would be Emily, who was also interning at Gay Men's Health Crisis at the time and was keenly entwined with the AIDS community and has every right to be a Rent-head. Nevertheless, once I saw the show, I was highly impressed and marked it one of my favorite shows, defending it time and again from my overbearing high school drama teacher. (No, I am not less of a man for writing that. You are just insecure.)

The gist of the show for the majority of you who are not aware of musical theater (despite this being a fairly hip show) is a year in the life of mid-nineties, New York artists and aesthetes fighting against the destruction of their natural habitat (squalor) by a former roommate turned nouveau-riche land developer and against their HIV statuses (at least four characters are HIV positive when the play starts). However, what struck me about the play then and now was their camaraderie based upon shared values. These characters - even the nouveau-riche lapdog - form a post-nuclear family and genuinely love each other despite their angst.

Though my friend are not as close as those portrayed in the play and most are not as angst ridden with regard to one another, they are a second family to me. I love my natural family, of course, but the idea of budding off and spawning children of my own is inconceivable at the moment. As I state time and again, I largely resent the fact that I have acquired pets for whom I must attend, thereby curtailing my freedom of movement. Attaching to sundry souls to sew together a new family out of bits of ancestral family quilts is the only thing that makes sense to me, a mutually nurturing family whose diapers I do not need to change and over whom I have no actual legal responsibility. That means that we care for one another on an intellectual and spiritual level, not owing to the interference of hormones and lawyers.

A part of me does want to consider myself rootless. Emily mentions moving to Colorado should her plan to attend NYU for graduate school not pan out, and I nod my head, like a Taoist eager for adventure. Yet this would mean abandoning my family, both those tied to by blood and by spirit, and it is a step I shudder to take. Yes, I would make new friends though ecesis - I have fits of gregarious extroversion and I am sure I would appoint some strangers to keep me company before the fortnight was up - but it wouldn't be Melissa or Zack or any of the rest. They reflect and represent that which is most important to me and are irreplaceable.

Over this past year, I have lost touch with some people for whom I cared and care deeply. Sarah, for one, seems to have cut off contact with me because I was perhaps overly concerned with her mental health. I don't precisely fault her; it would hurt my pride in no small way if someone who once fawned on me suggested that I might be edging toward a dangerous precipice psychologically. I miss her but, to paraphrase Elizabeth Bishop, it wasn't a disaster. I have found another person who seems to share my interests and passions, which is rarer than you may think. While she is a musician who I care deeply for, it wasn't a recasting of the role or an exchange in the ether. Dives Dives entered my life and I am better for knowing her. Sarah unfortunately left, and I am better for having known her. They are both subtle sculptors of my life through tropism and all of our lives are too much evolutionary processes to resist shaping and still thrive.

I have lost people I cared about owing to misunderstandings, betrayal, death, and ever simple distance. I have not seen dear Kate in years, though we are only separated by a train ride neither one of us has yet seen cause to undertake, yet I still mark her a friend and contemporary. Distance doesn't have to be the deal killer and hearts should be made of finer stuff than tissue and blood. This is a lot of musing on a hypothetical, though.

In Rent, to bring this back to my original stated goal somewhat, Roger the musician leaves New York City for Santa Fe owing to a girl and the death of a friend. If you did not know this bit of plot, you have my pity. The play is a decade old and is based on La Boheme, which is significantly older. The scene is better in the play - aside from the line "yes, you live a lie, tell you why" - as it involves the entire surviving core cast telling each other off and becoming estranged. The time between his departure from New York and his subsequent return thereto is covered in a few minutes of singing that I usually scroll past when I am listening to the soundtrack. Things have not improved measurably since Roger's exodus from the polluted shores of the city, but the play ends on a reasonably high note. At least as high a note as one can given the underlying message of "You are infected with the AIDS and should live every day as fully as you can because this is the thing that is going to lead to your death." It ends at any rate more cheerfully than its source material.

My life and, I would hope and assume, life in general is not as dramatic as all that. People leave every day. People come back. Just yesterday, a girl contacted me with whom I had not spoken since high school. We were both the smart, high achieving sort and despite our ostensibly differences - I do not think she would have found it sensible to don make-up ala The Crow in honor of Valentine's Day and I cannot say the same for me - were close within the bounds of the school. The memory of her that comes most readily to my mind is her talking to me about my sexual activity. At this point, I had lost my virginity to Jen and was happily sharing weekend intimacies with Kate. The girl, Kristin, was Christian and was saving herself. "What if Kate isn't the one?" Kristin asked me on a walk back from the school's field. "You already had sex with Jen and that turned out badly. So what if Kate isn't the last one?" I thought about this for a moment, pushing away the hormonal defense which rose as instantly and appealingly as gall. I was already very comfortable in my skin and infected with the Zen calmness that generally informs my current demeanor. "I will regret that Kate wasn't the last one, but I won't regret a single time I was with her. I had sex with Jen because I loved her and I am having sex with Kate because I truly love her. It doesn't come everyday and I certainly don't ever want to have sex with someone I don't love." She was understanding, I remember, which was something I had always appreciated about her. Even though my value system was divorced from hers, her concern was only that I would get hurt. I did get hurt in all of that, but the pain tempered me and was a necessary change.

Roger needed to leave New York City, despite the cost to him. Had he not, he could not have written the song he has fighting to get out of him for a year and which - and this is rather an important plot point, so those of you who do not wish to be spoiled may wish to stop reading - summons his lover Mimi back from death. It plays better than it reads, save that the song is dreadful and my initial feeling was that she was resurrected just so the wandering souls of the dead would no longer be subjected to it. Leaving does not have to be an end.

I am not like Roger, mind you. Had I to choose, I would be somewhere between the nebbish auteur Mark, who is constantly filming the actions of his friends and the world around him, and the displaced philosophy professor Collins. Neither sells their literal or symbolic guitar to drive cross country in search of their life's work. Mark manages to sell out long enough to feel good about quitting being a sell out, finally producing his disjointed documentary about street people. Collins recovers from the loss of Angel, his lover, and vaguely talks about undermining people like Benny by selling them Southwestern cuisine. No, really. In the movie, it is made to seem like he gets a job at NYU teaching Heidegger to students who would rather watch TV. As point of fact, Collins returns from being fired from his professorship at the beginning of the play for pressing the issue of actual reality over the virtual. New York, it seems, is his home and he was drawn back to be with his friends and make new ones.

It is a painfully mixed metaphor, I imagine, but may be worth slogging through. I do not know that is bears extending, but I would invite more vivid attempts than I have undertaken. There is hardly a one-to-one correlation between characters in a musical and those whom I best like, but the point of all of this is merely that I do like than more than anyone else. They are clearer faces of the Divine and help me recognize within myself the capacity for fulfilling my potential. I write for them and about them, because each inspires me and forces my hand when I feel lazy and static. Trite as it seems, maybe you can only know your home by leaving it in the first place, whatever form that may take.

In the end, I suppose I did write something sticky sentimental about that for which I am grateful.


Soon in Xenology: Subbing.

last watched: Rent
reading: Transformation
listening: Rent

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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