Thomm Quackenbush, author

01.04.06 2:33 p.m.

We either make ourselves happy or miserable. The amount of work is the same.  

-Carlos Castaneda

 



Previously in Xenology: Xen chose the wrong major.

It's the Real Thing

I read an article detailing the manifold corporate sins of Coca Cola. I am not talking about minor grievances, such as the fact that they massively pollute. Rather, I speak of the fact that they kidnap, torture, and murder people trying to set up unions in Columbia or that they buy up all the well water in communities, leaving only the offal infused liquid their factory produces for the residents to drink.

I shared this information with Emily, who enthusiastically insisted that we would henceforth boycott Coke and their entire subsidiary product line. A moment later, as I raised my can of Fresca to my lips, she asked who distributes and owns Fresca. Fresca, which is Emily's favorite soda. I looked down at the can and saw the familiar curving text. "I would rather not say," I replied.

The problem with advocacy and boycotting is that these companies are so powerful because people do buy their wares. Wal-mart, hideous company that they are, moves into communities and displaces all of the local business because who the hell doesn't want cheap food and house wares? So people living on small budgets - which seem to be most everyone these days - shop there to save money. Then, within a few months, there is nowhere else to shop and Wal-Mart makes even more money. They become the monopoly and can set the prices, and they most certainly do.

Obviously I can do without Fresca, but it just seems that so many companies pollute, commit human rights violations, or terrorizes their workers. Medical companies keep people enslaved to their illnesses with hideously inflated costs. Once the boycotting starts, where can it stop? I cannot boycott Coke for how they treat their Columbian workers only to conversely support a company that is killing Amazonian communities. The companies certainly are not going to stop because it is profitable to do business exactly as they do. People vote with their dollars and the choice is between selling your ethics (and Chinese children) out or being impoverished and malnourished because there is nothing you can eat and those few foodstuffs that come out clean also cost four times as much and are carried only by the organic grocery store three towns over (which means you have to hop in your gas-guzzling car to get there). I want to be a highly ethical person, knowing where my food is grown and if possible by whom. I don't want to think about Emily's foster child being forced to make Nike's or work in rice fields ten hours a day, seven days a week.

It is paralyzing and I feel utterly selfish for it. Were I a better person, I could do without and shop with conscience. Instead, I will drink my Fresca and like it a little less.

Circle of Friends

Melissa says that it is simple that we are getting older, but I am not one to trust simple chronology for answers. The problem - if it can be co called - as I see it is that all of my friends have become couples. There was a time in the not too distant past where I would have said they had become dyads, but that is too psychological, inaccurate, and altogether too pretentious. This may not seem like a problem to the untrained observer. After all, has not the starring cast of this little melodrama always peopled the universe with supporting love interests and the occasional comic relief? Yes, but the reaction was altogether different. For example, never before has Zack rented a cozy little college in the village of Rosendale with his live-in lover of many months. Nor have two separate close friends started dating, as is the case with Stevehen and Melissa. Sure, there was the occasional tryst amongst those I love, but it never resulted in permanence or commitment. Flings change very little among my circle of friends, once the foot-shuffling awkwardness is transcended.

It seems fair to blame my friends being awkwardly to blissfully in love for the fact that Emily and I spent our New Year's Eve alone. To be utterly equitable, it was likely forty percent snow and sixty percent love, though most people had cancelled on us at least a month before our planned party. Come the occasion itself, we were expecting no one and that is precisely who came. This does save on the food budget.

Who am I to chastise others for loving, even if it means that I see them discernibly less frequently of late? Spending too much time with me is symptomatic of a deficit in one's social life, but at least it is one of those pleasant symptoms, like the rosy cheeks the feverish get just before their organs turn to pudding. I have been a part of a couple for the better part of the last eight years and with Emily for the last five. I dare not even imagine counting the number of times I have reneged on social invitations for want of Emily's additional company; I don't chastise them because it would make me the blindest of hypocrites.

Prostrate in afterglow as a new year dawned on us, unease crept over me. Creeping unease, aside from the rosy cheeks, is a poor symptom of a new year. I hadn't even had a drop to drink in the past... well, I cannot actually recall the last time, and so this wasn't my body threatening a hangover for stupidly. (And yes, dear lushes, hangovers are your bodies' way of telling you that you are stupid.) Rather, it is stark to realize that one is entering upon this new beginning - though it is a fairly arbitrary societal beginning contrived to sell perfectly daft looking 2006 sunglasses where the zeroes are lenses - with few prospects. My unoptimistic assessment last year for where I should have been this new years involved my actually having a steady job. Honestly, my prognostication was no more ornate. I kept it simple, just a steady job, and yet I came up wanting.
Things just don't feel fleshed out  
I feel unfulfilled

I feel like I have waited all of this time for my life to begin, only to find my ledger telling me that I hold down two fairly entry level job in a field neither I nor the whole of America regards as particularly pressing anymore, buoyed only by a series of banal dreams and aspirations. I may never backpack Europe and even that is a dream I acquired from TV shows rather than something that comes from my soul. Only my writing is something pure, derived from somewhere between my soul and hands.

I am tired of having to care about money but, unless you people start clicking those Google ads in force, it is not going to cease to be a section of my brain in the immediate future. I am just getting off of a week with no income and exactly a nickel in my savings account. Then there was a sudden snowstorm, costing me about ninety dollars in lost income. I want to be as a child once more and consider a snow day as something to be celebrated instead of a cost I cannot slightly afford.

As I write this, I just got off the phone with a woman from a school for special children, who wanted me to come in for an interview. My phone reception cut out and so we couldn't actually schedule a meeting, but I can't actually afford to take a day off of subbing to go in for an interview for a job for which I am overqualified (and will thus be greatly underpaid) and which I will not take by virtue that I don't fancy being in my car two hours a day. I am bloody tired of this chapter in my life, where I feel I am paying due after due in order to prove some point I no longer remember trying to make.

When I was at Mount Saint Mary, one of my professors - technically I believe he was my advisor, but I appointed to that role a teacher I liked better - said that we should never, ever ask how much money a job offered. We should just be satisfied that, yes, we would get paid something. I think this is utter bollocks, especially given that I have gone to interviews only to be insulted by how little they thought my time was worth. So I called back the children's home and left a message very politely asking how much the position paid. For enough money, I will drive, but it has to insure that I can afford not to work the jobs I have now and possibly offer benefits. Benefits are like jewelry to me now, only for show, but I know the time will come when I will be grateful to have them. I doubt that they will bother returning my call now that I have asked this forbidden question, but I do not wish to work for a place that considers my asking it a sin. I would not go into an interview and refuse to tell them why I would be a good candidate, why should they be different?

Life is not without its promise, however. Literally every time I turn on my phone, someone calls with vague seedlings of hope, the seeds of which I planted in the past few weeks. Technically, my boss at the tutoring center called once, but that was only to tell me that she wanted me to come in an hour later, which is still nice.

The Beacon Academy called to offer me a job as a permanent substitute teacher, though the principal confessed to me that it would mostly just be tutoring.

"I can do that," I assured them, as I have been focusing the glut of my pedagogical energies to exactly that task for the last three months. Still, I try not to get too exciting or put frankly any stock in the idea that this will go further than an interview. The Beacon school district has certainly set a sturdy precedent of interviewing me, even introducing me around as the new hire, and then giving the job to someone else just when I start making plans.

Living north of the equator makes New Year's revelations particularly trying because of the cold bite of the air. I hate the winter, though it is the season into which I was born. It feels as far as I can get from anything that will bring me actual joy. My bliss is buried under the snow and until the grass is growing again without fear of frostbite, I will have to fight off waves of depression with attempts at ineffective logic.

Emily has stated that she believes that all of this is the inevitable chaos before a shift in paradigm, which is her philosophical way of saying that things will be much harder before they become more in line with the world I imagine for her and me. Her life, as has been chronicled here, is rife with such commotion and none of the flickers of light at the end of her tunnels ever seems to be anything but a train. Can I expect too much different in my life?

Maybe the Hudson Valley is simply no longer a place for me. Kate just sent a column and I cannot say that I don't envy aspects of her lifestyle. I would personally do without the revolving bed partners and gravitation to alcoholic beverages, but can't begrudge her the experience. She is in the city, where it seems things happen. No, scratch that, where things never cease to happen. I try to tell myself I do not have the temperament for big city living, but it is actually that I just don't have the guts. At least one has to work at feeling stagnant and alone in a city of millions.

This is not the brightest way to begin a new year of entries and I want to believe I will look back at this entry December 31st and laugh at how my prospects have improved, but it seems a dangerous assumptions. The emotion I like least to inspire in others is disappointment. It kills me and I would do quite a lot to prevent it. I do not wish to disappoint myself and it seems the wisest course of action is not to get too expectant. I walk the razor's edge of cynicism, but I am too jubilant and zen as a matter of course to take that plunge.

Soon in Xenology: New Years.

last watched: American Beauty
reading: The Catcher in the Rye
listening: Keep It Like a Secret

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