Thomm Quackenbush, author

03.02.06 6:55 p.m.

Before enlightenment,
I chopped wood and carried water.
After enlightenment,
I chopped wood and carried water.  

-Zen saying

 



Previously in Xenology: Xen and Emily argued like a psych textbook. Xen earned his nickname.

Zen Debris

The night is frigid, but I could ignore it from inside The Oasis in New Paltz. Unfortunately, people packed into the small space, quickly making the venue all together too humid for comfort and the doors were thus opened to the elements.

Zack and Cristin talked Cat, who is the lead singer of Zen Debris and Zack's first girlfriend that I acknowledge. It has been a decade since I first met her at my sixteenth birthday party, where I was duct taped to a cement pole in my grandmother's basement and Cat threatened to kiss me. I acknowledge in advance how bad that sounds, but it was my sixteenth birthday, after all. How remiss we would have been without such shenanigans.

Cat and I have been friends off and on for the decade, though there was nothing dramatic that curtailed our friendship. It was simply a matter of distance and the fact that, whenever she would move hours away, we weren't much in contact anyway. Still, we spent a lot of time together when she was dating Zack, as she had a car and license and we did not. When I because interested in girls that went to her high school, Cat was there as well. She is also a Pagan, so we tended to run into one another through religious circles as well. There had been a few intense moments between us. The ones that jump most readily to mind involve witchcraft, but I wonder if she would say the same. Despite the variety and connectedness of our social circles, I could not off-hand remember the last time I had actually seen her in the flesh.
Zen Debris  
Zen Debris

This night, Cat was dolled up in a spiked collar. I don't know if this is day to day wear for her, but it does appear is press photos for the band. A certain style must be maintained when one describes one's music as "Dark World Music, Tribal Industrial, or Electronic/Organic." From what I had heard on-line, the music is an interesting amalgam that almost seems at the brink of not working musically. And yet, at that edge, it's really rather good, if ill suited to a bar. Nevertheless, spiked leather collars seem the ideal fashion accessory to compliment music so described.

Emily arrived a half an hour after I did, early enough that she missed none of the music but too late to cop that she was with the band - as Zack, Cristin, and I did - to avoid the admission charge. I took her away under the pretense of being starving, but I just actually hadn't seen her in a while and wanted some quality time before resuming crowd interaction. And if that quality time happened to be covered in mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce, all the better.

Cat was thrilled with my haircut, referring to me as Iggy Pop a dozen times to various members of the throng, only a few of whom I recognized. To my shame, I had to Google pictures of Mr. Pop when I returned home to confirm that her assertion had merit. Emily just felt Cat was flirting by pointing this out. I don't see why it can't be both, though I didn't notice any flirting and, as stated above, and pop culturally illiterate enough to need to do an image search for a famous musician. I trust Emily's feminine intuition, which I feel is akin to a psychic ability my testosterone suppresses, particularly when it comes to flirtation.

The first band on the docket was a ska band called Lemonade Grenade. As they were all under seventeen and The Oasis is a bar, they were told by the proprietors that they would not be playing this night or any for the next four and a half years to prevent legal problems. They came anyway, bring with them quite a lot of their parents and more equipment than seemed prudent. This was more so irksome because it displaced all of Zen Debris gear to the back of the club, next to the saki bar.

"It will be good when they finished," I yelled to Emily. Yelling is the only way to speak over squelchy ska. "Then this place will clear out of people older than forty."

"You are a bad, bad person," she chastised, though this was precisely what happened after a cover of a Sublime song. They were not bad, I admit. It must have been quite the teenage ego boost to be able to brag on Monday morning that you had played a show at a bar in a college town, though I am sure they left out that their fathers were videotaping the proceedings and keeping the drunks away from the solitary female in the group, a diminutive and aloof saxophonist.

There was another band between Lemonade Grenade and Zen Debris that very literally played in the doorway for want of more space. I did not manage to pay attention to them, though I was assured later that they had been too good for this situation.

Owing to sleep deprivation and the fact that I had to drive myself home, I did not actually get to see Zen Debris, though all concerned assured me that this was for the best. They could not do a proper sound check and so there was quite a lot of feedback and screeching that rather keenly interfered with the ambient electronica mood. Had they gone first, as had been my understanding, and had they been able to properly set up their equipment, the effect would have been far different. The saving grace for Cat and her band seems to have been that, by the time they went on, the population of The Oasis was less than half of what it had been for Lemonade Grenade and those that remained had a head start on a proper hangover and were too sedate to have paid much note.

Emily and I did not sleep when we returned to the apartment, though we did not do what you are imagining either. We ended up having this exhausted but crying-cathartic conversation about our relationship. She kept telling me how much she loved me and that she would do anything to make me happy. My main issue is that I feel she neglects her happiness and me. I feel that she is working herself stupid so she can have money to go to India. She is sacrificing more and more time that she could spend with me so she can spend six whole weeks without me and I can't stop that from hurting me.

This came about because I made some jackass joke about inviting Chanterelle, my invisible paramour, to live at the apartment while Emily is gone. Joking is how I cope. If I am not joking about something, I am not okay. I told her that I thought she should pursue her life, that part of loving someone was realizing that you have to give them freedom. I said, very honestly, that I didn't believe her when she said I was the most important thing in her life. She is the most important thing and I believe that she would leave me if it meant achieving her goals. I think she agreed. Tears erase my memory, unfortunately, so I am doing a poor job transcribing this. This conditional amnesia used to make my infrequent fights with Katie surreal and fruitless, as I would start sobbing along with her and have no idea what was actually wrong. All that was left was that I loved her and that I was sorry if I had said something hurtful.

I know my love for Emily seems calm and logical. This is because people look at a little window and see smoothness, no great ridges of passion. Their window is too small, and they are looking at it the wrong way. In fact, that smooth spot is part of a mountain. It is so vast that you just have to relax and let it flow.

I know that I fell asleep next to Emily, though only because I woke up wearing none of my sleep accessories and was surprised. We slept until noon the next day, but it was worth it to actually feel that we stood on firm ground and that I was, indeed, loved.

Xen's Debris

Premature enlightenment can be lethal to one's social life. There is this girl I knew in high school and with whom I have recently come back into contact through a social networking website. I have made a few attempts at conversation over the months because she was a compelling girl in my social sphere and I appreciated her ethics. She was not the sort of get trapped in adolescent troubles, yet was still quite a lot of fun. Her on-line profile leads me to believe she has only improved with age, further becoming the girl with whom I was a friend.

The problem is, she does not seem to have much interest in me and I can only imagine this was because I came to certain spiritual insights too early to have processed that what worked well for me would not necessarily transfer to others, even others who I prized through similarity to me. So I tried to talk Wicca up to her because, well, I liked witchcraft and I liked her (though, and despite the fact that she was always attractive, never in a romantic fashion). The transitive property does not extend to religion and she was rightly off-put. Though I do not think that I proselytized in quite the fashion one might imagine, the point stands that it is a creepy and borderline disrespectful thing to have done.

I still do not know that my spiritual development and cognitive maturity are at proximal levels. I think I started feeling spiritual in the seventh grade, though I wasn't at all sure what one did with these sensations. I should also note, for the record, that I decided I was a Pagan when I was eleven, so this so-called enlightenment evolved independently of my religion, though both have since informed one another.

This boy with whom I was a friend in sixth grade returned to the middle school for a visit after having left to go to Catholic school. In sixth grade, I somehow felt it was appropriate to inform this boy that I believed he was a homosexual. I'm sure it was an idea that my mother put in my head, but he definitely was of the gay tribe. Meeting him years later would prove me every bit correct, incidentally, but that is not remotely the point. He took my honest, though ineloquent, statement as an insult. Homosexuals were creatures to be feared and reviled in the realm of middle school, though I never really got why.

When he saw me that day in my seventh grade English class, he jokingly suggested that I was going to harass him in some way. I said that I felt no need to harass him, as I was enlightened. Only I didn't mean to say that I was enlightened and didn't realize I felt that way until I said it. I just wanted to say that I had no reason to harass him. He gave me a strange look and I think he would have preferred that I hate him for his closeted sexuality.

This all sounds very arrogant, I know. I am not saying that I know a single secret of the universe or that I am somehow elevated above the riff-raff. I am pretty sure I am the riff-raff. I am just riff-raff that sits and thinks about Zen koans and sometimes smiles in stressful situations. It is better for me - or rather, it is natural for me - but it is not for everyone. It took a while before I was mature enough to accept that my way was not necessarily better and that I wasn't being helpful by trying to share it with friends and loved ones.

Months after Kate left me, we had a conversation about what she could appreciate from her friends and not want herself. She was cycling through her friends and what aspects of their lives were very important to them, but that she wanted none of. When she came to me, she paused, and I said, "You do not want my spirituality." She agreed that I had hit the nail on the head, though she may have said it in a more Kate-like fashion and called me "buster."

I like to think I am beyond impressing lovers with my worldview now, but Emily does not give me the opportunity. She is a spiritually active person in her own right and in a way I largely comprehend, apart and because of her Pagan faith.

Most recently, I have felt that my spiritual life was contrasting with my social life in Woodstock. The day after Emily and I had our cathartic, post-Zen Debris, conversation, we corralled Cristin, Zack and Dan Kessler to come buy hippy goods with us. Emily and I were paying for purchases at a Hindu store and Zack said he was going to the music store and that we should find him when we finished. Only it turned out that he went to the music store on the other side of town in ten-degree weather rather than waiting another minute in the warm, nag champa scented air of this store. Spirituality is nothing that appeals to Zack, at least not in a formal way. I have had a few interactions with him when I forgot his atheism. Zack recoils about anything spiritual or paranormal. Given that Cristin is Catholic to the best of my knowledge, I wonder if this poses a problem between them. The divine is a realm of human experience that has inspired and will continue to inspire so much beauty. So much music. To recoil against it baffle me because it is not my way. I am not Hindu, yet I find the religion breathtakingly beautiful and passionate. Powerful. If I fell into the River Ganges, I would feel spiritually cleansed, though it isn't my belief system. I would then immediately seek out a shower to be physically cleansed. That is some dirty water.

I do not fault agnosticism or atheism. To each his or her own. Yet I have trouble stomaching fundamentalism, the idea that only one person can be right. One doesn't have to believe in any conglomeration of Sky Men to hear the pulse of the divine. This is easy for me to say, however, because I have found my way to listen for it.

Perhaps I do not understand Zack's way, which is alarming given how warmly I feel toward him. Emily made some comment about wanting a real job so she could be financially comfortable. Zack scoffed. Cristin and he have decided that they are going to be self-employed come next year, she making films and he playing guitar. I can write, but I think I'll be keeping my day job. I have ethics, but I also have disinclination toward poverty because I am an artist. Not much guitaring is done in the daylight hours.

On the car ride home after dropping our friend at their respective houses, as Emily and I discussed this, she asked if I believe in a god; what my creation myth was.

"My creation myth is the Big Bang. I think there is divinity in everything I see, but I don't believe there is only one anthropomorphic deity who created the universe." It is contrary to some of what Emily believes, yet the love and respect allows us to share this freely. I don't understand the slightest bit of Dan's music. I listen and I enjoy, but lack the capacity. That he has different songs is foreign to me. Yet I appreciate the music, because it is a crucial aspect of who he is. It informs his persona. To know and love him is to know and love his music, even that parts that are baffling. Can one feel distaste for an essential part of their friends? Can that cause anything but strife? Kate in that long ago conversations didn't shun that I was spiritual, merely affirmed that she was not likewise.

A few weeks ago, Melissa questioned my religion when I complained about missing Emily because she was doing something with her group. I told her that I am very devout, but I realize that my religion has become so much as part of who I am and my daily life that I almost forget about it, I am practicing it so much. I pray constantly, like prescribed in Franny and Zooey. I wear my prayers around my neck, silver incantations. I see the divine in the flicker of light in eyes, in the darkness. I see my gods in my flittering fingers on these black plastic keys, so yes, I do spells. I remember being overjoyed the moment my brain escaped the larval teaching that a star in a circle is an evil symbol. It became something I associated with peace and beauty, a symbol to whose bearers I could speak. This was in middle school and my friend did not really grasp at what I was getting.

The other night at the Indian restaurant, I felt like I was seen for the first time in a long while. A woman exiting the door with her boyfriend caught my eye and I caught hers and we just unabashedly looked at one another until she was far in the parking lot. I don't know why I kept looking or why she did, but it felt. I think she looked away so as to not arouse her boyfriend into action or notice. My friends noticed. I wanted to run out to her in the parking lot because it was a genuine interaction and it meant something, though I couldn't know what. Perhaps I feared that she would tell me I misunderstood, but I didn't go to her. I cannot even tell you what she looked like, which makes it all seem hollow, but it is hallow. She was something of me and I of her. We saw each other, people out of out ant suits bravely. She was someone, important. Maybe I only want to think she was important because it implies a better world where there is mystery and purpose.

I remember reading one of Jane Roberts' Seth books in Nova Scotia with Kate six years ago and feeling that I wasn't really myself or my body, but something greater and blue just behind and beyond my skin. I have since articulated this in the trappings of video games, a universal language. Who I am is the man at the keyboard. Who you see is the Sim, having his needs met and reacting to my true self through pictograms. It tends to make one care considerably less about a bad day at work.

Yet I feel a clinging embarrassment for my every attempt at premature enlightenment of the unwilling, like trying to explain the taste of an orange before one has the words. The only way is to shove a used rind in their mouths and that cannot be sufficient. Bitter and foul tasting, they doubt your sanity and the validity of your experience.

Soon in Xenology: Our Cancer Year.

last watched: March of the Penguins
reading: The Metamorphosis
listening: The Greatest Songs Ever Written (By Us)

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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