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04.13.06 8:54 p.m.

Nowadays men lead lives of noisy desperation.  

-James Thurber


Previously in Xenology: Xen disliked... well, let's be frank here. Xen disliked a lot of people and you just might be one of them. He loves Emily, though.

Lord, Won't You Buy Me a Color TV?

"Do you feel that you are doing what you need to be doing?" Emily asked.

"Yes, very much. I am writing. That is my purpose," I answered, watching the scenery rush by my window. It felt like I was sitting still in the unmoving car and the world was moving around me.

"Do you feel that you have to write anything specific? That there is a purpose to your efforts? One thing you need to write?"

"No, not yet. But I'll just keep writing until I get to that. I'd like to finish the Fates series, however long that will take."
The sheep represents despair

"I don't feel that way. I don't feel fulfilled."

"That is because you are made to help people. You know that. You said it yourself when we left Transamerica. You need to be there for people like [the main character of the movie] Bree. Not transsexuals, exactly, but people who could best be helped by you. Avoiding one's purpose can only lead to pain and strife."

Emily has a friend named April who I believe was born Steve. When we left the theater, M expressed anxiety that she had not been there for April as much as she could have. Coming from a background of women's right and alternate sexual lifestyles, I can think of few people better suited to the task.

Emily asked me to describe my perfect life to her in detail, but I feel that I always speak in detail. I turn my mind to the task and, though I have not thought of this before, it came easily. We live the Lake George/Saratoga region of upstate New York. I write prolifically and my Fates series is being published. I teach a writing course at the local community college. Emily does whatever it is she feels compelled to do. I made this point very clear, but she still pressed, so I said that she works at a teen outreach center and taught a martial arts class at the same community college as I do. We live in a small house, like a cabin from the outside. We go on vacations together, two every summer. One is with my family, because this is tradition. One we randomly select from a multitude of places we individually need to see. The choices are placed in the vase of Janus's head that Emily purchased in Woodstock a few weeks ago. We then spend the whole year planning for this trip. We live close enough to the main street of our town to walk or bike. We are friends with the owner of the local spirituality shop. Emily is active in a coven in the area. We do not want for money or friendship. We go to frequent coffeehouse poetry readings and small folk concerts. We take weekend roadtrips with friends. We act in the community theater. Though I refrain from the musicals, Emily almost always has a starring role and is magnificent and far too humble.

It is a good life, even if it is not yet one within my grasps. Emily applauded my fantasy life for so closely matching something that could truly be. I didn't bother with being a millionaire or driving a Porsche. These things are not nearly as important as feeling purposeful and part of an artistic community.

Judge Not

I realize that I judge people too quickly, which is to say, within the span fifteen seconds of seeing them for the first time.

Emily had been telling me about her new work friend for weeks, though the first time that it stuck was when I asked why she suddenly had a turquoise ring. This new friend, Lauren, had given it to M one day at work upon learning about Emily's father's terminal condition. Emily, she said, needed it more. That paints a rather intricate framework of the giver, one that realized I had been relying on too heavily when I actually met her.

Her hair was less blonde than I had pictured, in that it was dark brown. She was taller. She was not wearing a sundress or exotic jewelry. She looked, at first glance, utterly someone other than the girl in my head. Still, I was as cordial as can be. This was Emily's friend after all and she tends to be rather selective in that regard. To be anything less than an utter gentleman would be to insult Emily's tastes. Plainly, as she chose me, she has impeccable taste.

During our meal at one of those chain restaurants with wacky thing on its walls, Friend Lauren started talking about her home, where she worked at a haunted bookstore and had joined paranormal investigators as they examined it during the off season. She also confessed relief that we didn't think her odd for having seen auras as a child. Now, these stories seemed completely at odds with my prejudices - people who see things like this are supposed to be more like Emily and me - and yet her sincerity was beyond question.

How many other people have I unconsciously written off in this way? How many times have people written me off? The tragedy is that I will never know those people who might have otherwise been dear friends, but for the fact I ignored them.

Road from Perdition

"Since I started substitute teaching, I have felt it is my responsibility to yell at anyone under eighteen who is behaving in a stupid fashion." I motion to the underage boy who is climbing into a large potted plant in the mall outside the restaurant's window. "Really, someone should tell him that his friends aren't actually impressed when he acts like he ate too much lead paint as a baby... Except I am clearly wrong." His equally idiotic friend was video taping his antic with an expensive digital video camera. This is the mall where people under eighteen were banned by decree on the weekends and these two boys are serving as excellent examples as to why this policy was instituted and why it will be continued well into the future. Older people look on at them with undisguised disgust, though the boys themselves are oblivious. It is a matter of time until the security comes.

Later, leaving the mall, I see the main idiot climbing a fence and proclaiming that he is "the King of Narnia." Plainly security needs to escort idiots off mall property and not merely into the parking lot.
Had we become dumb animals?  
Get behind me!

"Aslan the lion? He is Aslan? Do you think he even has the slightest idea what the hell he is saying? This is probably going to end up of their fucking MySpace," I moped.

"I love you, Thomm," Keilaina grinned.

It had been a full evening of Katamari Damacy punctuated by a trip to the nice Italian restaurant in the mall, where we discussed how they entered their relationship a bit too openly - there is only so much you actually want to know about your partner's romantic history prior to you - and the concept of Hell. The topics were largely unrelated. My assertion, as stated in my story "Suspension," that Hell isn't a place but rather the state of existing outside the divine grace was met with thoughtful nods. This pleased me, since they are good Christians and I am a godful heathen. Hell is here and now as much as Heaven, though they may extend beyond this life. My cosmology incorporates pantheism and Buddhism, so I won't extend my explanation further unnecessarily. Emily put it best in one of her poems where she wrote "you can take me from heaven to hell in the space of a heartbeat."

Suffice it to say, halfwits with digital video cameras never leave perdition.

Fight Club

There is this conception amongst our friends that Emily and I never fight and they are mostly right. We don't fight in the way portrayed by popular media, screaming ourselves hoarse and throwing dishes. Instead, we have these aching but empathic conversations replete with slow glycerin tears. I know Emily would occasionally prefer a knockdown yelling fight, but I couldn't survive it and remain the same person in this relationship. I do not think the sacrifice of verbal violence is too great a one to require for my emotional sanctity.

She is under a lot of pressure and our relationship was suffering for it because it was the only thing with enough flexibility to suffer. She can't bend in her relationship with her father or her work schedule. I was pulling back by degrees, which is nothing I am proud to admit. Perhaps it was a matter of pride. As a good student of Tao, I know that two ships can never meet if they are both retreating. I should have ridden the wind and waves to be closer to her because I knew this was what she needed. Only pride got in the way because, no matter how much I intellectually knew she was riding off to be with her dying father or nourish her soul, my heart only saw her moving away from me. Instead of expending more energy to go after her, I started to feel like I was with someone who could never really be with me.

In the middle of our tearful discussions, there is still the overarching awareness that we are two people who quite like one another. We will be crying and will make parenthetical asides to underscore our outside awareness (i.e. "we should just have a montage right here to some Sarah McLaughlin song and that is why we would make a good show") and then return to the lachrymose point we were making within a blink and without losing any of our emotional impact.

All of this catharsis necessitated that we get something in our stomachs to ground us. I offered to drive her to New Paltz and include her in my tentative afternoon plans of hanging out with Dan Kessler, Zack, and Cristin for an aborted party, but Emily wanted it to just be us. She dressed in the sort of elegant hippy clothes that she would do well by me to wear constantly and perfume that had undertones of vanilla, which is to say that I was eager to forget dinner and skip right to dessert.

I prefer this sort of resolution where we still love one another and nothing harsh needed be said. It is harder, certainly, but much better.

Soon in Xenology: Grad school drama.

last watched: Ice Age 2: The Meltdown
reading: History of Magic and the Occult
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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