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10.07.06 7:38 p.m.

Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking.  

- Goethe


Previously in Xenology: Xen and Emily were artful Pagans.

NOTE: An attempt has been made at the overt request of the organizers to remove all identifying information about the festival, though the results they want seem far more insulting that my original respectful treatment. Though this is (or was) a glowing review of my experience, they wanted this entry - along with those about Free Spirit Gathering, an entirely public festival over which they have no control - deleted entirely. This is the concession I was unwilling to make. Those who try to expunge history deny the truth.


Drizzle permeates the long weekend Emily and I spend at [NAME REDACTED] III. This is the first year I attend the event. Emily says that this is because I wasn't interested in prior years, but I think we were just too busy. Even if objectively I would not want to spend a fall weekend camping, I would always want to have an adventure with Emily.

[NAME REDACTED] is an annual private Pagan festival held on [NAME REDACTED O] and [NAME REDACTED C]'s property in [NAME REDACTED]. They come from a teaching tradition wherein a student must successfully lead a class for advancement; creating this festival just seemed the most economical way to have a handful of the clan's students to play professor. The mission statement this year is to foster community, but for me this breaks down to hanging out around the fire with Pagans I actually like (and some I do not know but who come highly recommended by virtue of their presence at the festival). Everyone brings food and teaches classes, but arguing politics and spirituality around the glowing embers is my community.

While this festival does wisely have an age restriction, the children of [NAME REDACTED] wander. The rule the children must abide is that any adult counts as a parent and our decrees must be obey. A new child tries to test this when he drops popcorn on the porch and [NAME REDACTED] tells him to pick it up.

"I don't have to," he barks, tiny hands on hips, "my mom's a witch!"

[NAME REDACTED L] points out that so was she and everyone else here and he would be cleaning it up now. He quivers and obeys without another word, his bluff called. By the following day, he has fallen more in line and listens to adults without much argument and is thereby having a much better time.
My goddess

This is supposed to be a camping festival like Free Spirit Gathering in June. Despite having a tent, M and I opt to squat in an abandon bungalow on an air mattress. I don't quite understand why it is abandon, it is fairly hospitable and could easily be sold; the living situation on this property so closely resembles a commune and I am positive someone could make a better use of the building. The only thing I can image is that the right somebody has yet to be found. Still, I am grateful to have an enclosed area with a space heater and find I have no trouble sleeping. Emily's body against mine provides more than comfort, despite the staccato snoring of the heater. In fact, the end of each day finds me exhausted and eager for the rest, bundled as tightly as can be against Emily.
Cozy squatting

Dives Dives arrives Saturday morning before I wake up. The night before, I had made generic and impersonally lascivious remarks regarding her scheduled yoga class this morning. (Not that I intended to participate. I was going to eat biscuit and gravy and watch. Despite fireside comments to the contrary, I was not going to film it.) It was cancelled not simply by virtue that there existed dwindling interest in group sun salutations before seven AM but because Dives Dives was wearing a wrist brace. One of her autistic students had attacked her, fracturing her arm. She takes this as an omen that a career change is in the cards, that she needs a break and could hear nothing less subtle then splitting bones. Her injury is damaging enough that she cannot teach yoga, but not so terrible that she cannot play a show that night; a guitar requiring much less strength and mobility than the down dog pose.

Through the day, I try to feel a connection with Dives Dives because it seems so long since we've really been together and I want to bridge that gap in three words. She is affectionate with [NAME REDACTED L] and others, but it does me no good to feel jealousy. She gets from them what she presently needs at a time when she is being forced into a great many social and professional changes. It is selfish and petty that I wish she took more comfort from Emily and me. Do I merely recall greater intimacy than has ever truly existed? Do I wish it?
Dives Dives  
I think Dives Dives would prefer I not lust after yoga

At times, and not merely owing to this, I find myself feeling lonely at [NAME REDACTED], though there are more than twenty people floating around. Emily found herself teaching nearly all the children's programming, since everyone who signed up to teach a class - and thereby had it put on the schedule - neglected to tell anyone that they weren't attending the festival, leaving all the classes in Emily's lap and requiring that she spend her time away from me. The attendees are largely each other's clan, generations and degrees of students and teachers functioning as a substitute family. It is difficult to deduce just how everyone is interrelated without a firm grounding in the jargon; even I have trouble. I am not of the clan, just the ubiquitous and solitary lover of a clan member. I don't much want to be clan and find no place in my life to call any of these people "teacher" or "student." I like them well enough - don't mistake me - but would absolutely bristle if any regarded me in a superior or subordinate relationship. It is not my path. They are close knit, as one would expect, and function as distant cousins at their worst. An absence of a composite person forces me to a spectator role much more than I wish so I go to the bungalow and finish rereading The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a book about more fully participating in one's life. I do not ignore the irony.

I end up only taking classes taught by direct clan, those I have worshiped with before. Others try to tell me of the kabbalah or beginner psychic powers, but I wander away in search of Emily or to visit the bushes and return to find the rest in the class engaged in meditation and so help with the next meal or play with children rather than interrupt to reintegrate myself into the class. This might have been for the best; most everyone in the clan has long since aged out of beginner classes in psychic powers and how many times can one really listen to someone justify their current closeted nature with memories of several past lives ended on the gallows or pyre for being a witch? I always shift in my seat not because I too remember the flames but know too keenly the history that contradicts.

In lieu of a main ritual Saturday night, we gather around the fire and enact skits poking fun at Pagan foibles and clichés. This is truly more my speed, though I would have much preferred being in Emily's group and not merely because her topic was "Bumpersticka Wicca." Another group had a topic on how to kick people to the head in a caring way and [NAME REDACTED O] was going to use this opportunity to essentially call out every in attendance individually, personally, and publicly. Had another group member, [NAME REDACTED A], not convinced him that this was highly offensive and akin to murdering the festival and a great many friendships, this would be a very different entry.

After the skits, we roast marshmallows over the fire and make smores. Some of the children are still in the stage where roasted marshmallows must be blackened and flaming, but they don't taste it anyway. I have two and, though the rush of sugar shocks my system, making them ranks as one of my favorite parts of [NAME REDACTED]. I require but simple things.

I spend the rest of the night floating between the kitchen and porch, listening as people get drunker and their personalities shift. Is this closer or farther from their true selves? The alcohol melts their barriers and even their syntax is alien, how they spoke in a less serene upbringing. I don't probe or take advantage of the lowered inhibitions, much as I would like to better grasp whom these people really are and what brought them here. I just watch them and note their reactions and interactions.

I am a voyeur at my root. I do not mean in any sexual way, obviously. If I were peeping in someone's bedroom window - a distinct unlikelihood - I would be doing it to see how they lived and hear the conversations they had when they thought no one was watching. The drunkenness of the clan is a close replica, allowing me to creep much closer without being witnessed.

Once, seven years ago, I was in a car with Katie's mother on our way to find Katie. I was looking out of the window, watching the houses fly by and I remarked, "Do you ever wonder what your life would have been like if you had lived in those houses, with a different family?" I was in my idly philosophical stage at that point, which I remember annoying Katie to no end. Her mother found this thought both intriguing and peculiar, I remember.

I still think in this vein, though I say it less often. Am I am your Humble Narrator because of my specific upbringing or do my genetics predispose me to being a writer? I think if I had grown up in a conflict free environment, I would have felt far less of an impetus to write. Ease does not produce art of any color. The stories I hear, beer soaked though they are, convince me that I am far from the only artist here.

I eventually find Emily on the porch having an intimate and private conversation with [NAME REDACTED C], so I do my best to eavesdrop. She knows me well enough to assume I would do this and would tell me if she wished me elsewhere, knowing I would obey without feeling slighted. My listening is interrupted by one of those of the melting barriers, who shares in prolix detail a foot fungus she had. It is plain that my attention is not evenly or favorably divided toward her, but another drinker - her student - presses her to further details. The woman keeps trying to pull Emily and [NAME REDACTED C] away from their important conversation and into one on fungus.
Orien and Dives Dives  
Much more my speed

When I wake Sunday, things seem slower and less festive. Perhaps it is the rainier weather, but old arguments and rivalries flare up. I was in high school when most of these began and don't care for them now. Perhaps too many simply have hangovers, which I frankly hope rather than that their community frayed in fewer than 48 hours. Even Emily, who had been up for a while before I walked out of the bungalow door, seems standoffish and I keep my distance.

I have to always check myself against others. Do they feel as I do? Is it all just me? Am I crazy? There is always the fear that I might just have contracted it, that the fact that a number of the girls I date in my adolescence came from or went to mental hospitals had as much to do with them as with me. Was I attracted to them because I recognized something in them that I refused to recognize in myself? Were they my proxies or were the crazy ones simply the most memorable ones? Did I only want the ones that burned the brightest and most erratically because I refused to burn that way myself? Then I remember that I had pink hair and joked about ill tempered pixies flying around my head.

I sat in the pavilion tent and wrote in order to be present. I couldn't get over the murkiness of the day and wished not to find myself in anyone's way. Nonetheless, I wanted to at least seem available if someone should want my company.

Things seemed more normal once the children performed a play about the elements and gods. There are few things cuter on this ball of blue and green than a boy wearing a paper plate with a sock taped to it to approximate Ganesh. It seemed to cheer everybody up and I was more than a little surprised when Emily told me that they had written all of the text. These kids were clearly taught really well by their parents to have at least a rote grasp on these spiritual matters.

After the play, [NAME REDACTED O] palms me a sun pendant. I accept it without a word, only looking at it once he is onto someone else. "What's this about?" I ask Emily.

"Orien's giving things to everyone."

"Why'd I get the sun?" I ask, but she doesn't know. With him, it could be deeply significant and well thought out or utterly arbitrary. I never get a chance to figure out which.

Many of the visitors trickled out in the afternoon and it became clear that, despite advertised intentions, this festival would be ending a day early. A clan meeting was ordered around the fire. A woman named [NAME REDACTED C2] and I are the only two left in the pavilion tent. We look pensively at one another, uncertain of what needs discussing outside our presence and worried how long this could take. I feel as though I am waiting in the principal's office. After a few minutes, Emily pops her head in and informs us we're supposed to be at the meeting too.

The crux of the meeting is to discuss what worked and the multitude of things that will need improvement for [NAME REDACTED] IV. People were not respectful of the property, neglected to donate anything, did not give the teachers proper attention, or did not help out. There is apparently quite a lot that needed saying. I interject only once in the hour we spend around the fire, but agree with many others. It all seemed very personal then and it seems some of it was; save for the fact that it would at least be very difficult to convene this quorum any other time, I feel we all could have benefited from some distance and reflection. In the ended, all that we immediately decide is that we may eventually allow outsiders and vendors and that there should only be one communal meal.

Every time anyone refers to all present at the council of [NAME REDACTED], I want them to clarify that I am included in this. While it isn't something I would think to seek out, if they happen to impress the title upon me for being an informed seat filler, I am more than happy to oblige. Of course, I find no appropriate way to work this question into conversation and opt to feel included until informed otherwise.

More people trickle out and Emily and I help clean up more. Left with a handful of people, we gather on the porch and Emily says we will leave after they smoke one cigarette. Given how fiercely against smoking Emily has been since her father was diagnosed with cancer, I am a bit surprised to hear her use cigarettes as a unit of chronological measurement. There isn't anything inherently wrong with it, it is at least as accurate as coffee spoons, but the words sound wrong from her mouth.

One cigarette turns into half a pack as the last of the members gossip and dissect the communication barrier that they created or broke down over this weekend. They have good communication skills about what terrible communication skills they had, which is a world apart from just having bad communication skills. I mostly listen and curl up in my chair as lethargy finds me; while I know most of the people being discussed, I do not feel as comfortable getting in their heads and analyzing potential motives. Actually, I feel perfectly comfortable doing that - it is how I spend much of my time - but I don't feel comfortable sharing those theories for fear of being wrong or revealing too much.

In the end, I do not feel as renewed as I do returning from Free Spirit. Perhaps this is because I saw too many of the wires and strings used to hold everything together; it is harder to believe in the magic when one sees how much work is involved in the trick. It was also too familiar to be quickly transformative. I hang around at [NAME REDACTED C] and [NAME REDACTED O]'s for very mundane reasons so it does not inspire in me the instant sacredness I find at Free Spirit. But I am now a part of this festival so, if it doesn't transform me, at least I can be a force transforming it.

Soon in Xenology: Two Carolyns. Pumpkins.

last watched: Little Miss Sunshine
reading: The Catcher in the Rye
listening: Tidal

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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