Thomm Quackenbush, author

11.30.06 9:05 p.m.

It is harmful to make a multitude of foes, But it is ten times worse To give up the friendship of the worthy.  

-Tirukkural

 



Previously in Xenology: Xen applied for jobs.

Mutant Enemy

I don't appreciate the drive toward melodrama. I understand it well enough, I just dislike it. People need to feel their lives are exciting, by force if possible. They will scapegoat anyone around them to prolong the tempest or create a new one. If you recognize these qualities in a friend, mark well that your time is coming and that this person will exaggerate an offense against you so the can continue to play the part of aggrieved victim in the cosmic play. It is comfortable to feel persecuted and play long games of war against people that are only trying to live.

These dramatics often surround themselves with people inclined to believe the drama and feed into it. Without a credulous audience, they have no reason to continue. I like to imagine that they wind down and sit quietly until they see someone on the horizon. Then they burst into crocodile tears, like the little boy who falls off the jungle gym and only weeps once he is sure mommy is paying attention.

The cleverest bit about these chronic histrionics is their variety of costumes. They can play almost anything as long as it gets them attention. They can even play at enlightenment, bearing all markings but one. The moment they catch on that you aren't buying into this latest role, they will turn on you. The stereotypical high school cheerleader is no more petulant and catty then you will find your erstwhile sedate associate. Suddenly, you note that they have found a new way to strengthen their group and that is by exclusion. Even and especially if you were never a part of their group and never wished to be, they will make a point of acting as thought they are rejecting you.

Usually, it is a simple matter of writing these people or groups out of one's life as a waste of energy. Escaping the trappings of New Age pabulum and falling into that of psychology, these are psychic vampires. If you allow them to treat you as a feeding trough, you will note how quickly your quality of life crashes to their delight. Your misery is sauce to them. If they can wreck your life, they can swoop in and be all you have. If it reminds you of an abusive relationship, there is a damned good reason.

But what is to be done when these people cannot be avoided, when they wear the masks of supervisors, religious associates, or even family members? I - and I imagine most of you - have encountered more than a few of each (except family members, where I can only think of one who shares none of my blood). What is to be done when it is no one you can just excise from your life? Each solution is individual and single use.

The sticking point, I find, is when you recognize a situation developing and you are not directly involved. Until they are in the crosshairs, it is difficult, if not impossible, to see the plotting. I think the behavior is instinctive and they aren't consciously trying to be utter bastards. I have heard those caught in their undertow express shock at their own behavior afterward, parroting that they were just following orders.

I personally have a hard time watching this. I am a hybrid of the antediluvian sloth and its modern cousin. Most of the time, I am more than content to hang upside down from a tree and observe the world with quiet reflection. However, the minute I suspect someone of trying to harm me or mine, I will bring my three-toed clawed wrath upon their head and leave them for the trilobites.

I may be a little confused as to what animals coexisted, but the point stands. The moment one decides they are going to act against my friends or myself and try to introduce drama into my life, we have a very definite problem. I am not looking to stroke egos or justify existences by a prolonged feud and feel pity their life is such that they feel they need this. But this pity doesn't mean I am going to put up with this game.

With that in mind, I advise my dear readers (particularly those that have taken all this personally since it isn't, this is just stuff I muse while around high school kids) to take a deep breath, spank their inner moppet, and really examine if their attempted battles are at all worthwhile. Did someone actually wrong you or are you just trying to cause conflict? What is the real cause of the trouble and have you made it much worse with your histrionic behavior? If you keep finding trouble, it just might be because you keep looking for it, delighting in the offense you can find in the innocuous.

(I can't wait to see how the hits to this site jump as even the kid who I accidentally spilled milk on and to whom I profusely apologized in the third grade sends people here in an effort to stir up trouble. Hypothetical Billy, accept the damned apology and move on with your life. I'm sure your wife wishes you could stop carry an eight-year-old boy on your back everywhere. It is just unseemly.)

Nostomania

So much is about to change and you know what I'm doing? I am downloading a new copy of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer soundtrack. I pine silently for the ethical and social simplicity of my adolescence, which I am rapidly leaving behind for an uncertain adulthood. It gets you by degrees. First you move to your own place, then you start caring about wasted electricity (and not for fun environmental reasons), then you somehow think about retirement, finally you find yourself plucking out errant white hairs. I'm pretty sure death follows fast, but you don't know since senility gets there first.

As socially maladroit as I am sure the following statement will seem, Buffy was a reliable staple of my high school years and into college, a gel-coated archetype. If she could deal with the man to whom she lost her virginity immediately becoming a soulless monster, who was I to sob over a girlfriend that simply cheated on me with my friend? When I battled college professors with terminal passive aggressiveness and an overactive red felt pen, she was rallying her energy and troops for a professor who truly wanted her dead. In the fifth season, Buffy jumped from a tower, sacrificing herself to save her friends and family. Mere weeks later, my friend Todd hung himself without such lofty hopes. I honestly no longer remember which death seemed more real, or who got the lion's share of my tears. Buffy, like some procrastinating Christ, came back after three months, a summer of rest. Todd did not. Buffy was the convenient metaphor around which things found a context and, at its worst, was a momentary diversion and escape, if not a passion play teaching morals bereft of desert dust. Just a few weeks ago, I saw someone wearing a shirt reading "What Would Buffy Do?" and realized that I didn't know anymore. I lost the long hair. I graduated three times. I wear a suit jacket to work and can converse lucidly about classroom discipline. I am no longer a shadow of that sixteen-year-old boy whose adrenaline pumped Tuesday nights at eight and I miss him.

The show and character dealt with adult issues: the death of a parent, acting as an adult, menial jobs, and the like; it was not merely "monster of the week" as was so often the pat derision of critics who refused to get past the title. Over the years since it went off the air, I've been privy to more than a few issues without Buffy holding my hand an hour a week. Shaking the hand of a retired and retiring Catholic priest and agreeing to work for him, I try to find the foreshadowing, try to imagine what Buffy would be anticipating in accepting a job as an English teacher at a prep school for kids with learning disabilities and rich parents. A new Hellmouth to contrast with the sylvan? Some kind of demon worshiping cult among the faculty? And I realize, not for the first time, that Buffy isn't the star of this story and she wouldn't be in the position to accept a low salaried English teaching job offset by the free room, board, and benefits.

This handshake begins a new life tens of miles from familiarity, far enough that I am isolated, but not so much that I can't be at my parents' home or with my friends in an hour.
Emily  
"Somebody's getting married!"

This school stressed its conservativism repeatedly, first when I dared to wear an earring to the interview (a tiny hoop in my ear and only because I forgot I had it in; I wear minimal jewelry to interviews). That my earring is forbidden is nothing. That my haircut is not short enough for their likings quite another, but it can be resolved with some effort and compromise. So we come to Emily. The dominant morality of the school forbids unmarried cohabitation in order to "not set a bad example for the children." Heaven forefend the children be exposed to domestic partnership without legal entanglement. I argued as well as I could, trotting out deathbed promises to Emily's father (I left out promises to Quest). What it came down to is that the school did not require proof, just our solemn assurance. Emily and I don't trust anything not in writing and the principal was not about to commit this act of Christian charity to anything but the wind, so we are getting a certificate, gold bands, and a ceremony presided over by Zack. Since Universal Life Church ordination - which several of our friends have as it is free and requires little work on the new reverend's part - does not allow marriages in New York, we will be getting handfasted on a beach in Jersey. There will still be a real wedding at some later date, but this beach ceremony read by an atheist will be enough to make Emily feel she is not lying by living at the prep school.

Three huge life changes in a month. Others would breakdown, but I feel I am coping well. And if I'm not, I have insurance to cover my therapy.

This all began last week. I suppose I could say it started when I applied for the job, but I would be quite the depressed fool if I persisted in believing there was the slightest correlation between application and employment. Last week, just before Thanksgiving break, I returned home from tutoring to find numerous voicemails waiting for me. I assumed correctly that the majority of the calls were from the substitute calling service pestering me to take jobs in the coming weeks. Then there was a call from one of the many schools with which I've interviewed, offering me the job. I was rightfully shocked since, despite my much-improved interviewing skills, I am never offered the job. I was resigned to my lot, especially given the conservative inclination of the boarding school. Even tarted up in a jacket and silk tie, nothing about me telegraphs conservatism. I may talk a good pedagogical and disciplinary game, but I instigate revolution whenever I can. Heck, one of my matron deities - as I am sure you are tired of reading - is Eris, goddess of discord. It is not the sort of name-dropping I do in interviews, but I also don't go out of my way to lie.

The week between that initial call and the follow-up meeting was tumultuous. Sometimes, mostly when appeased by the Cheesy Biscuits of Congratulation, it seemed a wonderful opportunity. Late at night or early in the mornings, however, I was terrified. It involved uprooting myself from everything familiar for a paltry paycheck. The town to which I would be moving is a far exurb of Poughkeepsie, a place Emily and I have taken to dubbing Anemia (it is a simple letter substitution). In the end, it simply was too promising to pass up and I assented.

While it is vast growth in some respects, it is much like a moratorium on many others. I can forget what little culinary knowledge I have. I don't have to worry about the most troublesome of my bills. And I'm sure I can use my extra cash to buy Buffy Season Seven.

All of this would be so much more reasonable if my life had a carefully selected alternative soundtrack. And vampires.

Soon in Xenology: Moving. Marriage.

last watched: Stranger Than Fiction
reading: Goodbye, Columbus
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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Works by Thomm Quackenbush

The Night's Dream Series

We Shadows by Thomm Quackenbush

Danse Macabre by Thomm Quackenbush

Artificial Gods by Thomm Quackenbush