Thomm Quackenbush, author

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05.17.07 9:12 p.m.

The ego is like a stick dividing water in two. It creates the impression that you are one and I am another. When the ego vanishes you will realize that Brahman is your own inner consciousness.  

-Ramakrishna

 




Unwashed Strangers

Emily has never before come on my recent excursions to New Paltz - they generally occur because she is otherwise occupied and I refuse to be alone - so I feel the need to point out and subsequently misidentify a girl walking down the street as someone about whom I wrote months ago. I play tour guide on a map she knows nearly as well as I do, fabricating local color and personal anecdotes as if to assert some sense of false ownership over places and people who are indifferent or ignorant to my existence. Emily makes a vague sound as I name this girl, but she neither remembers nor cares.

Once we gather our intended quarry of Dan Kessler, Zack, and Cristin, we head to 60 Main to plan the basics of the rest of our evening. Loitering outside in a crowd of twenty unwashed strangers, I see Shabbat the Painter and pull her into a hug, realizing only as she reciprocates both that we don't actually have the sort of relationship where this would be appropriate and that she is quite possibly on a date with a boy who does not appreciate my presumption. Still, the moment is had and there is little that can or should be done by way of damage control, so I just smile and return to Emily's side. She'll protect me from the consequences of my impulsive actions.

I assume irrationally that I have a closeness with these people because I have written about them, though I don't have anything like the ego to believe that they would have read a word of it. I feel possessive of some part of them, the essence I have rendered in bits and characters, the sketch I upload to the internet for you, my dear, anonymous voyeurs. I imagine that they, like Shabbat's companion, would be far from appreciative of this gesture, though it means to me one of the holiest of acts. To me - and likely to no one else concerned - it means that I cared enough about them to carry a piece of them back home with me so I could describe it to faceless immortality. Websites, even with the help of archive.org, do not outlast bronze but it is the best I can do. The fact is, however, that I don't actually know them beyond sketches. I do not know who this boy next to Shabbat is, but I ascribe him the most facile role that come to me, I take guesses based on my own experiences and faint social cues. I whisper to Emily that I don't even feel I know Dan nearly well enough, I am constantly surprised by his actions and history. What hope do my fondly rendered background characters have if I can plead the least bit of ignorance about someone I like intensely?

I do not know what is thought about me. People like Ella and Shulie smile and greet me unprovoked, but I can't actually claim to say that they know my name and I don't much blame them. I don't know their last names or ages, just a few of their associates and morsels of their pasts, enough to create wire mesh models. For them, as for most, interactions exist for themselves. They see someone, they hang out, and that is it. I am more selfish, seeing that a story is unfolding and compulsively interested in capturing it for future inspection. I sharpen my skills as a writer against the whetstone of bumping into them repeatedly.

After dinner, Zack and Cristin leave to attend to some final chore in a teahouse. They are both working seven days a week at multiple jobs, saving for an eco-friendly pre-fab house. There are so many buzzwords that Emily and I just nod our heads as though we understand what this is or what will be entailed in owning one, though we both shake out of the haze later and express mutual ignorance of what such a structure is and bafflement that someone would work seven days a week.

Dan, Emily, and I keep walking in a fairly directionless fashion, gracing a field next to a bridge where Dan admits to having awoken one 3AM that I hope was warm. Alcohol was involved, or a similar intoxicant. Emily and I, in our telepathic charades, are curious to hear him speak this way. Our friends are allowed to have pasts and inner lives of which we are not yet fully knowledgeable, but it never fails to jar us when said facts contrasts with what we have already decided. Dan just does not seem like the type, not that we pass any specific judgment on the type. It just isn't Dan, as far as we know. I imagine it similar to the perturbation Dan felt in his archetype of me when he found out about my teenage serial monogamy. People do it, sure, but not me. As far as he knew, I had two or three girlfriends, tops. As far as I knew, he only bedded down in places where there was a proximal bed and he always did so with knowledge that sleep was coming.

We rejoin the crowd outside of 60 Main, those playing instruments carved from whole logs of ancient wood by skilled craftsman and those pounding little more than coffee cans, and observe. I point out a few more people whom I know tangentially, whom I have mentioned in writing, because it has become a force of habit like biting one's nails to the quick and I can't stop myself in time. These people grumble over Mayor West's defeat and plan protests, though the idea seems to evaporate the more involved their music becomes.

"I don't think I'm into this," Emily says into my ear. The music has become too loud for whispering. I am surprised, as Emily is a frequent patroness of drum circles and this is little more. It is hard for her to be the outsider in one, rather than the person leading the beat. She may be a main character to me, but she is nothing but an attractive stranger to these people who are just barely out of high school or rehab. This isn't the right energy for her now, if it ever was.

Soon in Xenology: Rejection.

last watched: Dead Like Me
reading: Shadow of the Giant
listening: My Better Self

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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