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Weeps Week | 2009 | Woodstock 09

03.10.09 10:17 a.m.

Do not reveal to friends all the secrets you possess; they may one day become enemies. Do not inflict on enemies every injury in your power; they may one day become friends.  



Social Ikebana

I sit at the table and try to figure out the optimal configuration for conversation before Hannah arrives to cement the seating arrangement. Already, we have Daniel, with whom Melanie always has good conversations and thus wishes to sit near but who occasionally has friction with his roommate/most significant ex Hannah; James, one of Hannah's exes who is taciturn at best during interactions with anyone aside from her (and he is hardly the chatter box when she arrives); Melanie, who will get into deep conversations with Daniel, Hannah, or me but will shout across the table if deprived of direct contact with someone she does not already like excessively; Merrill, who is Daniel's and Hannah's friend and whom I only incidentally ever met online (but who hugs me as though she's missed me when I am able to say her screenname, more or less); Henry, Merrill's quiet boyfriend, who has no connection to anyone else but who will end up keenly discussing the movie most of us are going to see. In addition is Stevehen, who thankfully never shows up, since we have room for him neither at the table nor in my calculations (as he would provoke James to possibly speak, has known me for almost ten years, has hung out with Melanie while I was around, and vaguely knows Hannah). If properly arranged, I feel the links will increase exponentially and the conversation will flow nonstop, growing synergistic. If not, we will shout and fidget for want of an ease of significant connection.

It ends up in a less than ideal fashion, Melanie on the opposite diagonal from me (though next to Hannah and Daniel), Merrill across from me, James next to Hannah. But, without informing the participants that they are seated all wrong and why, I can't very well practice my social ikebana.

In elementary school, I was pulled out of class (always English and never math, to my annoyance) so I could spend time with the handful of other children who were tracked as "gifted". The majority of our time was spent fiddling with Venn diagrams and logic puzzles, the kind where Sue is 14 and Billy is standing in line after someone who is twice as old as Johnny. In my adaptable brain, I began creating subroutines for these orderings, something I blame with my continual instinct for solving such orderly dilemmas. Somewhere, there is the perfect arrangement of people and anything less is like a small pebble in the shoe, almost invisible but annoying until you go to the effort of fixing it. If I had more focus, this could become my obsessive compulsive disorder.

There was a time when I very much wanted all of my friends to at least get along, before I fully internalized that the sole uniting factor between them might simply be an inclination to put up with me for extended periods of time. I've had most of my friends dislike my romantic partner, unbeknownst to me. I've had groups of friends draw lines in the sand, dictating into what social situations they were willing to be put with which people. I've juggled, buffeting between one apartment and another to keep all my balls in the air. I've carefully calibrated social situations in small ways to guarantee that Party A isn't left alone in a kitchen with Party B for too long. I know whose girlfriend finds whose boyfriend annoying, even though the partners of those two otherwise got along. In my mind, I have vast webs of the interrelationships between my friends and associates and am uneasy when someone fails to make their feelings explicit as it clouds things up. When - as with Merrill and me - it turns out that there is some prior relationship, however slight, I need to revise the whole situation through elevated flower arrangement and occasional pruning within a matter of seconds.

Even in the breakup between Stevehen and Melissa, who only ended up together in the first place because I wanted to maximize my time by combining my groups of friends, I have been half-jokingly accused of preferring one party or the other because I accepted an invitation the other did not make. This is especially pronounced given that they still spend a lot of time together anyway, in direct contradiction with how I have decided breakups should go.

Despite this, I still have delusions of commingling friends, though I'll make quite certain to spray all concerned with a hose if they so much as look overfriendly. I strategize, figuring out the likeliest outcomes on both sides of the fence. I want Melissa and Hannah to meet someday, though I find it honestly more likely that Melissa will hate Hannah as Melissa tends not to like other women. The congruence in the two women is just as likely to grate and repel. Similarly, I feel there is a definite possibility that Melissa could have an appreciation of Daniel, but only if she got past his silver teeth and the feeling that he is quietly judging (which he may be, but one just has to keep hugging him and smiling until be gives in and finds his comfort).

At some distant event, these people may meet and my brain feels compelled to have prepared the schematics so I know of potential fault lines in advance. I have subconsciously formed Venn diagrams of mutual interests and activities that I could fall back on should any two people I know end up in a number of likely social situations, from standing in line for fast food to a funeral to outrunning taco zombies. I periodically ask ostensibly random questions, so I can be certain all my information is up to date. And then, damn them, they sit in the wrong seats at lunch and spoil all my extemporaneous plans.

Soon in Xenology: Parties.

last watched: Juno
reading: Watchmen
listening: Mirah

Weeps Week | 2009 | Woodstock 09

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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