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Every Silver Lining | 2010 | Moments and Communities

05.19.10 9:14 p.m.

Out of perfection nothing can be made. Every process involves breaking something up.  

-Joseph Campbell


Minimal Involvement

Various people, Cristin, Katy  

Minimalism resonates through the show, though the Fort Gallery is more sparse than strictly minimal, having been constructed by Huguenots centuries past. The initial crowd for the art opening is only two people, munching on tiny pretzels in the light of one bare bulb. They look uneasy when I wander in, as though three is a crowd. They supply, without preamble, that this is the Minimal Involvement show but neither of them is the artist. This is fine, as my appreciation for minimalist photography is secondary (or quinary) to my presence. As I told Cristin, I attend in hopes of seeing her. (I feel subtlety is best kept to a minimum.)

I hoped to ingratiate myself into Cristin's friendship through sheer proximity. I have only ever known her in the context of Zack, either as his girlfriend or as the person who is no longer his girlfriend but might wish to be again. Now that she is in a place where she is not his girlfriend and does not want to be, I can know her outside of his clause (even as I do like him and wish to be his friend too, such as is possible at a physical distance). She is one of the people who affirmed that they would be there for me after Emily left me, but tonight is the first time I can prove my warmth for her is pure and not affection by association.

I study the photographs, waiting for her to arrive as fashionably late as the artist. The artist's conceit, stuck to a white brick wall, is that she takes pictures of things that are overlooked, hoping that her critical eye will shed new light on the mundane. There are pictures of safety bars and close-ups of masonry, sometimes angled such that they take on a new context, albeit not the ironic one that might be expected; one doesn't laugh at the art or treat it as a magic-eye picture to deduce what this is, one just makes thoughtful noises in the back of one's throat. As I have to lean close to overcome the gloom of French Protestant architecture, I could do with illumination being shed in a more literal sense.

When Cristin arrives, she introduces me to the milling attendees in the context of Zack, as I might in her position. When asked who I am outside her immediate presence, I only say that I am Cristin's friend, because I am not haunting her as the Ghost of Relationships Past.

The artist, Katy, is diminutive - minimalist in stature, I should perhaps say. She has an elfin allure, dressed simply in a black frock which her long, red hair complements. I later tell Cristin that Katy looks like a lovelier version of what first girlfriends should be (influenced, in no small way, by the fact that she echoes the Irish genome of my first serious girlfriend). Katy says she is gratified to know everyone in the room and then casts a second look at me, as though I suddenly appeared. I smile genially and half shrug, sipping my water. Later, she asks who I am and I admit she doesn't know me, but I didn't want to interrupt her speech. I don't feel as if she is a stranger, given that she is both the photographer we are here to see and Cristin's friend. By transitive properties, I am sure I have enough insight to consider her an acquaintance, even if the inverse is not yet true.

When more people arrive, they are almost to a one in ill-fitting clothing, as though being attractive despite inappropriate pants makes one especially comely (this trait is seen throughout the animal kingdom, where creatures will evolve pointless-to-detrimental additions as if to prove how fit their genes must otherwise be). But this is to be expected, given that these are Cristin's coworkers from the museum where she is again an attendant. Even Cristin wears a bright orange skirt that she jokes makes her look like a Creamsicle in contrast to her white shirt, though it does render her cuter and more distinct. I am hardly the voice of sartorial conformance, so I am not complaining.

The attendees, now numbering in the dozen, break out disposable cameras or iPhones to take pictures of cracked molding and blades of grass in an effort to reproduce Katy's milieu. They do this sincerely and without apparent collusion, though it makes me want to use this as an excuse to photograph the photographers (I don't). If everyone is overanalyzing the typically overlooked, it only means they are overlooking something else.
Okay, so I tried the once.

The caretaker of the historical building informs us that she has to lock up now, an hour after our arrival, but Katy adds that there is a party at her house. I feel the familiar thrill from last weekend, when one social occasion rolls into another and the night promises to stretch on as long as it is allowed. As a party has been mentioned in my presence, I don't question that the invitation might not extend and ask Cristin if I can follow her there.

She leads me behind a farmhouse five miles away, past the outskirts of New Paltz proper. At a certain point - I'm not sure quite when - parties to which I am invited ceased to be exclusively about beer and other intoxicants. Oh, they are there and Cristin brings in more alcohol, but there are also the components for walnut cranberry salad and the promise of grilled steak. Perhaps artistic sorts have a better idea of what a party ought to involve, as ten different conversations stir to life in the presence of such victuals and do not die down as long as I witness.

Cristin and I stake out places in the living room, where a DVD of rapid clouds through various filters loops on the flat screen TV. We fall to gossiping, calling it by its true name, in an effort to bridge the space that time has introduced between us. She gives as good as she gets, knowing details of Dezi's life that would otherwise evade me given that my conversations with him tend to involve him offering me a writing gig and my accepting it. I am reminded that Cristin has been an at least tangential part of my life for much longer than I was aware, that she went to primary school with Dezi and Annie and would have joined them at our shared high school were it not for her parents sticking to the rigor of Catholic school education.

I once commented that I had not remembered Cristin the first time I met her. All that stuck in my memory is that she was Dezi's friends and had pointy shoes that seemed uncomfortable. We'd been several parties together, but I overlooked her. Understand that I am not faulting her, not accusing her of being forgettable, but rather acknowledging that I was not observant (battling between the foci of my then-girlfriend and my pathological introspection). When I met her again, properly, as the object of Zack's attentions, I was chagrined to have made this omission, but I don't think I saw her even then. Possibly, I only saw the negative space around her that allowed me to trace out enough of her silhouette to pretend. I threatened that she'd better treat Zack right and approved that she had the complete DVD set of The Adventures of Pete and Pete. In the whole of their relationship, I allowed myself glimpses, but she was secondary to Zack. Even as he vanished from my life for a year without a word, I owed him my loyalty for years of walks and playground visits. Finally, a thousand of miles away from the man who steered the course of her life (into a tree once, in a less metaphorical sense), I can consent to knowing her as a person. This woman who I had overlooked is, from this angle, in need of explication.

She talks in more detail of her breakup, some of the phrases with the sheen of refinement that comes to those who have had to reiterate a story. She says she pities the next person that ends up dating her, as though she is near irreparable, though I don't believe it. While no one should rush from such a serious relationship into commingling with another (says the man who did just that to great effect, with acknowledgement that he gets to be the exception that proves the rule), her dating legs are only shaky, not broken. It is odd to be speaking of Zack as an outsider, the offender rather than the aggrieved party, but the commiseration does help our burgeoning friendship feel more organic. She mentions that her mother spilled something on the floor and idly asked why Zack and Cristin's dog Berty - now the ward of Zack alone - wasn't there to lick the floor clear, before recoiling in fear she had wounded her daughter. But Cristin isn't bereaved by Berty's absence (and Zack's by extension), only lonely. She is sure she will see them both soon enough.

An older man, prodding a conversational thread that didn't find life on its own, then asks everyone in proximity to the clouds if we are artists. They all seem to be, but I demur that I am not.

"He's a writer," Cristin fills in.

The man says that this, of course, counts as an artist. I will believe that when I can stick my writing to the wall with blu-tack and have people coo over it. I am an artist in theory, but a scribbler in practice.

Throughout the party, I feel a complete lack of social awkwardness. It is like a phantom pain that persistently surprises me with its absence. In my head, these are not strangers I am talking with but temporary friends. As I unconsciously assume this, they follow suit. It goes into my curse that I either like people instantly or I don't, and there is nothing they can do to change that. But I don't dislike any of them on sight, so I just let myself be. I don't feel tied to anyone, I don't have anyone dependent on me for company, so I am free to roam.

There are several with whom I am especially friendly - whose names I can't recall even as I am teasing out the details of their lives - but don't hesitate in talking to anyone. Despite my own prejudices about hipsters (as some of them are), there is a lack of artifice in all their interaction and that is what I respond most to. One woman mentions her childhood struggle with a speech impediment and her current inability to enunciate words like "anonymity" and, in this one revelation, it is as though we have shared years of elementary speech classes and I love her a little bit. I am delighted to have been involved enough to give them all a second (or fifth) look.

Soon in Xenology: Maybe a job, Melanie.

last watched: Bottle Rocket
reading: Future Shock
listening: Daft Punk

Every Silver Lining | 2010 | Moments and Communities

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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