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Minimal Involvement | 2010 | Not Garth

05.29.10 8:51 p.m.

Love the moment, and the energy of that moment will spread beyond all boundaries.  

-Corita Kent


Moments and Communities


"...So the chicken hands the frog a book and says 'bok?'," Dawn finishes, "and the frog says 'Readit.'"

This is, inexplicably, the third joke of our frog theme. From this, we will transition to Maine, Finnish, German, Trotsky, lesbian (at least two of us have queer cred enough to get away with this), and - improbably - Emilio Estevez jokes (What do you call Emilio Estevez after a sex change? Emilio Breastavez). We didn't plan on this, it just evolved because chairs were in a circle and someone laughed.

Even in the holiness of the moment, I know that I will remember tonight for months to come. The fire crackles and there is the feeling of the infinite, of an unbroken succession to when our species barely spoke above grunts. This is a night from movies, the camera spinning as some alterna-folk ballad plays low on the soundtrack because directors can't handle conveying the sincerity any other way.

I am reminded, not vaguely, of the communal camping of Free Spirit, the weeklong Pagan festival that Emily and her clan attend. Free Spirit is intended as a sacred retreat and it cannot be for me anymore. Were it not in Maryland, I might be willing to make the gamble assuming I could avoid the situations that would be awkward for all. I can't recapture what was, if I indeed ever had it, and that is a blessing not far from the surface.
Sit. Play dead.

I don't per se consider the interactions at Free Spirit authentic, more of a forced openness that degrades when one replaces one's knickers. Were it not for that emotional anonymity masquerading as openness, there would not be the concept of festival sex. Behind false names, it is intentionally hard to know other people there. Like the pricy souvenirs one buys, the experiences at that campground are put away on a shelf and not used in the daylight.

This is my community near the fire, believing in the insectile impenetrability of our ring of citronella pikes. There are no bracelets here, announcing whether one permits oneself to be photographed. The self that is shown is the only self there is to see, so one need not worry about being outed at one's workplace as a Jacki, Daniel, John, Nicole, Altercation, or Phil - none as pejorative as being held accountable for polytheism. I am not mocking the heathens - they have it hard enough - but delighting in the anarchy mutual friendship provides. And, in very short order, it is plain that most of us are friendly beyond our mutual affection for our hostess. As they are each to credit in their individual and small ways for the synergy of the night, I am grateful to them in a way beyond thankfulness. Tonight isn't borrowed, isn't an experience married to this land. I am not here as an extension of a lover but as a welcomed individual.

Tonight is something that would not have been as possible were Jacki still with her ex Kevin. There would have had to be a Purpose to the goings-on, things would have to be Significant, and the soundtrack would have had to be revised to suit what Kevin felt set the scene rather than the improvisation that occurs.

With the exception of David and Nicole (and a couple of women who appear and vanish in under an hour), I have met all of these people before - some times as much as a decade before - and the time for me to feel anything like social awkwardness is so far past expired that it has been restocked as a fine cheese.
Phil and Jacki  
Part of the synergy

As Nicole - tattooed, oddly pierced, and jovial girlfriend of David - prepares by drinking lamp fluid and spitting it on her poi, I ask her if she will explode if I take flash photos of her while she spins.


"You will?"

She looks up from the soaked ball. "What did you ask?"

"If you will explode."

"Then no."

She moves like the flaming ball is a pet she raised from a spark. Phil and Amanda, both with better cameras than mine at the ready, click away and joke that they are there to witness should something go amiss, but none of us can believe it could. Even as we all would lose our eyebrows or, once she and David take turns gulping lamp fluid and then spitting fireballs overhead, lips, there is such a sense of purpose and serenity to her movements that it is certain she has reached an agreement with the flame. Perhaps she is half fire demon, the pictures we take portray her as such, wreathed in the blue and orange of the animate flame.
He dislikes you whippersnappers.

Around the glowing fire as the party winds down, within proximity of two of the people I like best in the world, I am content. Maybe it is the moon I cannot see behind the trees, but there is a sense of tribalism.

Contentment comes more easily to a lack of expectations. I have often been inclined to attach to people as my community, whether they wanted this honor or not, because I was raised on bad television and five-year performance contracts can be difficult to escape. Individual circumstances are not hard to escape and life always took the members of my community where they belonged rather than allowing me to cling. Community in the fullest sense of the term is something that represented my greatest voiced want most of my life, from exchanging saliva for temporary connection with girls in my teenage years to trading away years to keep the near ubiquitous Her from leaving. Friend after friend used up because I leaned too long and too heavily, since no one other person could quality as a community. I envied others their unchanging circles, mistaking stagnation for commitment.

Were I to lean on Jacki for my community, I would be doing her a disservice, as though nestling against her nucleus so I could entangle a few of her electrons. I would be missing out, perhaps, on another community that could use me, the community of Now. I would be ordering the holy moment to occur at will, because I was in a certain place with a certain mixture of people, and thereby preemptively extinguishing it.

I muse whether I am jealous of Jacki's house, but this is not quite it (much as I do like it). It is that having a yard allows one the prerogative to summon friends forth from multiple states, that extending hospitality implies friendship.

While I would hardly begrudge the Universe for creating a portal through which Melanie could step at a whim, I otherwise cannot imagine a place I would rather be this night. It is difficult to put into words the quiet thrilling of feeling the divine is watching.

I know this community I have tonight won't remain when the coals die. At the next party, it might be similar, but it won't be the same. Someone won't be there or some new one will, because each experience is singular and irreproducible. Even were the setup and guest list to be identical, the moments would not be.

Soon in Xenology: Maybe a job, Melanie.

last watched: Avatar
reading: Communion
listening: Damien Rice

Minimal Involvement | 2010 | Not Garth

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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