Thomm Quackenbush, author

Casting Understudies | 2010 | Jenna

07.25.10 11:21 p.m.

As a writer you are free. You are about the freest person that ever was. Your freedom is what you have bought with your solitude, your loneliness.  

-Ursula Le Guin

 


The Perimeter of the Fire

Bonfire  
Like fireflies to wanton gods

A woman with the spiky, blonde hair introduces herself as Sue and sits on the log next to me. "So, how did you get here?"

"Oh, I have GPS," I reply instantly, looking up from the orange of the fire. For a moment, I think she believes I am serious, so I amend that I knew Rhianna - her partner and the hostess - fourteen years ago, when she ran the shop Call of the Wild in Beacon and I assumed it was fate that there was a witchcraft store so near to my high school. To Sue, this is a satisfactory answer, though I think her real question is why I am alone here and why I am not going out of my way to talk or dance. The question she does not ask is a good one.

I ask after one of the more enthusiastic young witches, imagine myself in her shoes when I originally met Rhianna. She is so free with herself and so certain of her path, something I now cynically believe only comes from not being aware of the infinite multitude of right paths. Even as I think this, I know there is a touch on envy with my admiration of her sureness, as this is something I never remember and can therefore never gain back. (Not, I am aware, that I would want it. I am a Doubting Thomas by name and inclination.)

From the moment I arrived, I wondered what I had hoped to get from this. I know I had visions of my dancing around a bonfire, of reconnecting with the primal freedom I found at Free Spirit Gathering a few years ago, when Emily was busy with her drumming and I began to liberate myself in the presence of people I would never again see. I am so much more myself now, more complete and confident. I dance for fun at Cabaloosa and, until the July heat curtailed our standing date, was slowly learning to swing dance with Jacki. Yet I cannot overcome the barrier that tells me that I will not find any pleasure in dancing around this fire, that I will be conspicuous and stiff. I am intellectually aware that this is beside the point and that few raising their arms to the drizzle could survive in a Fred Astaire movie, but the spirit doesn't move me.

This is not to say that I am uninvolved. My eyes are usually focused on the embers and I feel a sense of serenity that is less evident in the tall grass of routine, to borrow a phrase. I stroll around the perimeter of the fire and, once, take up a percussion gourd to keep the beat going. But I cannot open my mouth for a chant, I cannot more than bob my head to the beat.
Fire dancing  
Which moves which?

This drizzle - forecasted to be a torrent - is why I am here alone, though I am not wholly ungrateful. Suzanne had offered herself up to my surprise, but I had called her in the morning to tell her she shouldn't make the drive. I would have felt the need to give her looks that said "These people may not represent my attitudes and viewpoints. Please do not judge me by them and forgive me anything they might say that would even slightly imply I am daffy." I've brought people to supposedly secular occasions that turned out to be Heathen proselytizing (though I more than understood that an event held by Rhianna via her store The Dreaming Goddess would be categorically Pagan). I am reticent to ever have that mortification again, especially with someone whom I would like to further cement a friendship.

I have no close Pagan friends. Religion is not a prerequisite for my affection, nor has it ever been. In high school, there were a couple of girls I dated who dabbled, but none who are currently local or speaking with me. I recall with horror trying to induce a few girls I dated to show an interest, but that lasted not much longer than it took for them to try an ineffective curse at the inevitable breakup. Even given that I used to be the head of an active Pagan organization (which is about six years quiescent), I never much saw a reason to spend my time with most of the members outside of the binds of monthly meetings. Conversely, ever has the problem been that those with whom I tend to feel the most comfortable and therefore spiritual are also those who believe that Jesus died for my sins or that believing in a Sky Daddy of any flavor demeans my intelligence.

My belief system is not integral to who I am. Rather, who I am is integral to my belief system. My Taoist Discordian hodgepodge fits me because I have custom tailored it to my philosophical frame. If it no longer did, it would change to suit me, not the other way around.

Yet, tonight, even as I enjoy my privacy in public, even as I watched Rhianna, Sue, and the witchling twirl fire, I don't connect. I don't feel anything like antipathy for any of them, even finding the teenagers dressed in Renaissance garb and appropriated tapestries suitably adorable. There are thirty people milling about, many of the middle aged women dancing as no one watched, though I can do little more. I can come up with excuses galore, but the fact of it comes down to me and the walls I still find around myself. But I take solace in the fact that I stay until the rain drives me out and, in my solitude, am at ease. It was not long ago that I would have been struck with such awkwardness that I could not have mustered the courage to come alone.

Soon in Xenology: Jenna, maybe a job.

last watched: Tin Man
reading: Swann's Way
listening: Colbie Caillat

Casting Understudies | 2010 | Jenna

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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