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Sunburnt Cupcakes | 2012 | In Tents


To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end in life.  

-Baruch Spinoza


Create the Opportunity to Be Him

It seems so fun at first, trouncing through the dorms at Bard, littered with the remainders of a few thousand collegiate lives, taking what we want. I delight in finding a worn Nerf sword in the first dorm, which I plan to use in a production at work, and wave this about proudly. I acquire pillowcases and repurpose these into raiding sacks. There are even cases of water and packaged foods for our refreshment, because the Bard students do not care to carry these home. It could hardly be more accommodating.

As Amber and I enter one of the dorms, a residential director waves us off, too busy untangling her series of last minute hook-up to someone on the phone. She does not much care who we are, why we have pillowcases full of goods, and why I am waving a foam sword in the air and calling her a scoundrel. At Bard, I think none of these actions are especially unusual. In another dorm, the RD offers mealy-mouthed objections to our being in the dorms, suggesting we should content ourselves with the dumpsters outside, the best parts already picked through by fellow raiders. We simply nod and move to the dorm connected to his, but one floor up so that he is not aware of us. I am willing to grant him plausible deniablity to protect a job that is ending in hours, should anyone question him. But, as this is Bard, I know no one ever will.

"It must be so strange to believe so much in something," I say to Amber, as I root through a pile of discarded books otherwise destined for the dump, their text highlighted in three colors, their margins filled with scribbled adulation. "So many of these kids think they are going to change the world in broad strokes, but they won't. They will become middle managers or night clerks or housewives or school teachers and they will forget all about this, but they don't know it yet. The world is exciting to them right now, so full of monsters worth slaying... but there won't be. Or they will become the monsters for a group of Bard kids in five years, always repopulating the dungeons with fallen ideals."

From within a dumpster, she nods, having graduated as an art major from a far less cushy college. I love Amber a little better for joining me in this scavenging. As her sister is later to remind her, garbage picking with a thirty-something has unsavory connotations, but all that registers to Amber is that this sound as though it has the potential for fun.

Underneath a pair of $200 headphone that only need a new battery, Amber find an ornate leather journal that had belonged someone for whom English was evidently not a first language. I note an odd poetry to their bad grammar as she reads it to me while I try on shirts and jackets some hipster discarded.

Among these imprints of identities - passions and purposes, opinions and ideologies - that fit into garbage bags, I can almost feel these people who have evanesced. I won't deny they I probably would not have much cared for many of these exorcised ghosts in the flesh. With notable exceptions, my experience with Bard kids leads me to see them as frivolous, entitled, and so awash in their privilege that they cannot begin to see it (or they see it and project it as guilt for which the rest of the world must answer). For four years, they willfully see no farther than the edge of campus, which is a why the fictional college in my Night's Dream series has a dollop of Bard DNA.

Nothing in my plundering today contradicts my expectations, but it makes it no less sad. Who these kids were is dead or dying. This brief chapter has ended and, even if they are not seniors or leaving, the students are closer to a precipice from which their parents' money cannot long save them. They grow ever nearer to the life where no one thinks they are wonderful for sharing a crowded and overpriced fishbowl, a life where arguing over their perfect understanding of Derrida, Plato, and Foucault makes them only the most annoying drunk at the party. To me, they are like domesticated animals that have only known cuddles about to be tossed into a jungle.

Melanie told me once that several people in her class couldn't handle leaving Red Hook come graduation. They instead indentured themselves to the Unificationist monastery next to campus and put off the difficulties of the adult world as long as possible, not because they had any particular fondness for the teachings of Reverend Moon. It is not a better way, but I understand why they do it. They cannot stand going back to who they were before Bard.

This college was the setting of one of my formative experiences as a high school student at the Summer Scholars program. For the first time, I was among those whose priorities resembled mine. Accompanied by 2 AM improvised concerts, classes in writing taught by snooty professors, intelligent peers, and a too relaxed dorm staff, I felt welcome to become the person I could be. When returned home two weeks later, I recall literally crying to the girl I was then seeing, Alison, that I did not get to keep who I was. He could not thrive in my teenage environment. It would take years before I could start to become him full time.

The dorm I stayed in for Summer Scholars was among the last we raided. It was not the most fruitful.

Amber pulls out a humble wooden mala and winds it around her wrist. "I think I am going to cut this apart for the beads," she says. I can't fault her this - she is an artist and it is certainly a better use than landfill. I silently contrive a story for its previous owner: trips to a nearby monastery, attempts at meditation, a month of assurances to everyone around him that he is now a Buddhist and that is the only proper thing to be, before moving onto a theology with flashier jewelry.

As we drive home, Amber reads to me from the journal she scavenged.

"Create the stories. Do not lie. Show the colors. Live in the world which transforms you. Go to Miami. Choose what you are committed to find. Remember. Replace. Cause a breakthrough in living an upset free time. If you are committed to your goal, check what you created and reached for it. Most people in world of survival are committed to lowering the bar limiting the world. To confine living release the banana. Make it apparent to the world. Being extraordinary? All famous great writers were men. Be glorious. Do not be upset. You are upset with the conversation happened two hours ago. But you are always in present unless you have pocket time machine. Once you throw your hat over the wall you have no choice but to follow it. Call yourself somebody without evidence and you create the opportunity to be him."

Soon in Xenology: Male friendships. Bard.

last watched: Going Postal
reading: Mormon Memoir
listening: Laura Marling

Sunburnt Cupcakes | 2012 | In Tents

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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