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In Tents | 2012 | Take Back the Fight

06.10.12

If false thinking suddenly stops for an instant, and you see through your own mind, the vastness of its original perfect light, the purity of its original state, no thing in it at all, this is called awakening. There is nothing to be awakened or cultivated other than this mind.  

-Han-shan

 


Back from the Edge

Xen  
It's good to be.

This is the life I am leading, a life I have worked hard for almost without meaning. What else was I to do but keep myself occupied while I waited for my life to begin in earnest? It came without my notice, all the gears turning on their own in a fashion that seemed, if anything, chaotic until they synced up without my conscious notice and I had a life I feel content to lead.

I sit in a hole-in-the-wall café in Kingston, Duo. The air conditioning is thunderous, as though we are dining within a beehive, drowning out the conversation from school secretaries a table away. Daniel, the Male Best Friend role in my life (one I must admit I need filled), recommended this place for brunch, promising that everything is delicious if pricey. And I don't at all care about the price, as my wallet is full of money from selling seven copies of my new book a few days ago.

"I don't think my conversation meter has replenished yet," he half apologizes, because we three were at Jacki's birthday party barbecue the night before until one in the morning and enjoy a deserved silence where nothing needs saying. It is rare in my life to be with people whom quality time can be spent in quietude, air conditioning aside.

Amber, the Doting Girlfriend, sits with her legs folded under her, purring at me and sneaking kisses that taste of tea. When our meals come and mine looks infinitely more like a salad than an omelet - but is more delicious than any food I recall eating in a long while - she offers me bits of her turkey comfit. She pours her teaspoon full of honey from a plastic bear and, instead of stirring it in, guiltily slips it into her mouth. "I like honey," she says at first, then adjusts when we laugh, "My throat hurts?"

The day is the perfect amount of warm with a breeze strolling down the corridors between buildings. Summer will come and turn the pavement to coals, but today is just right.

It was not long ago when my life felt completely outside of my control. No matter what effort I put forth, it was not enough. I could not find a real job, my writing career seemed a joke, and my girlfriend had realized how finite our romantic relationship had to be given that she was growing up and gay. All of these factors gnawed at me without consent and I could not help feeling a coagulant of shame and guilt that I could not pull it together. One by one, it seemed my friends were slipping away owing to their own issues and I felt I would be left alone. I tried to find my center, my Zen, but I lost count of how many times I had to call a crisis hotline just to talk to someone and hopefully feel that life was less impossible. I was not suicidal, but I was not exactly seeing my life as a joyful chorus of animate birds.

It seems the lesson here is a bit wrong, that with money and the right company - with external validation - one can right oneself, but that is not it. After Melanie and dealing with the aftermath, I became a great deal more self-reliant. I was likely so attractive to Amber because I didn't need to cling to her. I partly got my job because I managed to be confident and affable, rather than hyperventilating that my rent was due. My inner focus brought about the life I had been gestating in my mind.

Everything is not perfect now, of course. My job resembles the punishment of Sisyphus most days, trying to elevate the minds of children raised in squalor who want nothing more than to rob, rape, and murder. I deal with a recidivism rate between eighty and ninety percent. Some of my favorite former residents ended up in actual prison within a month of being released. So far, no one I have taught has been murdered, but I know in my heart that I will come in one day to gossip of this. I have to accept that a part of building a relationship with these students involves being cursed out, threatened, or coping with attempted assaults. This is not how I imagined my teaching career, but I cope, because this is quite a bit better than things have been. It may break my heart, but it fills my bank account enough that I can act as self-reliant as I feel.

After brunch, we walk past most of the shops in Kingston. ("Past" because Kingston does not understand that people might wish to shop on a Sunday morning and so most are closed.) We stop by a secondhand bookstore Half Moon Books and, by doing little more than implicating myself as an author, I soon have a reading scheduled for August. The prospect is terrifying, but it is rather a luxury fear.

I have hope at further upward progress and I enjoy my life in the moment. I can sleep through every night because I am not panicked how close I am to the edge. I am the hero of this story and my hands are on the reins.

Soon in Xenology: Male friendships. Lake George. Burlesque. Melanie.

last watched: Puella Magi Madoka Magica
reading: The Stranger
listening: Ellen McLain

In Tents | 2012 | Take Back the Fight

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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