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Success in the Arts | 2013 | The Balancing Act


Each day, and the living of it, has to be a conscious creation in which discipline and order are relieved with some play and pure foolishness.  

-May Sarton


A Room of One's Own

"You're wonderful," Amber says, looking up from her bracelets.

"I'm not. We have long arguments in my head, only I think better of including you in them. It's like playing chess, thinking a dozen moves ahead and not seeing any positive outcomes."

"Oh," she says brightly. "You can say whatever you want to me."

I raise an eyebrow, ceasing for a moment the task of trying to clean and organize our apartment two weeks after we've moved in. "No. I really cannot if you are going to persist in liking me and living here."

I want for this to be our apartment, to exploit the artistic talent of my girlfriend for decorative purposes, but she is too busy. I haven't missed her more than I have these last few weeks, when all of her time is given to making bracelets. I go to bed without her and she stumbles in at three or four to get a few hours sleep before returning to the pins, thread, and denim. I don't fault her, I would work hard to meet a deadline with such a seductive pay out, but it is nevertheless inconvenient for me to work full time, make our apartment livable, and try to pull together the first draft of Flies to Wanton Boys (the latter of which has suffered in the move, as I am only about a tenth of the way through and have literally hundreds of notes of changes that will need to be made). I cannot leave the apartment full of boxes and clutter, not when the whole point of this move for us is to finally have space. This sets the precedent for how our home will be henceforth and I cannot allow it to be squalor ever again. Amber has already dedicated a portion of the down payment given to her for the bracelets on getting us a portable dishwasher, since she feels she lost hundreds of hours in our old apartment making the glassware usable again.

Our prior apartment, only half a mile down the street, always felt a bit cheap to me and never really ours. Above a stationary shop and directly next to one of the main thoroughfares in Red Hook, there was little that occurred on the street below that wasn't transmitted to our living room and bedroom, most notably the weekly 5am delivery to the hardware store next door. Even a week of sleeping in my new bedroom, so quiet as to be almost disturbing, I find myself more lucid, happy, and energetic.

This sort of sleep deprivation is sneaky, because you don't realize how much its grayness colors your daily life. After a few night without being interrupted by drag-racers, freight trucks, or midnight Bard lushes mistaking themselves for Journey, my brain and body seems to reach a new sort of cooperation. My mood markedly improves, I become far more loving to Amber, I am in fuller possession of my vocabulary (which is, obviously, one of my favorite mental toys). I no longer need to rely on melatonin to fall asleep and stay asleep. For these benefits alone, the apartment might be worth the added cost.

The room designated as the studio is a mess, of course. Aside from a few dozen seedlings she has sprouted for her community garden plot, there is no real work space for Amber. It seems unlikely this will change before July, when Amber has her first solo show. The moment she finishes the bracelets, she will dive into drawing and painting without real consideration for making her studio at all spacious. Instead, as she has done with the bracelets, clear patches of floor upstairs will be her impromptu workspaces.

The stated plan was for this room to be a mutual workspace, but my brain rapidly excises it from the floor plan for the apartment, so much so that I have occasionally wandered around the apartment looking for Amber for a minute before thinking to peek into the studio. I love the idea of a place we create art together, but I quickly adopt a corner of the bedroom, since I need no more than area enough to sit with my collapsible desk, Kindle, and mini-notebook computer. I hope there will come a time where we tackle the disorder beast, but I don't plan my writing schedule around it.

I do not mean to imply that I am fastidious. When I lived alone for years, there would be a mad dash every Friday afternoon to make it seem I was a civilized human being, before company could learn what a lie this was. I can't deny, however, that I don't enjoy a certain order. Growing up with two brothers, I internalized that I would dwell in slovenliness unless I took it upon myself to clean communal spaces and fight back the demons of filth on a near daily basis. I was the clean one by default, but it was not a descriptor I wanted for myself, this sort of Felix Unger obsession with everything being in its proper place. I was still a boy after all and "proper place" for my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was little more than a drawer under my bed absent its original dresser, where they mingled with Legos and vending machine baubles. I just wanted not to step on broken toys, sticky patches that never dried, and moldy plates.

This new apartment seems to me an extension of my relationship with Amber more so than our prior one, which we more or less occupied to give ourselves a place to be and not because we cared for it. Set far back on a road that has been resigned to admitted disrepair, we are surrounded by verdure. Outside our high bedroom window is a garden, there is a faded wooden porch beyond the doors of the studio, a massive flowering bush all but engulfs the windows of the next building over. There are trees everywhere and a small stream that separates the property from that of Central Hudson. On the other side of the hill on which out apartment is set lies a basketball court that must have once been loved, there is remains only one hoop. Our realtor detailed that another building on the property used to be a speakeasy and that there had been a pool before the landlord decided that would be a liability. When we were checking out the apartment, one of our neighbors informed us that there is a pond through the forest, which we found and trespassed by in favor of an orchard. Beside us in the apartment is the unofficial repair and maintenance man, who is jovial to a fault. Across from us, two couples of Bard grad students. Above our front door light is a bird's nest with three baby birds who seem to have been edited out of a Disney movie judging by how cutely they peep at me every morning. Even the well water makes me feel better, my hair slightly more manageable and my body feeling cleaner after a shower.

It's not perfect. The water heater needed replacing and two of our faucets could use aerators. The rustic world outside occasionally intrudes with stinkbugs and ants walking over our dirty dishes. Still, these seem to be small prices to pay for a home that can welcome the people I love, rather than cramming them in as sardines in a can. I feel for the first time that I am living somewhere, not merely occupying a space until the next step in my life occurs.

Soon in Xenology: Summer. Housewarming.

last watched: Donnie Darko
reading: Flies to Wanton Boys
listening: Fiona Apple

Success in the Arts | 2013 | The Balancing Act

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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