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Fears Like White Elephants | 2016 |


You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.  

-Albert Camus

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot

Happy New Year

I should own the experience of cheering on a contortionist. Instead, I count down until brunch at Duo, the signal that I can go home and return to quiet. I did not pay $50 for this New Year's Eve in Kingston to rush home like a chastened dog. For that investment alone, I will breathe deeply and appreciate burlesque dancers, even when their act consists of eating a sandwich and disrobing only as garments become stained by mustard and mayonnaise. Is her act erotic? In no way. Is it fodder for a memorable story? Without a doubt. It deserves my amused attention. I will not ignore unique experience for familiar comfort.

People sneer as Amber and I obey the etiquette of burlesque, hooting and clapping for the "dancer." Amber responds by shoving me onto a couch and sticking her tongue between my tonsils to aggravate onlookers further. I have not bought her alcohol, nor is she somehow sneaking sips, so I cannot blame her overwhelming affection on intoxication. She must somehow like me more than she dislikes the crowd.

Having my mouth used as a weapon of protest may not be a perfect moment, but it is too easy to lose good, remarkable moments while one is looking to the skyline, where better thing come only limping in the winter. I dare not know how much of my life I have lost to seeking out marginal improvement, as though I could jump to the patch of greener grass (nor can I begin to rationalize that slogging home before midnight would count as an upgrade over the crowded BSP in Kingston). More importantly, I am not going to spend the moment I occupy to take a careful accounting of the ones I have misused. All the choices I've made in the past, the meandering detours before I found a proper path, are fixed points now. Picking at memory will not allow me to have never kissed these women or agreed to that more humble college. I write speculative fiction, but I needn't expect to live it.

Now is the only time I will ever have. If I want to think about the vastness of the future, plan for things that may never happen, I will fill myself with existential angst that the universe will one day end in fire or ice. That is a waste of the life I have been granted through a vast string of coincidences in a universe that can't care about my existence.

Each time I choose to perseverate over a "what-if," I am training my mind to respond to regret and worry. My mind is a beast I will not permit to trample. I am not a Calvinist; I do not think my suffering is noble. I have an obligation toward seeking happiness through genuine contentment, which doesn't come from looking over my shoulder or straining my eyes to catch a glimpse of what this path may bring in a mile.

We spend too much of our lives wishing we were somewhere else and never being fully present. We eat while watching TV, realizing only later that we don't remember the taste of dinner. We spend our entire working day focused on the weekend, then waste our weekend disturbed about work on Monday. Disconnection is a lethal habit, its target our souls.

(Don't think I am wise in saying these things, since I am directing these accusations at myself while pretending plurality. I am keenly aware what a hypocrite I am.)

Despite lofty thoughts, I am still far from successful in this. I told my therapist that I get depressed about twice a month and that each attack last around three days. She heard only that it is a twice monthly occurrence and dismissed it as not important. If I couldn't catch my breath for twenty percent of the month, I would be in treatment for asthma, but six days lost to chemical goblins doesn't merit her consideration.

I have squandered too much time on things and people who I knew were not meaningful. This isn't unrepentant selfishness-though I am sure someone tacitly labelled "not meaningful" would argue otherwise. All I need in my life is to identify what is important to me and spend my time on those things. I don't want to lose my life to the curse of busyness. Yes, things that are important to other people might not get done, but I can sleep more easily knowing that I accomplished what was significant to me. The only way to have the life I want is not to be obsessed with all the things I won't be able to do because they are not meaningful to me.

I have sacrificed much that was unnecessary. I need to write, even if my products presently go unappreciated because there will be a time when they are not so unrecognized. I have flensed away the urge to be edgy, the artifice of being seen as less-than so my actual self could seem a pleasant surprise. We die gradually, but much of what we are needs to die if our true selves are to live. The teenage version of me is so long buried that I barely mourn all he was certain would be important. I don't want to be another content aggregator, adding nothing to the world but my watermark in the bottom right. I am not a curator, I am an artist (but, despite a drive toward self-improvement, I am not intending to be the art).

Nearly every day, from the moment the door shuts behind me I am eager to get back to Amber. While I have certainly been fond of my lovers in the past, this goes well beyond that. I am not desperate for her, just keen to get back into her presence, even if we do nothing more than watch movies and eat popcorn (which is more important to me than I have let on). I am comfortable going about my writing or leaving to work out in the gym for a while, but I still am content when I come back to her arms.

Over the summer, I can clarify my mind and art and bring my body closer to how I feel that it should work through fairly rigorous daily exercise. I am able to treat adequate sleep not as a posh luxury but a biological necessity.

However, even in this sun-poor winter months, I still lead a life that would have exceeded my wants only a few years ago. I have a clever and lovely wife. I am an acknowledged author of a half dozen books and a smattering of other things. I have a steady job that permits me to pretend at virtue while earning a steady paycheck with benefits.

I acknowledge how pampered I am in my first world seat, having clawed my way up to middle class after a lot of effort. It infests me with guilt that I am coddled enough that the abuse of my neurochemicals and existential angst rank as my top priorities. I know I am spoiled by a life of few slavering tigers and try to better appreciate what I have this first night of the year, alternating between the humidity of the club and the frigidity of the air outside where Kristina awaits out company.

The ball drops. Fireworks invisibly detonate. The crowd mills about in confusion, looking for the source of the booms. Some get into fist fights to crown the new start. At least one person collapses from alcohol poisoning. Only by walking past all the parties on the street and down an unassuming road can one see the sky give way to explosions.

Even as I remind myself to be content in the moment, I cannot allow these seconds to consume me. The past is my enemy, as it is not a place I will return. However, I need to know that there is a light coming, however dark the night may be (even with hidden sparkles down the other road).

After seeing a small portion of the grand finale, the three of us walk to Duo, where Holly and her friend Rebecca are waiting. We eat sumptuous fried dough with fruit and cream and imagine the year to come while floating in the present and presence.

Soon in Xenology: Criminal youth.

last watched: Zelig
reading: The Boy Who Lost Fairyland
listening: Regina Spektor

Fears Like White Elephants | 2016 |

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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