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Sometimes the Abyss | 2017 | September 12th


Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both influencing injury, and remedying it.  

-JK Rowling

Fantastic Beasts and How to Lose Them

At Michael's wedding, the underside of our place card designates Amber and me for the Harry Potter table. I know how long Michael has been planning this wedding in a practical and not merely imaginative sense. He assiduously chose my place and companions.

All of the tables represent some fandom or other, though the theme often extends no further than the homemade pixel art magnets; I doubt Michael sorted us by what book, show, or movie spoke most to our souls or wallets - except my table.

This is not to suggest that the tables do not have unspoken commonalities unrelated to the fandom. A table beside me contains people I know from my years at SUNY New Paltz, though only one is aware she knows me, a woman who it my cousin's cousin but no blood kin to me. There are tables for family, a decidedly separate table I hear it intimated contains kinksters, but I don't know if this was only meant as a joke.

My table? The writers and creatives. Beside me is Craig, author of The Watchmage of Old New York. Across from me is the cast for a Harry Potter fan movie Michael wrote. One might have been an editor in the city. Over the DJ's banter, I couldn't swear to it.

An outsider might assume a table of writers would be in my element, but no. I am too territorial. As an author at a table of civilians, there is a fact about me which I can leverage into conversation. "Oh, yes, I have a fantasy series on shelves. Give me your email, I'll send you one." Here, among my supposed peers, I am not implicitly interesting, so I must settle for being visibly more delighted, if not delightful.

I detect or imagine a low-grade pissing contest between a few of my tablemates, who want to assert that they are the most creatively successful. They may well be. I have four little read, less bought, often quotes novels and three self-published anthologies that have earned me more than the traditionally published books. I feel I deserve better than I've received, but most people never achieve even this much. It is only though my insecurity in the cross section, when faced with people who have more luck or (I state with all due reluctance) talent and training. Craig mentions an author he knows who he claims is better than us by dint of having earned a graduate degree in writing and I tense to resist bristling.

Those at the tables are all pleasant people, though wedding DJs are the nemeses of any conversation not shouted over the Electric Slide, but my sense of innate rivalry places a barrier exacerbated by the wait staff neglecting to bring the table wedding cake.

This uneasiness around other writers, specifically those who do not fall at my feet with how much they enjoyed a book I wrote when I was in my authorial infancy, is why I do not attend writing groups much. To cultivate friends, I tried to establish one of my own in Red Hook, but that devolved into Amber and me eating sandwiches as I typed and she did schoolwork. I wanted something on my terms, a place where I might be appreciated without measuring the turgidity of my prose against another, which is not a paradigm that comes easily or often with writers.

Michael is a writer and a damn fine one, better than is yet acknowledged. Without hyperbole, he wrote one of my favorite young adult books, though he has yet to have it published. Instead, he focuses his energy on geekdom articles on the internet and pitching his "queer in the 90s" series to anyone in LA who might be influential - and he has had remarkable skill in getting his script into helpful hands. He has never riled the low growl of my inner wolf because I understand his quality and we don't need to impress one another. The respect has long since been established - or, at least, I respect him. I don't recall if he has read anything I've written. Still, it is hard not to envy the mind that insisted we wear geek casual, not cosplay but what characters would wear to a semi-formal occasion.

I want to like other writers, not merely laud or scoff at their work, because they are my people. On paper, I should have more in common with them than any other demographic - though I tend to be on my guard when someone claims membership to something at the core of my being - but my mind is too occupied fitting them into the pecking order: published by the Big Five and successful, published by the Big Five and unsuccessful, published by an indie publisher and successful (doesn't usually exist, as the Big Five will snatch them up), published by an indie and unsuccessful (me?), only self-published, and buys reviews/cheats the system/lies in nonfiction for attention. Though I believe myself to be progressing in my skills, I tend to regard everyone else as static, unable to change from the only thing of theirs I have heard or read. (Though, to be fair, most people who aren't attempting to get published, edited, or criticized don't evolve much because they don't see the need. In their minds, they are exactly as good as their mother has told them.) When our association begins with long letters, I like people better, since I get to know them through their words. However, if anyone were to link me immediately to their article in The Atlantic or picked their book off a shelf in Barnes & Noble, I would be too irritated with intimidation to see them as more than a resource with whom I needed to be always politic; we aren't equals and friendship can only exist there, otherwise it is a power struggle. I have no energy for that in my daily life.

I say all this, but Amber came to love me - or at least began to understand me - from reading through my journal entries in our relationship's infancy. She knew me well enough that she could trust that I would keep her safe when inviting her early to spend the weekend with me. If someone chose to use their flagella to feel me out through my blogs and books - and were not creepy about it - I would be so flattered I would blush. What is the point of all this but to let myself be understood by the wider world?

Why should I hold other writers to a different standard? If they are weaker, I have been in their shoes and can empathize and help. If they are stronger, one only improves by learning from those who have worked at it. Either way, they should not be judged as competition first.

This is especially so when at a wedding, stuffed with food, sweating on the dance floor to outdated music.

(The wedding was lovely, incidentally. The setting was elegant, Michael and Andrew are gushing with love for one another and are excellently match, a fact that was plain with everything said about them. That I do not have more to say about the wedding above likely says all that needs saying: good wedding, good reception, great couple.)

Soon in Xenology: Gods. Untrustworthy adults. Detribalizing. Apocalypse.

last watched: Death Note
reading: Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang
listening: Regina Spektor

Sometimes the Abyss | 2017 | September 12th

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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