Thomm Quackenbush, author

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    Xenology: Fireworks Apocalypse

    Fireworks are not meant to be the end of the world.

    For a decade, I would attend fireworks displays and imagine I watched the pyrotechnic volleys of dueling armies far too close to escape, too explosive or radioactive. We had chosen to gather together in a field our children and elderly to observe the doom that none of us would survive, because there should be a splash of magenta and green in the sky to commemorate our end.

    Xenology: Thirty-Seven Questions

    "There is this app that can make you fall in love with anyone," says a woman at Holly's housewarming party and goes on to explain that one asks another person a series of questions - I think she said thirty-seven, a number which I think I would only let someone ask me in a row if I already thought I had a good chance of loving them - and then stares into the other person's eyes for five minutes. I don't see why this needs to be an app. The job could be done just as well with a sheet of paper and a stopwatch, but she is pleased with the concept. "Except I haven't found anyone I want to love, so it just sits on my phone."

    Xenology: What I Do on My Summer Vacation

    On the bottom line, I am a technically a teacher. It is not what I tell people at dinner parties unless pressed, but it is what is written on my biweekly paychecks. I have a Master's degree in education I have been paying off since twenty-five and shall possibly be paying off until I retire, so I ought to use it.

    For years, I have declined working at my facility in the summers. I could - juvenile justice does not take a break when the days grow longer - but I do not care to. I did for a few summers, then I took one off while planning my wedding. After that, there was no going back. If you had the option for two months off with pay to do whatever you would like, I imagine you would take it.

    Xenography: Dancing Instructions from the Beyond

    Since Melissa died, the lack of her in my life -- even as a concept, even acknowledging that our relationship around the time of her death was more contentious and distant that it ought to have been - has been palpable. I wonder if this isn't her sending me messages from the beyond and can think of few more interesting guardian angels.

    Two men with whom she had relationships - I'm hesitant to necessarily call them both romantic relationships, though one might assume so if one squinted while walking past - have recently and independently appeared in my life with friendly overtures.

    Xenology: Wake to Sleep

    My fitness tracker measure sleep not in when I click it to tell it I am going to bed or when it buzzes me awake, but rather how still I was between those points. If I fidgeted through the night, if I got up to write an email out of anxiety, if I got up to use the toilet, if I went to bed jittery, that counts against my total. I am in bed upwards of eight hours most nights. In the morning, I synchronize and discover I have every right to feel lethargic, since I slept only in the mid-six hours, the balance spent on tossing and turning or hazy fretting over things absent sleep will only exacerbate

    Since getting a tracker, I try to stay in bed when sleep escapes me, as if to trick the band through stillness, which sometimes lulls me back to sleep.

    So it is with friendships.

    Xenology: A Citizen of the Sacred and Mundane

    Jesus said one cannot be the servant of two masters. What he did not say - or what was left unrecorded except in some Apocrypha that never made it out of the Vatican archives - was that one cannot be the citizen of two worlds. Even he couldn't manage it long and he was literally meant to be a god incarnate.

    Xenology: Not a Bad Gig on a Bad Day

    When I mention my job to new people, there is a common misconception that teaching English to adjudicated minors is difficult. Surely, they are so violent, so obnoxious, so challenging that I am constantly emotionally drained and hate every second I am there. Without a doubt, I must always be looking for any other job just so the toll on my soul is not so heavy.

    Let me disabuse you of this notion by taking you through my worst, composite day.

    Xenology: Archipelago of Social Islands

    My therapist - my new one and not the nurse who refills my prescriptions - challenges that I might be afraid to make friends. In part, she said this because she suggested I join a theater troupe and I pronounced too great a commitment of time and effort.

    Instead, she charged me to find people with whom I can write and was not swayed when I said writers are territorial and private. Resentful competition is not a foundation for friendship. She was unconvinced. So I will find a group or I will make one, if just so I can report back that I did and it came to nothing. As a seventeen-year-old, I initiated the Mid-Hudson Pagan Network, a group of over two hundred people, most of whom had a decade on me, some of whom attended monthly meetings at a local Denny's. This lasted for years, before imploding from predictable drama. It is likely I could actually wrangle a few local writers.

    Xenology: The Problem of Cool

    When I was a teenager -- the coolest period in anyone's life -- I went to concerts at least once a month at a club called The Chance. Paul McCartney once said it was one of the clubs he most wanted to play in the States, though I don't see that he ever did.

    In the nineties, I saw awesome bands: GWAR, Collective Soul, the Verve Pipe, Sponge (three times!), Blink-182, Chevelle, Eve 6, Goatwhore, Murphy's Law, Paramore, Puddle of Mudd, Sum 41, and Third Eye Blind. There are undoubtedly many more who slip my mind at the moment, certainly opening acts whom I mostly ignored at the time because I was too eager for the headliner and they were going on too long. Who is cooler than the entitled in our culture? I wish I had a list of all the bands I saw, just to reflect on shows I only hazily remember from the jet engine drone of being directly in front of the speakers, the sore calves from jumping around, the torn shirts from other concert goers, the smell of smoke that clung to my hair for days.

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