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The Problem of Cool | 2017 | Not a Bad Gig on a Bad Day


Anyone in pursuit of art is responding to a desire to make visible that which is not, to offer the unknown self to others.  

-Hettie Jones

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.

(My therapist does not understand why I am paying her, incidentally. I am a high functioning neurotic in warm weather. In the cold and dark, another animal slithers its way around my brain. She has decided to blame my anxiety on my father. I have opted to shift that blame onto my genes; nature, not nurture.)

She asks why I do not have more friends already, since I put on a good face when meeting with her. Making a quip, I suggest it is because I am a snob. I am half-starved but I find little food that I could digest. I am too old and active for a diet of snacks and fast food. There is nothing wrong with most people. They are lobster and I have a shellfish allergy.

She asks if I think I am weird. I always was, segregated in gifted kid programs and falling into alternative music culture back when that seemed to mean something revolutionary, rather than a barely spiced variant of the mainstream. However, then I was frequently exposed to new people, those similar to me and those far different. Some lovely people chose to like me for who I was beneath it all because they had the opportunity to get to know me. Few people have recently found the excuse.

Now, I am a decade out of college, nearly decades out of high school. I am infrequently in contact - forced into contact - with novel people, let alone potentially compatible ones in the wild. If I am to attempt this, I will have to be the one doing the forcing.

I am not frightened to make friends. I want to love and be loved in return. I don't wish to be desperate, as desperation is not an attractive coat to paint on a friendship.

An associate sees my post about writers' groups and suggests a retreat in Kingston, across the river from me. I do not wish to commit to this, but I look up the group holding it. They do a monthly writing night for $5, something I may try when the summer comes and I no longer need to be up early the next morning. Yet I was disproportionately irritated that they ask a $125 monthly member for unlimited use of their studio. I don't need to pay this and won't, but its existence grates on me. I don't know why.

I want people to seek my company, to find me valuable. I cringe chasing people down, only to have them ignore me. Or, rather, to process friendship so differently from how I do that I do not feel appreciated. I cannot fight to feel cared about.

So I meet someone and am instantly defensive because I want them to care enough to try to get around or through my walls. I make them chase, just a little, just to know that they will. I am aware that this is not a fair thing to ask. I would not care to have someone explicitly or implicitly ask it of me, no matter how toned my legs are from the runaround.

When I am around people, my mind it so much quieter. I need companionship for my mental health. With others, I feel I am living my life. Alone at home, I feel the tension that I am wasting away. I must consider myself by my internal needs and I cannot deny I am a social animal in too much isolation. I am stir crazy, running circles in my cage, pulling out my fur, gnawing on the bars. With more of my tribe - with a tangible tribe I can name - the maladaptive behaviors ebb. So this puts me back in needing an external reward of a sort, making my mental health contingent on others.

It is imprudent to frame friendship as a matter of life and death, though this is the case beyond a certain age. The elderly without social bonds degenerate with marked rapidity over their socially fluid peers. I am half a lifetime away from friendship being so dire a matter, but I am plagued with premature concern. It does motivate me, so it is obnoxious but not useless. Raging against the dying of the light, even if it is bright by which to tan myself enough presently, keeps me from complacency. It pushes me to get into therapy to get myself sorted and involve myself in the lives of new people when a part of me might advocate giving up and disappearing into me marriage and writing. If no one cares to coax me out, I can hardly be blamed for staying in. I'll die after losing my memory and sanity, but the decision will be made outside of me.

Chris thanks me for planning a night at the drive-in, but I do it because forming an archipelago of social islands which I can see on the horizon keeps me believing in continents. I want others to plan things. I love to be invited places because it is validating, but I will play social director as my self-care. I don't mind individual rejections of my invitations until they become universal. Then it feels a bit personal. I play the odds, inviting a dozen in hopes one will join me.

I cannot let perfect be the enemy of good, as the tired axiom states. I cannot ignore the potential of new relationships because they are not love at first sight, even as I have felt that with people. Even then, love takes a lot of work to be anything other than unreciprocated interest. I had to grow warm to people over the course of months or years. I have misjudged people I have since come to adore (and be enraptured by people I came to find unpleasant). I should give the social world time before saying that I've tried hard enough and would like something ideal to spontaneously generate. Plus, I am partly the product of people who have taken their chances with me time and again. I was no one's perfect friend instantly.

I am trying, which feel instinctively wrong. Friendships should just happen, even when it doesn't because we live increasingly fragmented lives. Isn't it flattering that someone saw a lack in their live that you can fill? That they put effort toward finding you? Friendship is hardly a one-way transaction.

I find no writing group immediately, so I contact the Red Hook Library and, within an hour, have set up an adult writers program every other Tuesday in the summer. I cannot guarantee and rather doubt this will result in good writing, to say nothing of friendship. I do not even know that anyone will wish to spend an evening this way. I will know I tried and, I hope, not take an empty room too personally. I wanted a guru as a therapist, but I will have to pretend I am my own, reacting against her innocent, prodding questions as though they are significant directions.

My summers are for writing, yes, but for being an author, too. Doing a teen story slam and biweekly writing salon sounds precisely like what authors ought to do with their summer months, unless invited to do a retreat. Even without new friendships, there is ego gratification. Or, why not be productive for spite? To show I do not shirk work? I only found my wife because I went to a drumming to reconnect with my religion. I was not looking for a girlfriend any longer, but I found something more.

I am looking for friends, which is lower impact though similar in texture. If I provide a social good while I search, more the better. It makes me uncomfortable and forces me to know new people. How else are adult friendships made?

Soon in Xenology: Adventures.

last watched: Under the Skin
reading: Another Roadside Attraction
listening: Temple of the Dog

The Problem of Cool | 2017 | Not a Bad Gig on a Bad Day

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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