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A Good and Accurate Accounting of the Darkness | 2017 | Have Yourself a Scary Sinterklaas


Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity.  

-T. S. Eliot

Hypothetical Life of the Anxious


I have taken the day off from work because I have been fighting a cold for days, my throat sore and glands swollen. I have energy, but my body is not happy with me, made unhappier by my having gleefully taken an invigorating run on a below freezing night, introducing me to the concept of cold weather induced asthma.

Because I do not excel at relaxing, I have opted to do the laundry, only I have run out of quarters, necessitating a trip to the laundromat to turn $20 into quarters.

On my walk back, a man the shape and dress of Melissa, ten months deceased, comes out of a mechanic shop. I don't often see her outside the privacy of my thoughts. She always cut a unique figure, however much my mother felt Teen Melissa to be a chameleon, different hair color and style every time she came over. This man is the first one to remind me of here so sharply.

The rational mind would think, my, that reminds me of my dead friend and would move on.

My mind, on the other hand, immediately runs ten steps ahead. If it were Melissa, what would I say to her? What might she say to me? Would she be mad at me? Would she know that she was supposed to be dead? Should I tell her? Why would she be here? Oh no, I don't have my phone! Why don't I have my phone? I need to get a picture of her to prove that I have seen her. No one would believe that without proof. I know, I will take a picture of her in the background and my Fitbit in the foreground, so there will be a time and date. Oh, but it could be the end to November last year! Wait, I didn't have this Fitbit last year! That evidence isn't strong enough. If I had my phone, I could take a picture of today's news... but I can't take the picture if I am holding it up to show the news. And I don't even have my phone! Okay, I need to get her back to my apartment. I'll get her to drive there. No, she could sneak away, back where the dead go. I'd have to get in her car... No, she could take me to the dead place. Or I suppose she can't really be dead if I see her... I didn't see her body. I'm sure most people didn't. Did she fake her death to evade her debts, start fresh somewhere else? No, Rob wouldn't let her fake her death, so this must be supernatural. I will need to get her keys from her and drive there, though I don't think Melissa would keenly allow me to take her keys. Okay, what we'll do is...

Around this point, I realize that the Guy Who Is Not Melissa has gotten in his car and left. I notice too that I feel tense that I could not figure out how I would get her to go back to my apartment to create proof.

The above was not some hyperbolic, comedic example of anxiety, but what honestly went through my head before I realized my breath was getting shallow because I couldn't solve this nonexistent situation.

As though the words of a poor director or obnoxious god, the podcast in my ear continues a story about a young guy who was convinced he was a faith healer because he heard "angelic voices," but later realized he actually had schizophrenia. A real god would not be stopped by a pill.

I share this with Amber later to ask if this is how her anxiety forms. She states that it is more about people looking at her and judging her when she cannot make decisions, which has never been her strong suit.

My anxiety is not as acute as it has been or, at least, I am more aware that this disordered thinking has no place in an objective reality, that it is planning gone metastatic. I am certain that this deep dive into hypotheticals made me a better writer in the past, but it is too grating to be a running commentary. This was why I couldn't engage with the world before, because I was too mentally occupied spinning out alternate universes and revisiting choices I had made in the past to figure out different solutions. One of the more ridiculous mazes I revisited was what I would do if I returned to five years old with my knowledge and abilities intact and do I know enough to capitalize on this and, if I don't, how should I get that knowledge? Obviously, mental time travel is among the less likely occurrences, but I couldn't stop. These wandering would become particularly distracting when trying to sleep, since my brain then had free reign to search and process. I would be unable to sleep because I didn't know what to do about these impossibilities.

I get lost in what might have been, what could be, and the logic of impossibilities. I tried combatting these with mantras of what was real, what was present, but they fought back with almost as much vigor. Then I started going blank when they would begin.

My therapist was astounded and confused when I told her I can stop thinking, since this is apparently a high-level trick that cognitive behavior therapy teaches. I've been able to do it for years, ever since a sleepover at Jinx's. It is a reflective state, exclusively in that I am not considering or narrating what is going on. My inner voice is close to quiet.

It is not effortless. My speculation wants me to focus on it. I feel a physical pressure in my head as I hold it all back. She wonders why I don't do this all the time, since my chatty head is most of my problems, but it is tricky to blithely reflect things and have no inner monologue. I can try to shut down negative thoughts this way -- I can definitely extinguish earworms by not letting them play anymore, by not thinking of the pink gorilla in the room simply by not thinking of anything -- but it is a struggle to keep from letting anything through, especially since it is meant to be a relaxed state. It is easiest at night, when I have woken up too early and my brain would like to have a conversation. I simply go blank and my brain usually knocks me out so it can at least dream.

If not a battle between with my own mind, it is at least an attempt to get one over on the other.

Last time I saw her, my therapist asked me the same question everyone eventually asks me once I start talking about my mental health: do you think your writing has an effect? I told her what I always respond: of course it does. Without writing, I wouldn't have an outlet. I wouldn't have the ego gratification of some notability. I wouldn't have a way to launder my hypotheticals into something of which I can be proud.

I wouldn't be telling the story of how I win.

Soon in Xenology: Apocalypse. Imbalance. Meaning.

last watched: American Vandal
reading: A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares
listening: They Might be Giants

A Good and Accurate Accounting of the Darkness | 2017 | Have Yourself a Scary Sinterklaas

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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