Assistance with Quickly Becoming Unbearable
by Channie Greenberg
After a time, Quennel’s graduate students stopped pretending to care. No matter his efforts to communicate the publication triumphs of others of his wards, his current brood rolled their eyes at and closed their ears to him. They wanted only their terminal degree and access to some lame appointment from which they could torment younger wannabe artists along with getting paid.
What’s more, after his dean begrudgingly bestowed tenure upon him, his wife took their children and moved in with the milkman with whom she had been having a decade-long tryst. So, he quit academia and sought shelter with his parents. He meant to recalibrate his life in tandem with studying Oriental Medicine.
Quennel enrolled in The Cosmic School of Integrative Healing, an institute devoted to a science-based natural approach to complementary health care. That place had been touted on the Internet as being superior to education centers featuring Chinese herbal medicine, Qi cultivation, Tui Na hand, structural techniques, and Shakuju therapy.
Whereas that academy offered electives in the Five Elements, in Yin/Yang, and in the Four Levels, as well as an optional internship in China, neither Quennel nor most of his classmates really intended to complete more than the sparsest of graduation requirements. Consequently, the school’s case management, practice management, and clinical communications courses had to be offered in multiple sections, but the school’s Three Treasures, Six Stages, Zang Fu, Essential Substances, and Eight Principles were often cancelled for lack of takers.
During the span in which the former academic was learning how to perforate others with sharp devices, he deigned to approach one of his writing heroes. That well-published other told the aspiring practitioner to spin his prose in a way that made his manuscripts appeal to the masses, i.e. succeed commercially, rather than scholastically.
Quennel’s tenure had been based on two slim volumes of prosody; he was an adequate critic, but a horrible author. Accordingly, he was bid to spike his plot lines with blood and lust, to take on a pseudonym that reflected contemporary trends in rock and roll, and to cover his baldness with a rug.
The established writer further admonished the budding pricker of skin and tissues that his texts smacked of an entitlement attitude, of a limited imagination, and of excessive information about the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture. The fellow, who was able to pay bills with book revenues, likewise warned the needle man that few speculative fiction readers actually cared about the particulars of alternative healers’ national board examinations. A story about hedgehogs in spacesuits or about gelatinous wildebeests would sell better to the science fiction crowd.
What’s more, he espoused that for moneyed audiences, expressly for those persons employed in high-tech or in other fields of applied science, it would remain improbable that they would be fascinated by belabored narratives of clinical rounds. Tales abounding with treacly monkeys in swimwear, on the other hand, could, potentially, sell copies in the six figures. Telline creatures, too, make for popular fare.
Alternatively, advised the author, Quennel could focus his energies on renal center remittance legislation. Such a novel could be situated in a near-future dystopia and could hint of a generation’s dearth of goldfish or of cloud computing’s inability to source the sounds of club music. The profit-making writer ended his communication there and deleted the Internet address at which the former professor had found him.
Unconvinced that a fellow who had made millions of dollars by penning pulp really understood marketing, the newly minted student of pain and disease considered that his best artistic strategy might be that of mining improvised wisdom from his mother. After all, she had accurately identified his ex-wife as a heinous banshee from the first instance, i.e. when he had brought that woman home.
Mom, similarly, made really good apple pie and nearly edible burnt spaghetti. Surely, Mom, who sold tome after tome of books in which knowledge of the handicrafts of decorative sewing and textile arts was integrated with knowledge of human viscera, knew more about publishing than did any bestselling author.
Over meatloaf, Quennel listened raptly while Mom exclaimed that too many poets groused about the art of art. There was more substance in ballads about knitting needles than there was in verbal montages concerned with meter or alliteration, she trumpeted.
Verbal triptychs were ornamental at best. Rather, more ought to be stated about bodily fluids. Didn’t Junior appreciate her couplets about skeins in which homage was paid to the verities of appendectomies? Didn’t he realize, that one day, the family would experience wealth beyond belief because she had had the sagacity to write about yarn creations’ impact on endometritis?
After drying the dishes and listening to a few more hours of his mother’s diatribes, Quennel poised himself on his parents’ sofa. His father, a retired military man, sort of obliquely smiled at him among sessions of snoring.
Eventually, Dad opened one eye, and jerked his thumb toward the liquor cabinet, specifically toward the empty spot where his best Scotch usually sat. The son sat stone still. Pleased, Dad pulled those high octane spirits from his pocket and poured shots. Nodding, he owned that beyond weaning his son from playing in traffic, he had done little to provision his child’s development. In fact, Dad revealed that he had celebrated his scion’s entrance into academia because Dad had believed that the event had marked Dad’s completion of paternal responsibility.
Regrettably, his kid not only failed to stay married, but had also failed to stay financially afloat. It flummoxed the older man why the younger one had given up a functional career and was now devoting himself to Eastern medicine. Dad, who had served in Vietnam, saw women as the better part of pants parties and saw Asian women, in particular, as necessarily submissive.
Sure, the Dien Bien Phu gals had proven dangerous with their Viet Minh sheaves, but marrying a Southeast Asian female could have meant cheaply securing a lifetime of hide the stick. No one needed a mail order wife if a war bride could be sourced.
Yes, Dad’s Mrs. was a red, white and blue gal from Memphis, but his son had wed a Russian during a decade when there had been many girls from South Asia to go around. That his ex-daughter-in-law’s family had been in the USA for a generation more than had Dad’s folks, made no matter.
Additionally, Dad, who had grown up in the sixties, saw doctors who listened, who seemed to care, and who treated people as complex individual entities, as wimps, and saw the members of the ivory tower as socially elite. He could not understand his child’s choices even when he was sober.
Bottle back in his pocket, Dad gestured for his boy to approach his chair. He patted his son’s thigh and sighed. Perhaps there was something lovely about transforming hurt and suffering into bits and snips of energy visa via pointed sticks. Was there an ancient cure for hangovers, he asked. He belched loudly and fell back asleep.
The wishful healer shrugged and trudged back to his room. Perhaps writing was a better meal ticket than was prescribing odd potions. He began, anew, to submit his work to publishers. He purposely disregarded all of the insights conveyed by the professional. Intentionally, he mailed in “short” texts than ran to tens of pages. Deliberately, he touted as “well-composed” pieces, whose abundance of superlatives, most generously, could be labeled “crayon-like.”
Sadly, Quennel’s subsequent lack of good news soured him. He nearly jabbed himself in highly vulnerable places, so great was his anguish. Not until a bit of free verse was embraced, on the condition that the editor could send the work back to the past, to Bletchley Park, for diction tweaking and for other kinds of revision, was Quennel willing to raise cups again with his father.
While Quennel never saw his free verse in print, Churchill’s cryptanalysts did receive it. Stranger than anything Quennel had penned was the fact of his editor’s access to a vehicle that actually transversed eras.
Accordingly, yesteryear scientists ran Quennel’s poem through Colossus, their huge, archetypal computation machine, and then conjured a side-by-side comparison of it and some code their agents had captured.
Those World War II sleuths were convinced that they had received an enemy message, not an ungainly bit of literature from the future. In view of their belief, they proffered their leader the advice that he give up on capturing the Ottoman capital of Constantinople and that he avoid sending troops to Gallipoli Peninsula, overall. It was a pity that they were heeded.
While waiting to hear back from his commissioner with “time warp” connections, the student of TCM moved out of his parents’ home. He no longer felt that his parents’ digs were conducive to creativity.
He shared his new apartment with a poet recently released from jail, one who had been accused of drug trafficking and had been entangled in an international prisoner swap. Once a commodore in the Royal Canadian Navy, the poet had been, given his predilection for marijuana, stood before superior officers and then shuffled to the independent Office of the Chief Military Judge. From there, a particularly secretive military tribunal had arranged for him to be jailed in America.
Neither his limited martial arts knowledge nor his wasteful habit of giving away earned cigarettes had curried as much favor him as his willingness to teach about paragraphs and stanzas. So influential was his teaching of creative writing to other inmates that despite the fact that he refused to allow his peers to stick jagged or organic objects into his private parts, he was protected throughout the jail. The largest of the prison’s brutes fought among themselves for the honor of protecting the poet in the yard.
Indeed, early on in his incarceration, the poet, like all newbies, was sought for subjugation. Not more than two or three men among a population of thousands cared about his recitations in which he spoke on archeological digs, tasteful, lavish weddings, and bad coffee.
When, at last, however, he began to recite pieces about childhood bullies, siblings that took the largest portions of pie, and the wretchedness of classmates’ standards, he gained infamy. He became the champion of men who had elsewise lacked words for their deepest feelings.
His shrewdness increased. Just after his release, he read some newspaper’s classifieds, he reflected that an acupuncturist-in-training could be the sort of roommate that could cure his ills and fix his broken bits with a few jabs and for free. In truth, the longer the ex-con resided with Quennel of Meridians, the more the ex-con’s “allergy” to physical hurt, his asthma, and his chronic knee problems diminished. That his roommate liked to scribble verse was a bonus.
Even pasta can take only so much boiling. Problems soon occurred between the men. The rehabilitated prisoner, a fully formed being, possessed of more vocabulary, more manners of manipulating accounts, and more access to literary venues than the former lecturer, spent many of his evenings urging Quennel to come to terms with contemporary publishing standards.
Altogether, his roommate’s words were not only leaky, they were bumpy and full of splinters. The poet exerted himself, time and again, insisting that Quennel imbue his writing with more instances and types of descriptive language, more sensory impressions, and more cases of transporting readers to foreign climes.
Unlike the prisoners, though, the healing hopeful was neither impressed by nor in any other way plied by the military man’s bookish prowess. The more the poet suggested revisions to his texts, the more the acupuncture student contemplated ways in which needles could be used to kill. It could serve him well to skewer his roommate like a voodoo doll.
In his esteem, his suffered months of blather about nuance, about sophisticated meaning, and about kindred toth more than justified premeditated murder. Any authority with a sound mind would understand the need to place a needle just below the poet’s nose and in the sweet point of the poet’s chest.
Albeit no one was snuffed, the standoff between the two grew. They resorted to “his” and “his” shelves in the refrigerator and to buying their own toilet paper. The poet, in addition, began to wander through their apartment clad only in floral skivvies and more and more often “forgot” to latch his bedroom door. The poet’s passive aggressive sexual affronts tormented Quennel.
In retaliation, the postulant disremembered his hairs in the bathtub drain, left the kitchen garbage overflowing, and kicked, when he thought his roommate wasn’t looking, his roommate’s cat. He also left all manner of pokey things, sharp side up, scattered on the living room floor.
When the lease expired, nonetheless, it was the commodore who renewed the papers and who informed the TCM student that he was no longer welcome on the premises. The poet wagged his finger at his soon to be ex-roommate as he spoke, scolding that individuals will never understand their relationships to themselves and to the world if they insist upon relying, solely, on insular perspectives.
The needle guy shook his head in answer. It was his opinion that the ex-con had not lived well enough to justify making him his verbal pincushion. Upon passing, one final time, over the apartment threshold, Quennel left the door open and the porch light on. He had unplugged the filled refrigerator and had permanently emancipated the cat, too.
A little later, Quennel, who had resettled in his parents’ home, graduated from his acupuncture school. He never looked back on his tenured position, but he continued to create texts.
His latter attempts to “write from life,” like his earlier ones, charmed no gatekeepers. None seemed interested in portraits of greying fathers slobbering through alcohol-infused dreams, when reclining in armchairs, or in his sketches of physically dwindling mothers who hunted and pecked their way across keyboards concomitantly with writing stories about surgeons who crocheted repairs to kidneys and spleens.
In the private clinic, he muttered to clients about how his powders and potions consisted of pulverized starfish, pre-calcified antlers, dried human placentas, donkey hide pellets, toad secretions, crushed beetles, and preserved scorpions, as well as arsenic, asbestos and calomel. He retained sufficient followers, anyway, to keep him monetarily afloat.
After Mom and Dad predeceased him, Quennel slowly emptied the liquor cabinet and less leisurely proceeded to burn all kinds of linguini and penne. He paid his utility bills on time. He bought a lizard.
When his children married, he received no invitations to their nuptials. Nevertheless, after each ceremony, his credit cards were charged with items from hotels and restaurants in in Krasnoyarsk, Kyzyl, and Komi-Permyak.
Copyright © 2014 by Channie Greenberg