By Steven Jonak
Published By Steven Jonak at Shakespir
Copyright 2017 Steven Jonak
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The room I occupied was simple yet immaculate and modern. This helped the many visitors not regret their stay nor be overwhelmed by excess of belongings and amenities in their temporary habitat. Each room was similar in appearance. You could find yourself in another seeker’s room and not notice until minutes after your stay. Seekers is what they often referred to us as at this retreat from what we were told were our former lives.
Those of us occupying the small cabins were there for a variety of reasons. I had a crisis after finding less value in my career and my girlfriend of four years left me. A little over two-million-dollars is what I accumulated in savings during my career. I worked for a business known as NIL and registered as the National Institute of Legalities. It was a conglomerate consisting of and dealing with many types of debt collection and sales, from student loans to arms sales. It was complex work that demanded much of my time. The sum of money I accumulated was a lot being only thirty-three-years-old. This allowed me to stay at a prestigious compound without wincing as my money was transferred. Others rented out their home and sold their cars to stay for a few weeks.
Today was the day I would finally leave after a ten week stay. A car arrived and I asked the driver to bring me to a nice hotel in downtown Detroit. He nodded and stared at me in his rear-view mirror much more than I appreciated during the drive. I sensed he was familiar with the instability of those whom he chauffeured in and out of the retreat. I wondered if he thought what he was paid was adequate compensation for being in such close quarters with unpredictable riders. Did he have a family? Did he find value in his job? Die he hate me? Did he dread the moment strangers said hello and took their seat in his car? The rise of such questions was natural following some of the lessons and methods exercised at the retreat, but I was unable to assess their value being so recently extricated.
There were several instructors at the retreat. Each had a goal of helping the guests find a foundation or starting point from which they would rebuild their purpose, life or perspective. After following a similar psychological algorithm they would determine the best starting point for a guest and enumerate rules or objectives that would be the groundwork for their new lives. Each guest after arriving understood that their title of seeker meant they were to learn and complete their transformation throughout their stay and after their departure. I was like every other guest, but many of the instructors were too condescending and their approaches seemed artificial in their construction. Most of their strategies were convoluted and simply did not resonate with me, almost driving me away a few days into my stay. Eventually, he whom was known to be the most senior instructor decided to direct me to visit Marcel, the man who was to be my instructor for the remainder of my stay and was seen to be the last resort for those considering leaving the retreat and deeming it a failure.
I by no means comprehended all Marcel’s impartations or even words, but his ideas essence and their delivery had a comforting effect on me. We spent many nights in his cabin discussing my past and my errors. Upon leaving camp I acknowledged constant considerations of his ideas were needed. He reiterated a need to analyze situations which were once overlooked. I was directed to find slivers of truth anywhere and build off of the truths.
When arriving at my hotel I thought of my girlfriend and thoughts of her deterred to wondering why I would consider my rented enclosure in this structure “my hotel.” This was Marcel’s doing and in these mental surprises I found enjoyment. I did not think like this before. I was too busy making money and being envied to spend time thinking of frivolous thoughts such as this before my breakdown. The introduction to such questioning was discomforting but appealing. I asked for the key to my room and rolled my bag to the elevator.
The inside of the elevator, like the surroundings of the last seven years of my life, was aesthetically pleasing and matched the intended brand. The hallway to my room was no different. I was in a suite on the top floor and the bed was a California King. The bed was the largest bed you could buy in any regular market and I was struck by its size. I slept on a bed of its size regularly before the retreat but found myself questioning the demand of a bed so large. My height is above average and my build is narrow. How many versions of myself could fit into the bed and would these different versions get along? This question troubled me as I thought there was no chance a thought like that could be productive or anything but a futile waste of focus. I needed to reconsider my approach and tried to recall Marcel’s advice and vocal musings. When sitting by a fire one night he told me about a philosopher who was bent on finding a foundation of true, simple thought from which one could build. He said the man was inspired by flame, realizing all things came from a source more pure than itself: wetness from water, heat from flame and even man from god. Marcel spoke of the absurdity of accepting god’s existence from the recognition of human existence, but explained that if a self-accepted truth supports a system that when deduced is valuable to your reasoning, then there might be something of value to be derived from flawed conclusions.
I needed to get back outside. There was much daylight remaining and the hotel might have driven me a bit mad as I felt the need for slight distraction while trying to process the new ideas that were crammed within my skull without warning labels. I left the hotel and began to walk. One of the instructors before Marcel said walking was important for my mental health for some reason or another; so why not mix methods a little? I saw a retail store up the road with whose brand I was familiar and continued to traverse its parking lot. Cars drove by and I wondered what they thought as they saw me, a bearded, but well-dressed man walking across the parking lot without belongings. One car that passed had a young girl in the backseat and she looked at me with squinted, inquisitive eyes. I wondered what she thought of her existence at that moment and of our relation. Did she see me as a being worthy of life in her solipsist existence, or did she feel empathy and worry for my stability as another human trying to coexist in a world in which families roll inside metal bins to buy branded meats and corn products advertised specifically, skillfully and collectively to them?
The store I walked towards was known as an overpriced but much preferred retailer when compared to the number one retail store company in the country. It had everything: clothing, food, toys and furniture. After living in a cabin without personal belongings I more acutely sensed the excess of all that awaited me in the intoxicating environment. The family with the young girl would likely spend hundreds of dollars on things they had no intention of buying before the store’s atmosphere usurped their wills. I told myself that establishments like these are especially American and have always played a role in beautifying and comforting the daily lives of those who inhabited our continent’s centerpiece.
As I walked to the entrance the doors slid open in silence. Masses of people lived externally in the atmosphere. None were forcing strains of principles and ideas onto themselves. I saw the little girl and her family pointing to various racks with excitement and want on their faces as their expressions asked, “Should we buy this item which could be seen as compatible with our lifestyles being we all like to make purchases anyway?”
Regardless of this thought being potentially accurate I recognized this building brought joy into the vacuum of the family. Others toiled on slave wages and cut fingers off to produce the exciting products in mass. Should I feel the need to be the one weighing a perception of the family’s catharsis and joy against an assumption of the products’ origins?
Moving to the grocery section I purchased bread, meat, mayonnaise and some canned coffee. While leaving the aisle I purchased a bag of chips from the end of the aisle, because very few of us would not feel we need chips to survive between meals or for when our wives finish dinner later than expected. Who knows how many bags of chips delayed inevitable ideas of divorce from sliding into out delicate, corporately-affected psyches?
I went to pay for the items and opted for paying a human being instead of a machine, since Marcel advised me to meet new acquaintances. Looking at the employee I was to pay was not as depressing as it was in the past. In the past I wondered how severely employees of such jobs might despise their roles and all the circumstance that led them there. This young employee, Dorian, as it said on her nametag, maintained a comforting smile. She was beautifully detached from her job. She could have picked up a dead cat, put it on the conveyor belt and asked the customer if it was acceptable to bag it with the bread. I said hello to her and she asked how my day was as she mechanically scanned items with her right arm, passed them to her left arm and dropped them in a bag.
“My day has been wonderful. How are you doing today?” The tone of my question sounded too sincere.
She was startled that I looked into her eyes while asking and appeared to feel guilty that her prepared answer was not appropriate for sincere questioning. I began thinking of my job as the woman finished and wondered whose job brought them more fulfillment. I then considered the reality she might not have sought any type of fulfillment from her job, but something else. She just happened to be standing at the register for that day. She might be elsewhere tomorrow or buying paints to make a masterpiece each week she was paid, only thinking of what colors, materials and mentalities were needed for her sweet escapes in the interim.
She took my irregular tone as an opportunity for mild expression. “It’s been good. I can’t believe it’s only a Tuesday, but it could be worse.”
“It definitely can be. I failed in everything and am trying to start over and in all honestly, just speaking to someone outside from where I came is pleasant.”
“Our life is just a series of starting over. If we’re not busy being born we’re busy dying. I believe in that.”
Her words were much appreciated and she guarded herself by saying that she thinks that line was “from some pop song.”
I wished her a more wonderful day and promised her weekend would be here soon enough. She said thanks and transitioned back to her work mode as I was not the only person in line.
When walking out of the store the air outside was steady and the thick scent in the air caused my stomach to growl for sustenance. I looked across the parking lot and next to a gym was a restaurant known for its chicken wings. It laced the air with the smell of meat and oil which naturally made my tongue wet in preparation for breaking down meat. I recalled hearing the business prepared their wings by frying them in beef fat. While inhaling the burned animal concoction I decided to sit on a bench between a buffet and a relatively upscale pawn shop, meaning it was clean and not constantly patrolled by police.
I thought of the girl at the store and what she thought of all of this which surrounded me. She reminded me of pleasure. The rare connection between people meeting for the first time is something I had always valued. You begin speaking with someone and acknowledge that you are both human beings, then consider the amount of time you can wait to speak without it being deemed uncomfortable by societal standards. Purposely disobeying the standards was a way to let the other person know there are really no boundaries to their relationships and the potential of your kind. You can connect in any way you would like, disagree on all things, or agree on all things, or hold hands and be ambivalent about everything until you mutually decide a matter is worthy of thought and participation. My ex-girlfriend and I never had these moments nor did we discuss our boundaries. We accepted them all and strived to surpass others within our confines. It was a human relationship incompatible with free will and growth. We compromised and succeeded in the eyes of others while grinding our beckoning yet ambiguous hopes to dust.
Becoming used to the thick air and distracted by my considerations I was no longer yearning to eat what was burned to fill bellies and meet the atmosphere. I remembered Marcel’s advice and accepted these observations were something that could be used to improve myself and my life.
I walked by the pawn shop and my momentary hope was disrupted by what was seen on one of their used televisions. Marcel always told me the importance of events that were cemented and recurred perpetually in history. He told me his interpretation of our country’s role. We rotated wars across civilizations while being sure to not become engaged with too many areas at once. This repetition allowed us to continually decimate one area while showing relative mercy to the last land whose people we tortured. He said this balanced our country’s image and others’ trust. The constant existence of both forced mercy and displays of violent hatred translated to uninvolved countries as reason, circumspection or strategy.
To him, it was another system that when understood could be less feared. This approach was no less saddening but it was less personally terrifying when viewed as a bloody routine or advertisement for our country – less of a randomized slaughter. Marcel always spoke of constructs and systems and did his best to stay objective to them all. He asked, “Why think subjectively about all complex matters when you can at least aim to be an objective subject?” To simplify the point further he would ask, “Would you like to be dragged to death by suffering which you don’t fully understand, like a flea on a bear in a trap, destined to the same fate, or would you like to be the owl who has seen many bears trapped and can warn his children of the matter while being no less subject to the sadness the visual of a powerful beast in such a crude instrument can elicit?” He would say, “There is a balance to how we must view tragic matters. We must feel them, but accurately. We must not tell lies at friends’ funerals nor blindly dive into their coffins to adjust the collective sadness.”
My thoughts could not be reined. I wanted to sell off my belongings and retire when recalling Marcel’s ideas, but the exertion of too much energy was required to explain a sudden transition to others. Why become anxious about others questioning no longer working two-thousand hours a year? I told myself a slow transition to an actual life could be viewed as practical by society.
Action was needed regardless and I was already feeling less trapped. I could have flown across the country and spent the following day doing nothing outside of being comforted by cigars and drink on any beach. I could be back at my job the next day and on my way to another promotion and even an extra word tossed onto my existing titles. I could look forward to having subordinates spending a full ten seconds exaltedly reciting my title when they nervously addressed me. I could buy a bundle of weapons and cause any system to adjust, or even shoot a dog beneath a bridge in hopes of being drugged in a mental facility until the day of my death. Prison was not much different than the retreat at which I stayed and neither was the beach.
My thoughts became extreme, so I decided to begin taking action to adjust to a simpler life, moving toward balancing pleasure, simplicity and awareness. I went into a phone store and gave them a thousand dollars to have the newest phone ready for me as soon as possible. I called my ex-girlfriend, Liz, and she greeted me with care. She asked how I was. “I was lost and need to change, or to just accept change. I’m tired of it all. You were the best thing to happen to me recently and we fucked it up. We distanced ourselves to the best of our abilities. You live a life much closer to the one I now desire. It doesn’t matter though. We can’t spiral down so ridiculously just because our in-laws’ expectations for us wouldn’t stop consuming our actual potential.”
She paused and asked, “What happened?” as she was not used to me speaking freely nor having unconventional ideas of our relationship.
“I spent some time thinking about my past and need to change. I know I was successful and was seen as some king of convention, seen as being on the right track and all: school, a relationship, a place to live and a car built in the last year or two at all times. None of that really matters. I’ve always loved life and need to make it worthy of the love I invest.”
“Well, you sound different. Just don’t do anything too extreme and be safe. A lot of people still care about you. You know, I really miss some of our moments together. You were consumed by what others viewed as your successes but it sounds like you’re finally starting to discover this now. And I know I’m not perfect either and never will be. My mind worries about the same conventions. All I want is peaceful solitude yet ridiculously want to be viewed by absolutely everyone as a perfect reincarnation of my ego.”
“It’s OK. We need to stop pressuring ourselves so god damn much.”
“True. But if not pressure we need to exercise some resistance when discovering that all of these conventions are forced into our psyches our entire life and each worldly institutions to which we relate ourselves are founded and revolve because of their compatibility with our training. It’s strange talking about things like this with you.”
“Well you haven’t changed at least,” I laughed. “But yes, I’m starting to discover. I’ve considered many similar ideas as of late and see how little understanding was needed for me to seemingly succeed. Successes that we tie to the word success all seem like a cruel sentence or test to me now. We know so damn little and become something so detached from ourselves. How could we have been expected in such a society to find it acceptable to live together for the rest of our lives?”
“Well, a relationship is still important to me. I want a partner with whom discovery can be mutual or at least simultaneous.”
“I couldn’t fall into that trap during the most sedated period of my life.” I laughed and Liz did, too, as she remembered my common fear of commitment.
I told her of my need to go and assured her I would always call her for advice as she was one of my best friends. She was more familiar with the extent of my follies than maybe even Marcel.
“Goodbye for now and be sure to call me if you feel like you need anything.”
“I need to tell you that I’m scared for you as trying to see things as they are is hazardous in such a world. Always remember you can fall back into all your old comforts if you need. Just take care of yourself.”
The call was as torturous as expected. My old life was there for the taking and I still wanted it back, but it would be a selfish path which would lead to unhappiness. It was not me and I would not let it reclaim me.
My willpower was tuned to such a stubborn level as I so recently left the retreat. I was not sure whether my decisions concluded in the rational sense or if I were just fighting everything that could have led me to the sadness which forced me to visit the retreat.
I called my business to inform them of my pulling back. I told them some investments to which I was tipped proved to be more fruitful than expected and that they could buy me out at a discounted rate: A few million instead of a number that would make them think about it for a few days.
Money no longer had the appeal and this was because money was always accessible in abundance my whole life, or because I accumulated such an unfathomable amount with the help of my suited circle. Marcel’s philosophy left me desiring less and valuing more. I would find relationships and chase something of value, I would leave a legacy that would not be hungrily accepted by a teller at a local bank.
Walking down the road I wondered what setting would be ideal while I finished processing my aims or aimlessness. My phone rang from an unfamiliar number.
“Hello old friend.” It was the voice of Marcel.
I could not surmise why he would call as he continually spoke of his independence from people and their systems.
“So you might find this strange. But I know you have some of that money stuff and I could use some.”
His advice became ideas from a condemnable source as he asked such a question.
“Being such paper and digits shouldn’t mean much to you anymore, I need to let you know it would buy me some distance from the creep of some the ancient predators of which we spoke.”
I hung up on Marcel never to know whether his call was come sort of a test. His word and direction would always be of worth to me and if it were proven to not be a trap I would have paid him a large sum with a smile on my face. It was too early in what I viewed as my recovery to be faced with such challenges or trickery. I knew Marcel and Liz were two people of importance in my life and would speak to them both again if they allowed. I need to find and become myself. Beauty found in the both of them was what was needed in my life, but I could not fully savor time with such aggressive, consummate teachers while still being a student to it all.