Relationships are Hell

Freedom is the constant fight for something that cannot be seen. -Intellectual Shaman

I walked away from her, despite wanting her. My ambivalence was a blessing. I went undefined, even though she defined me.

“Coward; what’s wrong with you? You’re gay.” Relationships are hell. It seems they cannot be avoided. Our convictions are misunderstood because of competing needs; the need to be validated. What one thing means to me is entirely different for someone else. I walked up the beach to my cockpit of materialism and gunned the engine. I won this round by not winning. I refused to be objectified. Love is a three-letter word without the e. Ecstasy.

The road took me where it was designed to go and I drove it to my own destination. University was different at night; with the black sky and the lighted windows, real thinking could happen.

I felt good being alone. I had ideas in my head and the disapproval of the world.

Pondering the Existential Void

Are you really thinking or are you just a conglomeration of habits pretending to interact with the world differently? -Intellectual Shaman

I had better things to do than commit suicide and have affairs. I had a staff meeting to attend. I left my office and walked down the tired hallway to the conference room. My colleagues were sitting there, trying to look important, and in a strange way, they were. Absurd. And understanding this made meetings a bit more tolerable.

“Mac, difficult business today, dealing with that attempted suicide.”

“Yes; I suppose it was.”

“You’ll need to see our attorney, just in case he wants to press charges.”

“What for, I didn’t push him off the building.”

“Yes; but you did talk to him. Words are dangerous, you know.” He emphasized this like he disagreed with my teaching style.

Rudolph would never be the man. He held positions and told others what to do, but his time was spent in meetings trying to sound important. Meanwhile, a quiet student sat in a lonely room pounding out ideas with no praise but their own.

I sat there for 2 hours trying to divert my mind to important affairs, but my lust lost in the end. I left that meeting like a eunuch.

My affair with Liz would have to wait. There were so many existential voids begging to be filled and I didn’t have the time to fill all of them.

Hero Worship

We are born into this world without our consent, but we get to decide who we become. -Intellectual Shaman

I walked back to my office. Drama didn’t interest me. Sensationalism hovered over life and death like heaven and hell. Randomness knocks people loose like a pinball machine and people want to tilt the universe with their interpretations.

My books were waiting; full of dusty thoughts and forbidden ideas. Knowledge need not be shared with the masses; it feeds the mouth inside your head. I unlocked my office between two classrooms and closed the door. It was like entering a mind for my own mind. I pulled Sartre off my existential shelf and started reading.

KNOCKING. “Yeah,” I said.

“Is this a bad time?” A massive police officer asked.

He seemed out of place, asking my permission. In regular life, he didn’t ask; he took what was his.

“Would you like a drink?” I asked.

“What? Uh, no; I need to take your statement regarding the attempted suicide.”

“He would’ve never jumped. He didn’t have a good enough reason to kill himself.”

“Uh…hu,” the officer mumbled. “Not a good enough reason…” He wrote it down in his yellow note pad.

“What do you mean by that?” He asked. It was a question he’d been trained to ask.

“He didn’t have a plan; he would’ve never carried it out.”

“But he jumped.”

“No; he fell. There’s a big difference. Any significance in the world requires a plan followed by immediate action. Our dreams and desires mean nothing unless we act on them. What we don’t achieve is our responsibility and we cannot depend on anyone else to help us get there.”

“Are we talking about what happened or something else?” The officer asked.

“You tell me.”

“Thanks for your statement; I’ll leave you to it. I can’t believe the government pays you to say that stuff.”

“That makes two of us,” I said.

He left just as quickly as he came. Philosophy had its uses. And I nestled into the pages of a fine book. A great idea fired inside my brain and then another. And then…

KNOCKING.

“What now?”

I sensed the feminine mystique; maybe it was the smell of sex through my keyhole. An older woman poked her head inside my office. She had curly brown hair and a flower dress hanging loosely over her athletic curves.

“I heard what happened earlier today; you’re famous,” she said.

“Oh, yes; you teach chemistry in the science building, right?”

“I teach more than that, if you want to ask me out?” There was hunger in her eyes and desperation for loving she wasn’t getting.

“Umm…”

“My husband is on a business trip for two weeks. Here’s my window of availability.” She wrote on some matches from her purse. “My address…just give me a call. My name’s Liz.” She put the matches in my palm. “You have strong soft hands. Let’s put them to use,” she laughed. Then she left and closed my door. I was feeling hot.

I opened the porthole window and looked down from the fine arts building. There was a crowd gathering there, like they expected me to jump.

A Defining Moment

Most are defined by the moment with forgettable words, but a few speak immortality into the present and all the moments after that are never the same. -Intellectual Shaman

I was grading murder essays in my cramped office and all of my students would be caught because their creative crimes were constructed from their TV imaginations. Technology had too much emphasis in their stories; they didn’t realize the power of their own minds.

I was getting depressed and thinking about drinking.

“Mac, are you in there?” KNOCKING. “Dr. Johnson isn’t available and we have a student who’s threatening to jump off the parking garage. We called 911, but they might not get here in time. Can you help?”

I opened the door. It was my TA who was excited and worried at the same time.

“Why does he want to jump?” I asked. “Does he have a well-thought out reason?”

“What?”

“Never mind. Just give me a second.” I pulled out my Scotch and took a swig. I was better under the influence.

It was only the second day of fall quarter, so I wondered what could be troubling the potential suicide. I climbed the garage steps two at a time and realized I was out of shape. It was three flights up on a sunny September morning. The jumper was standing on the ledge at the far end. I walked towards him.

“Get away from me!”

“Why are you doing this?”

“What the hell do you care?”

“I don’t, but I thought I should ask.”

“I caught my wife in bed with another man.”

“Aren’t you a little bit young to be married?”

“I guess so. I was stupid.”

“Well, that is no reason to kill yourself. You won’t make the same mistake again, will you?

“What mistake?” He asked.

“Getting married,” I said.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“A lot, at least that’s what my family and friends tell me,” I said.

“Don’t they have a more qualified psychologist to talk to me?”

“I’m a philosopher; the psychologist is on his way.”

“You’re not even a psychologist; why should I talk to you?”

“Good point.”

“Why did you even come up here?” He asked.

“I wanted to hear your reason for not living.”

“What’s your reason for living?”

“To suffer.”

“Why continue living if you are suffering?”

“I’m searching for meaning,” I said.

“Maybe there is no meaning?”

“You’re probably right.”

He was dangerously close to the edge.

“You know the last suicide that happened couldn’t be identified. They had to use DNA analysis because someone like yourself squashed like a tomato. I’ll tell you what, come on down and I’ll listen to your problems.”

“Screw you man; I’m jumping. I have nothing to expect from my life.”

“Don’t you think your life expects something from you?”

He looked at me like he just found meaning and then he slipped. I looked over the edge. He hit the emergency cushions.

“Lucky kid; he’ll never do that again, but he’ll probably get remarried.”

Chapter 2 The Note

The yellow sticky note was stained with coffee, as if Henderson wrote hurriedly to get down his last instructions before his death. It took me a whole minute to read his indecipherable scrawl, “If you digest these books, your mind will never be the same and remember… clothes make the man.” The brown overcoat smelled musty, like an old man had worn it. I can’t describe old man smell, except that most people have smelled it when they were young and when they get old, they can’t smell themselves.

It was baggy and way too long to wear. It was too long for Henderson and I’d never seen him wear it. It’s true that people get stranger the older they get. And most people thought I was already strange, so I was in serious trouble.

I opened one of the leather-bound books and tried to read it. I was a reading level behind in school, but this was a different language. “Impossible!” I laughed. “That old man was crazy.” But then I thought about his prophesy coming true. He must’ve poisoned himself; that was the only explanation.

I left the books in the box. School was in a couple days and I had real problems to solve, like bringing up my g.p.a. and avoiding the bullies at the bus stop.

I hadn’t thought about the books in weeks. It was a soggy Saturday when I was lying in bed and they entered my mind. I googled the words. The language didn’t exist. Henderson said that selfish knowledge was kept to oneself. Maybe he was right, and some things can’t be found on the internet. But then again, I couldn’t read the books, so they were useless.

The door slammed. My mother was home. “Andy, take out the garbage!”

“But mom, it’s raining!”

“Do it or you’re grounded!”

“I didn’t have a rain jacket, so I put on Henderson’s coat. My mother ignored me when I walked outside. I moved the trashcans to the road and walked inside.

“Who’s there!” She screamed.

“It’s only me,” I said. I thought this would calm her down, but she ran to the telephone in a panic. “Police! Come to my house at once! Someone’s broken in!”

I ran for my room, not knowing what to think. Had she been drinking?

I sat down on my bed and looked at the old book. Suddenly, I read it and the problems plaguing me that week were answered.

We Chase What We Can’t Have

We chase what we can’t have and what we can’t have is indifferent to our asking, demanding, and pleading. It laughs at us and we want more.

I shifted into a dangerous gear and felt more alive in that moment than a thousand epiphanies. I knew what I wanted, regardless of death, and going for it was freeing.

Joy was taking corners on the tall highway like her life didn’t matter and I started to think about my books and coffee and music; maybe giving them up for a woman was madness. And she was gone. A little thinking, some deceleration, and I was back to normal.

Driving with the wind in your hair and the sun on your neck and the power under your feet can’t be replaced by anything. There was the gate to the beach and the bathtub Porsche parked near the dunes. I turned down the lane like all my high-floating thoughts answered to her, instead of me.

And she was walking slowly on the shore, like she expected me to catch up. The wind was blowing her scarf like a flag that didn’t belong to any country and I was going to conquer it.

She knew I was there and she kept walking and when I was about to speak, she turned around, weakening my legs with her brown eyes.

“Are you stalking me?” She teased.

Her clothes were blowing in the wind and mine too, like nature recognized the moment and a big wave came crashing in.

“Look out,” I laughed and we got soaked to our knees.

“Are you finishing out the semester?” I asked.

“Yes; I switched to art classes mostly. I’m trying to paint with my imagination, but it’s difficult. I have no interest in a practical profession, so I’m draining my family’s wealth to find myself.”

“And you didn’t find it in my class?”

“No offense, but Western philosophy was dreamed up by white men who found creative ways to disempower women.”

I could’ve argued with her, but there was no point. My illusions were finding a place in her face; my thoughts were finding a way inside her head. None of it was real, and it would take so much more to break my obsession.

“Did you read Schopenhauer’s essay On Women and get offended?” I asked.

“No; but anyone who writes an essay about a whole gender is ignorant,” Joy said.

“Schopenhauer is one of the foremost minds that ushered in the 20th century.”

“So was Nietzsche, and look where he got us.”

“His ideas were perverted and misunderstood,” I said.

“That can be said about anything.”

It was an argument I couldn’t win; there was no reasoning with her, so I obeyed the compulsion to stop talking and gave her the last word.

I was a rational man, swayed by my feelings. How dangerous they were. Feelings could carry my sturdy mind to destruction, like a violent storm that didn’t empathize or care. The world was waiting out there, telling me of everything I would miss if I didn’t join. It wanted me to be like them; a pawn in a game I couldn’t win. But I wouldn’t tip my crown. It was my own to wear in a mirror of self-respect and pride. Most never find that in themselves. They’re taught not to look. Oh, how wonderful that reflection is; it gives one something to live for.

You know You

I would rather be

where the air is thin

and the invisible wind

bangs the hinges of a rusty door

deep in the mountains

where the crowds don’t go.

How much traffic have we seen

or arguments heard?

We don’t want to see

We don’t want to listen

Reading old thoughts

will suffice

Surrounded by things

nobody else values.

It’s comforting to know

their envious eyes

won’t be watching.

Listening to the right whisper

is the key to meaning

natural sounds will take you there

like the ocean inside of a shell

or the music inside your head

distance from the world makes everything beautiful

a train’s warning

or a society at work

In your far away room

You are not too busy to think

or too busy to care

You are not anonymous

because…

You know You.

The Woman You Can’t Catch

The day passed like it never happened, despite my anticipation of seeing her, and when the hour came; it went. She wasn’t there and for some reason, I wasn’t disappointed. My life returned to normal, living with big ideas and every so often I tested them; not for thrill seeking, but to know I was sincere.

She must’ve dropped the class. All was well, except that I was exploring Freud’s Death Instinct and I felt compelled to act it out. Finding a way to almost die was pressing on my brain like an edema and I decided to rent a red Ferrari. My morning class was filled with pitiful souls who didn’t want to be there, but the hour came and went, and I stopped off at the corner cafe for my triple espresso and drove to pure success.

The October roads were awash with color. Red and yellow leaves glinted in the sunlight beaming through deep rain clouds. The gray haze and the hum of the V14 took me into a mystical world. Traffic was light and it felt doubly good to leave the hardworking industrial district and find tall roads overlooking the ocean.

Everything slowed down, despite my incredible speed. And right when I fell into a waking dream a bathtub Porsche honked behind me. The woman wore sunglasses, a scarf, and a red fedora, and even with her cosmetic camouflage, I knew it was Joy. She gunned her engine into oncoming traffic and cut me off, smiling in her rear-view mirror.

Changing Lanes

Traffic washes around you

rain drops pelt your windshield

the radio man chatters

as you shift into next gear

checking your rearview mirror

and gunning the gas for the opening

Take life from here

one car at a time

down dark tunnels

across windy bridges

through gas-dry deserts

and into dead valleys

where you lie

in a soft bed

staring at blank walls

waiting for the endless sky

to unfold.

Midnight Morning Aftermath

People need to know they are not alone; what a foolish sentiment. Only originals embrace their loneliness. -Intellectual Shaman

I walked out of the water, naked, baptized in the moonlight. She was gone and I was left to collect my impulses. My lust for life made it all seem worthwhile, haunted by the memory of her body and dangerous laughter, but my armor was violated, my mind bypassed, and all ideas rendered worthless. Nature laughs at reason.

It was past midnight and I had to lecture in the morning. Whenever I taught my class tired, I always rambled into dangerous territory. I was honest, which made for lively discussion, but got me in trouble with the dean.

I hit my pillow at 2 AM, falling asleep to Chopin on an old record player. I dreamed the music stopped, my life had stopped, someone had to change the record, and I woke to a scratching needle playing empty noise. I had 15 minutes to make it to class; luckily, I slept in my clothes.

Nobody was awake at 7 AM and my students trickled in with tired eyes. I kept drinking coffee from the pot I installed last semester for mornings such as these. It was strong and bitter, the best elixir for reason.

“Most of you are searching for something you can’t identify; your parents told you what it is, but you don’t believe them. Some will find religion and others will fall in love; your life will be caught up with responsibility. You might ask, “Why?” on a lonely road, but you’ll be too busy to listen for the answer.”

Nobody was listening; it would take at least one more hour. My 7 AM class was my favorite; no interruptions. I could say anything and it was like talking to myself where the best conversations happened.