by Mary Schanuel
My day starts off like any other. The Metro train screeches to a stop at my station. Dark blobs of bubble gum decorate the Up escalator, and the pigeons at the top of the stairs coo and twirl in the thin winter sun. Just like every day.
At work, I sit at my computer and stare at the screen. The computer reads my face, logs me in and opens to a cheery greeting - "Ziggie says Hi !" I love Ziggy. He's so retro, cute but wise.
My work comes up, sorted as always in order of priority. The first piece is another boring banner ad. I fill in the blanks of a template with a new company's name, web address and their perky little slogan - "We Do U Fine." What the hell does that mean? But I cannot ponder. The next assignment pops up on schedule, 7.5 minutes after the first. If I don't stay focused, I'll end up with two or even three screens open at once, and then I'll miss my Nutrition break or my Connect time.
I finish my 20 assignments by 10:30, just a second before the break bell rings. My stomach is still a little woozy from last night's Karaoke Fest. You know, back in the day when regular people could sing, I drank a lot less at those parties. They banned it except for Spectator Karaoke a few years ago. Now holographic singers do the vocals. Sure, it needed to happen. So many of us were such very bad singers. But it just isn't the same.
Anyway, because of my queasy stomach, I decide to skip Nutrition and have my Connect right away. I like to Connect at my own workstation, which is an option, of course. The Lounge stations are nicer but it takes 6.5 minutes to walk there and back, and I can read two or three messages in that time. I touch the ever-adorable image of my own face on the screen - a mini-flick of me winking and flirting - and up pop my messages.
Suddenly my day changes. There, at the top of the screen, addressed right to me, is a message from someone I do not recognize at all. And it has an attachment. A big one, actually. I feel kind of violated, as though a Peeping Tom were looking right in my window. You know? I can't breath for a moment. I just stare.
It has been so long since I'd had an attachment of any kind. Maybe junior high, maybe even before. It just isn't done anymore. So bold, so impolite. So unprofessional.
Everyone knows attachments were banned long ago, even before Karaoke, the kind where real people sang, that is. Those things were just too dangerous to society and to us as people. You just never know what might happen.
Yet, still...this surprise attachment intrigues me. It makes me think of a package I once got in the mail from my Grandma, when I was just four. All taped up in brown paper. No clue what might be inside, but I knew it would be good. And it was! Candy, the pink and purple kind. My favorite. And some new ones I'd never even seen before.
But I digress. This is no unmarked brown paper package. No indeed. This attachment is clearly labeled. It has a subject line. A very seductive subject line at that. "MOZen: Wednesdays with Katagari."
MOZen. I have heard of Zen. Something from the last century, when people thought it was so cool to live in a year that started with the number "20." People said they liked to "do" Zen but really, it was kind of about doing nothing. Being very still and silent. Not even thinking.
The other religions banned in the middle of the last century were all about "doing" - helping the right people, destroying the other people, whatever they decided was important. They certainly were not about doing nothing. Sitting on your tush doing nothing, that's what Zen was all about.
And Wednesdays. I'd heard of that too. Long ago, the days had names and each one meant something. Each day was different, even felt different. Now every 24 hours is the same. We work for six hours, ride the train for two, sleep for eight and have eight hours every single cycle to enjoy personal pursuits. Life now is much better without arbitrary "days."
But what really gets me is the Katagari part. A name. We dispensed with those long ago. Who needs them? They only make some people feel different from others. Superior. Simple pronouns like I, me, you, we, them - those work so much better.
This Katagari must have been a Zen god. The gods were the last holdouts on names. Well, not the gods themselves. They could care less. But the older people, they just couldn't let them go. If they had been born into a god, it seemed like they just could not get it out of their systems until they died into that god. The rest of us had to put up with god names floating around the CommonSpeak stream of consciousness for years and years.
Any gods that might still be hanging around became unnamed entities long ago. This Katagari, therefore, was truly an aberration. A terrifying and utterly compelling aberration.
I glance to my left, then to my right. I even look over my shoulder. Then I click. And it opens. Can you believe it? That attachment must have triggered some old program left on my workstation because this unbidden and unlawful thing that popped into my life this morning, it actually opens. My eyes are as wide as the screen before me, I'll tell you.
On that screen there are words. Some of the words are lined up, others scattered like a militia gone berserk. There is no real order as in CommonSpeak, which of course fills the entire screen very economically, left to right, no wasted space. The way these words are arranged has an almost beautiful appearance, I have to admit. There are holes where...where...well, thoughts and memories pop right through. Random Thoughts, Independent Thoughts, Creative Memories. Those were most certainly outlawed decades ago! We don't need anarchic thoughts and memories. The system tells us what to think very nicely, thank you.
But when I read the first bit and a memory...well, it's as if I'm back at my grandfather's farm, a place I haven't visited since I was five. Back then, trees grew in wild, random patterns and the birds flew wherever they pleased. Those places were paved over years ago, but not so long ago that this screen of words couldn't take me right back there. This attachment was like those gods, the ones that wouldn't let go of our grandparents.
I am shocked, I must tell you. Shocked to learn that I had this sort of thing inside of me, inside my very own head.
So I call the IT guys. I pretend I clicked on the attachment by accident. I can't admit I did it on purpose. And of course I won't tell them what those words brought up in me.
The IT guy says it's called poetry. Written by a group of Zen poets in a place called Missouri. Imagine that. He has no idea why they sent the attachment to me. Probably a mistake. He very carefully disposes of it with his fast, pointy fingers, all the while asking me a lot of questions. To every single one I say, "I don't know."
A week from now, no one will remember that it happened to me. No one will care that I am the one who came across this attachment during my Connect. No one will recall it at all. No memories, remember?
The attachment is very much gone from my computer, that's for sure. But sometimes, when I'm bored or just as I'm about to drift off to sleep, I go to that place of my grandfather's. The birds and the trees. And that takes me to other places. I go willingingly, sometimes in my dreams, sometimes when I'm daydreaming. Visiting those places makes me feel all sorts of things, and I want those feelings to stay with me, hopefully until I die. I'm not as old as the gods people, but I kind of understand.
Sometimes I wonder, is there a way I could capture those feelings, share them? Maybe line up some words with holes, like that poem, so that someday, someone would come across them? Feel what I'm feeling?
Just a random thought. Oh.
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