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illustration by Jessica Del Greco Bored in Corporate Amerikkka
by Ben Shisler

-1-

There is something odd.  Click.  Click.  Click.  The log files indicate that there is a bot controlled by multiple users.  What's up with that?  I thought I fixed that a couple of months ago.  Hmmm.  Click.  Click.  Just one bot is like that, botID 66544.  Click-Click.  Two users activate the bot.  Click.  UserId 433243 during the day, regularly.  Click.  UserId 548 more like once or twice a week, usually late at night.  Hmmm. 548 is small number.  Must be one of the early users, let me pull up his information.  Click.

Ooops, looks like a she.  UserName: Elizabeth Sisongelet.  Click.  I've heard that name before, I think.  Maybe in a dream.  I wonder if she's cute.  Click.  I also wonder what she's doing.  Click.  Click.  The log records are very interesting.  It looks like she modifies certain wandering parameters of bot 66544 such that it discovers-- AHA!  --seemingly anonymous messages-- which, of course, userID 433243 picks up!  Click.  Click.  And looky here!  UserID 433243 still hasn't deleted them from his account-- at least I assume it's a he.  Yep.  UserName: Christopher Aingalopocs.  Let's see what some of these messages are.  Click.  Click. Click.  Hmmm, strange.  Here's the first one:

The bot that finds this message will be a lucky bot indeed.  Keep your sensors peeled and more clues will come your way.

Click.  Click.  Ah, I think I get it, here is the next one:

The bot that finds this message will be a lucky bot indeed.  You will find romantic success if you know where to look.  She will find you before you know it, and you will know it by these clues...

Obviously this Elizabeth chick is hacking the system so she can manipulate this dude's bot into finding her anonymous love messages.  How oh so very charming!  But hacking is hacking and I can't permit it on my system.  Of course, no one knows except me. A couple of clicks and I could modify the log files to cover her tracks forever.  Click.  Click.

So maybe I'll just have a little bit of fun with this hacker chick.  Her's is an amateur hack, but ya gotta admire a girl who is as persistent as she is.  And I know I've heard that name somewhere.  And I have the sneaking suspicion that she is very, very cute.  Perhaps I'll leave a little anonymous love message of my own for her to discover.  Heh, heh.  That would give her cause for pause wouldn't it?  Click.  Click.

Dear Cyber-cutie, The bot that discovers this message is the luckiest bot in the world.  I know who you are and what nefarious hacks you've been up to.  You should be ashamed of yourself.  But I promise not to tell. It turns out we both live around here.  Let's screw this virtual world shit and do lunch sometime.  I know a great hole-in-the-wall in Chinatown.  Sincerely, Bored in Corporate Amerikkka

Click.  Click.  Click.

 -2-

It had to be her.  She was the only woman sitting alone.  Of course even if she hadn't been the only woman sitting alone, I *still* would have known it was her.  Like her name, her features were dimly recognizable.  Her dark hair, pale skin, and gentle eyes.  Maybe from a dream.

Doing my best impersonation of a cool person, I drew back a chair sat at her table.

She arched her eyebrows.  "You aren't Chris."

"No, but you're Elizabeth."

Her face froze for a moment, then re-animated.  "I suppose it doesn't really matter does it?"  I forced a chuckle and said rather pompously: "On the contrary.  It is of the essence."  Hearing the way that sounded made me grimace, so I added quickly, "Have you ordered yet?  The panang curry is quite good."

She did her best imitation of a disarming smile.  "Well if you aren't Chris, who are you?"

"Lead System Architect at VirtuWorld.  Where you've been hacking."

"It's not like it was very difficult.  I'd hardly call it hacking.  Maybe if you had lead-architected it better..."

"Maybe I don't mind the occasional hacker.  Especially an attractive one such as yourself."

"Oh is that what this is all about?  Have you been electronically spying on me?"

"No more than you've been electronically spying on Chris."

"I wasn't spying on him, I was just..."  I waited for a moment for her to continue.  I looked her dead in the eye and said "I suppose it doesn't matter, does it?"

She looked me dead in the eye and said, "Maybe I don't mind the occasional electronic spy.  Especially an attractive one such as yourself."

A bit of a smile came back to her face.  I dare say it was seductive.  We both ordered the panang curry.  It was very good.
 

 -3-

For the first time since I could remember, my room was clean and the bed was made.  My style of décor is spartan: my room is dominated by a computer and a music keyboard.  Instead of posters, I prefer bookshelves overflowing with books.  Elizabeth squatted down in front of one of the bookshelves and ran her hand across some computer textbooks from college.  She picked one out, thumbed through it and without comment placed it back.  She methodically continued down the bookshelf, reading to herself the title of each book, sometimes picking one out and looking at it briefly.  Computers, music theory, linguistics, philosophy.  She examined my bookshelf as if she were examining my life, the crystallized essence of the history of all my intellectual pursuits.  I am very proud of my collection.

Finally, she sighed and sat back.  "I gotta get you some *real* reading."

"Real reading?" I ask.  "Like what?"

 "Tomorrow we'll stop by my place.  I'll let you borrow some books of mine that just might open up a new world."

 -4-

Elizabeth's room could best be described by the phrase "sensory overload" or perhaps "cognitive dissonance".  Her ceilings and walls were draped with all manner of garrish knickknacks: tapestries, christmas tree lights, psychedelic posters, scary looking masks, candles, bundles of dried herbs hung upside down and so on.  Each of the four walls had a different color scheme: one black, the opposite white, one red, the opposite blue.

"The four elements" she explained to me, pointing out the shrine of each wall dedicated to its respective element: earth, air, fire, and water.  Drawing back a tapestry from the fire shrine, Elizabeth revealed her collection of books on all sorts of "new-agey" subjects including wicca, shamanism, native american mythology, astrology, numerology, "magick", lucid dreaming, hinduism, yoga, meditation, buddhism, taoism, and zen.  She pulled out one book from each subject and piled them next to me.  "Now *this* is real reading," she grinned.

"I was never really able to get into this kind of mystical stuff," I admitted rather sheepishly.  "I mean, I can barely read a couple of sentences before my brain screams 'Why are you wasting your time?  This is all new-age *bullshit*!'"

"So what isn't bullshit?  You think science?  Computers?  What is the best that science and computers have to offer?  I certainly hope it's not virtual worlds.  You wrote yourself, 'Let's screw this virtual world shit.'  These books here are not about pathetic, man-made attempts to create a virtual reality.  These books are about the real thing.  The real reality, even more real than the reality in which you and I currently interacting."

"Yeah, but mystical writing is written to confuse.  Sentences contradict each other.  It's supposed to sound poetic and profound, but to me it just seems dumb."

"Tell me this.  Have you ever had a dream come true?"

"Well, yeah sure, but coincidences--"

"I would suggest then that you start with the book on lucid dreaming.  It's very practical, not mystical at all.  Practice every night until your dreams are as lucid as the midnight sky in a desert."
 

-5-

Click-Click.  Click-Click.  There she is.  Her serene smile, her gentle eyes.  Click-click.  Come closer to me Liz.  I'm dreaming right?  I'm the boss here right?  What I say goes, right?  Click.  Click.  Speak to me.  Tell me how I can get you to fall in love with me.  I hereby will your lips to move!  Activate your vocal chords now!  Speak from your heart and let your innermost thoughts flow!

Click-Click.  Click-Click.  You are silent.  Your lips are sealed, your hands are folded and I see a hint of sadness in your eyes.  You still like Chris don't you?  What is it that you like about him?  He excites you, doesn't he?  He makes you tingle all over.  You-- you fantasize about him don't you?  You want him not because he is into all this mystical crap-- you want him out of sheer animal magnetism!  You lust after him, don't you?  You go through all the motions of yoga and shamanism and magick and all the rest when what you really want is to get it on with this Mr. Chris Aingalopocs, right?  Right?!?

Click-Click.  Click-Click.  I bet you see him in your dreams and you try to talk with him, just as I am trying to talk with you.  But watch out.  I'm learning much from all those books you're lending me.  I'm becoming a better magician by the day.  We'll just see whose dream comes true in the end...

-6-

"So, how did you do?"

"An interesting psychological phenomenon.  I was dreaming, and I was aware that I was dreaming, but I still wasn't omnipotent in my dream like the book said I would be.  It seemed that there were still some things that even I as a lucid dreamer could not do."

"Keep working at it.  Eventually you'll be able to do anything and everything, but at first only in your dreams."

"A month ago I would have said you were full of horseshit, but I must admit-- now I'm not so sure.  I mean, last night I felt like I came really close to something-- something beyond my dream.  Something almost... real."

"You've advanced far faster than I thought you would.  You must have had some previous experience with dreaming.  Sometime in the past.  Maybe during your childhood.  But you still have a long way to go, and this next step is crucial.  Read this book on kundalini yoga.  Love it.  Worship it.  Practice every morning until your third eye can see auras as intense as Northern Lights in the arctic sky."

 -7-

She is my kundalini shakti, my "coiled snake energy", the latent energy in my muladhara chakra, at the base of my spine, coiled like the snake in a snakecharmer's basket, ready to be coaxed with the music of meditaiton and pranayama to rise and dance.  In strange postures I utter the sacred syllables of the swadishtana chakra: bam, bham, nam, yam, ram and lam.  With forceful exhalations I chant and visualize the bright crescent moon, the sacred ambrosia of Vishnu. The Golden Energy rises and my genitals become self-aware.  I can almost hear their watery murmurings:  "When *are* we going to get our satisfaction?  You must bring Elizabeth to *us*!"

But I resolve to move on, and chant the sacred syllables of the manipura chakra, the navel, and I recall the somewhat humorous word that I've always wanted to use in context, "omphaloskepsis".  As I visualize the burning red triangle, the Golden Energy rises and my navel becomes self-aware.  It speaks of my umbilical cord, and the influx of prana, or life energy, that once was my sole source of sustenance.  It reminds me to be humble before the object of my affection who has the power to give life.

But I resolve to move on and chant the sacred syllables of the anahata chakra, the heart chakra.  The symbology of the heart is overwhelming and the Golden Energy surges up the sushumna, the spinal column, and the smokey blue energy of my rapidly beating heart feels ready to burst forth from my chest and spray all I see with the pure light of pranic energy.  My heart becomes self-aware and screams one word:

"Elizabeth!"

Still I resolve to move on and chant the sacred syllables of the vishudha chakra, the throat chakra.  I taste the salt of a tear and realize that I've been weeping for I don't know how long.  My body feels so insignificant, I can almost feel it rise-- the sensation of levitation-- along with the kundalini shakti.  Up the sushumna the Golden Energy rises.  My throat becomes self aware and reminds me how every syllable spoken stimulates the thyroid gland, which thus controls one's mood.  Speech and sensation are thus intimately related, and the path to "seeing auras" is nothing more than enticing the thyroid and other glands to secrete the right endocrines at the right time.  My throat reminds me that the most sacred mantra of all, the mahamantra, is not "Aum", but "I love you."

I resolve to move on.  I am approaching the pinnacle of the kundalini experience: the ajna chakra, the third eye of which so many mystics speak.  I chant my newly discovered mahamantra.  I am the master here, right?  What I say goes, right?!?  I *force* the Golden Energy to surge up the sushumna and inundate the frontal lobe and beam forth, as shear radiant visible energy.  Whatever the hell it means, I *will* see auras!  Cloudy numinous shells of energy!  Astral bodies!  Lots of sparkly colors!  Oh, Elizabeth, won't you be surprised!  And tell me, what color of energy doth thou clothe thyself in my little hacker magician?  I see your skin giving off a faint pale green-- almost as if you are perpetually in front of one of those old-fashioned green tinted monochrome computer monitors from the seventies.  Get into the future Liz!  Follow me!  Together we will *zoom* into the next millennia.  They say that launcing the mind into pure consciousness takes more energy than launching a rocket into outer space.  And I think we can do better than that! Blast off! Unio mystica, we shall become *one*!  Aum my Gawd, I think I've activated my saharasrara chakra, outside of myself, beyond my brain!  A thousand Petals of pure Golden Energy!  Yee-fucking-haw!!!!

 -8-

"So, how did you make out?"

"I was pleasantly surprised to discover that kundalini yoga wasn't nearly as mystical as I had supposed.  It turns out that it is nothing more than the willful synchronization of nerve impulses in the spinal column such that it produces a pleasant feeling of euphoria.  Like lucid dreaming, it demonstrates an interesting psychological phenomenon but I fail to grasp its profundity."

"So can you see auras?"

"At the peak state of my experience, I felt like I could see what I thought might be auras.  But I didn't know what they meant, what they symbolized, and I certainly can't see them now."

"They don't symbolize *anything*.  They are the Forms of which matter is the shadow.  They are eternal essences and you should consider yourself extremely gifted to have had a glimpse of them.  Despite your professed skepticism, I know you are more interested in this than you are letting on and I know you are craving whatever it is that is the next step."

"Oh yes, I'm interested.  You've opened my mind, piqued my curiosity.  I want to believe in magick and mysticism, I really do.  But my intelligence is getting in the way, telling me that all this is really nothing more than a mind-game."

"It *is* nothing more than a mind-game, at least from the perspective of our physical reality!  The key is to try to understand the same phenomena from the perspective of the Other reality, which you will just have to provisionally accept as a given.  And I think your rapid advancement through kundalini demonstrates you have indeed at least considered the idea of the Other.  Now it is time to destroy the physical so that it is *all* the Other."

"Ok.  So what is the next step?"

She smiled.  "I don't know.  If I don't watch out, I think I'll have a hard-core mystic on my hands."

"You don't think I can handle it?"

"Spiritually, I think you can handle it.  But I don't know if the physical reality will be able to handle you.  There is no sympathy in our society for those trying to escape the clutches of maya."

"You've managed it."

"I've only gone so far."

"So, together, let's take the next step."

"You don't have any idea what you are getting yourself-- us-- into."

"Liz.  Let's screw this virtual world shit."

"All righty then.  The next step is the Vision Quest."

 -9-

Tom Monsinto was hovering over my computer. "Say, uh, did you eat lunch today?"

"Wasn't hungry."

"Well you look out of it.  Since you are going on vacation tomorrow and Friday, I need you to submit the revised specs before you leave today.  We gotta get crackin' on the prototype.  Okay?"

"Of course."

"Where are you going anyway?"

"To the mountains."

"Oh!  You're going hiking with that hippy chick, aren't you?"

"Something like that."

"You two have nothing in common, you know."

"You only met her once."

"Yeah, but I saw enough of her to know that she's the kind of girl who wears flowers in her hair, doesn't shave her pits and legs, and uses the word 'groovy' in everyday contexts.  And she has that wide-eyed, naïve hippie look.  You two will never last more than a couple of months.  You are far, far too cynical for her."

"Who says we've started?"

"Oh!  You haven't even started?  Heh, heh.  Well  these next four days should prove to be *very* interesting.  But let me give you a word of advice: deep down inside, every hippie chick wants to hook up with a guy who makes at least 50K a year."

I hate people who hover over my computer.
 

 -10-

The bus dropped us off at a gas station and country store.  The last stop.  The guy at the counter said the trailhead was another half mile up.  It felt good to be out of the city, and the effects of the fast revealed the world in all its splendid Otherworldliness.  The backpack was light and my step was springy.  I felt giddy, like a little kid about to embark on the Big Adventure.  Liz was silent and contemplative for most of the bus ride, but she finally spoke:

"You don't have to prove anything to me, you know.  This shouldn't be a macho thing.  If it gets too intense for you, just find me and we'll go back to the general store and have hot meal and take the next bus back to civilization.  You don't have to worry about ruining my experience.  I've done this many times before and, Goddess be willing, I'll do it many times in the future.  The important thing to concentrate on is a graceful Emergence, how to Incorporate back to civilization rejuvenated with a compassionate vision.  This is not about fasting and isolation and wilderness.  This is about coming down from the mountains, back to your people, with a message from the gods.  That's the hard part.  The Vision Quest is nothing in comparison."

We ascended up the mountain, and the trees grews shorter, and the rocks more bare.  At a suitable point, we broke off from the trail and wandered east, until we found the prominent spot that called out to be our Stone Pile.  Liz spoke again: "Before this, when was the longest you ever fasted?"

"About a weekend"

"Well, talk about an 'interesting psychological phenomenon.'  Without the rhythm of three-meals-a-day, the world takes on a timelessness that our ancestors took for granted.  In isolation, you go crazy but, in the wilderness, you discover that you are not alone, that our Earth Mother surrounds us completely.  The Vision Quest is death.  But the Earth Mother is Life-After-Death, sometimes Heavenly, sometimes Hell.  The more you die, the more the Earth Mother can take you back to her womb.  As the strength drains from your body, as your legs become feeble, as you completely surrender yourself to the utter helplessness and insignificance of death, then, and only then, will the Earth Mother grant your request for a Vision.  Don't expect burning bushes or angels ascending and descending a Heavenly ladder.  That was somebody else's trip.  Your vision may be subtler, more personal, but it will be no less real, no less profound, and its message will be of no less significance for our people."

We found our Purpose Circles, set up our tarps, and before dark met back at the Stone Pile.  We reviewed our protocol, said our goodbyes, hugged, and parted ways.
 

-11-

Rocks of the Purpose Circle.  When I wasn't looking, they rose up around me.  Friends, family members, acquaintences, coworkers.  They came to peep and gossip, and spoke together in low voices.

"He is obviously wretched and miserable.  Why doesn't he go home?"

"His behavior is inexcusably reckless and self-destructive."

"It's selfish indulgence."

"Why does he hate himself?"

"The Vision Quest is not part of our culture.  We have other less risky and more respectable outlets for contemplation.  A westerner practicing the Vision Quest risks his or her health and sanity."

"Frankly, it's a waste of a young man's time.  He'll have plenty of time to contemplate-- when he's old and retired."

"Do you think he'll crack?"

"I think he may well be beyond that point."

"What does he expect to accomplish by going crazy?"

"Why can't he be happy with what he has?"

"He makes his living with his mind.  With all he has invested into it, why does he risk destroying his most valuable asset?"

"Look!  His cognitive abilities have already been deleteriously affected.  He had better hope that he doesn't bring any of this back
with him."

"What if he can't manage when he returns?  What if he can't cope?"

"What if he goes crazy like his father?"

"Our society treats the mentally ill so cruelly and barbarously.  They gave his father electroshock therapy.  And look what happened to *him*."

"Nowadays, they boil the mentally ill in a pharmocological witches brew of stupifacient neurotoxins called 'meds'."

"Is this what he wants for himself?  The helpless, pathetic padded white room of mental illness?"

"What's so wrong with living a normal life anyway?"

"He makes a good living, better than most people his age."

"His pioneering work at VirtuWorld is part of a major technological revolution that is transforming our world in a way few of us can even imagine.  Why can't he appreciate all the Progress he's helping to bring about?"

"A house divided against itself cannot stand.  A mind divided against itself cannot stay sane.  He needs to make a decision: is he with us, united with his family, united with his vocation, united with his nation, united with his society, united with progress-- or is he out on his own, off in his own mystical fantasy world?"

"But let's be frank.  All this existential malaise is just a cover story the real source of his inner turmoil.  Clearly, his malady is nothing more than a case of severe romantic frustration.  Once he gets steady with a girl, he'll settle down.  Watch, right before your eyes, he'll conform instantly to the norms of workplace society.  You'll see."

And with this all the rocks tittered in agreement and fell silent.   There was no sound save the murmurings of the mountain wind.


Ben Shisler is an author, computer programmer, and world traveler. His interests include go, linguistics, philosophy, and contact improv dancing. He is always looking for interesting people to hang out with.

Email: mettaben@yahoo.com


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