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[Note: This is a novel being presented in installments, one chapter per week, every Friday, from May 4 to August 24, 2012. The full novel will be published in its entirety in September 2012.]

Jonathan sat there in his bar clothes and could only shake his head.

-What the hell was that all about?

He examined the state of his clothes and saw stains all over them and could smell the stench of stale beer on him.

-Fucking pathetic.

There was no excuse he could think of to justify living like this. It was a sad, sorry existence for someone so young and still full of potential.

-What am I doing?

He couldn’t come up with an answer. Jonathan sat in empty contemplation for nearly an hour. He had no idea which direction he was going, but he was fairly certain it was not forward. He was ashamed of his behaviour at the bar. It was not all just having a good time. There was a desperate plea Jonathan was crying out that he needed meaning and purpose. What was the point of grinding on a stranger? It was so primal, so base, so pointless. His looking at women had moved far beyond the acknowledgement of beauty to festering a deep desire to fuck the brains out of every last one of them. Even if that were true in the darkest cellars of Jonathan’s mind, it was not a particularly pleasing thought. He thought of his professor and the vending machine. How wrong that must be, Jonathan thought, surely there was meant to be something special about two bodies coming together. It was not a mechanistic connection like refuelling a plane in the air. They have heartbeats! You can feel the other person’s beat intensify and quicken its pace. That surely has to have meaning! Jonathan wanted to know that it was true. He wanted to know that there was something more going on than biology. He needed to know that this was far more complex than the instructions to assemble a bookshelf. That was why this was so frustrating. Life does not come with an instruction manual. Jonathan realised life does not even come to an agreed upon end. Forget trying to argue about how we get there, Jonathan didn’t know where there was.

 

“I stared out in to the blankness of everything and realized with the utmost certainty that all of this was meaningless. The drink, the drugs, the sex, the violence. Every action was without intent. We were accidentally working our way towards adulthood. There was no rudder to steer us. That didn’t matter without a compass and an idea for a destination, both of which we were also missing. I had to stop and ask myself one fundamental question. No, it was not “who am I?” as profound as we often wish to make that one; it is in fact fairly obvious. The question I had to stop and ask was “who do I want to be?” It’s not this, which was clear. No man wakes up and decides to be an underachieving slob. Things happen, horribly tiny things, things that you don’t even notice until it’s too late and then you are everything you never thought you would be. What do you do then? I knew it came down to making life-altering decisions. That sounds ominous and I will admit I didn’t mean for it to carry such dramatic weight, but it is, in its way, ominous. The difference between drifting along aimlessly and being in control of your destiny was as simple as standing up and saying “I’m here”. No man can truly take account for his life until he first admits that he exists. We try to hide that, I think, when life just sort of happens. It’s easy then to play the victim and question what happens to us, but ultimately we’re in control not of what the world does to us, but what we can do to the world. It sounds as if we’re given a great amount of power, and in a way we are. It’s not physical, financial, political or religious power. There are no buildings dedicated to your power. It’s in your mind. Each one of us has the capacity to move forward and live the kinds of lives we want. It can be an empty superficial life, drifting without meaning. Or, better still, it can be a life worth remembering, one filled with meaning. The big thing to know is that things are at their very core meaningless. Only we can give and take away meaning. It’s a powerful thing, but it’s also vulnerable. As soon as you give a person, place or thing meaning, anyone else has the ability to desecrate it and dishonour your meaning. Mecca is just a city until someone gives it meaning.”

“Jon, you are so fucking high right now.”

“No, Charlie, I have never been so clear. It all makes so much sense.”

“But what happens when we give meaning to things that should be meaningless? Maybe Mecca should just be a city.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s the powerful thing, man, is that nothing has any meaning until we give it meaning.”

“Exactly, but it’s dangerous.”

“Gio is right. This is the cause of every single conflict. People don’t fight meaningless wars.”

“Sure they do, there are tons of examples.”

“Not of meaningless wars. Every war has rightly or wrongly been given some meaning by those in power and the people have accepted that.”

“Look at Vietnam, that objectively had no real meaning to the U.S. until they believed that it did.”

“There were thousands of men who went to fight in Vietnam without any understanding of how a civil war in an Asian country mattered to them.”

“It was about stopping the spread of communism.”

“Bullshit.”

“It was.”

“That’s what was said.”

“Communism continued to spread in the 1970s and 80s, regardless of the U.S. going to Vietnam. If anything, their withdrawal, that defeat that they won’t admit, fuelled the spread of communist thoughts. It was strong enough to put off the mighty USA so maybe it’s right for us.”

“But not strong enough to defeat Islam.”

“Right, that’s right. The Soviets couldn’t beat the Mujahaddin in Afghanistan.”

“And look where that’s taken us.”

“Right, that’s right, man. The idea of a militaristic Islam is fuelled by this transit of properties: Islam can beat communism which beat capitalism, therefore Islam can beat capitalism.”

“But that’s wrong, too. We know that. It’s not about Islam versus capitalism. Look at Dubai and Abu Dhabi. There are tons of other examples, too. The point is that they like capitalism. They like making money. That’s not the battle of ideas they are looking for.”

“It’s about anti-power, wherever they are, whatever form of power is trying to push down on them. Nobody likes to be on the bottom.”

“Yeah, yeah, man, that makes a lot of sense.”

“Capitalism is liked when you are part of the winners, it’s despised when you are not.”

“It’s not about Islam, then, at all.”

“No, not really. Not when you have Muslims in the Gulf making billions off of land they accidentally discovered oil in. That’s when they become winners.”

“It’s the losers, the ones that need to rely on outsiders for handouts or help that get upset when those handouts come with conditions.”

“You could argue that those lands in the Gulf were handouts. The way that region was carved up by imaginary boundaries.”

“That’s right. Those places only became places because they said they were.”

“They gave meaning to nothing.”

“It was all a bunch of sand, before.”

“Not quite, but yeah.”

“There were people there, before.”

“Sure, but those people didn’t have any meaning until it was decided they did.”

“Can we do that?”

“It’s been done.”

“Interesting.”

“They are all strangers anyways. They don’t mean anything to me. That is, they don’t mean anything to me until I consider them like me.”

“They are like you.”

“They are like me.”

“And, once someone becomes like you, violence is impossible.”

“It’s impossible.”

“How could anyone wish violence against themselves?”

“That’s self-abuse.”

“We put those people on suicide watch.”

“They are trying to kill themselves. It’s unhealthy.”

“Right, exactly.”

“That’s why I’m a pacifist.”

“You are a pacifist?”

“For sure, it’s a simple thing. All you have to do is ask yourself if you’d want to be killed and if you would want to kill.”

“Logical.”

“Unfortunately we aren’t logical creatures, are we?”

“No, I think we like to pretend that we are.”

“That’s how you can create false meaning.”

“False meaning?”

“Pretend.”

“Ah, right. Pretend meaning.”

“We’re so high.”

“Very, extremely high.”

“That does not make any of this less true.”

“No, but it makes it difficult to remember tomorrow.”

“True.”

“Yes, it’s true.”

“It’s all true.”

“It’s true because we all agree it’s true.”

“You just fucked my mind, dude.”

“Very true.”

“But what are we supposed to do with this if we don’t remember tomorrow?”

“We will get high again.”

“That’s a solution.”

“Is it?”

“Yes, if we forget what we talked about tonight tomorrow, we will retrace our footsteps.”

“That’s what you do when you are lost.”

“Correct, when you are lost, you retrace your footsteps.”

“But that just takes us back.”

“Right, we want to go back.”

“Not all the way back.”

“No, I suppose not.”

“So we want to retrace our footsteps back to the point where we agreed we all need to move forward.”

“Yes, that’s right, we need to go back to the place to go forward.”

“When will we do that?”

“Tomorrow, when we need to remember what we did today.”

“It will be yesterday tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow we will remember yesterday, which is today, what we agreed upon on what needs to be done to move forward tomorrow, which will be today tomorrow.”

“But, what does it all mean?”

“It means what we say it means.”

“What happens when others say it means something different?”

“What happens when their meaning is different?”

“Different and combative?”

“Ideas cannot fight.”

“No, but people will fight on their behalf.”

“I won’t.”

“No?”

“No, remember I’m a pacifist.”

“Right.”

“Yes, I remember. We should all be pacifists.”

“We should.”

“What happens when someone else does not agree with us?”

“Shit.”

“How did we get here?”

“Let’s retrace our steps.”

“We’re all so lost.”

 

Five years later and Jonathan was telling the same story. It’s funny how everything has been done before. It’s funny how history is filled with the same mistakes repeated over and over again. Really, it’s quite funny. This is a comedy, remember?

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