The Pangs of Building: Chapter 3 by J.E. Santos May 21, 2018
3: The Commune
“What really is triumph? What really is defeat? What is certainty?” Karl Michael asked himself as he woke up from an uneasy dream that he couldn’t visually organize. He was on a bus ride, the first of the six trips he needed to get to a large and secluded place with a relatively small population. After the bus ride, he would take two jeepney rides, two tricycle rides, and a long walk. He thought about this trip years ago during the time that he felt utterly inadequate and spineless, but he dismissed the idea given that he would have to leave his steady job, a potential career opportunity, his father; his girlfriend—all of which and whom, he thought, were inseparable parts in his life. “The risk,” he added. “is immensely big. And it is out of the question to pick uncertainty for certainty. Getting off the grid will break all the rules and values that I have held and followed throughout the years. I can’t be sure of what’s waiting for me in a place I have never known. There isn’t anything waiting for me there, and if there is, there’s no guarantee that it’ll work out. In other words, I’ll be throwing the life that I have established. This idea is a defiance of all things that denounce disorder. This idea is utter madness.”
And yet, as Karl Michael took two jeepney and tricycle rides, as he traversed uneven land, as he moved through thick trees and greeneries, as he crossed two rivers, as he sweat in the heat of the nine o’clock sun, as he struggled to follow the map that he held, as he itched, doubted, panicked, and panted, he thought this was the utter madness that he needed initially in order to alleviate his feelings of inadequacy.
Around ten in the morning, he reached a small commune called Atsuete. But knowing how to get to this place was not actually Karl Michael’s idea. It was from a customer that he met three years ago at the bookstore where he worked. Around nine in the morning, a Saturday, a man perhaps in his early twenties, entered the bookstore and inquired for three books (in this order): The Castle, Lord of the Flies, and Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
“Currently, we don’t have Lord of the Flies, but I can recommend other books from William Golding.” said Karl Michael. He inspected the face of the customer. He looked uninterested in what he was about to say, but Karl Michael continued anyway. “We have his Free Fall, and The Paper Men…”
“How about Kafka’s The Castle?” said the man who completely ignored Karl Michael’s suggestion of readings.”
“Kafka’s The Castle huh?”
“Yes. Franz Kafka died before he could finish the novel. It’s about this man named K. who arrived at a village—”
“K. you say? The same name as the protagonist in Franz Kafka’s The Trial.”
“Yes, exactly. I believe his characters were an allegory of himself. He is his characters, and yet his stories are still compelling. This set up works for him. A few writers can pull that off. Although, a writer cannot separate his influences, philosophies, and ideas from his work, usually, he separates himself from his characters because his aim is to talk about his ideas from the perspectives of so and so characters not to talk about himself as a way to talk about his ideas. I once read a book which states that a good writer talks about his ideas; a bad one talks about himself.”
“But in Kafka’s case, we can make an exception, is that it?”
“Yes, exactly.” the tone of the customer became lively.
“So in sum, Kafka is one of the few writers who can talk about himself and still be considered a good writer, correct me if I’m wrong.”
“Pretty much, that’s it.” the customer smiled, satisfied with Karl Michael’s answer and then added. “So do you have The Castle?”
“No. But we got the Metamorphosis and The Trial.”
“I read them ages ago.” he said as if he were in his late fifties.
“Ages huh?” Karl Michael wanted to ask him how old the customer was, but decided not to given that the customer may get upset over the question. He was choosing his words carefully. “Well, what other books do you have in mind?”
“Got one last book in mind.”
“And that is?”
“Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra.”
“Wait… I think we have one copy of that.”
“Great!” the customer said; his pitch elevated.
Karl Michael went to Isle No. 4—Philosophy. He knew where the book was at since he had read several of its chapters. The book was too didactic for his taste though so he did not finish it. He grabbed the book and briskly moved towards the customer’s direction.
“That’ll be 450.” Karl Michael said as he handed the book to the customer.
“One question though.”
“You do know what that book is about, don’t you?”
“Yes, of course. I wouldn’t look for it, if I don’t know a thing or two about it.”
“Right…” and then Karl Michael thought that he pulled up a stupid question. “I’ve read some of the book’s chapters. It wasn’t my cup of tea.”
“The tone’s pretty preachy, right?”
“Yeah… That’s it. It’s not difficult to understand, but it is pretty preachy. Like I said It’s not my cup of tea.”
“Well, for me it is. I happen to like books with such tones: explicit, didactic, preachy… Hey, I believe that all great literary works teach.”
“But if it’s a novel, ideas shouldn’t be explicitly taught. I mean, why not let the readers experience the lessons or ideas themselves in a subtle manner? That worked for Kafka and Golding.”
“But Nietzsche is different.”
“Right… Another thing. It seems that the books that you seek, are in some way related, I can’t just put them into words…”
“Yes, exactly. If you think about it, they all talk of the individual’s struggle to be free from certain values of society. Do you like travelling, Mister—”
“Karl. Not exactly. I usually enjoy reading, listening to good music, or just spending time with my girlfriend.”
“That’s such a boring way to live…”
“Sorry. Don’t take this offensively, but don’t you think that’s a little boring? It’s like getting accustomed to things inside your cage: the daily food and drink, the hamster wheel; the presence of your Master watching you play. I bet your life is predictable and hollow.”
“You’re in no position to say that,”
“Samuel. The name is Samuel.”
“Right… Samuel, you are in no position to say that. Firstly, you don’t know me. You have that small bit of information about me—the things that I like—but you can’t use that as a basis for summing up my life. The same goes for me. I am in no position to say that you claiming you enjoy reading Nietzsche makes you a pretentious hipster whose manner is that of an eleven year-old. That would be a long stretch, wouldn’t it?”
“Then why use firstly if you’ll only state one thing?”
“What do you care? You have your book. Have a good day, Samuel.”
“You know, I was once like you.” It was that tone again, as if Samuel were way, way older than he looked. “Well, that was eight years ago, I was fifteen. I used to love the things that you do: music, reading, girls—yeah, at that age, would you believe I fucked around?”
“Let me continue.” his voice became commanding, and although Karl Michael was beyond perturbed, he was compelled to listen so he paused.
“Getting fond of routines, it is good for a particular period of time—a time that you think things have weight. A time that you are unaware that there could be more to loving a repetitive cycle of eating, reading, fucking, and sleeping. You see, routines are like demarcation lines. And learning to love them unquestioningly means that you’ve learned to love boundaries. Milan Kundera said that we people can’t be happy because we view life as a straight line, and that a dog has a better chance of being happy than we do because they don’t view life as such. It’s like everything for us—education, family, having a good steady job, merits—everything must be encountered in a linear and uniform sense. They are met, say chronologically, in a straight line that extends further and further as if it has no end. This renders us unsatisfied, unfulfilled, and of course unhappy.”
“Alright, Arthur Schopenhauer, you pretentious little prick, what’s your point?” at that moment, Karl Michael did not notice that he had stray away from choosing his words carefully, and he was slowly straying away from his values as well.
“We must be like stray dogs!”
“I’m sorry, what hell are you saying?”
“You heard me, Karl. We should act not according to the societal trend of observing idealized values such as our ends must be of being successful, having a family, retiring and watching our kids grow. Rather, we should act according to our impulses; our desires. The ends must be a pleasure free from the opinions of society. A stray dog fucks whenever, wherever, and this is according to the dictates of his body, not from the pressure put by other dogs. He doesn’t care wherever he fucks or whenever he fucks so as long as he can satisfy that need stemming only from his nature. In other words, the stray dog may go hungry or lonely—given that he knows no master—most of the time, but we can consider him to be happy because he can do what he wants. He’s freer than any of us.”
“Are you done?” Karl Michael said in a tone which suggested exhaustion.
“Not quite yet.” Samuel said; Karl Michael sighed. “Now, in order to be a stray dog, you must leave everything behind. Run away from everything. I did that when I was fifteen. Tired of everything familiar, certain, and seemingly secure, I packed up a few necessities in my bag and ran away from home. I had no plan whatsoever of where to go or how long I should stay away from my family, friends, and even my girlfriend. That time, I was quick on the resolve that I should leave everything behind to leave the prison I helped build for myself. I have one life to spend, and I should spend it in my terms. So I took a bus one hot summer afternoon, stopped at a place I didn’t know, and continued travelling. And from time to time, I asked people where I was so I could write a detailed account of these places and landmarks and so on…”
“But you were fifteen. Where did you get the money for your trip?”
“From my father’s wallet, of course. If you’re fifteen and you don’t have the means to run away, you must take money from your father’s wallet. That’s a general rule.”
“You just made that up, Samuel.”
“Maybe; maybe not. But that’s beside the point. So during my long and uncertainty-filled travel, I ended up in a far and secluded commune called Astuete. There were only a few people in that commune. Most of them were farmers, others were gatherers, others were sold rice cakes and similar types of food; others, as I talked to some, worked in towns as vendors—these people lived simple lives. But what I had noticed was that they seemed to be genuinely satisfied with how they lived their lives. And I wanted that genuine satisfaction—I a young stray dog in an unknown community learning how to live in my terms. I should add that they were fond of guests. I wasn’t the first one to discover their place, they said. They treated me with utmost hospitality and interest. After six months, I returned home. Naturally, my disappearance caused a lot drama. People—including my good parents who considerably lost a lot of weight—thought I was dead. During the time I was gone, they posted pictures of me on social media adding details such as my name and the last shirt I wore and all that. They printed several of my pictures and posted them on random walls for random people to see and know that I was missing. They coordinated with the cops, radio stations and so on… you get the idea.”
“Yeah, I do. You’re a big, big pain in the ass, and your parents don’t deserve such torment.”
“But it’s their choice to be tormented or otherwise. And it’s my choice to leave. If I told them I would go away from somewhere I could feel free, do you think they’d let me leave? No! They’d react violently.”
“Right… So what happened when you returned?”
“They were so happy I was alive. They thought I was dead, but they needed to wait for a year to hold a funeral. After which, I told them I was held captive by a rebel faction that I just made up in a far ass place that was unknown to me. I told them that the rebel decided to release me since I was too young unlike their other captives and could never be persuaded to join their cause. Of course, given this statement the concerned authorities made a lot of assumptions about the rebel faction. There were outlandish theories about who these people were and their exact location. Of course, I was laughing silently at their gullibility. After that trip, I was never the same person. Although I still observe societal norms, I feel freer and oh so authentic. All because I decided to run away.”
“You lying dick!”
“Am I? Or am I just following the whims of the self? I was like Zarathustra himself who went to the mountains in search of what’s truly essential, and when I returned I was a totally different person. You should try running away one of these days. It’s life changing.” Samuel said as if he were merely suggesting a new brand of shirt to Karl Michael. “Well, I wasn’t the only visitor of Atsuete. I have learned that there were two types of people who come to the commune: people who wanted to live authentically and people who wanted to die peacefully.”
“You think I’m interested?”
“Well, you listened to the whole story attentively so there’s that.” Samuel smiled and then drew out a small notebook. He opened it, tore off a leaf, and then wrote his cell phone number and email address. “If ever you want to escape the monotony of your life, as I can see it,” he scanned the four corners of the bookstore. “just contact me and I’ll tell you how to get to Atsuete.” he handed the paper to Karl Michael.
“What makes you think I’m going to run away?”
“Just a feeling…”
“What makes you think I’ll contact you? Because right now, I’m telling you I won’t. Good story though.” and then Karl Michael crumpled the piece of paper into a ball. He smiled at Samuel condescendingly. “Good day, prick.” Samuel responded by displaying a smug smile, and then he exited.
Years later and a day before Karl Michael Cruz decided to run away, he texted and emailed Samuel.
And now, in front of Karl Michael Cruz was the very commune Samuel had described. The simple wooden houses collectively shaped like a large H, the small wooden fences with morning glory flowers embracing them, fields, domesticated black hogs, chickens, sleeping dogs and cats, people briskly and energetically doing their errands, a cool weather despite the sun, the smell of an unfamiliar summer air—all of which welcomed Karl Michael Cruz. Not knowing the type of guest he was, he entered Atsuete.
To be continued…
*Photo credit to “Quantum Noise” Album Art Cover – “Gamma Decay”