I wrote this in 2015, when I was still functional in an academic and politically-correct environment. This was not the final version, as there never was. It is not the best version either. I cannot find the other versions. There are not that many versions.
The Office Buddha
This is it. She is it. She is the personal embodiment of what had been wrong with him. Not that she caused the things he felt to be wrong, it is just that she herself was undertaking the path he refused to take: lying to herself about her abilities, moving between big names and meaningless credentials for some kind of ego satisfaction. “These are just pretty words to one-sidedly criticize a way of life” – he would actually think of the sentence preceding this one. No, certainly he could not be so stupid to not recognize if this was such a one-sided problem like that? What happened, the ripples of it all, certainly may resemble that, but he is sure the truth must be more nuanced, more difficult to verbalize, and perhaps a mixture of him unconsciously following his impulses and feelings and sentiments. This is fine to an extent, but he is now way beyond that already.
His life has of late been mostly concerned with the movement of trees. Not that he does not have any other obligations, or that he is a pretentious escapist – it is just that he finds there is much more to learn in the movement of trees than many of the other things he was obliged to do. Trees speak no deceitful words, they just move along, the leaves stay or leave, the leaves flicker, the leaves fall, the leaves come back anew from end to end, the leaves leave out an open space to not come back on to, the leaves are the leaves and the leaves are the living things, they leave space for thought and emotions, and so he think thoughts and feel emotions with the leaves and the lack of leaves. Among the lines of people in the coffee shop he thinks of the leaves, on the walkways between his damp house and his office he looks at the leaves, and meditates on the leaves. Why do these leaves exist, without any consciousness, without any wanting to live is a question that he thinks is wrong to ask from the beginning, but he does not know what else to ask of the leaves. He realizes he escapes his thoughts with the leaves, but he falls into all sorts of otherworldly traps when seeing the leaves, so he tries to be more like the leaves – not thinking too many thoughts, and just sort of following the wind, the resistance of the tree to the wind, the gravitational pull of the earth, and the occasional Frisbees or kites or bugs or cats that occasionally and more than occasionally alter the space of the leaves. This is his way of being, in between and not delving too deep into anything.
It is not that he never resembled the leaves. The problem of his old way of life was that his life resembled the leaves too much, yet he himself denied his “leaves” to be the way they should be – formless, without much thought, without much direction, and yet filled with directions, filled with form. He certainly is no different from the leaves, as he sits in his energetic meeting room, listening to the assholes and the non-assholes assert their individuality, shouting compliments here and there – just like the wind and the gravitational pull and the bug and the cat that wait to rip these leaves apart. But here was where he differed, he refused to be leaves, and he chose to, or desired to be the non-leaves, the wind, the earth, the creatures, the people, the things, the ambition, the conventional successful pathways. And he basked in the glory of these things, going as far as verbalizing his false and illusory temperaments, writing pamphlets and op-eds on many things of this world, the politics, the options market, and some educational reform stuff that he himself was averse to for unknown reasons. Now that he follows the leaves to his house more often than he does with the education reform news, he suspects he has written those critical pieces just because he did not like how the teachers who advocate this reform looks; he himself is less concerned about the meaning of the education reform, and neither has he been in a classroom or read a single new text proposed by this reform: how could he possibly have known anything? He just had beef with everyone who is not himself—but see, he is just a leaf, and so is everyone else, and so he should deal with them like how leaves deal with other leaves – occupying spaces, pushing and caressing each other ever so slightly perhaps. But where in the world can a leaf rip apart other leaves? He wonders if this line of thinking has taken the metaphor of the leaves too far – but then again he realizes if he keeps wondering he would be less like the leaves, and more like the false him that was undergoing all these ripples of thought, thinking and thinking always about thoughtful things, but failing to see and sense the movements of the leaves, his own leaf, his own self. The leaves should be freer than that, he thinks to himself. And free as they are, free as he is, he will cease drawing parallel to the leaves. After all, these people are not leaves, the past version of him isn’t a leaf; all are humans, little humans.
He recalls the exact reason why he would draw the parallel between the leaves and these people – that is, he was inspired by some Taoist text over the three-month break he took from his writing job, just going on a pilgrimage to some distant places whose name he thinks is irrelevant to his stream of consciousness right now. Not that the Taoist people talked about leaves, but they talked about something the leaves do – that is, nothing; doing nothing, and yet doing so much just by being leaves. This is not the same as the oft romanticized you-should-just-try-to-be-yourself American idealism bullshit, because doing nothing and being oneself are only the same thing when there is no self, no ego. Oh yeah, the leaves are kind of empty inside too, he thought.
So he thinks again, about the intern whom he was harshly comparing to his former self, or more precisely his only Self that he used to concoct, even though she is by all means an interesting and unconventional person, going against the stream of her investment banking or computer science friends to follow this difficult journalism work, she is simply trying to build another self, another ego, another concoction full of pride and self-deception. Why not be like the leaves? How can there be self-deception when there is no self?
“I have looked at your draft articles. They are well-written in the way college students well-write their papers, but there is not enough sizzle to make it tick. You see, in this office the whole “all sizzle, no steak” is actually the driving spirit of it all. People come in and out with these articles and writing, and everyone calls us pundits and liars for a reason—we ourselves did not undertake these in-depth studies, we are just inventing stories and patching up numbers to popularize a certain value-generating corner of human society that is unreachable by the mass. Your writing, miss K, seems to have too much desire to establish you are this select value-generating group. We aren’t. Don’t be with the select group. Be with the mass. Write simply, and establish principles simply.”
“Oh, and one more thing. My take is that form is a reflection of content, so I don’t like when you use long, bulky sentences. Again, simplicity.”
“Would you mind faxing these for me? And write an email to X to send me drafts of his column articles?”
And so he has been treating miss K, the personal embodiment, with detachment and coldness. He feels he should not nurture this passion that he himself could not get hold of, this passion that drove him crazy for a very long time. He does not even listen to the things miss K actually says, as he has been busy making her listen to his things. Besides, knowing how she is a non-leaf, he knows she would be able to pull through just fine on her own. After all these driven non-leaves are after something much bigger than they are—a higher position, some idealized vision of writing as craft, and some other things. So it comes to him as a surprise when this little non-leaf decided to quit her internship. Without even actually saying a single word to everyone, she quits, disappearing like one of those stranded old leaves. Maybe she was a leaf after all, or at least a leaf-wannabe, and leaf-wannabes are cute like that, they do not waste time on petty explanatory notes, though of course he could see how some of these non-leaves he knows would think of this act as irresponsible and immature. Indeed they are some foolish acts, but isn’t it an old fact that The Fool in any story or play often ends up being the most intelligent, most interesting, and most free of all characters? Not that miss K was The Fool in any concrete sense, but that her acts could be pardoned, and pardoned especially by a leaf like himself. So, having calmed himself down and perhaps almost realizing that there is something wrong with his deductions even after all this time spent with the leaves, he decided to write Miss K a recommendation letter after all.
Only problem: Miss K has taken all the stuff she wrote for him to review, and he himself hardly remembers how miss K was like, how her opinions manifest, the things she say, the little parts he tore down that actually make the case for her interesting character. What he remembers most about his interactions with miss K are his own words, the words that indicate an ugly self he thought he had gotten rid of.