Just a collection of various stories I began with no intention to finish, or answers to writing prompts. Enjoy! Please visit my author page on FB! Also note, some of these may be removed later if I feel the urge to expand on them!


32. Conference


          The woman was short, and distinguishably Canadian. She had a cheerfulness about her, but not the sickeningly bright cheerfulness that made her seem a little more real than I expected. I had only gotten a few hours of sleep last night, so my eyelids were heavy. Not only that, but my cynicism of this conference was clearly illustrated on my tired features.
          "What do you want to get out of this weekend?" The question had been asked to me multiple times throughout the last few weeks, and I had answered different every time. I was getting annoyed with the words as I sat down in the third row next to an older woman with a long navy skirt and a white sweater. She had a dark splotch on her face but greeted with with a smile.
          The short woman greeted everyone as we walked in, then clapped her hands on time.
          "Good morning!" she tittered. I frowned as the rest of the room echoed with replies. "Welcome to the Landmark Forum!"
          The cheerful woman, who identified herself as Sue, began to explain the purpose of the program. She asked us to share what we wanted to get out of it. I watched as a few people stood up and talked, still sleep heavy on my eyes.
          "I realize," one woman said, "that I'm running out of time." She appeared much older than the majority of the rest and had a tone about her of resignation. Everything she said sounded as if she had thought about it for hours before it exited her mouth and ended with a feeling of finality that made me realize she wanted a lot out of the conference.
          Another woman stood up and began to explain that she wanted to lose weight, but she wanted to be appreciated for her mind, not her body. She mirrored my thoughts but I was more disciplined than her. I felt a slight air of superiority, but quashed it down.
          "The Landmark Forum is about finding possibilities," Sue explained. "We will uncover a world where anything is possible."
          I scowled. This was going to be a long weekend.
          The next few hours were excruciating. The woman explained something called "rackets." The second she said it, I thought of a tennis court. Why would she talk about tennis in a meeting about possibilities? Perhaps she really liked tennis. I began is picture a tennis game where a bunch of people were shouting to the players making lots of noise. That was a racket, too, wasn't it? Were we supposed to make lots of noise?
          I looked up at the board she began to write on. She drew two circles. I notice the circles weren't connected at the bottom. I could draw a better circle, I mused, placing my hands right side up on my lap, the position I often assumed when sitting in a chair for more than an hour. One circle was labeled "problem," and the other was labeled "payoff."
          "A Racket," Sue explained, "is a complaint you have against another person." It was also a registered trademark, as I found out later on the Landmark website.
          Oh, perfect, I thought, sitting up in my chair. I have a boat load of complaints.
          "It's an ongoing cycle that has a huge payoff," she paused for effect and I found myself rolling my eyes.
    And that payoff is...
    "You get to be right."
    I thought about this for a minute, trying to figure out who I was right about. I was always the first one to admit I was wrong. I didn't like starting fights, even if my mom could argue against that. We had been at odds for years, even if I tried to not start a fight. Lately it had calmed down, so there wasn't really any fighting going on so that couldn't be it. With my friends, if there was an argument, I would make sure to see both sides and if I was wrong, I would say I was wrong and move on. I blinked at the board wondering how this applied to me.
          Sue went on to explain how being right was such a huge pay off that many people continues their "rackets" to get that payoff. But, apparently the cost was your life.
          The cost is my life? What? My life is just fine. I got a lot going for me: I have a job, I'm getting a better job soon, I'm writing a book, I'm moving. That sounds pretty good to me.
          I watched, though, learning about this thing that sounded like a tennis game and a loud noise. Apparently the word actually came from some prohibition era thing where the storefront looked normal and the back was full of drunk people. Racket. Sounded cool enough. I like history. I'll google that after I get to the room tonight.
          The hours passed with talk of rackets and more people shared. I couldn't recall exactly who it was. It all passed in a blur. The day was over along with my sore rear end and I yawned and found the elevator after a bit of direction.
          "Hiiii," I said, walking in the hotel room. My brother and dad were watching TV, zombies as they were after their long day running around Pittsburgh like eager beavers. My dad had always wanted to go to the city, and my brother heard "FREE WEEKEND AWAY FROM HOME WITH FREE HOTEL AND FOOD AND FUN STUFF" so he was of course on board.
          "How was the class?" my dad inquired, still reclined on the bed, remote in hand. I pulled out my laptop to get in windows live and connect to my friends in other states. To my chagrin, there was no wireless in the rooms. I hated Ethernet. Another extra cord attached to the laptop was an awesome way to tangle up things. I usually avoided it at all costs.
          "Yeah there's Ethernet," my brother commented, plugging his iPhone in next to my power cord. "It's damn slow."
          "WTF lame," I whined. "But, yeah. The class was ok," I continued, pushing the power button on the laptop. It booted up quickly, the little Toshiba logo flashing and the fish icon that said "TYPE PASSWORD" beckoning me on. "A few people got more out of it than I did."
          "Well maybe tomorrow will be better," my dad suggested, still a TV-zombie. I sighed. Maybe it would be.
          I was supposed to do an assignment where we write a letter to someone and talk about the Forums, but I sorta passed it off because I was smelly and needed a shower. I thought about writing it, but I didn't end up doing it. I hated that I felt bad about it, too.
          This isn't school, I told myself. You don't HAVE to do anything. Jeez.

          The only thing that got me out of bed the next day was my excitement of an exercise room and my promise to Sharon, the one that pushed me so hard for over a year to take the class. What finally convinced me was her generosity to pay for a lot of the fee. She really wanted me here, so I sighed and bared it. I had woken up in the middle of the night with a knot in my leg the size of China, and a headache to match, so I was already in a bad mood.
          The exercise room was int he same room as the pool. Not cool. Literally. The pool, as I had found out so many times before, was heated, leaving the exercise equipment slightly damp and the whole room more humid then two miles under the ocean. It was alright though. I got to watch some weirdo news dude talk about a team I didn't follow and then some lady talk about the weather.
          The class that day, from what I could remember, was about "disappearing things." There was a huge, long, exercise where we closed our eyes and thought about things that made us angry or sad or something. She also said that everyone was scared of everyone else and that that's really funny. I think there was a demonstration with a chair where Sue picked it up and moved it around a lot saying it was our past. I sat there looking at her, that blue director-style chair shoved around like a sack of potatoes. What a short woman. What a big chair. I bet that chair was more comfortable than the ones we have. Man, these chairs suck. On my butt for 13 hours? I'm glad we got breaks. I would go stir-crazy.
          I did like talking to the Asian-looking girl with long black hair. She was my age and liked to draw. I used to draw but I mostly wrote these days. She said she wrote her letter to her boyfriend, I think, explaining she had literally told him she would get bored with him. I was like "that's crazy! Why would you say that?" I told her about Deviant Art, where I post all my work and she said she would check it out.
          There was one point we got to talk about the reason we are who we are, or our "strong suits." I wasn't so sure about this. I remember that I did get made fun of a lot from like fourth grade to nearly freshman year in high school. I knew that was sort of why I was a loner. I didn't want to deal with people because they made me mad or sad or something. I couldn't think of anything else at the moment.
          "Now share!" Sue exclaimed.
          A few people stood up at the microphones and shared some stories. I did take a liking to a short woman with black ringlets who said she hadn't even told anyone she came. She was upset about her brothers treating her mom wrongly. She got all emotional at the microphone saying her mom died because her brothers made her go to a nursing home and she had never forgiven herself or something. I felt bad because I couldn't tell her that I liked her and if she needed someone I could talk to her. I've always been like that. I like helping people that I cared about.
          The rest of the day passed by in a blur as well. I left with the assignment for the evening in mind: once again a letter, and we had to find our "strong suits." I couldn't remember the first event where I apparently decided my strong suits. I thought about before where I decided I didn't need anyone back in middle school. Oh well, I'd get to it.
          My close friend from Virginia popped up my instant messenger that night, and was very upset about one of her friends. She explained he was bragging about something and it made her very angry. I stared at the words on the LCD screen, turning them over in my mind.
          "He's only doing that because he's scared if you," I typed to her, for the first time deciding there was a little bit of worth to this lame and boring forum.
          "That's silly!" she replied. "Why would he be scared of me?"
          "Because he doesn't want to look bad in front of you, so he brags to look good."
          She thought it was hilarious that someone much older than her was scared of her. I explained that everyone is scared, so any time she feels angry, just remember the person that is making you angry is acting how they are because they don't want to look bad in front of someone else.
          I woke up multiple times that night, either because the bed was too hard or someone turned off the AC. I could have sworn I had a dream that I "enrolled" someone in my "new possibility for life." Or maybe it was a dream about dancing with sharks. I can't remember.

          The next day was more similar things. I passed it by, sharing with my partner about my "strong suits." She was a cheerful looking woman with blond ringlets. I always liked ringlets. They looked so fun and fritzy. My hair's more wavy so I had to use my big huge curls or just put it up.
          I putzed through the morning like an old jalopy waiting for lunch break. I wanted my Cheezits and blueberry muffin, which I found out was actually a carrot muffin on accident much to my dismay. It was still good, though. I had forgotten my juice boxes on the way out this morning, so I texted my dad before we started and he dropped them off.
          I was even less reluctant to share today. I just wanted it all to end. The second break was even slower to come. I didn't really want to talk to anyone, so I sat in a loveseat and pulled out my copy of Artemis Fowl and the Artic Indicent. I would rather spend these forty minutes reading how Artemis leaped on a radiation waste train to escape the goblins with Butler, his butler (yes, wonderful name), Holly Short and Captain Julius Root.
          However, my adventures were interrupted by a tall man with glasses. I can't remember his name, but he approached me.
          "Why don't you share?" he asked.
          I sighed. "I'm sort of just waiting for it to end."
          "Well you might as well get your monies worth. I mean, I can see you are a big person with a big life, and you have a lot to share."
          I shrugged.
          "You're a big person just for being here!" he insisted.
          "Thanks," I replied and shuffled into the break room. My Cheezits from lunch awaited me.
          The woman from the first day that said she wanted to be appreciated for her body greeted me. She asked how much I was getting from the forums.
          "Well, I'm getting a little," I explained. "I thought it was cool that everyone is scared of me and that's why they act that way."
          She nodded and went on about some other stuff I couldn't recall. Sometimes I wish I had taken notes so I could write down my observations of people. I noticed the short woman with black ringlets who was upset about her mom was gone. I was kind of upset. I had hoped to say goodbye to her.
          Sue started talking about something that I didn't quite understand.
          "Your life is empty and meaningless," she stated. She wrote it on the board next to the number one.
          Wow, what an emo thing to say, I thought. It sounds like something a person that wears black eyeliner and struts about acting like that don't care about the world would say.
          "Humans are a meaning-making machine. We add meaning to everything," she continued. "You are trapped!"
          Sounds fun, I mused, staring at the blackboard. If someone walked in right now that hadn't heard of Landmark and saw what was written on the board they would probably think this was some cult meeting. I mean come on. "Your life is empty and meaningless" written on the board has to draw some kind of thoughts.
           "Once you realize you are trapped, you can be free!"
           Suddenly, it hit me.
           It hit me like a ton of bricks and a suit of 17th century complete with the full set of chain mail and glove things made of metal and a big, giant, two-handed broadsword with a golden-tinted hilt.
           I had been adding meaning to everything this whole time.
           All my life I had analyzed everything. Why is this this way? Why did she say that that way? Why did he do this this way? Heck, I even analyzed my analyzations. But, all of the sudden, all of that was gone and I was in a room full of glorious people that had nothing but love exploding out their ears.
           But the only one that knew it was me.
          If it hadn't been for that nice lady that came to the graduating people's part that evening after dinner (at which I informed my dad that this was my first meaningless dinner, which he did enjoy) with the blonde-ish brown hair and her arm in a black sling (which she moved the hand just fine so I wondered what kind of injury it was) no one would have ever known that anything had changed in me. No one would have even understood how much weight was gone. She nodded and just smiled. She did.
          The night was over before I knew it. Before I shuffled past the people at the door to give my name tag to them, I went back to the Asian-looking girl and gave her my DeviantArt information.

          The next day at work was the best day I had had in five years. Or was it perhaps ten? I wasn't sure the last time I had a day this good. I walked into work, sleepy as usual, having gotten not five hours the last night ask we got home around 1am. Instantly I saw my boss and he opened the door to the store and I gave him a huge smile. I smile at him every day, but never like this. I guess he didn't notice much because he didn't react any different. He did it because he did it. There was no meaning.
          I spotted my coworker, the one that helped me open boxes and price things nearly every day in receiving. A feeling I had never felt flooded over me. I blinked and shoved it down, not sure what it was. I examined it a little more, turning it over in my mind as she printed out the replenishment reports for the day and handed me the coffee list.
          "I already got the housewares and cleaning, so just start coffee and we'll go from there," she explained. Daily routine. Cool.
          I saw her about ten minutes later in the back moving conveyances around and the feeling came to me again. What the hell was it?
          Then it hit me. It hit me harder than that ton of bricks and 17th century armor.
          It was love.
          Love? What the hell? You can't love someone this much without like...being in love with them.
          Can you?
          She had always been there, coaching me through the processes of receiving and helping me do all the freight and even yelled at me a few times for blocking the fire exit with conveyances, but she had spent the most time with me through it all, and recently I had started sharing things about my life a bit more with her.
          Love? What?
          All my life I had quashed this feeling, thinking it would get me hurt. Yes, I did have friends in other states I stayed in contact with. I told them I loved them last night, but that was just text. Text has always been easier for me. When I told my close friend from Weirton, PA that I loved her, she thought I was high. But this. This was weird.
          I even asked her to go to the last session thing with me. She declined, saying she had to help her mother in law in the hospital but she was happy I asked.
          Was this what the Landmark Forums was all about? First I got hit with bricks and armor and realized I had been adding meaning to everything, and now I love my coworker?
          The day was glorious. I found myself making spitting noises and giggling later on. When I made a "ololololo" sound with my tongue, I bust out laughing.
          Suddenly, my coworker helping me price things didn't mean I was going too slow. It meant she liked me and wanted to do something nice for me.
           Suddenly, my boss telling me there was no job available when I moved because I had one customer complaint didn't mean he hated me and thought I was a bad employee. It meant he was doing what he knew how to do as a boss and telling me what I needed to know.
           I felt myself slip a few times, though. A comment about someone flooded my mind with anxiety. How can someone say that? That's mean. I wonder what the person its about is upset about that. Did they hear it?
          I stomped them down as if it was an annoying horsefly that wouldn't go away.
          Heck, I even had a slight panic attack about this love thing. What if I ran out of love? Is that possible? I should call one of those coaches Sue talked about. I need a bit of help on this.
          I went home with an odd sense of achievement, wondering what the last session was going to be about. Now, I'm not very religious, but I had the urge to share this feeling with everyone, feeling much like a Disciple when Jesus explained about sharing the new religion. He explained that people will think you are crazy, people will think you are nuts, but, like Landmark, Christianity was counter-intuitive.
          A whole world opened up for me. I actually saw the people around me, the people I talk to every day, literally become extraordinary people. It made no sense, but it was great.

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