tagMind ControlChange of Focus

Change of Focus


Change of Focus, by Rajah Dodger, Copyright (c) 2001. All rights reserved, except that electronic not-for-profit reproduction rights only are explicitly granted with the stipulation that this authorship and permission note must remain attached.

* * * * *

"There once was a girl from Nantucket / whose clit was so big she could..."

"Nawww..." Jack said, and viciously crumpled the piece of notepaper before flinging it across his dorm room. "I'm never going to pass this flippin' writing course!"

His roommate, a one-time scholarship student now in his sixth year and third major, intercepted the paper missile and unfolded it. He shook his head sadly. "That's pretty weak, even for you."

"Tell me something I don't know, Einstein. How did you manage to get through this course anyway, Ken? I thought you hated writing."

"I do, man. Can't stand it." A light gleamed hidden in the other man's eye. "Maybe that's your problem -- you're too focused on the task and the mechanics. You know the story of the Foo bird?"

Jack winced and rolled his eyes. "I don't want to hear this..." he warned, but to no avail as his roommate began. "The Foo bird lives in the far reaches of the island of Madagascar, and is the only known example of a species intent on its own extinction. This happens because the Foo bird believes that something is trying to climb into its bottom, and in a single-minded attempt to find the intruder the Foo bird flies faster and faster in ever-diminishing concentric circles until it vanishes into its own anus."

At this point Jack attempted to smother his roommate with a pillow.

Some minutes later, when tempers had cooled, Ken picked up the conversation as if nothing untoward had happened. "Your main problem is that you're too focused. When you're looking at the crankshaft, you can't get the feel of driving the car. You need to relax your brain and come around the back side of the idea in creative writing. Think like an artist, not like the next partner at Dewey, Cheatem and Howe."

Jack shook his head and flopped back onto his bunk. "You're going from making no sense to nonsense. What do you mean, come around the back side of the idea? And anyway, I'm nothing if not relaxed after spending the weekend with Sherry -- I don't think I have a stiff bone in my entire body." Sherry was Jack's girlfriend, a fox from one of the better sororities who had taken a liking to Jack and seemed intent on working her way through the entire Kama Sutra with him.

Ken nodded sagely. "Exactly my point. You're using up all your 'chi' on that girl." He leered, "Not that I'd turn her down for a minute, my friend. You've got good taste there. But you need creative energy for creative writing, and she's leaving you drained not only physically but psychically. It's no wonder you can't get anything down on paper." He belched, which undercut his effort to sound professorial.

Jack shook his head in bewildered disagreement. "You're saying I have to give up my sex life just to pass a stupid class? Man, with advice like that it's no wonder I'm your eighth roommate in less than six years."

Ken sighed, "Oh, you youngsters... I never said you had to give up Sherry. You just have to find a way to recharge your batteries, and keep your brain from focusing so much on the ugly mechanics of writing. Now I happen to know of an approach that might work, if you're really interested. But it would require you giving up one of your precious weekends with that lithe sex goddess."

"Hell," Jack responded, "if you can guarantee me getting through this class I'd even set you up with Sherry for the weekend."

Ken chuckled. "Don't go writing any checks you don't want to cash..."


A couple of days later, Jack was kicking back in the student commons, sipping at his beer and watching the Cubs, when a woman came up to him. "Hi," she said breathlessly, "You're Jack Falken, aren't you? I'm your new tutor, Christine, Christine Keeler, but everyone just calls me Chris."

Jack looked up without anything clicking other than his hormones. She was tall, brunette, with a nicely-filled midriff-baring blouse over low-slung denim jeans. Intelligent, too, as she apparently recognized the blank look in his eyes and continued without waiting for him to respond. "Your application to the creative energy weekend seminar was conditionally accepted, and I'm to be your initial tutor, at least until you've gotten through the orientation and have your feet firmly on the ground."

"Conditional?" Jack didn't remember anything about a seminar, unless this was the thing Ken had been talking about. And he wasn't sure about that word "conditional". Meanwhile, Chris was bubbling along at full speed. "Anyway, I need to do an in-person assessment of your suitability to our program and your willingness to work. Can you arrange to meet me for dinner tonight or tomorrow night?"

She paused, which gave Jack a chance to try and catch his breath. All this was going too fast, but after all, he did have to pass that class, and for a tutor she was certainly easy on the eyes. He was supposed to go out to the movies with Sherry this coming weekend, but she probably wouldn't be upset over one cancellation.


They met the next evening at a dark little Italian restaurant not far from the campus. Jack put more effort than usual into his appearance, which made him slightly late getting to dinner. Chris was already seated, and he hid his disappointment at finding her in a simple and demure blue dress. Their dinner conversation touched on his career goals, classes, extracurricular interests, and why he thought he had difficulty writing. Several times during dinner Jack tried to find out more about Chris, but each time she deftly turned the inquiry back to him. As Jack was finishing the last of his veal, he commented that he didn't seem to have problems in his other classes, subjects like accounting, history and pre- law. It was only in the "creative" writing tasks that he ran into a blank wall. That brought a smile to Chris's face. "That's quite good," she said encouragingly, "when you recognize that yourself it usually means we can unlock your creative juices - with some hard work and a bit of a mental realignment."

Chris put her napkin down and rose gracefully from her chair. "Let's skip dessert, shall we? I think you're going to be a good candidate for the seminar, and I've got all the paperwork back at my place. I've got to run to the little girl's room - when I get back, why don't you just follow me and we'll get you all set for the weekend." She brushed his arm as she rose; her fingers felt cool against his wrist, and he felt an odd thrill run up his arm. Jack flagged the waiter for the check, and by the time Chris came back to the table he was ready to leave.

Outside in the parking lot, Jack discovered that her dress was by no means as demure as it had appeared with her seated. The skirt hung teasingly well above the knee, and he almost tripped over the curb for not watching his own step. She drove a sleek-looking Lexus, and he followed her into an unfamiliar and disreputable part of town. The neighborhood gave Jack had some concerns about safety, as well as being able to find his way back. But when he locked his car and followed her into her apartment his concerns vanished. The apartment was upscale and classy, and Chris pointed him to the couch and coffee table while she went to get something for them to drink.

Jack sat down and started to look at the densely-filled papers, distracted momentarily by the sight of Chris's long legs as she headed for the kitchen. She returned with two glasses, and they toasted to education, then to writing, then to creative energy. Chris sat next to him on the couch, her leg pressed against his, and helped him wade through the legalese in the first stack of papers. Another round of drinks, and this time when she sat down her skirt rode up to show a tantalizing glimpse of thighs and shadows. Another round of papers, an another round of drinks later, Jack was congratulating himself on determining that his tutor wasn't wearing a bra, and he was more focused on trying to figure out whether she was wearing panties than on reading the papers she handed him.

Finally the last of the papers was signed and countersigned. "Good boy!" she purred, and hugged Jack tightly. A flush of warmth suffused his body, and he missed what she said as she stood up. Her finger caught him under the chin. "Woolgathering, were we? I thought we might celebrate our new relationship properly!" Jack wobbled to his feet, suppressing a yawn, and followed her toward the back reaches of the apartment.


"Well, well, well... the sleeper awakes!" That was Ken's voice. Why was he hearing Ken's voice?

Jack opened his eyes. He was in his own bed. He shook his head experimentally; nothing fell out and he didn't have a headache. Last night's events were just too fuzzy to recall in any detail. "What time did I get in, anyway," he asked his roommate.

Ken laughed. "Four in the morning, my friend, and I had to threaten you with violence to keep you from singing Barry Manilow songs for more than thirty seconds."

Ken directed Jack's attention to a large manila envelope on the breakfast table, which turned out to hold Jack's instructions for the weekend. The list was short: meet the group Friday at 4pm by the campus store, bring toiletries, necessary medications, comfortable footwear, loose fitting sweatpants, necessary underwear and three shirts. He looked a second time, then checked in the envelope as a thought occurred to him. No, there wasn't anything mentioned about money. Come to think of it, from what little Jack could recall of the previous evening the topic of payment had never come up. He asked Ken, who mumbled something about arts groups and literacy grants.

There was one strange item in the instructions. Participants were directed to wear clothing designed for comfort, and they specifically barred briefs for men and athletic bras or pantyhose for women. Jack bristled at the restriction; he liked the way briefs showed off his assets. Oh well, a little shopping trip wouldn't hurt him.

Thinking about briefs brought the previous night back to Jack's mind. His tutor had not, as it turned out, been wearing panties. A sudden rush of blood into his groin reminded him he needed to call Sherry. He rearranged his shorts and reached for the phone. She wasn't terribly put out about his canceling their weekend movie, although she expressed some surprise at his reason. "A writing seminar? Jack, it's unlike you to be so... studious." She emphasized the "oo" sound in "studious", holding it long enough for Jack to picture the way her lips were pursed as she giggled and hung up.

Was Ken staring at him? He turned around suspiciously, but his roommate was merely sitting in his chair, smiling faintly, headphones over his ears and a thick book opened in his lap. The lack of sleep, Jack thought, must be playing tricks on him. Anyway, between the confused images of last night and his conversation with Sherry, he needed a cold shower.


Friday afternoon found Jack standing nervously by the bookstore, his gear in a backpack (including the newly purchased boxer shorts). By the time 4pm rolled around, there were a half dozen students gathered, two other men and three women, none of them anxious to break the common silence. At the stroke of four an SUV arrived with Chris driving and an athletic-looking man in the front passenger seat. She introduced him as Greg, another tutor, and they quickly got everyone into the vehicle with the guys in the back seat and the girls in the middle. They started off, the radio playing some foreign sounding music mixed with white noise and fading oddly in and out.

Jack dozed for a good deal of the drive, as did his fellow passengers. They left the city behind and entered an area with tall trees as the afternoon gave way to dusk. When the van finally came to a halt, everyone piled out to stretch their legs, and Jack realized he had no idea where they were. Trees, bushes, an open area with a large grill and several long tables were visible nearby. At one side was a wooden cabin of recent construction, and the sound of a river echoed in the air. "Pretty," said one of the girls. "Pretty bleak" grumbled one of the guys. Chris and Greg wasted no time in chivvying them into a line outside the wooden cabin for "check-in and team assignment". There were already a number of people in the line, evidently from the three other vans parked nearby.

Inside the cabin, when it was Jack's turn, he was greeted by an older couple who introduced themselves as Carl and Maria Weber, "sort of den parents at Camp Get-in-Touch". They went through his bag, checked his newly-bought boxer shorts, and confiscated his CD player and dress belt, telling him he would get those back at the end of the session. They also asked him a few questions to corroborate a medical form that he didn't remember filling out. Finally, both welcomed Jack to the seminar and expressed their hope that he would find the experience insightful and mind-opening. Carl shook his hand, and Maria gave him a very thorough welcoming hug before they sent him out of the cabin.

Conversation was scant among the group as they waited for everyone to get through check-in. What little talk there was revealed that they spanned the range from freshman to senior, and all had coursework problems of one sort or another. Eventually the last of their group came through the cabin, and Chris and Greg joined them holding clipboards. Chris spoke up, "Okay gang, I've got Jack, Martha and Tom, and Greg will have Sally, Nate and Shavonne. My group follow me and we'll get you set up in our cabin."

The brunette set out into the woods, and Jack and his new cabinmates followed uncertainly while eying each other speculatively. Martha was a statuesque redhead who radiated confidence and took the walk with long hip-rolling strides. Jack found himself wondering what she could possibly need from the seminar. Tom, on the other hand, was a thin bookish type with glasses and looked the type to need help at most everything. Their cabin, when they arrived, was a low- slung affair with an undecorated wood floor and spare furniture, the only note of comfort being the four large beds, two against opposite walls. "Where's the bathroom," whined Tom. Chris waved a hand toward the cabin door. "Those are outside; you'll get that in the main camp tour and orientation. We'll go there in a few minutes, but right now just grab a bed and put your things on it." Tom slunk across to the farthest bed on the right, muttering under his breath about privacy. Jack took a bed on the left wall to avoid Tom, and Martha took the bed nearest the door, sitting down and bouncing experimentally. "Nice mattress," was her only comment. Chris seemed to find the appraisal humorous. "By the time you get to bed, you'll appreciate it. Okay, folks, it's a short weekend and you've all got a lot to do. Let's go!"

The camp extended much farther than the greeting area promised. The grounds included a swimming pool, frontage on the river, a well-groomed soccer field, several camp-simple restrooms (which Tom gratefully availed himself of), and a roomy combination meeting hall and covered dining area. There they found some thirty other students gathered, and everyone found seats while the Webers and the counselors took the front table.

Carl Weber came to the podium. "Welcome, folks. We're glad you could join us for this weekend retreat. All of you are having problems in focus, one way or another, and we're going to give you some tools to help you accomplish what you want in life. Or at least in school." He chuckled at that, and his audience did likewise.

"You've all had the camp tour and gotten your cabin assignments, so we'll have a hike and some warm-up exercises before dinner. The Romans had a saying, "mens sana in corpore sano", a sound mind in a sound body, and we adhere to that philosophy here. During the weekend you'll probably experience a number of activities that are new to you, from breathing exercises to different ways to experience your surroundings. Pay attention to your counselors, and feel free to ask questions, but remember that this can only work for you if you're prepared to have an open mind and work hard. Remember, we're all here for the same thing - to help you be all you can!"

And with that the meeting was dismissed. The groups separated in various directions through the woods to the various clearings scattered around the grounds. Chris quickly rounded up her group, and Greg's group joined them for what turned into a strenuous five-mile hike through the woods. Even Martha looked winded by the time they returned to the camp. They followed their leaders to the meeting hall, where dinner was already waiting. The food was spare but tasty, heavy on the vegetables and fiber, surprisingly filling, and apparently the seminar was to be meat-free.

After dinner the groups retired to their various cabins. Chris gave them all ten minutes to bask in the after-effects of their meal, and then had the three cabinmates sit on the floor in the middle of the cabin. "This is an introduction to meditation," she told them as she slid a CD into a small stereo. Muted sounds of sitar and tabla echoed in the room. Chris circled around and between them, slipping a soft blindfold around each student's head. Jack smiled as she put his on; he could tell she was wearing that same perfume from when he had met her over dinner. The next half hour was a somewhat fuzzy lesson in floating, focusing, hearing the music and not hearing the music. "Meditation," Chris said at one point, "is about focusing and losing focus simultaneously. It's like the old joke about being told not to think about an elephant. The only way to succeed is to allow the elephant into you so that you can get past it." At least half of this was gobbledygook to Jack, but he was trying to keep an open mind.

"I'm going to give each of you a focus phrase now. The next time you do meditation practice, I want you to repeat your phrase until the words lose their meaning and just surround you with sound. Tom, you're 'Scent of Green Papaya'. Martha, you're 'Sliding on Silk'. Jack, you're 'Hot Apple Pie'. Now I want each of you to repeat your phrase, and keep on until you forget I'm here."

This, thought Jack, is just plain silly. Still and all, he went along with the gag, and a strange thing happened. First, he did forget about Chris and the other students; it began to seem as if he were alone, floating in the universe, a babble of meaningless syllables echoing in his head. Then, as sudden and sharp as a flashbulb, he saw meaning everywhere. He could picture the Earth and planets orbiting the Sun. He saw the beauty in the whorls of his fingerprints. He understood women. The tax code made sense... well, almost. He felt a touch on the back of his neck, and sensed a familiar perfume. Somehow, he realized, Chris knew that he'd gotten it. He felt oddly proud at the accomplishment, as a student praised by his teacher.

After a time, Chris went around the room removing the blindfolds. Jack and the other two each stood up and shook their heads to regain their bearings. A low gong sounded in the camp, and Chris nodded her head. "Time to get ready for bed; we've got lights-out and one last exercise, then you'll be up early in the morning!" Somewhat subdued by their own individual experiences, the three roommates quietly went through their things, hiked to the restroom facility for tooth brushing and other needs, and returned to the cabin. Tom had taken his pajamas and changed in the restroom since there wasn't any private area in the cabin. Jack, on the other hand, planned to sleep in his sweatpants and shower in the morning.

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