Sunday, August 28, 2011

Post 43

For the second time in my life, I'm super scared about the impending change (the third time if you count when my mom first made pierogis for dinner). I've got driving directions up to Boston to look for a place to live (to live! Without a deadline or a meal plan or parents) and a U-haul reserved to cart most of my room at home up to wherever it is that I end up.

I don't cook well. I'm not good at doing laundry so that my clothes don't wrinkle. I've never written a check. I'm expecting to get to work (to work! At a 9-5 job!) and they will realize I'm still a kid. Wearing a buttoned shirt won't fool anybody.

It was nice to see so many friends at Haverford and Bryn Mawr, but it put a hole in my stomach to watch them beginning another academic year (which is no longer how I will measure my calendar, unless I start teaching or have kids). Ain't no primal scream out here. Kids, savor every single day. There's always something good happening there. I gotta stay in touch with these dudes (at the risk of being one of those hangers-on, willing to sacrifice my image for another dinner with the gang). It took me four years to make these friends, I worked hard at this! I can't give em up that easily.

I can foresee this new life as one where I get in shape, get cultured, become fashionable and enviable and perform standup comedy for roaring audiences. I can also foresee watching a lot of Starcraft gamecasts and eating a couple of jars of peanut butter a week and forgetting to rip pages off a one-a-day calendar.

So I guess I gotta be a "man" now.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Post 42

Finding Oneself

Pt. 2

Back in the bathroom, Brian had gotten back to his feet, swaying. He had calmed himself down, tried to logic his way back down to earth. He splashed a little water on his face, saw that there were no paper towels, and used his sleeve. He pushed through the bathroom door and crept back to his seat, casting a wary eye toward the librarian, who merely sniffed. Brian sat down and looked back at the blog. There was the description of his flight to the bathroom. He reached down without looking and pulled the gum off the seat of his pants, rolling it between his fingers and pressing it to the underside of the desk. He noted that his action with the gum was recorded in the blog and glanced around at the rest of the library. A couple of kids were bent over an SAT prep book, an old man with calf socks pulled up squinting at a book title, and a young woman in her thirties asleep at another computer – no one looked like they were watching him and transcribing his movements. Brian turned back to the computer. It was crazy, and he knew it was crazy, but he was a writer and writers have to embrace a little craziness. He cleared his throat and closed his eyes.

“Hello?” He whispered. The sleeping woman grunted, making him jump. “Can you hear me?” Brian scrolled down to see his query. It was there, but there was no good answer, since I’m not sure what to tell him. I mean, I can read what he’s saying but I can’t technically hear him. Besides, what good is it if I can? “Ah HA!” Brian yelled. The librarian shot up. “Young man, if you cannot control yourself you will have to leave!” Brian sat back, cowed. “Sorry, ma’am,” he said meekly. Quietly, he murmured “ah-HA! You CAN hear me!” Well, not technically. “All right,” Brian said, “but the point remains.” And he was right, I suppose. The librarian’s interruptions were getting tiresome, so it only made sense to point out to all readers that we can “hear” Brian just as well if he thought his comments instead of speaking them. You know I’m reading this, too, right? Thought Brian. I did, obviously, which is why I wrote it. Hey, no need to get touchy. Brian frowned. Are you some kind of God? Which was another interesting question. Since the story is in a third person narration, it would suggest that as the author I retain some sort of authoritative control over the story. However, several prominent writers recently have advanced the theory that writers should simply start stories moving and then see where they go. In that regard, and in the sense that I am a little taken aback by the audacity of the questions, I cannot claim to foresee every detail. On the other hand, it is absurd to say I was taken aback, since I had planned for Brian to ask these questions. All right, all right, Brian thought. I don’t need to know everything about it. You’re clearly not omnipotent. But then, what does that mean about me? The title says this is a metafiction. Am I real? Brian tried to remember anything before the beginning of the blog entry and was surprised to realize that he could, with great clarity, recall a number of details from his past. He remembered eating Ice Pops with a bandaid on his knee in early summers, his mom sobbing at his high school graduation, and the toast he had eaten that morning. OK, he thought, this clearly isn’t a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead scenario. But that past does seem a little canned. Brian realized he didn’t have a very strong emotional reaction to his past. So, he thought, I’m fictional? Like in Stranger Than Fiction? Brian was annoyingly quick on the reference, despite the obvious differences in the plot setup. There were similarities, but Brian was relieved to read that I had no intention of killing him off. It would be an act of literary suicide, since Brian’s character had a lot of the author in him. Really? Thought Brian. What are you like in real life? But there was no reply. Apparently the author hoped to maintain a level of mystique.


In Part 3, hopefully we get less pedantic

Monday, August 8, 2011

Post 41

Finding Oneself
A metafiction
Part 1

The writer's name was Brian Business Cartwright, and he was smiling. The first of these two facts should be enough to convince the reader that this is, indeed, a work of fiction: the second -that a man who stakes his livelihood on the creative process was caught smiling - suggests we may already have traversed into fantasy. Let me qualify first that Brian's smile was reserved; in a public library, grinning too widely can be more disruptive than a loud fart. But Brian couldn't contain himself. After reading the email twice, it was a considerable act of restraint that he hadn't run laps around the stacks hooting. Up until today, Brian hadn't had any aspirations for the success of his blog; he wasn't sure anyone was reading it. At his most cynical, he had felt as though he were slinging his modest reviews into the landfill of the Internet, maybe someday to act as a compost heap for the truly talented. But The New Yorker? Contacting him out of the blue and offering him a position as a columnist? Brian thought it might have been a hoax. It wasn't: Brian found nothing fishy about the email, and at this point he didn't recognize it as a flimsy plot device.

For Brian Business Cartwright, this offer represented a victory on several fronts. It meant validation for the months in front of his computer, eating Cheetos and staining his keyboard orange. Brian was worried about the physical toll his chosen profession was taking - he often pinched his sides, unhappily pulling at the meat of his stomach and letting it slap back into place. When he reads that sentence, he'll blush in embarrassment, and he'll do it again. The job offer also gave Brian an answer to the question that had started in his parent's mouths and settled into their eyes: "what's your plan, then?"

Brain's parents had given him his middle name as an unsubtle suggestion for his future career plans, and both were quietly dismayed at his decision to pursue a "creative profession," a phrase Brian's father took as a euphemism for not moving out. When Brian had pointed out the new irony of his middle name, his parents tightened their lips and shared a glance that said this was your clever idea. Bound by their promise to respect their son's decisions, Kerry and Marsha turned to "what's your plan, then?" to attempt to reinstate some order into their son's chaotic career pursuits. Marsha, particularly, wielded the phrase like a whip when she caught Brian on Facebook, letting it fly across his flinching shoulders and curling the inflection downward for more sting. For all this, the job offer represented a chance for Brian to stand in defiance. But enough explanation; Brian knows all this anyway.

Brian stepped outside and called home, giving his mom the good news. Her genuine enthusiasm and pride irked him a little bit - he kind of wanted to rub it in. He returned to his monitor to read through the email one more time. Little aftertremors of energy pulsed through him as he took note of the salary, the benefits, the hours. At the bottom, he noted that the offer was contingent on passing a "brief background screening," which didn't concern Brian much. He had a clean record through college and didn't hold any political views, much less extremist ones. To be safe, he typed his name into the search bar, little knowing how much he was advancing the story. The predictable results popped up first: his Facebook profile, his blog (he smiled at it), a record of his time fencing for Wesleyan. Beneath these, Brian caught his name in a blog with an unfamiliar URL. He clicked, expecting a friend's prank. Instead, he found this entry, the one you're reading now. It takes him a little while to get caught up, so you and I will take a quick paragraph break before resuming the past tense.

A teen at a nearby table who had been watching Brian as he scrolled through this story cracked her friends up later, telling them about a constipated maniac in the library computer bay, since that is what Brian resembled. The teen might have taken a kinder tone had she known what kind of existential pressure Brian was under, but teenagers are cruel, so she might not have. Brian's hands were shaking. "What the fuck is this?" he muttered too loud, earning him a glare from the librarian working at the circulation desk. As he read the previous sentence, he leapt up and stifled a yelp, which earned himself a second glare and a shushing. It was too much - Brian got up and walked to the bathroom with as much aplomb as he could muster. He sank down to the floor of the stall, shaking and running his hands through his hair. He sat on a piece of gum, but didn't realize until returning to his desk and read about it. Slumped against the ceramic tiles, Brian Business Cartwright tried to wrap his head around what he had read. At first, it had seemed like a weird joke: maybe, he had thought as he read, it was a bizarre practical joke from The New Yorker's staff. Maybe they wrote them for all the new columnists. It was improbable, but it was Brian's best attempt at rationalizing a scarily accurate and up-to-date account of his actions. His resolve had begun to weaken at the phrase "landfill of the Internet," as he had written that verbatim in a private journal and was proud of how it sounded. He cracked at the mention of pinching his sides and had skimmed the next few paragraphs in a daze until hitting the mention of the librarian. While Brian was coming to grips in the bathroom, this same librarian marched over to Brian's computer and peered at the screen. As she knew nothing about him, however, the philosophical implications of the blog entry were lost on her. Her only revelation, as she returned to her seat, was that 20-somethings are crazy, which wasn't particularly profound.

In Part 2, Brian gets his legs under him a little bit and establishes contact with us.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Post 40

I spent a good four hours today sorting through old photos and mail in dusty boxes. As the oldest child, my youth coincided and caused the zenith of my parents' enthusiasm for photography and recording memories. Photo after photo shows me wide-eyed and staring into the camera; my parents, slightly fuzzier, loom in the background.

As a kid, I couldn't smile in photographs. I could laugh, and I was happy most of the time, but my mom would get behind the lens and I'd lose the feeling in my mouth. "Smile!" she'd say, and I'd stretch my lips, squint and clench my teeth. This would reignite the continual argument between my mom and I. "That's not a smile!" she'd say, and I'd get defensive. We'd get frustrated, me for my facial failings and my mom for wasting film. Thankfully, as my siblings filled out the ranks of my family, the pressure was more evenly distributed. Georgi is her own harshest critic in photographs, and Miles laughs in each shot, his face manic. For my mom, each additional child in the frame made the difficulty of capturing unanimous smiles exponentially more difficult.

I got better with age. Unlike many, I was proud of my braces and beamed in the school pictures. In middle and high school, my circle of friends didn't carry many cameras between them, so photos were sort of a special occasion for me. As my mouth shaped up in still life, my eyes got sloppy - I alternated between a bug-eyed, "crazed killer" grin and a half-lidded, "substance abuse" smirk.

For a while in college, I took a stand against silly faces. Maybe it was prematurely curmudgeonly of me, but I couldn't imagine looking back and being happier with crossed eyes than a real smile.

I'm finally getting comfortable with smiling naturally in photos. Now, if I could only do something about my hair...