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.

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