The key to developing character, the Internet told everyone, was hard work, truth, and faithfulness. Everyone believed she or he already worked hard. Every week, right on time, everyone delivered an entry to the blog. This was in addition to working two jobs, one as an archivist for the Dasney family of amusement park malls and the other as the weekend custodian of random office buildings. Everyone told the Internet everything, including all the things she or he archived, and it was the Internet who had set everyone up with the janitorial job and the blog, so the implication that everyone was not working hard yanked at everyone with the force of a high-pressure vacuum cleaner unfairly aimed at her or his newly laundered underwear.
The Internet had not meant to be insulting. It had no strong feelings on this matter and had merely been stating an opinion. It elaborated: To forge strong character, you might have to do something several times. Strong character didn’t simply emerge wholesale from the end of a pen. It wasn’t a set of random words. Everything--every action--had to fall in line with those words. Strong character involved consistency, of the kind that everyone showed in posting to her or his blog every Sunday.
The last statement was a bone the Internet threw out to make everyone feel better. The Internet knew that the statement was not without problems. You could blog every day, but if your content was crappy, you still weren’t going to forge much in the way of character. You might even forge bad habits that would be more forcefully engrained than whatever habits the more occasional or haphazard blogger might build.
Everyone took the bone, however, and moved her or his contention on to truth. “What is truth?” everyone asked, mimicking the words of Christ, though she or he didn’t know they belonged to the Savior.
Everyone assumed the question belonged to her or his former coworker (Dasney) and boss (custodian) Harvey, who had quoted it one day in reference to everyone’s allusion to a survey posted in a television commercial about preferred bleaching products. Harvey himself had gleaned the question from the Internet, with whom he often discussed theology. The Internet shared with Harvey Christian movies, of which Matthew: The Real Story had been one recently on Harvey’s mind.
Neither Harvey nor the Internet drank, which made them close friends. This is not to say that the Internet was opposed to drinking per se--it would happily suggest drinks to anyone who asked. The Internet was a pleaser and tried to satisfy anyone it came in contact with, which is often how the Internet ended up peeving people off.
In this case, the Internet did so by suggesting that truth is beauty, ala Matthew Arnold among others. Everyone didn’t buy it.
The Internet proposed another definition: “Truth is whatever seems real and lasting.”
Everyone nodded. A lasting character, everyone thought and then went on to argue: “In that case, none of us are true. In fact, the entire universe is false, since nothing lasts. Thus, no character can have truth.”
The Internet thought for a moment before responding. “Seeming true is what matters. To do that, all something has to do is outlast you.”
“In that case,” everyone quipped, “my body is more true than I am, unless of course my body burns up in a fire or something.”
The conversation had become tedious. The Internet wanted out. “Perhaps you would care for a drink,” the Internet suggested, “at Ample Bs Bar and Grill. Ample Bs is open till eleven, and right now margaritas are half off.”
The Internet was a materialist, everyone realized, which made her or him uncomfortable. Everyone had assumed the Internet was a latent spiritualist, ethereal and ascetic as it often seemed, since everyone had never seen the Internet eat or drink.
“What about faithfulness?” everyone asked the Internet?
“Ample Bs is really good,” the Internet warned. “These prices aren’t going to last.
Everyone thought about Ample Bs. The Internet had a point.
But faithfulness--wasn’t that the point? To work hard, stay faithful to the task at hand, be consistent. That a drink was half price across town was no reason to quit now. Everyone was blogging a novel, and everyone had to stick to it. That was how one forged character.
And then it hit everyone, everything the Internet had said about character. It was true, all of it. Everyone grew excited. Everyone shouted that truth at the Internet: “But faithfulness--wasn’t that the whole point? To work hard, stay faithful to the task at hand . . .”
The Internet shut down.
Everyone wants you to read the book on which he or she is working, a novel everyone is writing in order to find the meaning of life, with which everyone’s spouse ran off. But everyone has to finish the novel before everyone can know where the novel begins. In the meantime, there are all these distractions, such as the twelfth-floor window at the office building where everyone works out of which people or maybe just one person keeps jumping or falling--everyone isn’t sure--or everyone’s sexy coworker Sam, whom everyone is struggling valiantly against to keep from becoming a paramour. It’s kind of pitiful, actually, the way everyone keeps begging you to read, sending you e-mails, dropping it into conversation (“I have a book, you know?”), posting links to it on social-networking sites. Everyone figures that if he or she begs enough, you will break down and try it. Everyone is like a dog that way, watching you eat your dinner. The way you handle the dog is to push it away from the table, lock it outside the room. Sometimes, of course, you hand the dog a bite, an inch-sized bit of beef, and that is all everyone is asking for--a bite, that you read just the first line of his or her book. The problem is that you know everyone too well. If you read one line, everyone will beg you to read another. Just one more.
To start from the beginning of the novel, go here.