(A Story of Self-Reference)
This was meant to be a novel. Fortunately, the Author doesn’t have enough discipline for that sort of thing. Besides, the Author currently exists in a Multiverse with at least two other Co-Authors, perhaps more, and there are necessary space-time restrictions for each Assignment, else The Book would not already be published. Thankfully, I don’t have to tell you all the crazy things that have happened before now. It is written. We will remember.
All you need to know is that I’ve almost finished writing my autobiography. Its working title is Working Title. I started writing it around the time I turned 31. It includes bits from journals, old poems, detailed descriptions of all my relationships-cum-breakups, some intensely personal essays, and mind-imploding speculative fictions that my friend Attila complains “have too many big words.” All this I arranged chronologically, up to yesterday, and saved a backup copy on my hard drive, Funes. Today I realized that my autobiography has caught up with Real Time™. I now decide to experiment with this…
Sitting down, I immediately type the first thing that comes to mind: Take me home. Then…someone, somewhere, assumes I blacked out.
(You, the reader—yes YOU—you see a cab driver as if looking at him through the windshield of the cab. He looks directly at you and speaks with a thick accent.)
“Am I on? Yeah? Yeah. OK, so uh, hullo there. Salut! I’m the 3rd Person Narrator, in the form of a cabbie, see? Some people call me a hack, cos I’m willing to drive into neighborhoods that don’t even exist on your map. YOU are the 2nd Person Singular. And your buddy the Authorbiographer here is conked out in the backseat. Relax. I got it under control. He hailed me cos he couldn’t handle his own shit. It’s like, uuhhh, a fail safe, or a reboot.”
(3rd Person Narrator takes both hands off wheel. Left hand holds a cigarette, right hand a lighter. He puts cigarette to mouth, lights cigarette, drops lighter, puts right hand on wheel while taking puff from cigarette in left hand, exhales.)
“It’s all perfectly normal—happens all the time. Hey, why you lookin’ at me like that? I’m not the one who broke the fourth wall! Anyway, our boy’ll feel happier than a shaved peach just as soon as he wakes up.”
(You now find yourself sitting in the back seat.)
“Who are you talking to?” I said. It was an odd question because I didn’t even know who was speaking.
(3rd Person Narrator looks at you through the rear view mirror. You meet his gaze.)
“See, he’s already referring to himself as an ‘I.’ This is 2-eazy.”
(Autobiographer opens eyes which are dilated in the dim light and have a dreamy glint. He sees 3rd Person Narrator but seems unaware of you sitting next to him.)
“Hey you. Who do you keep talking to?”
(3rd Person Narrator shifts gaze in rear-view mirror from you to the Autobiographer.)
“Oh. Then who do you keep talking to?”
“Me? I’m talking to you!”
“Yeah but who ELSE?”
(3rd Person Narrator turns around, faces Autobiographer and waves both hands in the air, cigarette dangling from lips.)
“I see dead people!”
(The cab swerves violently, frightening everyone. Autobiographer hugs the stage directions in mild panic. 3rd Person Narrator looks at you, breaks out in fits of laughter, turns around, grabs wheel, steadies cab.)
“OK, calm down son. This ride ain’t over yet and I don’t want you hurling into your own brain.”
“Hey, how did I get in here anyway?”
“You said, ‘Take me home!’ I said, ‘I’d love to, but listening to Phil Collins makes me an aggressive driver.’ Then you blacked out. I found your ID in one pocket and in the other pocket, enough fare to get you to this address.”
(3rd Person Narrator hands Autobiographer his license while keeping eyes on the road and one hand on the wheel)
I relaxed a bit and looked out the window to see exactly where we were. There was nothing but a vague, grey mist.
(3rd Person Narrator also looks through windows of cab.)
“I don’t have the words to describe what it looks like out there. Literally! I mean, you think you could give the reader some kind of visual like, ‘they were floating on a fractal foam,’ or, or, ‘the tides of uncertainty were rising!’ You love all those illiterations. More like making-me-ill-iterations! DAHAhahahahaha!”
It unnerves me to the bone as he laughs out loud and glares through the rear-view mirror.
“OK chump, you don’t like my jokes, let me get right to it then. I’m your 3rd Person Narrator…blahblahblah…you are writing a book…blahblahblah…You got a little too, let’s say, caught up in the moment. So you flagged me down and now I’m going to give you three reasons not to panic. (holds up one finger) One, I won’t be here long. 3rd Person Narrators are a dime a dozen, and can really ruin a story when they intrude too much. You’re probably better at it than most, but then again maybe I’m just flattering myself. Get it?
(3rd Person Narrator sees that Autobiographer does not get it, grimaces.)
Yeah, anyway, after this bit I’m out. (holds up 2 fingers) Two. When I’m gone, you won’t remember me being a separate part of you. You will think that you wrote all of this with that pitiful gerbil-wheel you call a brain. You will have a clear memory of doing so, and chuckle softly while thinking to yourself, “This is genius!” (holds up 3 fingers) Finally, there’s no need to worry at all because this experience does not affect the rest of The Book.”
“The one you’re writing, you hack… OK, I know you can get this because you already did.”
“What the HELL are you talking about?”
“Everything you wrote in your autobiography…it not only represents you…it literally BECOMES your life. The past you think you recalled while writing is your real past because YOU WROTE IT THAT WAY. You dig?”
“So The Book exists outside of time?”
(3rd Person Narrator pounds a fist on the car horn in three short bursts.)
“Give this guy a Newbery!”
“Why the hell do I even believe you?”
“Because you know it to be true, grasshoppa.”
“You’re fucking with my head.”
“I would say that you are fucking with my head. This is why people are so easily annoyed by 3rd Person Narrators interacting with Main Characters.”
(Autobiographer winces, closes eyes, rubs temples.)
“And breaking the fourth wall.”
“Well how can I still exist if I’m not actually writing?”
“Because this is not your true present…
(Autobiographer looks confused.)
“…look, let me put it this way, you’re turning one page at a time now instead of flipping back and forth like you was mad. But believe me pal, you write The Book.”
“How can I write a book that I am living! Isn’t that what diaries and blogs and social networking are for?”
“You think you are living it because you choose to read it over and over again, trying to weed out continuity errors. Trust me son, this shit is already in bookstores, with the exception of Vineland, New Jersey–which you and I both know has no bookstores.”
“Ok, so…if the book is already published, how could I still be fixing continuity errors?”
“Well now you’re getting into meta-metaphysics, which you may not be ready for…”
(Autobiographer has expression of bemused enthusiasm. 3rd Person Narrator glances at current fare.)
“Fuck it, you’re still on the clock. OK. It has to do with the relationship between your experience of living the story as the Main Character, your experience of writing the autobiography (itself a separate reality,) and MOST importantly, (he grins,) how the Author decides to end the damned thing.”
“I thought I was the Author.”
“Technically, you represent the Autobiographer.”
(angrily) “TECHNICALLY, an Autobiographer IS an Author!”
(3rd Person Narrator laughs out loud.)
“Sorry son, I said you may not be ready, so just calm down. And you maybe want to mind your lack of E-prime.”
(3rd Person Narrator turns around to face Autobiographer while still ignoring you.)
“Look, as long as the Autobiographer and Author work together, The Book gets published. OK?”
“Well…if it’s all the same, I’d rather just read the final draft and move on. I can’t handle all this self-reference. None of it seems real.”
(3rd Person Narrator sighs.)
“No! It’s ALL real! That’s what I’m trying to tell you!”
“Fine. Fine. So what happens now?”
“Now? You momentarily experience a ripple-effect from last night and feel anxious because you need to ask me something else but you can’t recall what it is. Then I tell you to just sleep on it. If it comes to you later, WRITE IT DOWN.”
(Cab suddenly hits turbulence, rocks and jerks violently. Cigarette drops out of his mouth as 3rd Person Narrator turns around, grabs wheel, slams and screeches brakes. Too late.)
(The Author watches dispassionately as the taxi cab crashes into the fourth wall. Everyone blacks out, leaving only One Mind to get us all through The End.)
Those were the only three words I remembered. I awoke the next morning with them ringing between my ears…”WRITE IT DOWN.” I stumbled to the data recording device of your age (what?) feeling disassociated and hypnagogic. The language canvas (WHAT??) I mean, the computer screen is filled with utter nonsense. Either I typed all this while unconscious or my computer has been hacked. WRITE IT DOWN. Indeed!
My experiment in Real Time™ was a bust. It was worse than a LiveJournal entry. So now what? How would I account for this gaping gap in memory? Surely I can’t just write about nothing. I could always make something up, but then it wouldn’t be an autobiography, unless… I could cheat by using a 3rd person narrator, or by breaking the fourth wall. A wave of déjà vu hit as hard as a headache when I said, “breaking the fourth wall,” because I clearly remember saying “breaking the fourth wall” as I splash cold water on my face and look up into the mirror.
“Crazy,” someone says.
A friend once told me that after a long trip a good clean shave will return you to normality. After that and a hot shower, whatever actually happened last night is now lost in a whorl of time. I already have most of the fictional version scripted in my head.
By the time I finish typing this paragraph, the sun has risen. Another assignment that went too long. Even though I know there are only a few lines left, I still have no idea how it’ll end. I also have a strong notion that all of this is just a metaphor for…
Yeah, I got nothing.
“Whatever,” I say out loud, “It’s just a rough draft. I can always go back and weed out the continuity errors before publication. And YOU…”
(Autobiographer looks and points directly at you.)
“You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.”
You reply, “And how ’bout I call you a HACK?”