The blog detailed Sydney’s experiences as a sideline reporter for KRLD, Dallas’s emerging flagship sports radio-station, which had recently purchased exclusive radio-broadcast rights to all sixteen regular-season football games played annually by the Dallas Cowboys, although KRLD was contractually obliged, in the event the Cowboys managed to qualify for the National Football League’s annual “playoffs,” to cede all radio-broadcast rights to the local ESPN affiliate, 104.3 FM, who, in the event of the aforementioned qualification, had contractually agreed to maintain most of KRLD’s technical staff, but would replace the entire “frontline,” or publically visible staff, which included Sydney Montclaire, with their own staff of nationally recognized sports broadcasters, meaning in Sydney’s case that her job would be given over to Melissa Tafoya, an ex-Olympic runner whose only qualification for the job of sideline reporter would seem to be the profound nepotism that distinguishes the sports entertainment industry. Such criticisms were not, of course, articulated on Sydney’s blog, due partially to the fact that she knew, having had it verbally corroborated, that among the blog’s casual readers numbered her boss, Bobby Burnwell, executive producer of KRLD’s weekly football coverage, whose stated patronage of the blog, mentioned off-handedly next to KRLD’s proverbial “water-cooler” (a work-place cliché which was no cliché in the world of sports radio, staffed as abundantly as it is with ex-jocks habituated to the “game-time” routine of making frequent trips to the water-cooler in order to gulp and subsequently dispose of large transparent plastic cups of chilled water, thus contributing to a work-place environment full of diversions for the kinds of “water-cooler discussion” that were alluded to on Sydney’s weekly Cowboy-themed “Water-cooler Discussion Tips” blog post) became the first occasion for Sydney to reflect on the fact that her blog possessed an audience of real people whom she knew and that, despite her rather marginal role in KRLD’s weekly football coverage, she was nevertheless a kind of “public figure,” meaning that the things she chose to divulge to the audience of her blog had a measurable effect on the way her acquaintances, colleagues, and even “total strangers” would thenceforth encounter her. On the blog’s “preferences” panel, to which only the administrator (Sydney) and the co-administrator (John Treadstone, KRLD’s technical supervisor and spearheader of the program encouraging the “frontline” of KRLD’s football coverage to begin “reaching out” to their fans via the internet) were granted access, Sydney could monitor her blog’s traffic, which, in comparison to some of her more prominent colleagues, such as the play-by-play announcer Dale Manson, was quote “nothing to be ashamed of,” considering that on any given Sunday her “air-time” did not exceed four to five minutes of dialogue with the play-by-play announcers. Dale was careful to let Sydney know that her relative volume of internet traffic, despite her relative unimportance in the show’s broadcast, had nothing to do with the relative quality of her blog or the relative appeal of her Sunday performance, but was rather attributable to the fact that as a female in a field of business whose staff was inordinately male and whose entertainment product was inordinately consumed by males, she was sure to get relatively more attention than was worth her relative merit. Sydney did not bother to retort to Dale that, as a radio personality, her feminine attributes could not be construed to her distinct advantage, and instead merely catalogued his comments among the similar allusions to her gender that, although never explicitly hostile or malignantly intentioned, nevertheless amounted to what she and the other females in the KRLD broadcast crew privately agreed was a “sexist” work-place environment. The point was that her blog had, in fact, quickly become the most successful blog maintained by any of the members of KRLD’s “frontline,” and it was in the light of this fact that Sydney had recently begun to feel under-utilized and under-appreciated, an attitude that she suddenly had occasion to worry might have seeped into the tone of her most recent blog posts.
The “occasion to worry,” as it were, was now, the present tense, as Sydney sat stooped over her computer in the dark, re-reading every post she had ever written. This “re-reading” had begun innocently enough, when Sydney had decided to investigate her recent posts for any evidence of coded or unconscious complaints about her job at KRLD, having been summoned earlier in the day into the office of her boss, Bobby Burnwell, an avowed reader of Sydney’s blog, to discuss her “dissatisfaction” with working life at KRLD, something she had never discussed out loud with any of her co-workers other than Wendy Jacobson, KRLD’s post-game locker-room correspondent (a job traditionally given to a woman—a tradition that only begins to make sense when one considers the general reluctance of athletes to wear anything but a skimpy towel in post-game interviews and appreciates the extent to which the semi-naked state of the athletes in conjunction with their residual post-game testosterone levels renders them particularly voluble in the presence of an attractive female reporter with a microphone, the phallic significance of which we won’t even begin to speculate upon), who had certainly not “blabbed” to the higher-ups, as she shared many of Sydney’s own dissatisfactions with KRLD’s work-place. Bobby’s reassurances that Sydney was a “most valued member” of the KRLD Sunday Broadcast team and his insinuations of a future in which she was an even more valuable member, so long as she “toe[d] the company line” (air-quotes provided by Bobby to intimate, Sydney presumed, his ironic distance from such an authoritarian constraint on Sydney’s free speech) which, Bobby assured her, should not be construed as a threat or any sort of limitation on how Sydney was to behave publically, but should rather be seen as an “open invitation” to Bobby’s office, where Sydney would always find “an open ear” that would be happy to hear her troubles and concerns, should any arise. Sydney was, of course, no idiot, and followed Bobby’s monologue with assurances of her work-place satisfaction and comfort, affixing at the end of her assurances a question as to where Bobby could have arrived at the crazy idea that she was in any way dissatisfied, a query to which Bobby’s response—that Sydney, as a “public figure” needed to be mindful of what she expressed “to the public”—could only be construed as a reference to Sydney’s blog, as the blog was the only medium through which Sydney had ever addressed what could be considered a “public” outside of KRLD’s live broadcast. In any case, Bobby’s speech left Sydney unsettled and compelled her, after eating takeout in the kitchen of her town-house near downtown Dallas with one of her two housemates, to retire to her room and anxiously re-read the blog to see what could have provoked Bobby’s intervention.
Sydney had begun her re-reading by logging into the blog’s “preferences” panel, which provided a limited amount of statistical information about the blog’s readership (at its most specific, it could inform Sydney precisely how many users had accessed data from her blog at any second in the chronological span from the moment her blog had been created, as well as pinpoint the website from which said user had navigated or “surfed” to her page, which statistics in conjunction yielded enough information for John Treadstone, KRLD’s aforementioned technical supervisor, to make inferences regarding what kinds of blogged content on Sydney’s part tended to attract the most attention, which inferences he would share with her twice a month at scheduled “Networking Strategies Meetings,” usually resulting in his somewhat abashed exhortation for Sydney to post more images of herself, as these tended to be a magnet for links from other Dallas-area sports blogs, many of which had begun making frequent reference to Sydney’s “hotness” and stating unequivocally that such “talent” should not labor in obscurity on the radio—a circumstance which on the one hand flattered Sydney’s ego, but at the same time engendered doubts as to whether her “fans” appreciated her for her gifts as a radio sideline reporter or only valued her, as had been contested by Dale Manson, for her feminine qualities) but the “preferences” panel failed to provide the kind of information that Sydney would have found psychologically nourishing, or more specifically, the kind of information that would have able to placate a certain sense of unsettledness that had afflicted her ever since she had begun the blog six months ago: the disconcerting feeling that anyone and everyone she passed could have perused her blog and gained access to what was increasingly becoming a product of her “inner life” and the concomitant feelings of estrangement that such a feeling provoked whenever she happened to venture out “in public.” It is accurate to say that this feeling of disconcertedness had arisen in direct proportion to the amount of time Sydney had recently been spending in “everyday life” composing blog posts in her head. In “spare moments,” which essentially denotes those times in Sydney’s life during which she was not privy to direct sensory input, i.e. moments in which she was not engaged in conversation, listening to the radio or her iPod, watching the television, “surfing” the internet, or conducting work-related research on football players for the next week’s game—moments which were increasingly rare and tended to only take place in the shower, on the toilet, alone in bed, or during those morning drives in which she chose not to listen to KRLD or play songs from her iPod—in these rare “spare moments” during which Sydney had only the contents of her own brain to “dialogue with” (her therapist’s expression), she found herself devoting more and more internal time to composing entries to her blog. This silent, inwardly-directed composition, directed as it were dialectically, necessitated an imagined audience, and it was here that Sydney wished she had a better grasp of who exactly was reading her blog, as her conception of the imagined audience exerted a serious influence upon the content of these silent monologues and thus the content of what can only properly be described as her most inner life. The “preferences” panel provided no such information, and it was after poking around the available statistical information dissatisfactorily that Sydney began re-reading her posts in earnest, determined to approach her blog from the perspective of a reader, a total stranger, in order to see how an outsider might impartially conceive of or “encounter” her own personality.
Performing this mental exercise (though it is hard to imagine that Sydney was able to fully encounter herself as a stranger would, and it might be more profitable to imagine Sydney reading her blog at this moment from the perspective of the vaguely lecherous and insinuating Bobby Burnwell, since his intervention had prompted this exercise in the first place), Sydney became conscious for the first time of the frequency of her allusions to “relationship problems” on the blog. Prior to this, Sydney had believed it was her increasing need for “spare moments” in which to compose the blog posts that had served as the source of the relationship problems which were frequently alluded to on her blog (albeit without personal specificity or reflection on the reciprocal dynamics of blog production viz. personal life, insofar as the blog was engendering problems in personal life, which problems were reciprocally engendering material for the blog). The difficulty had been that Sydney’s relationship with Cody Meyer, ex-linebacker for the Baylor University football team and current employee of KRLD’s Dallas Cowboys marketing division, had been “put on the rocks” by her understandable desire for the aforementioned “spare moments.” As these moments were only accessible in intervals that a normal “co-habiting” couple tends to spend together, i.e. the shower, the bed, and often, in Cody and Sydney’s case, the ride to work, Sydney’s stated desire for “alone time” essentially meant a cessation of co-habitation, a circumstance that to Cody was, understandably, a sign that their relationship was proceeding “backwards,” and that it was only a matter of time before Sydney’s increasing need for “alone time” led to the banal yet often profoundly intentioned asseveration of it “not [being] you, it’s me” with which Cody’s relationship prior to Sydney had been terminated. This was, he insisted, unthinkable, as he had no intention of “letting [Sydney] go,” or as he also sometimes said, of “letting [Sydney] get away,” which struck Sydney as an uncomfortably teleological conception of their relationship, which, to her mind, had no business being articulated a mere eight months after the couple’s mutual acknowledgment that they were “together” (an acknowledgment that had seemed at the time both exciting and fresh, indicative of the “quirkiness” of their relationship, coming as it did on the heels of an incident in which a waiter had asked Cody whether his “girlfriend” would like a glass of wine, prompting an exchange of abashed smiles and Cody’s affirmation, while staring wryly across the table at Sydney, that yes, his “girlfriend” would like a glass of wine). Cody, unfortunately, could not comprehend why the two hours or more a day that Sydney spent “blogging” (Cody’s air-quotes) did not fulfill her desire for “spare moments,” and despite Sydney’s frequent attempts to explain that merely sitting down to write accomplished nothing if what is to be written has not in some preliminary form been imagined or “thought through,” her relationship with Cody was now “on break” or, as she would sometimes say to her friends, “open,” although considering that neither would have been willing to continue making an effort to maintain their relationship were the other to “hook up” with someone else, what exactly “open” meant in this context was hard to articulate beyond the vague impression that their relationship should no longer be a source of feelings of jealousy or possessiveness but that rather it should provide a forum in which to share meals frequently, to indulge in a limited amount of emotional intimacy, to serve as a pretext for rebuffing unwanted advances at a bar or a party, and to ensure that both participants could expect to copulate a few times a week. It hardly needs to be said that such an arrangement resulted in a certain amount of emotional upheaval, which, Sydney now recognized, had surfaced rather noticeably on the blog, in the form of such remarks as: “Relationships are difficult to sustain in the media world, but I don’t let it get me down,” or “If, like me, you’re unsure what exactly ‘on break’ means in a relationship these days, you’ll be comforted by the fact that when the Cowboys go ‘on break’ it means they get a week to rest and heal their wounds. Though in football, like relationships, there are some wounds that take a long time to heal. Get well Terence Newman! The secondary needs you!”
On the one hand, these kinds of posts exhibited what Sydney felt was one of the strengths of her blog: that it made reference to her personal life without being cloying or indulgent, instead using personal anecdote to contribute to the ongoing narrative of the Dallas Cowboys’ season. On the other hand, there was something about this marriage of her personal life to her public life that had recently begun to feel like it was cheapening everything affecting her personally, as if her interior dramas were being elaborately staged for some kind of public effect, and every emotion she felt was only experienced as a kind of dialectical fodder for a Dallas-Cowboys-related banality. By way of example, even as she sat at her computer reflecting on the just-described emotion (that her therapist characterized as “estrangement from [her own] emotions,”) she immediately found herself producing a monologue directed toward her blog’s audience, saying out loud in her head: “If you have a blog, you know that feeling when you read what you’ve written and feel weird about it, like it was written by somebody else…” which she aborted mid-sentence, leaning forward onto her elbows and running her hands through her hair, revising the sentence to: “There’s something about emotions from the past, that when you look at them…” Sydney could not finish the thought, but she imagined it could have something to do with the Cowboys’ season insofar as the victories and defeats at the beginning of the season seem extremely important at the time, when in actuality all that matters in December is the “win column”—although the simile’s correspondences failed when Sydney tried to imagine what in her life corresponded to the Cowboys’ wins and losses.
As Sydney “racked” her brain—that is, performed an indefinite and dimly understood cognitive process at a sub-lingual level involving the selective recall of information—for correspondences, the blatantly obvious real-life correspondence to an item in the “loss column” surfaced: Sydney, she reflected, had clearly “lost” insofar as she had let a relationship that she would have once described as “intimate” and “fulfilling” deteriorate to the point that when queried as to whether she had a boyfriend or not, Sydney no longer even answered in the affirmative, hesitating in a manner (the theatrical grimace, the non-committal reply, the supplicant body language taking the form of a shrug) that may have in fact become (and was certainly interpreted by certain male inquirers as) a conscious courting gesture. In re-reading her posts of the last six months from the determined perspective of an “outsider,” Sydney for the first time imagined how Cody might have interpreted some of the posts immediately preceding their decision to put the relationship “on break,” and began to consider for the first time that the blog itself could possibly be accorded a place in the “loss column” of her life (this consideration did not yield any kind of blog-related discourse in Sydney’s head, though if it had it would be fair to assume that she would have rolled her eyes and put it in the cognitive rubbish bin among the other post ideas which were either too treacly, insipid, or personal to be typed up). It is not that Sydney had never considered the blog as a vehicle of negative potential in her life, or that she had never considered deleting or excising large portions of what she had previously posted, but this was perhaps the first time Sydney had ever considered that the net effect of the blog might be detrimental to her own “well-being.”
At this point Sydney began to find it difficult to read the words of her old posts. More specifically, she began to find it embarrassing. It is difficult to say what cognitive form this “embarrassment” took; it is true that re-reading certain passages caused Sydney to “wince,” directing the corners of her mouth in opposite directions away from the midline, drawing in her breath quickly through her tightly occluded teeth, and quickly scrolling away from the passage at hand. After a few such winces, this behavior yielded to what might be called an “impassive” comportment, in which Sydney relegated most of her upper-body weight to the support of her left hand by declinating her spine and cradling her left cheek in her left palm. It appeared that Sydney was no longer reading any of the text of her blog, and was instead scrolling as rapidly as the wheel of her computer’s mouse would allow through the archives of her account, pressing the hyperlink labeled “older posts” whenever reaching the limit to which her browser’s “window” would allow her to scroll downward. The effect of this listless behavior was that as Sydney scrolled backwards through the chronological timeline of her blog, she was no longer able to visually register any text and instead only registered the photographs which she had embedded in each blog post. Viewed en masse like this, in procession, the pictures on Sydney’s blog appeared remarkably consistent in subject matter; practically every photograph featured Sydney posed smilingly next to a Dallas-area public figure (cf. Sydney posed next to Dallas’ Republican mayoral candidate Thomas Dean, Sydney posed next to Dallas Mavericks backup point-guard Juan Jose Barea, Sydney posed next to downtown Dallas’ Michelin-rated three-star chef Michael Farring, and so forth). As Sydney scrolled through these photographs, an unnameable feeling filled her, a feeling whose emotional impact is better appropriated if we leave it nameless and instead describe the “visual,” or “mental image” (another cognitive function it is better to leave uninterrogated) associated and conflated therewith. This “visual” that began to fill Sydney’s mind, even, in a certain sense, coloring and replacing her perception of the photographs on-screen, was a static image of the face which Sydney made in most of the photographs posted to the blog, its features arranged in a practiced smile whose exact significatory impact Sydney had unconsciously modulated over years of posing for photographs to yield what she imagined a stranger would encounter as an attractive, approachable, “comfortable” smile, one that exhibited the inner life of a woman composed and generally happy with her status in life, without being exaggerated or affected like the smiles which many of her friends and acquaintances had become habituated to making when pointed at by a digital camera. Despite the smile’s “professionalism,” as it might be described, the smile nevertheless suddenly seemed to Sydney to have a haunting or eerie consistency, as if there existed a plastic mold of a smile which could be superimposed on any one of the blog’s photographs, so long as certain cosmetic adjustments were made for the milieu of the photograph’s lighting, the degree of tanness to Sydney’s skin, and the length and style of Sydney’s hair.
If we were to refer to the face Sydney presented to the blog as her “platonic visage,” its comportment would be described thusly: Sydney’s shoulders oriented angularly toward the most famous personage in the photograph (an angle, were it to be painted or reproduced in some other manual fashion, that would require foreshortening of the shoulder nearest to the famous personage); Sydney’s neck turned laterally in the direction opposite the angle of the shoulders, so as to bring her face into a position not quite “full frontal” and to direct visual emphasis toward the clavicle bone of the shoulder closest to the camera (a clavicle that is, in almost all of the photographs as well as the “visual” they yielded to Sydney’s cognition, usually exposed by a loose-hanging dress or shirt, though occasionally obscured by a cascading tassel of hair); Sydney’s chin angled slightly groundward, bringing the entire face in a similarly sloped orientation, the effect of which is to render the eyes—the vector of whose gaze, directed straight at the camera, intersects the downward angle of the facial features perpendicularly, displaying a greater amount of exposed white to the camera provided it photographs in high-definition—in what would be considered a “sultry” or “sexy” affect; Sydney’s smile appropriately linear (without the exaggerated triangular lift of the lip corners that marks a smile as strained or forced) yet just curved enough at the outer extremities to yield to the camera’s slightly askew gaze, when facilitated by a tasteful parting of the lips, a perfectly occluded set of orthodontically-enhanced molars; Sydney’s eyes “bright” and rendered “smoky” by cosmetic products; Sydney’s nose “well-rounded”; Sydney’s cheek-bone “jutting”; Sydney’s teeth preternaturally white. In short, if you were commissioned to artificially construct the platonic visage of a public figure whose job entails posing for pictures next to other public figures, you would be commended if you were to construct a visage similar to Sydney’s. And yet. And yet the eyes of this face, you notice, might seem a little too bold when compared with the calibrated neutrality of the smile. And in the conjunction of its parts, so consistently executed, doesn’t the smile come across as disagreeably rehearsed? And as you scroll through the archives of Sydney Montclaire’s blog, mightn’t you get the impression that a face so proficient at contorting itself into this mask is presided over, behind where the muscles of the skin are told how to contract, by an emptiness? From three-dimensional space, the digital camera translates the world towards which it is directed into an algorithmic sequence, which is read by a computer application programmed to represent that sequence in a two-dimensional plasma display. Could you not somewhere in that algorithm identify the sequence of 1’s and 0’s shared by every image of Sydney posted to her blog? Would this sub-algorithm, when generalized and reduced to an average, be the very “visual” that is now being discharged somewhere in Sydney’s brain as she lies prostrate and alone, unsleeping across her bed? Who are you, that has navigated to this page? What, it pertains to ask, is it that you want from me?