Long ago, in the land of Fairgane, in the Citadel where the Inkling
s dwell all cozy and arraigned so perfectly, (as perfectly as Webster 1913
bless his heart, could arrange them), there lived a Sincere Effort.
This Effort woke up every morning, brushed his teeth without complaining, and flossed thoroughly. Then, after washing his face, he went down stairs, made himself toast and eggs, and left before even the goldfish were awake.
This Effort, though greatly sincere and shockingly industrious, was never quite satisfied with himself, and so, by his fortieth year, he had a sensitive heart and needed nightly medications for his insomnia. By this point he had already changed his career twenty seven times and still hadn't settled down with a Mrs. Effort to pro- and co- create a family with.
He had been seeing a lovely Fixation for a couple of years there, until he found himself flirting with a New Idea one day in early spring, who had smooth calves and round, inviting breasts. After that he became confused and decided to wait for an Ideal Mate to come along before investing too much of himself in something he wasn't quite sure of in the first place.
Despite all this, he was happy. He had a decent 401k plan and never needed to worry about the mortgage.
But one day, on the way to work, he became caught directly between proud of himself and sorry for himself. He weighed his achievements with his shortcomings, and found them to be exactly equal from every possible point of view. This frustrated him, for he was sure, having more than his share of degrees (both honorary and earned), that self-esteem was entirely subjective, and moreover, it was supposed to fluctuate, so how could this be? A gridlock of ego? A completely even tally of positive and negative aspects in his life? This ranked of something funk to the Effort, causing him to doubt himself and loose at all the sincerity he possessed.
However, because he had worked so hard in his life up until then, he had plenty to fall back on. There was no need for him to work -- already more than a few of the companies he had worked for had offered him a stipend just so they could regard him as an employee, and many organizations from the private as well as public sectors kept him on their various boards, counsels and reasonably superfluous committees for no good reason what so ever.
Seeing as how he never showed up anymore, let alone answered their pages, they nevertheless hired a extra janitorial workforce to reverently dust the empty seats he left unstradled.
Indeed, as far as the world was concerned, he wasn't the worse for his lack of output. Nobody mentioned the incredible drop in quality of whatever he did shell out, and all the pleasant people at the social and country clubs were just as polite and inclusively stuck-up as ever.
The Effort alone was consumed by his lack of Sincerity, and soon his teeth grew yellow and the recycling was no longer perfectly arranged.
In the wake of this sudden loss, he divided his time between organizing community gardening projects, writing grants for underprivileged poets (purely for stimulation) and hanging out in the obscurest corners of obscure cafes. Whenever someone chanced to inquire into what he was doing hunched over those college-ruled notebooks all the time, he answered, in a dry tone that sucked the steam from espressos three tables away, "Memoirs."
Unfailingly, the questioner turned and tiptoed away, fearing a lengthy monologue from this scraggily being who smelled often of stale potato chips. But never, ever, did he say anything else, allowing the unwanted nuisance to flitter off.
Never, that is, until...
The Curiosity who stood before him that morning was not the prettiest thing. She had a hunched back and a few too many moles, but she looked our Effort straight in the eye and raised her chin expectantly, waiting for him to continue. Eventually, finding her thirst undeniable, he gestured towards the empty chair across from him, and whispered:
"Well, to be honest, I'm not really working on my memoirs -- though I very well could be! What I am doing, secretly, under the guise of vested self-interest, is building an Equation."
"Oh, really?" asked the Curiosity, enticed. "What's it for?"
"Well, one day... one day I was... aw, heck. There's no way around it, I'll have to be thorough about this--"
The effort looked about the cramped corner until he was satisfied no one else was listening in.
"One day, I was sincere. So very, very sincere--"
"Until you had a self doubt?" the Curiosity blurted, her eyes livid with fascination.
"Yes! How did you know?"
"I can tell," she replied in conspirial tones.
"Don't be worried, though!" the Curiosity consoled, "The greatest of us get tripped up on a self doubt! Its nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, I think it displays a truly evolutionary character."
"Yeah! Yeah I do! Its like earth shattering and stuff! Did it change your life?"
The Effort wished she weren't sitting down, so he could dismiss her with a silence or something just as indirect. But she sat ridged and hunched in her seat, drilling into him with her nearly overwhelming focus.
"And the Equation?" she asked.
"Oh this, this is nothing," the Effort waved his hands over the notebook as if it were an over-cooked piece of experimental art.
"Not so! Not so!" she hissed, her teeth barred, her eyes dilating so rapidly the Effort thought they would reach out and gnaw on him. He felt the hairs on his neck begin to rise. He couldn't stop a flush of gooseflesh from rambling across his untended scalp.
"Well, its quite complex..."
"But its purpose," she said, every syllable dripping with fanatic import, "that's gotta be something you could, I dunno, explain to me?"
Despite himself, the Effort twitched. He reached out for his lighter, but faster than a Fancy's flight, she held a match to his twill.
"Alright, alright," he exhaled, rapidly flicking ash into the oblong glass tray between them. "But you gotta promise you won't breathe a word of this to anyone."
"Oh, I'm a collector, not a distributor," she said, tapping her own long, impossibly thin twill in a counter beat that thrilled him, making him grasp for an Impetus, an Inspiration, something she might find incredible, even worthy of all this unintended hoopla.
"Its..." spoke he, "gonna... prove... THAT THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS SINCERITY!"
These last words flew out of him so fast that they took a bit of saliva with them, hitting the Curiosity in the face with am italicized and wet mass. She leaned back. He felt more stupid than a jackassed Perplexity. He wanted to run, but this particular obscure corner was being used for the storage of various sized paint cans and broken chairs, heaped in such a way that not only did it repulse inspection, it negated any chance of a quick escape. The effort leaned back, trying his best to become invisible.
"You... You're..." said the Curiosity, straining. "You're BRILLIANT! You're LUCIFERIC! You're incredibly dangerous and possibly mad! Are you really gonna do it?"
"If I can," he said, not sure how to act.
"But -- But why? Why sincerity? Why not disprove doubt?"
This was a very good question. So good, in fact, that it made him wonder if the Great Mother had birthed him solely to provide further evidence for Foolery, or, better yet, Absolute Futility. He felt himself shriveling. He felt the Un come towards him. He thought "At last I leave to yonder Anachronistic Fields- but like this? I once was so sincere, and now -- now all I am is a Wasted Effort!"
Unbenounced to him, these thoughts read bright and clear in his face. The Curiosity, being of the more eagerly attentive sort, did not miss a single portentous furrow, flick, or facial contortion.
"I think," she said, gathering her matches, "that you're just the tiniest bit instable right now, so if you don't mind, I think I'll just-"
"No! Waitaminute! I'm not gonna do anything!" he slurred, significantly reducing the obscurity quotient of the corner.
"Really," she said, her voice calm and steady, as if she were speaking to a climaxing Bacchanite, "I know, I know. You're nice, you really are- you just need a little time to yourself. I can see you're about to antipode--"
And with a nervous wink, the Curiosity left in a clamor of paint cans and chair backs that were in need of regluing.
The Effort seethed. He grabbed at his chest. He couldn't stop his thoughts. They crashed down on him in a psychotic deluge. At last that inconceivable balance had been upset. His ego wavered and swayed and made little loop-de-loops against the faux-finished drywall of the corner.
Before long, three large, well dressed men fetched him from his seat (making, in their haste, an undeniably noticeable scene out of things), and threw him into an alleyway.
And it was there, among heaps of refuse, that the Effort's crisis went critical. He swelled, he collapsed, he banged and he whimpered, and in a shower of meaning and anti-meaning, he became his opposite.
Then, because no one can remain their opposite, but only experience it for a while, his antipodality reached its completion.
From the alleyway crawled, in a cloud of almost perfumatic steam, a hideous creature that to the utter shock of the Citadel's population HAD NO MEANING WHATSOEVER.
Yes. And this thing was promptly ejected from the Land of Fairgane, for dissention against the moral codes and ethical aspirations of the Inkling race, who can't stand meaningless things, being, themselves, very much reliant on importance and definition and all of that.
This poor creature, this Word without Meaning, he did not die, as usually happens to those banned from the soothing Waters of Articulation. And whether it was his Fate which subsisted him, or something stranger, stronger, and magnificent, it is not for this teller to tell.
Not now, at least. Maybe later.