by Sam Biddle
I am not entirely sure what networking is, and I’m not sure anyone else is either. I am somewhat sure that I am not doing it. I’ve been given the gist of it before. I know that it’s all about meeting the right people, and making new contacts, and following up and other italicized things. L___ takes it upon himself now and then to explain it to me-frustrated, exasperated-how one can turn a stranger into an employer. L___, who graduated with me, has a very good job, and is in a constant state of networking. He networks on the toilet. He networks during acid rain storms. Were the Nazis invading Manhattan he would network to the bitter end, and might even extract himself from the ensuing occupation with a few deft emails.
Sometimes I help L___ with his laptop, and in return he sublimates his disgust and horror at my lack of careerism into a sort of benevolent mercy; the kind one might direct toward a friend’s mentally challenged younger brother who needs help tying his shoes. He wants the best for me. He knows I have it in me, somewhere. He saw the zeal and determination with which I used to lie on my couch and watch MTV Jams in college-if only he could bring Mystikal out of retirement (prison?) to help him coach me.
I suppose the crassness of it bothers me. But I’m not naive-I know that getting ahead requires the killer instinct, the Will to Handshake. I’m not afraid to be cutthroat to find work that I want. I’m cynical enough. I can be coldhearted. I registered online for a Bolt Bus account not for the convenience, but just so that I could board before the rest of the line and see the looks on their faces. But to feign a jolly round of schmoozing and winking that underlies asking-but-not-asking for a job-is this all there is? Would it really be so taxing on the self to just call networking bald, shameless self-interest? Ethical egoism has a long, proud history here-nobody should be afraid.
I couldn’t even attend most networking events-are those even real things? I don’t even know what a â€˜derivative’ is, no matter how many times L___ patiently explains. Are there networking events for people like me? I’ve sent pleading emails to editors and staffers of publications I enjoy, throwing myself at them. I will do anything for you. I will fact check. I will answer phones. I will sort a pack of Skittles into the different colors. I will blow compressed air onto your dirty keyboard. I will blow compressed air down your pants. Do real writers network? If so, is it secret? I imagine a vaulted loft, a hushed password, an iron door. Inside bloggers and columnists in ocher robes exchange login info and freelance gigs, pausing to make paper mÃ¢che masks with strips of old Times Literary Supplement issues. Can I come?
R__ and I sat jobless in Tompkins Square Park the other day, eating pretty good sandwiches wrapped in tinfoil, talking about sad, idle white person things like why Twitter won’t use banner ads, and how sad it is that nobody goes on AIM anymore. Just then it occurred to me that I wasn’t networking, so I looked around, in a panic. And there it was: a plaid-shirted, glassy-eyed multitude. The park was teeming with people. No grassy spot was un-lazed upon. It was a Wednesday afternoon, and it was-my God! It’s 3 p.m.! What are you all DOING here? The park was swarming with people who, the more I thought about it, simply could not have been employed. They were reading magazines. They were well-dressed, but sprawled out as if they had been tossed there. They were fanning themselves with Blackberrys in the humid daze. It looked like a scene from a World War I field hospital, had the allies invaded the East Village instead of the Argonne.
They looked like they should, in some fundamental sense, be employed. It was as if they mustered themselves for a day of earnest work and then realized, Oh, right, and headed to the park with an issue of Wired instead. They were unconcerned. Some were passed out entirely, prostrate, skin baking under a v-neck, dreaming of upcoming book readings. If everyone is here, if we are all here, who is in charge? I was gripped with fear. There was no solidarity here, no order. It was a dystopian scene; a post-apocalyptic scenario, in which the sole survivors were people who had apparently wandered out of a Vassar alumni event or something. Where were are these people all going to go? Are these my people? Why aren’t we organized? Why were we all under this brutal sun instead of doing something?
A piece of avocado fell out of my sandwich and the entire thing was getting kind of soggy anyway so I threw it out and brushed off my pants. I thought about the week before, to a night when K___ was promoting (a word, like networking, that means absolutely nothing and yet so many bad things) a party at a club by the High Line. Inside was another multitude, this one having spent its day working at a coveted internship, or for their mom’s friend-exhausted, depleted, eager to preen and regenerate. Tall, proud, dumb looking boys leaned against their tables, faces puffing with drinks and the hope of licking someone.
Were you to transcribe the conversations taking place, they would all be typed out in Comic Sans. Nobody in New York ever wants to be where they are at any given moment, and so bars and clubs serve mostly as a loud, dark place to text other people and ask what they’re up to. All mouths were constantly agape-I was greeted with a hoarse chorus of HeyyEyeyyHeyyyHeyyyyyyyyyy! Were I a CIA operative, this would be when I started desperately chomping at the emergency cyanide tablet wedged in my molars. This pack had networked well, and would now claim their prize. The song changed, and hundreds of thousands of girls threw their hands in the air. The jangling of bracelets quaked the room. Now you’re in Newwww Yooooooooork!… There’s nothing you can’t do!
I brushed the rest of the sandwich crumbs off my lap and was glad to be in the park.
Sam Biddle is a recent college graduate in New York City.
Photo by See-ming Lee, from Flickr.