"I just don't know, Linus," sighed Charlie Brown. "I just don't know."
The two were leaning, as they so often did, on the brick garden wall, overlooking the snowy expanse in their little neighborhood. This would be a baseball diamond come spring, but for now, it was home to snowball fights and other winter fun.
Linus knew what Charlie Brown was upset about. He had checked the latest Google Analytics numbers, but he wanted to be sure. "What is it, Charlie Brown?" he asked for the brief moment his thumb was dislodged from his mouth.
"My traffic is way up month-to-month since I started writing about Westworld fan theories, but I don't feel good about my work or myself. I feel like my desire for traffic is driving my writing, and not vice versa," Charlie Brown said.
"What would you rather be writing about?"
"The disingenuous nature of the short-lived Showtime series Huff," Charlie Brown said. His smile swelled. He looked the most alive he had in weeks. But Linus knew, as did anyone who had so much as heard the term clickbait, that nobody cared about Huff.
"You know what the Bible says," he began, ignoring Charlie Brown's eye roll. (The Bible was nobody's idea of a traffic generator.) "Those who work their land will have abundant food. But those who chase fantasies have no sense." He paused, then saw Charlie Brown couldn't immediately place the reference. "Proverbs 12:11. Work your land, Charlie Brown."
"I knew that, Linus," Charlie Brown said, but his voice was lost. He had his phone out and was checking Chartbeat again. "I was number one all day. Now I'm down to number three."
"And what will you do when Westworld is over?" Linus asked, clutching his security blanket a little tighter. Nobody wanted to think about that world to come.
"I can probably get one or two posts out of how Donald Trump is like Negan on The Walking Dead. Maybe talk about how the ratings for that show are down." Charlie Brown's shoulders heaved up and down once, like a broken see-saw. He was sighing so much more of late.
"Are you writing to educate your audience, or to flatter them?"
"I don't know. Both I guess. It's hard to tell any more."
Lucy and some of her friends had started out across the snowy field. Spotting the two boys, she fastened a mighty grin to her face. "Great piece on Westworld fan theories, Charlie Brown!" she called out. "Nice to see you doing something right for a change!"
Charlie Brown smiled more widely at that. Lucy was his harshest critic, always there to point out some minor point he hadn't clarified to her satisfaction, or a typo, or something completely irrelevant. She would always mention this in the most petulant fashion possible. That she had liked the fan theory article was a good sign, Linus thought. But he didn't know any more either.
"Thank you!" Charlie Brown called back. "The more I think about it, the more I think there might be six timelines!"
Lucy's smile turned to a frown. "There aren't six timelines, you blockhead!"
"I went back and counted different versions of the logo, and..."
"Did you read about it on Reddit?"
Charlie Brown's face fell. He was operating without a net. How foolish he would look if there were, indeed, only three timelines. Or -- heaven forbid -- only one.
"Do you think sometimes," Linus began, "the quest to provide answers to every little question shortchanges our experience of the world?"
Charlie Brown pondered. "Not really, no."
"Picture a Westworld fan who doesn't read online content about the show, who mostly has the internet to keep up with friends and play fantasy sports." Linus felt around in the dark of his own mind, searching for his point.
"I'm back up to second," Charlie Brown said, once again glued to Chartbeat.
"Imagine that fan piecing together the show on their own. Imagine the thrill of discovery they must feel, or the things they would parse out of the series without being guided. Imagine that you might discover something on your own, instead of having someone tell you what you've discovered."
Linus stuck out his tongue to taste a delicious snowflake, listening to the sound of his friend poke at his phone. "What if life is not a puzzle to be solved, but a mystery to be lived in?
"There's a narrow strip on Mercury," Linus continued, because Charlie Brown sure wasn't holding up his part of the conversation, "where the temperature is more or less habitable. It's caught between the punishing heat of the sunward side and the crushing cold of the dark side. To stay in that zone, you have to keep moving, always moving."
"You're saying," Charlie Brown said, for he had been listening, "that in trying to stay in that habitable zone, in trying to hit that precise target, I'm missing that I shouldn't be living on Mercury to begin with."
"I was actually saying that for as much work as it is to exist in that habitable zone, we have to keep doing so. I was going to tie the habitable zone to the discomfort we feel when we are uncertain of something and suggest living in that uncertainty is worthwhile," Linus said. "But your metaphor might work better."
"I love my job, and I love my coworkers," Charlie Brown said. "But I worry that everything I'm doing is ephemeral."
"Well," Linus laughed, "isn't everything?"
Snow was falling more rapidly now, over the little town, which would soon be washed away in white. In the years to come, the site Charlie Brown worked for would be gobbled up by another, which would be gobbled up by another. He would learn, perhaps, to let the work be its own reward, to turn the pursuit of every next carrot into his motivation, until one day, he was replaced by a machine. (Linus, even though he would go into the arts, would also be replaced by a machine. Only Lucy would survive, unwilling to let The Man replace her.)
Now, however, it was growing dark, and the boys turned for home. Charlie Brown wanted to ready a post on what the ending of Arrival meant, and Linus was contemplating trying to sell a freelance article on why he found This Is Us overrated. (He would fail.) A solitary figure lurked in the drifts. It was Snoopy, wearing an old, faded hat, playacting at being a great reporter.
(My thanks to my brilliant colleague Alissa Wilkinson for the joke that inspired this riff. Read all of her stuff immediately.)
Episodes is published three-ish times per week, and more if I feel like it. It is mostly about television, except when it's not. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox Dot Com.