The Rise and Fall of Fictional University

Coming home from the city on Amtrak last week, nodding off on the 4:40 out of Penn Station, I had an idea for a Web project: a site for a non-existent school called Fictional University (or FU for short, as Emily pointed out later when I was telling her about this idea).

I was imagining fictionaluniversity.org, but I’m not that surprised to discover that fictionaluniversity.com already exists.

Fictional University, as described on the Web site (featuring many photographs of the beautiful, verdant, illusory campus), would be a school where the only thing taught was the art and craft of fiction writing. There would be many departments—Science Fiction, Crime, Romance, Literary Fiction, Alternate History Steampunk Young Adult (an interdisciplinary major), and so on.

At first, I just imagined a few pages of this thing—a Potemkin Web site?—with a link to a CafePress page featuring T-shirts and sweatshirts from Fictional University, plus an image of the school’s mascot, the novel. Go Novels!

But then I thought, what if this was more like a Tlön Web site—a Wiki Tlön? although the idea of a Wiki is contained within “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” I suppose—a Web site that had multiple contributors who all worked to construct the full depth and breadth of Fictional University.

But who would contribute to such a project? Fiction writers who also know HTML, who know how to build Web sites. And who might think this was an interesting idea. The dream team that springs to mind would be Paul La Farge, Benjamin Rosenbaum, Colson Whitehead, my wife, and Michael Chabon. (Remember when Chabon kept a WordPress blog? It was a beautiful thing.)

But then, the usual conclusion to such a dream; the refrain, as Cindy put it, that stays the same: Time! Time! I already have one infrequently updated Web site; I already have an invitation to join a group blog which I’ve regretfully had to decline; I already have fiction I’m not writing.

I read a book last year called The Luck Factor, which argued, among other things, that lucky people are more likely to be outgoing, to pay attention to their surroundings, to listen.

So instead of dreaming up an impossible virtual joke, maybe the luckier way to spend my train ride would have been to talk about playing golf in New Haven? The gentleman sitting next to me looked at the logo on my baseball cap and asked if I’d gone to Yale. No, I said, my wife is on the faculty. Did I play golf? he asked. No, I said. Yale has a beautiful golf course, he said.

“The only beautifully designed thing on the whole campus—except for a couple of Kahn buildings—and they just piss it away,” he said.

“The next time we’re all there, we’ll have to take a look,” I said. He grunted; that was it for our conversation.

Perhaps I should have followed up with this: But let me tell you about an idea I have for a Web site!