Cynic No More: Doctoral Student Lands Fame, Job

Not that long ago, aspiring writers had to resort to submitting their work to various magazines and other publishers far and wide. We would tuck our (yes, typewritten) manuscripts into unsympathetic manilla envelopes. Those unsympathetic envelopes would land on the desks of various unsympathetic copy editors, who, I imagined, gave our scripts a glance and then, with a sniff, stuffed them into our self-addressed stamped envelopes. Don’t forget the extra postage to cover the weight of humiliation!

These days, writers still submit but the process is usually more electronically-based. INSTANT REJECTION! Huzzah!

However, despite grumbling, there are ways to be known and the opportunities are far more accessible than they were even a half a dozen years ago.  I personally continue to protect the flickering flame of hope, fantasizing that one day, I will be the internet-equivalent of  Lana Turner, discovered at the soda fountain of Facebook or Reddit or on one of  the dozens of other blogs that I comment on.

Comments, however, are, as an NPR report aptly notes, “the cesspool of the internet.”  The insights are, more often than not, inane, juvenile, frequently misogynistic or racist, or hey, all of the above. Therefore, to get noticed by a major publisher like the lauded Atlantic Magazine is nothing short of miraculous, but that is exactly what happened to Yoni Appelbaum,  a Ph.D. candidate in history from Brandeis University.

For six months, using the covert handle “Cynic,” Applebaum (who was procrastinating on writing his dissertation) responded intelligently and cogently to the magazine’s blog posts. His responses were thoughtful and relevant, well-researched and respectful. Post after post showed the writer to be top-notch and other Atlantic readers and commentors responded.  Soon, people were inquiring as to who this person might be.  Theories went wild, speculating Cynic to be anyone from “President Obama to (Cheers  actor) George Wendt.”

As Cynic’s fame grew, higher-ups at the Atlantic began to take more notice. Eventually,  they offered the surprised graduate student a “guest” post (an honor that had only been conferred on a select few, such as Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon). Cynic still did not reveal his true name.

After the success of the guest posts, editors offered Cynic a permanent job. The only catch was that he would have to reveal his identity. Appelbaum did so, even though he had some reservations, and now writes professionally for the publication.

It’s a story to give ALL of us cynics some hope.