Nickelodeon classic Clarissa Explains It All aired its last episode in 1994, but the series has never really disappeared from our pop culture landscape. Clarissa Darling is a character so vivid and dynamic that she remains a popular figure over 20 years after the show ended. Show creator Mitchell Kriegman must understand this; he wrote a follow-up novel, Things I Can’t Explain (out today), that picks up the story of Clarissa’s life as a confused but eager 20-something dealing with unemployment, a frustrating love life, her parents’ separation, and more. In this exclusive excerpt from the novel, Clarissa — still an aspiring journalist — interviews for a writing position at a website, in a scene that will bring back memories of all your most nerve-racking job interviews.
From Things I Can’t Explain: A Clarissa Novel by Mitchell Kriegman:
Against this dazzling backdrop, I see only the faintest outline of a woman seated behind an enormous (you guessed it) white desk. Instinctively, I shade my eyes and hope she doesn’t think I’m saluting her, because that would be weird. The glowing creature before me recognizes the problem. “Druscilla, get the blinds,” she commands.
Druscilla scrambles to do her bidding. In the next moment I hear a faint electronic buzz and the automated blinds unfurl and the blazing light softens to a pearly glow.
Ah, there she is: MT Wilkinson in the ﬂesh. No throne, no spotted fur collar, no scones (too bad, because I’m actually feel- ing a little peckish). I stride across the room and extend my hand to hers over the tidy desktop.
My previous Google search informed me that MT was part of a wave of black Britons who came to the United States for college and put down roots. Yes, Swarthmore. She entered the start-up workforce during the “dot-com before the storm” and became a marketing exec at Zynga. She was one of the ﬁrst black women tech execs and famously wrote an article in Fast Company about how she felt marginalized by the boys’ club, but denied it was a matter of racism. She clearly got the last laugh as she sold all her stock in early 2012 before the market crashed. Savvy instincts or insider tip? I’m guessing fortuitous leak, because her Swarthmore degree was actually art history, with a minor in classical literature. Then again, maybe she’s a marketing wiz and could tell which way the winds were blowing.
She started Nuzegeek with no real experience in the area of hard news, but already her news zine has pretentions to become the next HuffPo meets Uproxx, which is kind of like the last Daily Beast. Evidently she’s a quick study.
We shake hands and the ﬁrst thing I notice are her eyes.
They’re silvery-gray, inordinately large in her slim face, and there’s no mistaking the intelligence behind them. Her dainty features and soft ebony skin are set off by jet-black hair cut in a sleek bob. She’s deﬁnitely power-dressing in a Burberry Prorsum ensemble, wearing a blazer, top, and streamlined skirt combo with a man’s belt holding it all together. Her fashion sense is impeccable.
“Welcome, Clarissa.” MT leans forward and smiles. “Tell me what I need to know.”
The next twelve and a half minutes are me talking me: me and college, me and Hugh, me and my journalistic sensibilities. I slip in a reference to the Great Recession and the rebound, which I back up with a few money-related phrases I pilfered from SeekingAlpha.com.
“But enough about me,” I say, ﬁnally feeling comfortable with the dazzling MT, who does in fact emit a little snort at my tiny joke. “I hope you wouldn’t mind telling me about Nuzegeek and how you started this amazing new take on the news.” A suck-up line if you’ve ever heard one, but I can’t tell you how effective and important it is to suck up. A lot of people my age forget how essential it is to ask their potential employers what they aspire to and what they want. It elevates both of you.
Her answer? Honestly, I don’t have a clue. But it sounds great, lots about long reads, complex topics, and immersive storytelling, entrepreneur-speak for what we know and love as “writing.” Very little of what she says has anything to do with actual news as far as I can tell. But it’s ﬁlled with encyclopedic details—maybe she does have H-SAM. More important, I can see that she’s thrilled to lay out her vision.
“Well, Clarissa, I very much welcome your enthusiasm,” MT says, reclining in her white ergonomic desk chair. I like this MT. This is going well.
“I suppose there’s only one question remaining,” I hear a male voice say from the door way behind me. I know immediately it’s Mr. Upper-Crust from the elevator because I catch a whiff of his astronomically pricey Creed cologne. Or perhaps that’s just his disdain I smell.
Maybe it’s not going so well.
“Do share with us, Clarissa, what your thoughts are on the Federal Reserve’s current monetary policy of extended bond buying, and what affect you expect such a policy might have on the nation’s long-term economic forecast?”
Seriously? What are my thoughts on the Federal Reserve? “Clarissa, this is Dartmoor Millburn,” MT says. “He’s our ﬁnancial editor.”
“We met,” I say dully and smile. As Dartmoor glides to the chair beside mine, I can feel the ambition radiating from him. It’s ridiculously apparent how much he wishes he were the one seated before that window instead of MT. I kind of wish he were, too. Then I could push him out.
“Druscilla printed me a copy of your résumé,” he explains, waving it in the air and crossing his long legs. He settles in with a piercing gaze from that baby face of his, looking ready to begin the Spanish Inquisition. “Sadly, I see nothing on this piece of paper to indicate you have an iota of ﬁnancial expertise. And we aim to the highest standard for ﬁnancial news on our website, Internet zine, start-up venture thing,” Dartmoor says, fumbling for words, then smiles, trying to reclaim his composure. Clearly he hasn’t quite adapted to his own digital transition.
“Perhaps,” he suggests dismissively, “you should try Jezebel or PopSugar.”
Perhaps you should try removing that big ol’ cricket bat you’ve got stuck up your ass.
I don’t say that out loud, though.
Unfortunately, the only thing I know about the Fed’s monetar y policy is that I don’t have any. Money, that is. Judging by Dartboy’s smug expression, he knows, too.
And there it is! The kernel of a notion reveals itself to me. Well, it’s worth a shot.
“You know,” I begin, “I can understand why you ask about the Fed, and it is important for your readers, but ﬁnancial reporting shouldn’t be just for people who trade hedge funds and drive Lambos and Jags.” I watch MT to see if this is working. “It should also be for people who have a panic attack every time they use their debit card. After all, these people are the demo that has the most to learn from Nuzegeek.” I’ve got MT on the corner of her white-gold Herman Miller Aeron chair. “I think Nuzegeek shouldn’t just cover the people who have money, but also people without, and in that case, I’m fully qualiﬁed, because I understand that problem quite well. That’s literally my point-oh-two cents.”
“Love it!” MT cries, slapping her palms on the desk and standing. “Love, love, love it. I think that’s exactly what our bloody readers want and it’s a prized demo that we can build brand loyalty with.”
Dartmoor narrows his eyes and a little smile creeps into one corner of his mouth. Despite the fact that the guy is a total snob, I have to admit that he is pretty dreamy. Not devil-may-care cute like Sam, or suave and scruffy like Nick, but deﬁnitely sexy in a GQ-meets-Forbes sort of way.
He knows my idea is a great angle. He just hates that it’s my angle.
“Dartsy dear, I didn’t know a hedge fund from a hedgehog when I founded this company,” MT reminds him. “I think Clarissa deserves a shot.” I’m fascinated watching them exchange glances. Despite MT’s cutesy nickname for Dartmoor and coy self-deprecating anecdote, which I am certain isn’t true, I can see that Dartmoor, aka Dartsy, has just received a massive mind meld from MT. She’s the boss and he knows it. He chooses another tack.
“Very well,” he decrees. “I think we can all agree to a one-article tryout. I’ll expect a detailed pitch by the end of the week.”
Why do I feel like I was just challenged to a duel at thirty paces?