Friday, April 22, 2011

A head start on dying

A year or two ago I received an email invitation for an event having to do with some entity I'd never heard of, the "Jejune Institute." Cloaked in mysterious language, the invitation, and a website I found by searching for "Jejune Institute," only hinted at some sort of interesting experience that would result if one showed up at a certain address in downtown San Francisco. It was impossible for me to figure out from the invitation and the website what the organization (or cult or marketing experiment or whatever it was) represented and why I should devote any time to investigating. I think I replied to the email saying "Is this some kind of put on?" to which the mysterious sender replied "Certainly not." Then I forgot about it.

Now today in the Bay Citizen (and NYT) is an article revealing what it was all about. It turns out to have been an elaborate art project - cum - "immersive game," the subject of which I still can't discern from afar. The writer of the article talks about tableaux and events that sound like performance art and makes it all sound fun, but it's hard to understand just what was fun.

I have several wistful reactions to all this.

First, you may have read recently about the psychological phenomenon called "Fear of Missing Out," which is an anxious sense that somewhere within striking distance a fabulous event is taking place which you are missing, either because you don't have the time or money to attend, or have to work, or worst of all because you didn't hear about it in the first place. I never had this fear in relation to the "Jejune Institute" because I did have the opportunity to hear about it, and evaluated it as far as I could, rejected it as an activity, and never thought about it again until today. Instead of Fear of Missing Out (or FOMO, as people have waggishly begun to abbreviate it), I have only a terminal sense of having missed out.

And yet -- secondly -- I find it hard to kick myself for failing to catch on when I was offered the chance. Because the initial invitation and website looked so much, on the one hand, like an invite from some amateurish cult, and on the other hand like one of those would-be viral websites that are actually a front for a cable TV show -- of course I didn't bite. I'm not that stupid!

Thirdly, it turns out I am that stupid -- stupid enough to have been invited in the first place and not to have discerned what dozens or hundreds of other people were able to, that this was something worth checking out. What did I miss? Whose fault is it? Is it the fault of the creator of the... thing... for not making the mysterious invitation intriguing enough, or are my senses of curiosity and adventurousness merely so dulled, in my mid-50s, that I no longer cotton onto something I would have eagerly investigated 25 or 30 years ago?

Fourthly, no doubt many of the people who wound up participating in, or witnessing, the events that were part of the thing heard about it through word of mouth. Someone they knew told them about this cool thing that was happening. And because it was mysterious, and little-known, it was hip. To know about it became a badge of coolness. To have attended one of the events became something you could brag about to others. If you wanted to impress someone or get in good with them, you'd invite them to the next event. If you merely wanted to brag without extending the circle of people in the know -- for what cool cultural event remains cool if too many people hear about it? -- then you could simply hint that you were doing this cool thing, without telling too many details. So it became an exercise in in-crowd dynamics.

(For example, this random blog entry by someone I don't know: "Friday, my mom, Anna and I went to San Francisco to check out the Jejune Institute. Again, there's tons I could say about that, but this time, I'm just saving it for a full post that I'll put up after it's officially closed, so I won't spoil it for anyone who has a chance to go see it. But seriously: If you can get to San Francisco before April 10th, go to 580 California Street, take the elevator to the 16th floor, and ask for the Jejune Institute. You won't regret it. Unless you've got a deadly allergy to fun. [sic] It was an immensely cool experience, and I'm glad I got to experience part of it while it's still there.")

But the tragic thing is that I did not hear about it through word of mouth. After I received the initial invite, I completely forgot about it, and I never heard about it again. Clearly none of my friends are in the in crowd, or maybe they are but know I am not. So to "fear of missing out" and "the tragedy of having missed out," we can add the depressing realization that "no one thought to tell me about it."

Fifthly, even having read the article, it still doesn't sound like something I really would have enjoyed (this article in The Awl is much more informative and gives a feel of what it was all about) largely because I get nothing out of in-crowd dynamics. I don't like exclusivity, and I bridle against secrets. To the extent the whole "Jejune Institute" thing existed merely to maintain in-groups and out-groups, I'm glad I wasn't a part of it, because I think those are sick dynamics in modern society. Or perhaps I have, in the words of the anonymous blogger above, "a deadly allergy to fun" (her italics).

On the other hand -- sixthly (I wonder what you call words like "secondly, thirdly," etc. -- in any case they start sounding silly if taken too far) -- I wonder if this "Oh, I'm glad I didn't" attitude isn't really just an attempt to justify to myself my increasing isolation from popular culture. I've been noticing in myself, for the last several years, an increasing failure of curiosity, and while I have a strong suspicion it's a very disadvantageous trait for a writer to have, it's been hard for me to resist. Sometimes it seems to me as if I'm simply shutting down, getting a head start on dying. Perhaps that part of the brain that is curious about new things is, in me, failing. Perhaps it's a hormonal problem.

Finally, I got another invitation last week. It was an invitation to investigate a private 55-and-older condominium development. Because I am turning 55 next week, and somehow the real estate people know it. Of course, I quickly threw the invitation in the trash, but doing so did not delay, for one minute, my impending birthday.

1 comment:

Jackadandy said...

You crack me up.

Happy Birthday!