Anomalisa? Not Quite.
Junior year of high school, our grade went on a mandatory retreat that was meant to bring us closer together. Our class of 120 was randomly split up into groups of 10 or so people, and over the course of two-and-a-half days, we had an extensive sharing experience with everyone in our assigned group. We each created “life maps,” which detailed the ups and downs of our life experience until that point and found ourselves sharing the most intimate of secrets with a group of strangers we just happened to pass every day in the hallways for the last four years. At the end of the retreat, there was a candle-lighting ceremony, where anyone could go up in front of the whole class, light a candle, and share their grudges, their failures, their what-ifs; it was almost like a confession -- but instead of a priest, it was a collection of peers. Instead of God, it was our guilty conscience. After the retreat, we all sought to treat one another with more compassion and empathy, and for a few days, we did. Everyone seemed nicer, more caring, less judgmental. We realized no one was who we thought they were, and that some masks were just more well-painted than others. But a week later, everything was as it once was. Why was she wearing that? He makes me uncomfortable. She doesn’t have any friends, oh, and someone told me her family is an absolute mess.
I often wonder if the same will come out of this moment. Once we’re released from our quarantines, will we hug our friends tighter? Will we attempt to fix our broken system, which has showed us that even in the face of a disease some call the “great equalizer,” inequality is being exploited more than ever? Social distancing is a privilege; remote work too. Will we finally pursue the things we want, or will we continue to live in fear? Elon Musk might actually be right about that simulation. It seems that more often than not, something always comes out of something else. It must! Rarely is anything just as it is.
A time like this: businesses are crumbling, the economy is failing. But despite it all, art is being created. Even when we think we are protagonists of a new Stephen King sci-fi novel -- open-mic Zoom sessions, remote SNL skits, Dear April, and literary works prevail. I think it is because in the human condition, we must make sense of things. We must make sense of the tragedies, of the unexplainable, and of the moments that make us realize what we once had was more than sufficient. A blank canvas at the MOMA can never be universally blank; it must also be white (or a void to Narnia)!
But what is the lesson we take from a universal pause button, this button, which I imagine to be some shade of fuchsia-red, allows birthdays to be celebrated but freezes time to a standstill. How strange it is to be celebrating Easter, when we hardly even remember it is April. Maybe next Easter we will be hunting for eggs and talking about how God doesn’t exist. But for right now, our protagonists have yet to view life as a series of mundane moments (unlike in Kaufman’s Anomalisa). We are still creating art! And so maybe not as much is as lost as we once thought.