While I'm away, I've asked some friends of mine to do guest posts on here. Today and Thursday are posts from Carolee Wheeler, the co-author of Good Mail Day. Carolee is absolutely an awesome person and artist who is a constant spark of inspiration for me. Donovan & I have the extreme good fortune to be working with Carolee on a project we hope to release next month. Enough of my gushing, here is part 1 of Carolee's guest post.
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"The question is not what you look at, but what you see, Thoreau writes in his journal. [Joseph] Cornell speaks of being plunged into [a] world of complete happiness in which every triviality becomes imbued with significance...."
- Charles Simic, Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell
Three years ago, my universe was transformed forever, in ways I didn't fully understand at the time. I had been given the address of a mysterious place called the Jejune Institute, and told to visit at my earliest opportunity. After some initial trepidation, which was then assuaged by that crowdsourced enabler, Yelp, I called off work and headed downtown. The address led to an imposing and intimidatingly tall office building. I rode the elevator to the sixteenth floor, and gave my name to the receptionist. In turn, she gave me a key to a locked door.
Do you want to run away already? Do you want to stop reading, right now? I wouldn't blame you if you did. That paragraph is fraught with uncertainty. Where am I going with this? Am I going to tell you about my conversion to Breatharianism or ask you to touch my aura? It's almost as strange, and I mean that sincerely, because the only way I can describe what happened after that is to say it changed my life.
I had stepped over the threshhold of that room (and through a trapdoor, which led to a secret bookcase, which transformed into time craft…) into something called an Alternate Reality Game (ARG).
Now, I'm not a "gamer". I would even go so far as to say I don't like games. But this experience--finding secret messages on physical objects secured to the undersides of statues and innocuously stenciled on telephone poles--awakened me to the idea that I had not been fully living my life. That I had been on autopilot. That I had figured I knew all there was to know about my surroundings. I know that light means go and that one means stop. I'm pretty secure in the fact that inside that warehouse, they're just building furniture. I can recognize harmless things and dangerous things mostly just by looking at them. Right?
So wrong. The experience I had that day, looking for clues and finding answers, and the parallel experience of realizing that a real person (or, in fact, a group of people) had created this experience just for my enjoyment, just slayed me. Naturally, I later discovered that ARGs are created for all kinds of reasons, including to convince you to see a movie or buy some gum (or even, in Japan, eat at McDonald's), but the idea that the creator of the Jejune Institute might just want me to stop being a boring old robot affected me, in a profound and enduring manner.
It took a couple more years from that point forward, but I finally got the message, which I understood to be: If you want people to have a more engaged, more curious, more joy-filled interaction with their surroundings, you might have to give them a reason to feel that way.
We humans now feel that we have all the answers, at our fingertips, and as a result can suffer from a deficiency of wonder. Like a vitamin supplement, we may need an infusion of puzzlement.