05 March 2009

I Lock The Door To My Own Cell

I was reading this New York Times article about the alleged malaise or "crisis of the mind" currently besetting Japan when I came across the term "hikikomori."

I'd seen the word before, possibly even heard an explanation of the phenomenon, but it hadn't stuck with me, so I looked it up and read a few articles about it, the whole time thinking, "Wow, that sounds a little bit like me."

Only a little, thankfully. As any regular readers will know, I not only leave the house, but also the city, state or country, on a pretty frequent basis. Age-wise, I'm pretty far removed from the hikikomori demographic, and I haven't been supported by my parents since I was 17 (for which I give them a great deal of credit; I'll never understand how parents rationalize allowing their adult children to hang around indefinitely without at least making a contribution to household expenses).

But like the hikikomori, I'm in a position where I don't have to leave the house if I don't want to, and too often I'm finding myself not wanting to. Part of this is because it's winter, of course, and also because I like my (still relatively) new apartment so much. But I've noticed this tendency for a while; even in my last apartment, which I hated, I sometimes found it hard to make it down the stairs and out into the streets of New York City, which I love.

I also catch myself lingering around the hotel room way too much of the time when I visit other cities or countries, and it's not just because I can't tear myself away from the internet, though that's a problem in itself. But if there's no internet, I'll watch television, or read, or try on different clothes until I've decided that I can't go out because I don't have anything to wear. Even when I fully intend to go out, whether at home or away, I often dilly-dally around so long that I end up being late or missing an event altogether.

In fact, thanks to a combination of dilly-dallying, dithering over what to wear, checking my email one or two last times, and a recalcitrant subway train, I came dangerously close to missing the New York premiere of my niece Gabrielle Bell's new film, Tokyo!. Well, perhaps I'm being guilty of nepotism (niece-ism?) in crediting it that way; you'll generally see it listed as being a film by Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Bong Joon-ho, the three of whom did actually direct it. But the Gondry segment, "Interior Design," is based on "Cecil And Jordan In New York," a comic written and drawn by Gabrielle, and she also co-wrote the screenplay, so that's enough to make it her movie in this uncle's eyes.

At the after-party I got to hang out with Cecil (it's taken me a couple years to sort out whether she was Cecil or Jordan, but I've finally got it straight now), who in real life (such as it was) is Sadie Hales, from, of all places, lovely Laytonville, California, proving once again that we Northern California mountain hicks actually do get about in the world. Gabrielle also served her time in Laytonville, of course, as did Green Day drummer Tre Cool, and I'm still hoping to amount to something myself one of these days. In interviews like this one, Gabrielle assures us that Cecil isn't literally Sadie but in fact merely represents one aspect of her character, but that still leaves her only one or two removes from being a movie star, doesn't it?

Anyway, Gabrielle and Sadie were friends back in their Laytonville days, and I still remember seeing the two of them together in a high school version of A Midsummer Night's Dream directed by the indefatigable Paula Mulligan (she was also Tre Cool's music teacher), one of those rare and priceless individuals that small towns are occasionally blessed with, so in love with their particular field of the arts (in Paula's case, it was practically every field) that they inspire several generations to imagine themselves capable of something more than the quiet desperation of little town life.

But getting back to our boring old New York City movie premiere, I was taken aback by Bong Joon-ho's segment of the film, "Shaking Tokyo", which turned out to be centered around the precise phenomenon I had discovered and researched only that afternoon, the hikikomori. The synchronicity of it was a little too weird, but not unlike the sort of thing that seems to happen to me quite often.

I don't suppose there's anything all that mysterious about it. For one thing, I've most likely come across the term hikikomori and possibly even seen it defined while failing to register it in my conscious memory. And is it possible that I knew - if only subliminally, because I don't recall ever hearing anything about it previously - what Bong Joon-ho's subject matter was going to be?

Prosaic explanations like this, I've found, are most often behind "amazing" coincidences and "psychic" or "paranormal" phenomena, though of course I'd prefer to believe that God or one of his emissaries is sending me personal messages (though I wish that while he was at it, he would have passed along the message that I didn't need to get dressed up as much as I did; even the directors wore blue jeans, and about the only other people wearing suits were the catering help). Being over or underdressed for one of these affairs is the sort of thing that could make a guy want to go home, lock the door behind himself, and not come out again for a very long time.

Fortunately, I had a series of events and meetings today that led me all the way to the far-flung Upper West Side (Seinfeld country, really) and to the mysterious and brooding backstreets of Long Island City, so that's one more day I haven't become a full-fledged hikikomori. I think I may go outside again tomorrow, which will make four days running that I've left not only the house but the island. And ventured (far) above 23rd Street, no less. Maybe there's hope for me yet.

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