Since April I have been meeting every week with Mary, Sun, Brian, Seoyun and Olivia. I didn’t know them all so well at the start. I was invited in to participate in an isolation dinner party, but the more we talked, the further a dinner drifted. We wanted to have a shared experience. We talked about going to extremes to create continuity, but in trying to imagine this we quickly realised it was totally impossible- if anything this approach just highlighted the diversity of our environments and situations further.
We tried to get to the root of what the experience of a dinner party provides in order to make that feeling or act accessible. We all continued to research between meetings, following our own objectives, and sharing our eating habits on whatsapp.
My aspiration for what a dinner party should entail, was that I really wanted to believe that someone was here with me, feeling what I was feeling. I started to think that the only way I could do this was to trick myself into it. A phrase popped in to my head – “I am in the room with you”. It conjured an image of a celebrity psychic talking with dead people. I can feel her here, she says everything will be okay. At the same time I was reading a book by Dan Fox called ‘Pretentiousness and why it matters’, and it opened by going through all the ways humans have to pretend in order to participate in the world and have successful relationships. And I thought about how smiling supposedly induces happiness.
Brian told us that in China, if you eat together then you are friends, it sort of seals the deal. Will it so and it is.
One of the tasks we set ourselves was to each find a piece of work which encompassed what we were trying to achieve. My choice was Charlie Kaufman’s ‘Synecdoche, New York’ which seems to have become my covid19 anthem, mainly because of the scene where there are small fires all over the house but for some reason it is okay and they’re just sort of maintained in this state. But in this case, it was the plot of a screenwriter called Caden who thinks he is dying, directing the theatre production which will be his Mona Lisa. He is totally self absorbed and desperately seeks the truth in the work which makes a futile attempt to depict his whole reality, in an infinite loop of actors playing actors playing actors playing his family members (who’s lives the script is modelled on although Caden won’t admit it), in order to render his reality completely.
The vague but constant questioning of reality, for me mirrors the way that we have been searching for real connection and absolute understanding of each other’s positions through the seemingly impenetrable medium of a screen.
But through our conversations about connection we inadvertently connected. The group became less focused on a vision for the project and more like an escapism and a support network. The meetings which started off punctuated by frequent awkward silences became a joyous hour away from real life where we could laugh about the state of things and pour over each other’s food photos. At a time when the world is united through the shared experience of this pandemic, I have felt privileged to have a window in other parts of the world and comforted by the mutuality.
The actual food chat makes me uncomfortable to be honest, I don’t like to gush about food when I can’t share it. But it’s so exciting to see what friends all over the world are eating, and to see the personalities emerging through the dishes. Brian’s always look a bit Wes Anderson, Mary’s are sometimes naughty and make me really jealous, Seoyun’s are so perfectly delicate, Sun’s are exactly what you would want but probably can’t have, and Olivia’s are so close to her art it is uncanny.
Until we can eat together for real, long may it continue.