"It's that moment when, if you were looking inside people's brains at the movie theater, you'd see the very front part -- the part that's unique to humans?"
"The prefrontal cortex," I offer, "the critical judgement and self-awareness part."
"Yes," George says. "It's the moment when that goes dark."
"When you lose yourself in the story," I finish.
"Exactly," he says.
"Fascinating. What's it called again?" I ask, reaching for my little red moleskine.
"Deictic shift," he repeats.
George owns a VR arcade in Brooklyn called Yokey Pokey. We are standing together in front of an exhibit called Tree, at the Future of Storytelling Festival in Staten Island, NY.
Treeis a virtual reality experience that takes you through the life cycle of an old-growth tree in the rainforest. Before you put on the headset, the facilitator gives you a little bowl of seeds to hold, and asks you to imagine the giants they will become.
I am dying to try -- but, at number 165 in virtual line, the odds seem slim. And with hundreds of exhibits beckoning across acres of lawns and gardens (a genius juxtaposition, in my opinion, to host a VR festival in nature), there is no time to waste.
George and I shake hands and move on. Both of us feel the anxiety in the air; the impossibility of seeing all there is to see.
Here, my experience of FoMO -- typically contained at the lower end of a 1-10 scale -- is through the roof.
I imagine that my deictic shift happens immediately inside Dear Angelica.
The moment I don the Oculus headset, I am immersed in a hand-illustrated 360-degree dreamscape about the nature of memory and love.
With each colorful brushstroke, a universe appears around a woman writing in her journal in her bedroom, her words appearing in the space around her.
She is writing to her mom (pictured above), who is also a movie star, and her memories of what she actually experienced with her mother are mixed up with those of watching her on screen.
Does it really matter, she asks, which is which?
As her memories unfold in escalating brushstrokes, I can feel my eyes being drawn to the far distance, out into space, and then back to the foreground again.
I can feel new neural connections being made inside my brain.
In one scene, Angelica is dressed in red as a superhero battling a giant fire-breathing dragon.
As the fight develops one scene at a time, your eyes and head are drawn all the way round in a circle. The fourth scene shows our hero careening backward from a punch in the face.
For a moment, all is suspended.
Then, the world dissolves to black.
What appears next -- what feels like a yard away from you -- is a quarter-sized hospital bed, holding a tiny prone figure, with her daughter standing vigil next to it.
Beep, the monitors sound through the black. Beep.
When I remove the headset, there are tears in my eyes.
In In My Shoes: Intimacy, I find myself inside the head of a woman on a train with her legs tightly crossed, listening to her inner monologue as she beats herself up in a faintly British accent.
I really need to go for a run. I can't go for a run with my back the way it is! I should go to yoga. Who am I kidding I'm not going to yoga! My nails are disgusting. I should do something about that.
The man next to me, a stranger, interrupts with a casual comment.
What's he talking about? I have to say something back or else I'll look stupid.
The man gestures to the book we are both reading. He asks what I think.
I can't tell him I haven't even started it. He'll think I'm a total idiot, one of those weirdos who carries books around with them just to LOOK like a reader.
This tortured monologue continues, in tandem with the occasional spoken comment, as the man jokes that he wrote the book, admits that he didn't, observes that they say everyone has a novel in them, and asks what my novel would be about.
Then the train scene fades and is replaced by another with two lovers, and finally two people on a first date.
Afterward, you are asked to discuss with the real person sitting next to you what your character thought about theirs.
Unfortunately, the headset of the Scandinavian woman I had partnered with was programmed wrong, so she experienced the same thing I did.
But I imagine that if she had experienced the other person's inner monologue, she would have reported that the man on the train was ALSO distracted by his own self-defeating narrative.
I imagine we would have discussed how impossible it is to truly connect with another person, when we are so obsessively focused on ourselves.
My head swimming, I finally lie down in a tent strewn with blankets and put on a vest and headphones. Then I lie back and allow the sounds of DJ FreQ Nasty to reverberate through my body for a ten-minute embodied audio meditation.
The bass is incredible. I relax into it, feel it wash through me.
There are no lyrics, until the very end, when one line echoes musically over and over, into silence: "
Love is the answer to most of the world's problems."
When I sit up, I look around at a crowd of blissed-out faces, and smile.
Even though choosing this meant missing out on Holojam in Wonderland, where the facilitator/designer was prepared to let me cut the 45-min line for the world-premiere of the interactive Alice in Wonderland live theater experience that everyone was talking about...
Even though I never even saw the stall for Munduruku and the fight to defend the Amazon, which would go on to win the Audience Award...
Against all probability, my FoMO has dissipated.
I meander through the grass and slanting sunlight, past the tents being packed up.
For the next three days, I will marvel at all that I've seen today, and the resounding implications.
But at least for the moment -- I am back in my body, on a beautiful fall day.