I don't know if it's that everyone pretty much agrees by now that the apocalypse is definitely about to happen (or maybe is currently happening) or if it's that Facebook seems to have reached a critical point of having 98% of all humans you know on it, but now we can all feel that special kind of isolation that comes from seeing pictures of a wedding you weren't invited to -- or two people you only sort of know, glowing healthily at the top of some fantastic mountain they just climbed. I've been asking around though, and I'm reporting this to you now: The Age of Irony is officially over and a new era, one mainly defined by the deep desire to honestly connect with someone before it's too late, The Age of Earnestness, has begun.
I know Time called this back in 2001, but that must have been some sort of post-9/11 grandstanding because in-between then and now we've seen the sitcom Arrested Development, Dave Egger's second novel You Shall Know Our Velocity, The Decemberists' first five albums and the film Adaptation -- all awesome, relevant, popular and totally ironic.
Now however -- even though Osama bin Laden is finally dead -- we're still in two or three wars, there's an environmental crisis every week and nobody remembers how to fall in love outside of the Internet. And it turns out everyone is finally getting sick of all their stories being filtered through a lens of hipness with all the feelings couched in inside jokes.
Luckily for San Francisco, the literary scene feels the exact same way.
Isaac Fitzgerald, managing editor of TheRumpus puts it this way: "One of the most important reasons to write, to make art, to make music, to be an artist of any sort, is to connect. To show others, 'I too have felt this way, share it with me.' If you try and connect with anyone in a way that is not earnest, it isn't a connection. It's a con. It's a mask."
With that in mind, The Rumpus is back this month with No Mistakes Left to Make on May 9, 7pm at The Makeout Room in San Francisco, featuring, among others, Jim Shepard, whose new book You Think That's Bad "balances an understanding of history with a recognition that we may be living at the end of history," according to the LA Times whose reviewer also wrote, "At the heart of [Shepard's] vision is the idea of disconnection, of the things we do that keep us from ourselves."
Here's some advice: attend this reading in person, do not just "like" it on Facebook.
Another event that will appeal to the Bay Area earnest literature lover is "The Worst Horse," a collaboration between RADAR and the San Francisco Zen Center, curated by Michelle Tea, which uses a Buddhist parable about learning the hard way as the thread to bring together performers and artists including Ali Liebegott and Bucky Sinister. Michael Braithwaite, one of the organizers of the event, had this to say about why people are becoming more interested in sincerity: "The way in which [irony]'s been used as a mechanism in art and in pop culture has been really juvenile; instead of being used in its more classic sense -- to give depth of expression to contradictory themes and impulses -- it's been used with a sort of winking sarcasm, which flattened the experience (at least for me)."
For some honest storytelling that will be anything but flat, head to the Zen Center Friday, May 27 at 7:30pm.
Of course, if you really want to connect with other people, get into authentic self-expression and fully embrace the Age of Earnestness, you are going to have to start creating some art yourself. This is where the Marin Poetry Center's Open Workshop comes in. Every fourth Thursday a group of 10 to 15 poets (published and non-published, all are welcome) share their poetry around a dining room table in Marin, opening themselves up to the praise and (constructive) criticism of their peers. The workshop's organizer, Calvin Alhgren, says in the 3 or 4 years he's been running the workshop he's seen the attendees' average age drop and the level of enthusiasm and experimentation rise. Their next meeting is Thursday, May 26, at 7pm at the Falkirk Cultural Center in San Rafael. Bring a poem to share, meet some people in real life and cross your fingers that the apocalypse holds off for at least another couple years.