After Oscar party invite goes missing in mail – again

This year, like many others, the invitation seems to have gone astray. And yet, once again, the Vanity Fair party was extraordinary. In attendance were Selena and Jay Z, Gwyneth and Brad, Bill and Scarlett. Spaghetti was served at 2 a.m. and Miley sang two songs. The last guests left at 5 a.m.

It’s really a bit odd, the way we constantly hear about glamorous social events – to which we have not been asked. We accept this more readily when it comes via the news than we would if it happened with a work colleague or a neighbour. If every day, they treated us to tales of the tremendous party they’d been to the night before, then blithely added, ‘Oh, of course, I forgot, you weren’t included’, we would fight back; we would sense the injustice, we would shut our ears.

Everyone said witty, sweet things

How then do we cope, when the stories and the rejections come not from an acquaintance but from the news? One well-worn strategy is lightly-worn mockery. Screw them. Those parties are filled with poseurs and airheads, snobs and vulgarians. The Oscar thing would have been a bore. Had we been asked, we would almost certainly have refused. More broadly, we’re happy with our lot. We may not be high and mighty but things are fine. Nothing gets through our armour.

Then there’s a contrary approach: a stance of extreme modesty: ‘This isn’t anything for someone like me,’ we might say to ourselves, ‘I don’t dream of success, I’m not a special person and never will be’. It does not even occur to us to want to join in. It is a privilege enough to be allowed simply to watch from the sidelines and to have a look at what everyone was wearing as they went in.

Neither path seems ideal. One should envy something about the achievements and rewards of others, many of them much younger than we are, when they have been able to make so much more of their lives than we have. Our goals might not lie in acting, but the triumph of these actors should rightly evoke the allure of success more generally. Being modest isn’t an answer either. Of course we might have had our name in lights. We’re not living in feudal times. If we had played our cards more skilfully – if we had been braver, cleverer, more talented, more beautiful – we would have had a chance to be a winner. We’re not getting any younger. We are on the way to missing the boat. We have only one life and we are in the process of wasting it.

The frank and wise response to the haunting images of triumph and success with which the news surrounds us daily is to feel – for a bit, on occasion – productively rather sad. Of course it would have been exciting, truly life-enhancing, to have been there, to be rewarded and known and cared for by strangers. We truly are missing out – and it’s in many ways our fault. We are flawed, hesitant, cowardly, unimaginative, lazy creatures, in danger of being doomed to a brief unknown life before facing eternal extinction. We should unpick our defences and start facing up to what is holding us back. We need to get ourselves together. This is a wake-up call masquerading as a report on a party.

Then again, too much of this, too critically, will panic us. Surviving modern society requires us to develop a raft of strategies to face up to and deal with our inadequacies. We need to take care of ourselves; we have to learn to face up honestly but intelligently to our envy and our failure – and to take the first steps towards resolving them. This year, like all others, the real invitation is not to a party, but to a well-handled existential crisis.