EARLY this morning I had a mind twisting dream. I was a cranky Professor alienated in the time of the plague. My mask-wearing students stared like an opaque sea of detachment.
In this first plague in American history, everybody’s identity was shielded. Intriguing ~ even in normal situations we maintain a superficial identity, yet we wonder what's behind others' masks of artificiality, pleasantness and pretense. With each other do we really live or even exist? Or are we condemned to trivial rebellion and acceptance of death?
In the dream, the Professor obtained a cavernous vacant room for an art happening. After an announcement, the professor gave 30 days for students to assemble something ~ a collage, soundscape,
painting, sculpture, assemblage ~ whatever gestated from their unconscious imagination.
On opening night everyone who attended received a ballot and voted on the 3 pieces that touched them the most. In my dream the shadow world was foreboding and filled with ominous, threatening shapes without sharp definitions ~ shadows. The creations were dark. So the outcome of the voting was not so much to choose winners as the "best artists", but to reveal insights into the loneliness and collective fears of our shared souls.
Then I realized that for many their shadow is an uplifting dog, full of love, trotting by their side. So my dream taught me ... don't prejudge gloom.
I half awoke and Albert Camus' existential book The Plague, set in Oran, North Africa wafted through my mind. A haunting dreamscape to be lived through and shared.
One reviewer said: Camus describes the plague, not just the physical disease, as a constant battle within each of us. Modernity nor morality do not spare 21st century Americans from this plague. No amount of vaccines, functional democracies, nor technology spare us the horrors of plague: shelter in place orders, economic depression, unemployment, isolation, separation from loved ones, nor our helplessness in the face of random death.
Fully awake; I had to pee. Then as it tinkled into the bowl I realized I wasn't a professor and had no art space to commandeer.
My waking mind reminded me I was really living in the time of a lesser plague. I saw those who refused wearing masks as making a gesture of human frailty to live fiercely against the threat of death.
So far we are experiencing a lesser plague. The GREAT PLAGUE was when Europeans first came to this continent. According to recent DNA analysis the cultures, cities, tribes, families in the Americas hit a bottleneck ~ 50% of INDIGENOUS PEOPLE were killed by smallpox, measles and influenza. Half of all people who were previously here, erased!
The whole Iroquois confederacy of 7 nations, who created a constitution that inspired our American constitution, became a shadow. The Great Plague swept the Continent of profound stores of knowledge (think Mayan astronomy) and whole ways of life.
Maybe a mutation of this plague will sweep this continent again?
So what to do? My dream asked why shouldn't everybody organize exhibits shining flashlight beams on the shadow world? A virus shadow/art exploration. People could create in their quarantined apartments, then share. Real exhibitions should take place. But virtual exhibitions like on Instagram could reveal what is happening in every home in the world.
Jeffrey Nightbyrd Shero © 2020
Jeffrey was the original editor and publisher of the Austin Sun. He also created The Rat, America's first underground newspaper in New York City and was an editor of the Rag in Austin. He currently lives in Austin and has a talent agency, Acclaim Talent.