Relax. The poetry heroes at O, Miami joined forces with The Spa at The Standard and prolific Miami artist-filmmaker Jillian Mayer to put our techno-stress to rest. CURRENT// gave us hammocks, soft faux golf grass, golden blossoms from Peltophorum trees, and most importantly, poetry embedded in a 16 minute guided underwater meditation at The Standard. The purpose? To create a technology induced zen experience, a virtual Om.
Mayer’s vision anticipates all the challenges you will have in 2100. Issues like social anxiety due to overpopulation, inability to focus due to hyperstimulation (thank you perpetual pinging gizmos), among other anxieties. These were all pacified in this interactive performance and site-specific sound piece.
Mayer began the experience by asking participants descend to the ground. A soothing recording looped for five minutes, instructing to “please sit or lay in silence,” after which the voice prepared the group for the strange and potentially anxiety provoking circumstances ahead: “your vision will be obstructed, but you will be safe…do not bother swimming… simply float… do not be disturbed, if you come in contact with a stranger…you will inevitably bump into other participants.”
Did her voice sound trustworthy? Imagine if the disturbing voice on the track “Fitter Happier” from Radiohead’s Ok Computer had a smarter, kinder twin. Mayer sounded like an enlightened and compassionate computer deity from the year 2100. I was intrigued, so I followed this voice into phase two-- the underwater meditation.
Participants donned white smocks (a robe to wear during meditation to reduce body image anxieties), custom-created underwater blindfolds (goggles painted black over the glass so there would be no visual distractions), and a lung straw for air-sipping (a snorkel to keep the air supply going for 16 minutes). Once heads were underwater, this enlightened-compassionate-computer deity was still audible. It counted down serenely from fifteen, a classic hypnotic procedure. Soon, I was overcome with gratitude when a positive feedback loop repeated,“Thank you for being under here with me. Thank yourself for allowing yourself this moment to be here.”
At times the enlightened-compassionate-computer deity addressed the strange and sometimes alienating emotion we straddle in the 21st century, that uneasy paradox of loneliness in community, being physically alone on our screens, but communing online. “You are alone today/ You are all alone but as a collective wave… a ripple, a current,” the voice said. To keep the metaphor running, Mayer inserted words from the poem “Swells” by A. R. Ammons: "The very longest swell in the ocean, I suspect,/ carries the deepest memory, the information of actions.”
Later, the compassionate-computer-deity voice won us over with these lines affection—“I wrote this for you…the day is noisy you need a virtual space to relax, to see things clearly”—before urging us to let go of our 21st century techno-stress. “Think not of plagiarizing, of intellectual properties, ‘likes,’ attention, sincerity, authenticity, buzzwords, or parody. Think not of your agenda, your agency,” she said, then uttering the words of Fay Zwicky in the poem “Age of Aquarius”: "I invite you to take this moment to relax/ and talk about ‘things that must matter'."
Questions follow: “What information are you most attached too? What experiences make you the most you?” And they climax into a beautiful line from Mary Oliver’s “Summer’s Day”: "What is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?"
Before you think this sounds too hokey, consider these humorous parting images that foretold the rest of the night: “A mixed drink arrives to you with an order of beef sliders. The small ones. It’s okay if you are a vegetarian, nothing was hurt in the making of these sliders. This hardware is eco friendly.”
Farah Diba is a writer living in Miami, Fl. She will be contributing blog posts for O, Miami Poetry Festival 2016.