I seem to remember there being a time when a whole bunch of writer types were really excited or really curious or really thinking deeply about using the internet to write stories, and because a page on the internet can be a place to place text and a place to place pictures and a place to embed music and a place to embed video and all that, it was going to be really exciting and revolutionary. And I seem to remember writer types in universities thinking maybe they had to jump on all this and think even more deeply about it and maybe thinking that they needed to start a whole side-discipline for hypertext.
I seem to remember all this, but it came and went so damn quickly, I can’t be 100% sure. And, frankly, I’m too tired to search it all out on the Internet Archive. Go for it, if you’re interested. If I made all of it up, give me hell in the comments section, maybe.
All that is just a prologue for two stories on the internet: OH NO EVERYTHING IS WET NOW, an ebook/web collage/thing/”pseudo small novella in verse” on our own Mike Young’s Magic Helicopter Press site, and “Neverland” by Gabriel Blackwell on the Uncanny Valley Press site. Because eventually all the stepping back and taking a look at what the internet “meant” as a place to publish fiction sent a lot of writers stepping so far back, they were too far away from their keyboards to write anything. And eventually, a bunch of other people—younger folks, mainly—just started writing things and putting them on the internet without needing to spend a lot of time thinking about it first. OH NO EVERYTHING IS WET NOW and “Neverland” are products of many years of the second kinds of people doing a lot of the second sorts of things.
Ana Carrete and Richard Chiem’s OH NO EVERYTHING IS WET NOW collages video, (fabricated?) image search results pages, and short poems on a page so large, it must be traversed. You can, if you want, follow a track. But scroll bars being scroll bars, you need not. Many of the poems are in images that appear to be screen captures of writing programs. In the videos, the authors read the poems in voice-over, (un)matching video of the two of them at play in the everyday world. The poems interconnect to reveal the small, strange world of a boy/girl relationship. (Because, when you really look at it, in the interior of a relationship—boy/girl, boy/boy, girl/girl—there is this small, strange world that only the inhabitants truly understand. It has its own language. It has its own justice system. It has its own flag.)
The form—the screenshots of the words in the familiar-to-writers-especially word processor frames, and the random search results—add a layer tp the work: the layer of process. Writing, sitting at a computer, constantly online, random giemoogling for inspiration, staring at a small screen which dis/connects us from/to the world. This tumbles it. Troubles it. Energizes it.
In the final moment of what—if you follow the track—seems to be the final video, Chiem stares off, looks at the camera (held by Carrete), says, “Are you—?” Carrete laughs and responds, “You always ask that.” Taken in context, charming. Pulled away from the context (“Are you recording me right now? Can I start?”), an unfinished question that prompts the response, “You ALWAYS ask that,” succinctly states everything good and everything bad about every relationship I’ve ever been in.
“Neverland” is a story I’ve heard Gabriel Blackwell read on at least two occasions. Because Blackwell “performs” when he reads the piece to an audience, I had assumed that the greatest power of the piece—which is kid of a gas: smart, funny, oddball—was in it as performance. This is how a good performer can fool you.
In fact, “Neverland” is also a fine experience on the page. Or, in this case, on a screen. In performance, Blackwell plays a tour guide from the George C. Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits.. On screen, “Neverland” becomes a web tour, housed on a site that will make you believe you have logged on to AOL to “surf the web” in 1994.
“Neverland”—like much of Blackwell’s work—is a work of alternative history. It begins somewhere real—in this case, the La Brea Tar Pits, the George C. Page Museum, the creationists at the Discovery Institute, the actors Robert Z’Dar and Daniel Bernhardt—and ascribes them hidden motives and personalities. History moves forward. Blackwell follows it back, chooses a moment, and creates a quiet, hidden cul de sac where he forces people to live next door to one another and has them endlessly warring over the quality of each other’s lawn care.
With it’s strange videos, appropriately headache-y font choice, intentionally broken links (I asked), and absurdly wonderful logo all adding to it as a narrative experience, “Neverland”‘s web life is as interesting as it’s existence as a performance piece. But bound in a book, I don’t know what would happen. The two frames add so much to the piece that one suspects maybe—just maybe—some work belongs in something other than print.
And maybe that kind of work didn’t need to be puzzled over and considered and studied. Probably it just needed to spring from individuals for whom the internet was never a new medium. Just a medium like any other.