Epilogue, continued

The summer of 1994 was indeed a time of change. Judy's epilogue reminds me of just how much our project swerved off course from the route we had charted in 1993. But there was something eerie in the way the piece had become intertwined in and an organic part of our lives as the future unfolded. Although we couldn't work together at Xerox PARC as we had intended at the outset, we continued to write together as that awful summer waned and autumn began.

As Judy returned to Berkeley and learned to walk with crutches, I accepted a research faculty job at Texas A&M University and packed up my household to move to East Texas. Although ostensibly I had sound professional reasons for making this move, I'd also seen David Byrne's True Stories one too many times, and had romanticized the idea of moving to a place like College Station, somewhere so utterly different than Silicon Valley and the Los Angeles of my childhood.

More importantly, I thought I wanted to leave the Web behind for a while. The Web had become like a favorite band who everyone had suddenly discovered, forcing it to trade those intimate boozy nights in small clubs for Madison Square Garden and The Cow Palace. My backstage pass had expired.

If I thought I was leaving hypertext and the Web behind, I was sorely mistaken. My first day in Texas, on an unfamiliarly hot and humid early November day punctuated by cicadas and chirping frogs, I stood in the driveway of mynew house, waiting for the moving van to arrive. A youngish man with his cap turned around backward to shade his neck from the Cairo-intensity sun came driving up on his John Deere Riding Lawn Tractor.

He stopped his vehicle a few feet short of me, precariously close to a drainage ditch, lifted his cap from his head in a somewhat deft one-handed manuever, and said, "Howdy ma'am. My name is Jim-Bob."

Jim-Bob. Just like that.

Judy was back in Berkeley, sending me lexias from the Bay Area, from California, a place so familiar that it was part of my DNA, and I was responding to her from a setting that was nothing but strange. I was all at once thrilled and alienated. In a lexia I called "Fugue", I wrote:

     When I am in motion, the fugue state is its strongest.
      It descends when I'm on the back of the motorcycle,
      floating over the featureless landscape of East Texas,
      watching the shacks and brick houses spin by.
      Two teenage boys, dark-skinned and graceful,
      toss a football back and forth
      in front of a crooked weather-worn shotgun house with a broken porch.
      The boys are smiling big careless smiles,
      running and shouting at each other.

      It's so flat here that you can see into the future.

      Everyone and this includes me
      tilts toward the horizon, moving inexorably forward
      in their Chevy Suburbans and big blue Ford Broncos.
      California is an impossible past now,
      and I don't know what to answer when people ask me where I'm from.

      All this forward motion creates a strong vacuum.

It wasn't until we bridged the second distance, the span between Berkeley and Texas, creating the second half of the work that would ultimately become Eastgate's Forward Anywhere, that we began to see how the lexias had braided our lives together in a unified email narrative.

In the early days, when we described our project, Judy and I sometimes said, "Closure was never a goal of this piece." Now, fifteen years later, more than a decade after Xerox PARC's PAIR Program (the work's original sponsor) ended, at a time when the Web has become thoroughly ordinary and computer-mediated communication is a given (not a parlor trick), the tagline still rings true. A certain sense of mystery persists when I click forward to a lexia called full circle:

      Len and I sit shoulder-to-shoulder in front of his Macintosh,
      cruising the Web in a bedroom crowded with remains:
      a terrarium, iguana long departed from its hot rock;
      gro-lamps, artificially-nurtured plants long harvested;
      a highball glass of red wine.
      I never thought it would come to this,
      the two of us tweaking together at a computer.

      Signs of chaos from the adjoining bathroom
      grunts and curses that are almost sexual, but not quite.
      The boy emerges, his voice throaty and pleased.
      "I saved some for the morning," he announces,
      massaging my friend's shoulders.

      The link to Forward Anywhere is on the screen,
      highlighted and underlined in default blue;
      I put the starting page in his hotlist,
      but descend no further into the work.

      I too am worried about the repercussions of my words.
      In Texas, they are muffled; but here they're as noisy
      as the boy in the bathroom and about as subtle.

      Finally I click and together we stare at the six links,
      fragments of
Forward Anywhere.


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