Cyberlinking in the Cucoon
Terri Lee Grell

Contrary to popular opinion and due to several strokes of luck, I am not dead yet, just slow in coming out of hibernation after a long cold winter. Here in the Pacific Northwest we tend to hibernate most of the year and only come out when it's not dark and stormy outside, which is practically never. Count me among the Northwest writers who will admit it: I love the rain, the dark, the gloom here, because I love not having to explain why I don't want to go outside, don't want to "catch some rays," don't want to take off my favorite sweatpants and sweatshirt and warm wooly socks while I pluck away at the keyboard, locked in my cave, maybe talking on the telephone once in awhile, to call Pizza Man (he delivers), and the less sunny days outside the less excuses I have to make for cucooning.

I was so relieved when I found that term in the newspaper: "Cucooning. " It's supposed to be the "thing" of the 1990s, which I'm glad to hear because it gives me one more excuse: "am sorry, I can't come out and play today, I'm cucooning." What does it mean? Well, for us dreary and cynical Northwest writers it means we finally have a word for what we've been doing all along, but for the rest of the popular culture it means "staying home a lot and playing with your electronic toys." Yes, folks, I am alive and well but in a virtual sort of way, virtually alive (the Pizza Man can vouch for me) and virtually well, cyberlinking daily with strange people all over the world who fill my computer screen with the sound of cucooning (a sort of beep beep BEEP beep sound, depending on what sort of modem you have.)

I used to run this here Lynx operation, after Tundra Wind but before the Reichholds, but I was so much older then, I'm way older than that now. I used to think that nobody in the whole world was linking poetry, prose, rants and graffiti together as renga except us Lynx cadets (and, of course, those self-inflating others who are still trying to fish themselves out of the frogpond.) Once I checked into cyberspace, I found out something shocking: We are out-numbered! Renga and other linking forms are alive and well in cyberspace and boy do they kick our butts prolific!! Let me explain....

My first excursion into cyberspace was through a network called The WELL (Whole Earth Electronic Link) based in San Francisco and available by subscription to just about everybody in the friggin' universe. The WELL has several forums to choose from, one of them being the "Poetry" forum, and inside this forum are several sub-topics devoted to various poetry forms, including renga. Now, in this sub-topic "renga" are linked verse that have been going on practically since the beginning of time. If you printed them out, they would be, oh, say, 40 miles long by now. The just keep going and going and going, sort of like the little bunny. And there are hundreds of people linking from all over the world. Just like that: beep beep BEEP beep and the screen is alive with the sound of renga. It's an addicting behavior. It is nearly impossible not to log in daily to see how somebody else - maybe somebody in Japan? somebody in Iowa? somebody in prison? responded to your links. And somebody always does. They may not be great linker or even good links whereas then you can leave a message for the linker such as: "Excuse me but what the HELL are you talkin' about here?" And then you have great cyber-brawls on the side, over the validity or redundancy or hilarity of a link, and it gets to be way too much fun, so you end up never leaving your home. Pizza Man loves us.

Linked forms are not just occurring in "poetry" forums on networks. It turns out that the whole foundation of cyberspace is based on linking. Any one of you who has participated in an online "chat" such as Compuserve's "CB Simulator" or America Online or whatever, knows what I mean. On Compuserve, 40 people will crowd into a "room" and race to type lines in answer to other lines before all the lines scroll out of the range of the screen. It's like a rengarama free-for-all cumin' at ya faster than you can say SPLASH (which is one of the ways I like to announce my entrance into the free-for-all-kerploosh! the sound of cyberwater!) Not that everything on a chat channel is poetry, but if you know your renga, you would see as clearly as I do that what's happening in cyberspace is something that would make Basho proud. People are linking as fast they can without thinking about it too much. And what often comes out is poetry that is not intended poetry, which, of course, is the best poetry there is. I wish I could publish here some of the series of lines that have occurred spontaneously in a network chat-stuff that often makes me sit back in my chair and take my hands off the keyboard and just watch, in wonder and awe. But cyberpeople are very possessive of their momentary bursts of insight. And they are also stubborn on the notion that cyberspace is cyberspace and print is print and ne'er the twain shall meet. If you want to read cyberlinks, then you have to become a computer nerd like the rest of us. No print nerds allowed.

Another wondrous thing about cyberlinking is that you get instant feedback. I spend several hours a day writing prose, poetry and whatnot, and then, like all starving writers, I get this tremendous feeling of letdown because I don't really know where I've been, or what I am doing, or if I should just quit this particular form of self-torture and become an Amway distributor. And so I log onto a network and find a "room" and type in something like:

- Hey yall! What ya think of this haiku? "The old pond / frog jumps in/the sound of water." and then I need only to hit "Enter" and wait about three seconds and the screen might look like this:

- huh? frogs? are there frogs here?

- I dissected a frog once. It was an awful experience for me.

- didn't Bob Dylan write that?

- Basho, dweeb, it was Basho.

- who you callin a dweeb? who you callin a Basho?

- I think he really said "splash" or something like that..

- what makes the pond old? why do frogs jump? have I done my laundry yet?

- be right back... all this talk of water is making me have to go wee-wee...

- I think you can cut out the "sound" of part and just say "water." that would be cool.

- thinking of dissecting that frog is making me hungry...oh no, there goes my diet!

- reminds me of another haiku... just a minute, Gotta go to my bookcase...

And then another haiku scrolls by and then some more commentary and then another and then, finally, people start thinking up their own haiku and then other people respond off the haiku and OILA - this is usually when I just sit back and let the enlightening cyber-renga send me into wonder and awe.

I wish I could show you some of the cyber-renga I'm talking about but that's the glitch about cyberspace: it' s a restricted environment, it's not only illegal but just plain rude to publish the stuff that comes up on the network. You have to subscribe, which means, yes, I'm going to say it, so all of you with cyber-phobia plug your ears now, you have to BUY A COMPUTER AND MODEM AND TURN THEM ON AND MAKE THEM YOUR FRIENDS. I know it's tough.

But here's a tip: first buy yourself some nifty sweatpants and a sweat shirt and some wooly socks, close all the curtains in your abode and pretend it's raining outside and you have nothing better to do. Turn on the computer and modem. Call Pizza Man. Enter cyberspace at your own risk. And when Jane Reichhold starts sending you postal mail that says stuff like: "Where in the HELL are you? Are you ALIVE? Did you LEAVE the COUNTRY?" - that's a sign that maybe you ought to turn the computer off for a little while and see if your cat is still alive.

Sincerely cucooning, Terri Lee Grell

Copyright © Terri Lee Grell 1999.

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