The Nameless, Faceless Abyss

Hula's photos on exhibition with others at The Impossible Project

I remember years ago, before I was online, teasing my husband (a computer guy) about the "imaginary friends" from his IRC channel (this was before chat rooms). I knew they were real people, out there, somewhere, but even though he knew those guys for years and felt close to them, when he referred to them by screenname in casual conversation it just lacked the weight of reality for me.

And then when I started writing in this space (circa 2005), it was really a subversive act for me. The code I lived under then was a lot like: Be [nearly] invisible and make us look good. There were things I wanted to say I didn't believe in anymore in regard to groups we were involved in, but there was no one to tell and it wasn't good to get caught trying. Then there were many things I didn't believe anymore. The nameless, faceless abyss of the internet was for me then a place I could send what thoughts I could eek out--out of my head, into the ether.

I saved my most personal stories for the stage. For many people, THIS would be their idea of a nameless, faceless abyss--but not me. I may not be able to tell you on any given night who is in those rooms, but I can tell you who isn't, and sometimes that's just as important.

But here in this space, it's been hard to keep ahold of my sense of who is in the room. The nameless, faceless abyss is not so helpful when you stop hiding and start hoping that someone is listening. Hoping that when you choose courage, it matters, and that the "mattering" will counterbalance what it costs you.

When I got the idea for the new 2012 Catalog, it was such a strong intuitive hit that I felt compelled to protect it from my reason. I wouldn't even calculate the cost of it, or give that reason-voice any ammunition to shoot the idea down. I couldn't even tell you why I thought it was important--I just kept insisting that it was, and that we wouldn't understand why until later.

And then requests came in, and I started handwriting each address, and I felt some place inside of me exhaling. I wasn't in here alone. And with every house number and street name, you--my "imaginary" companions--crossed some threshold in my consciousness and I could start holding the reality of you. You have names like Mallory and Deanna and Pen. You live on streets with names like Foster Avenue and Sycamore Square Drive. I imagined the catalog showing up at the post office in towns called Granite Canyon, Wyoming, or Wilmington, Delaware, and also making its way across oceans to India, the Netherlands, throughout Europe and Australia and New Zealand.

I had no idea how much I needed to know at least a fraction of who is in this room (and that anyone is here at all). Maybe we all need these reminders of one another's reality and humanity, these moments when we pause to imagine whole lives unfolding behind every avatar and screenname. I'm seeking more of these personal connections all the time, and I'm so thankful when you reach out and say: you're here. We're together. And it all matters.

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Yes, he's funny. But the side of Andy Ross I love most is when he's thoughtful and true, as he was in our latest conversation for Retrospective. You can listen here, or in iTunes. Andy is a comedian, writer, storyteller and the host of New York's popular live show, Real Characters. He is also the World's Greatest Wedding Dancer.