Most people who know me well know my unwavering annoyance with internet chat culture, MySpace, email lingo, avatars, and the like. I know it’s irrational, but I am so peeved by the weight and obligatory nature of it all. I have never once, not even in jest (that I recall), until now, written: LOL, ROTFLMAO, BRB, sez, cuz-nor have I substituted numbers for letters, partaken in (((((((hugs))))))), forwarded a FWD, or anything of the sort.
It is somewhat of an ironic confession then, to admit I had a fixed and visible place in an infamous chat room. In December 1996, amazingly over a decade ago now, the online environment for me, like for many others, was a dazzling new playground. I remember the absolute epiphany of instant information-it was like being in a library on Mars. There were unlimited vegetarian recipes, information on making candles, incense, Polaroid transfers, online art galleries, academic sites and boards about dream symbols, Jung, Kafka, ghosts, UFOs-I could not get enough. I had a lot of free time too. I was in a very flat and faltering marriage, home all day with my son, an easy, happy toddler who took all manner of long naps. In short, I was bored, very bored.
Recently, I was searching for the Omni Magazine archives, and came across the amazing site, The Wayback Machine. Like a dare, there is an empty URL box, and an enter button, on which is written ‘take me back.’ I still have a bookmark for that long-defunct chat room, so I entered the URL, and whoa! In that one and only archived page of Farsight Open Chat, from July 6, 1997, at about 11:30 pm, there are exactly 10 posts, two of which are mine; I am ‘gal.’
It all began with finding famed writer and notorious abductee Whitley Strieber’s website; there I ventured into my first chat room. I chose as truthful and benign, ‘handle’ as I could think of, and that was ‘gal.’ The people behind the new-agey, love-and-light, genre-clichéd handles (angelwolf, ufobabe, greycloud, searcher, NeonKnight, spaceman, etc.) were eccentric yet authentic, and kind.
I positively cannot imagine engaging in such behavior now, but I continued to enter the chatroom daily. Strieber’s website soon closed down, and everyone moved to the chat room at Dr. Courtney Brown’s Remote Viewing website, Farsight Chat. There were omnipresent regulars, and others that were usually present. Although it was absolutely public, there were very few transient chatters. The group of regulars became somewhat of a strange entity, not familial, as was often said, but something enigmatic, and certainly dysfunctional. There was all manner of in-fighting, odd romances, jealousies, stalkings, threats, curious rivalries, and deception. One example: on his webpage, Jon Bro Wilkie (aka ‘spaceman’ at Farsight Chat) recounts the bizarre rivalry between he and “Tango”, which came to somewhat of a head with a minor incident on the late night Art bell radio program (now Coast to Coast AM with George Noory.)
Despite the dysfunction, that chat room was profoundly engaging, hilarious, and more than a bit addictive. It became a bit epic. Some of the chatters made plans to visit one another, in-person romances began, (eventually, some even got married and had children) and some of the chatters even died. On Letterman, there is that segment: Is This Anything? For me, being involved with the chat room was just like that-a constant evaluation of its authenticity, value, and my place therein. With a decade’s perspective on it now though, I have to say that despite my all reticence, it was something.
It stands to reason that because Farsight Chat was so entirely enigmatic and poignant (it came into being within the mid 1990’s, which was almost inarguably the final stage on which the modern standard UFO/alien mythos was formally knighted, and before there were bazillions of similar, worn-out, transient and interchangeable chat rooms) that it would ultimately receive some stamp of notoriety, albeit diminutive, ragged, and esoteric.
I was reading a book a few months ago, and was stunned to find a reference to the chatroom, and some of the participants. Jon Ronson’s wildly entertaining book, The Men who Stare at Goats contains a chapter or two outlining the Hale-Bopp ‘companion object’ fiasco. The person who ‘discovered’ the object and his girlfriend were occasional Farsight chatters. The ‘authentication’ of this Hale-Bopp companion by Courtney Brown, and his associate remote viewers, including Farsight webmaster Prudence Calabrese, aka “Pru”, as in fact, an alien spaceship of ginormous proportions, was initially hailed by Art Bell and it was subsequently the absolute King-UFO-Shit in the ufo online community. There was a bloody UFO following Hale-Bopp!
The buzz, anticipation, conspiracies, and utopian visions this Hale-Bopp event provoked were unprecedented. The atmosphere was bolstered by the Phoenix Lights, a consistent drone of FOX Network alien specials, and sadly, perhaps rather ultimately, the 39 suicides of Marshall Applewhite’s Heaven’s Gate cult, who apparently really believed that same comet-spaceship was coming. I recall that Farsight chat room being ominously quiet for hours, perhaps even a day or so after the news of the suicides, and someone finally posting “ROLL CALL!!”
My association with the chat room began to ebb, of course, as I came back to reality; I began working part time, then full time again, purchased a house, got divorced, etc. I had completely lost track of that group–Farsight Chat closed down sometime when I wasn’t looking-until I found a chat room someone set up for the ex-pat Farsighters. I stop in every now and then, rarely, if ever, posting– just for the strange comfort of seeing those familiar, quirky names, and all the happy sentimental postings that follow.
And being there is like smelling an old, forgotten perfume again; I can conjure precise waves of that time-aura, when I was entering my real adult, independent life; it seems somehow fitting and marvelous that there was a backdrop of stars and laughter and unrestrained, fanciful mysteries.