A Chatroom
is Worth
a Thousand Words




Jason Lewis

Jason Lewis’s first room consists of a map. I love maps, yet I am surprised to see one here in the Palace, a chatspace where most people expect to see something that looks like a room, a landscape, or some other representation of three-dimensions.

A thought balloon appears, containing a pensive message:

"somewhere in here is a story..."
A moment later, another finishes the sentence: "...but I’m not sure yet what it is"

The balloon’s "tail" is coming from a very specific point on the map: Downieville, the tiny town (population 350) in the Sierra Nevadas where Jason grew up.

There is something funny about this map. It looks perfectly respectable, yet, isn’t Boulder in Colorado? Is there a Honolulu in California? I know that there is a Paris in Texas, but my knowlege of the state’s geography isn’t that bad. This is a map of Jason’s life. A tracing of what has been and what might have been, as well as a ranking of sorts. That’s why Downieville, which would be a pinpoint on any other map, is shown here the size of a capital city.

Jason was an Indian baby adopted when he was six months old by a White family who very much wanted him. As the story goes, his older sisters-to-be saw him in a local newspaper, in the "adoption classifieds" and told their parents that he was the one. His birth mother told the adoption agency that he was half-Cherokee, quarter-Native Hawaiian and quarter-Samoan and that he was born in Sacremento.

As I follow the roads on the map, eyes reading from left to right, I see the almost hidden note on the edge of the map: "the future is over here". It is the only clickable spot on the map.

The next room is full of text. And again, as I look more closely, I find something amiss: I don’t recognize the characters. It’s not just a strange font, it’s a completely unknown language. It’s Cherokee, one of the first Native American languages to adopt an alphabet. In the center is a Biblical passage -- I recognize this by its form alone. There is an ironical comment here: that the first use of the Cherokee language would be to translate a book that has become the symbol of the decimation of Native culture in post-colonial times. But there is a personal note as well. Jason’s dad reads the bible. Did his biological parents do the same? Did they read Cherokee? Speak it? Another message displays:

"somewhere in here..."
"...is meaning."

I click again. Another room, different still from the others. A figure filled with words that I do understand, though the sentences get cut off. It stands in a room like a hallway --or perhaps this is a very rough map-- which points you to an eye. Jason’s eye. The words that come out of the figure this time:

"somewhere inside..."

"...is the right language."

And I remember that Jason is a poet first. He uses thought balloons, not speech balloons, because he hasn’t let the words out yet. I click on the dark brown eye.

A web page opens, and there he is, his whole face, except for one corner. A piece of the picture is missing, and I realize that he has created a Flash version of one of those puzzles where you slide the squares around to form a picture. There are nine equal spaces, but only eight "tiles". As I slide the first tile to the adjacent empty spot, two things happen. First, the image in the tile begins to change. Before it is in place, I have caught glimpses of an aerial view of Downeyville, a baby picture and a nighttime scene of Berlin, each in one-ninth portions. Second, as the tile is moved, it reveals a line of poetry in the newly empty space. It doesn’t matter which picture you try to recompose, the story remains intact.

Click on a name below
to read more

Marilyn Burgess

Jason Lewis

Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew

Michelle Nahanee

Travis Neel


Sheila Urbanoski

Trevor Van Weeren