At some point in the late nineteen-nineties, Randy Adams turned up at the O’Reilly WebBoard which then housed the trAce Online Writing Community. At that time trAce had about 5,000 members around the world, of which probably around 500 congregated regularly in our online discussion board whilst a dozen or so attended regular Sunday night live chats. As I remember it (and I may have it wrong), Randy arrived late one Friday night with a bunch of poets who had previously gathered at the Atlantic Monthly Webboard until it was suddenly closed down by the magazine. Cast out into the wilds of cyberspace, they immediately went in search of another WebBoard, found us, and moved in without so much as a by-your-leave. This, of course, was well before Facebook, and decent community software was hard to find. O’Reilly was the best of a pretty clunky bunch, and we’d invested a fair amount of our Arts Council grant into it. It was, after all, trAce’s most valuable real estate. It was where we lived.
Anyway, the poets invaded us somewhat clumsily with the result that the normally mild-mannered trAce members rose up and fought them off quite vigorously. After a short pitched battle lasting a couple of weeks the poets gave up and went off in search of somewhere else to settle, but Randy stayed on and apologised for the disruption. He never really left, and in the years that followed he became a vital member of the trAce team. He would stay with us to the end – 2005, when trAce was finally closed and archived. And now Randy himself has reached the end. He died on 25th April 2014 in a hospice in Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, Canada. He had been diagnosed with colon cancer just a year before.
During the years we worked together at trAce, and afterwards, he came to be one of my best friends. When he emailed almost exactly a year ago to share his awful news – “Hi Sue, It’s time to tell you what’s up with me” – it was hard to believe he was so ill. By then we’d known each other for around 15 years, always celebrating birthdays (I’m just a few months older than him), and talking when we got the chance. Our friendship began in cyberspace, developed in real space as we travelled between Canada and the UK, and reverted back to cyberspace again when our lifestyles changed. A couple of Skypes a year were enough to maintain the close and honest camaraderie we’d always enjoyed.
So what can I tell you about Randy? He gives his own account here but for me he was such a complicated and mysterious character that it would take dozens of blog posts to even begin, and I’m sure there are many things I will never know. But I can say that he was a big man, tall and bearded with long grey hair that ran down his back in a plait, and an imposing presence you couldn’t ignore. He could be extremely calm and quiet, or very noisy and opinionated. His smoky gruff laugh would tear through any conversation. He usually said what he thought and he could also be pretty grumpy, as I learned in the early days of trAce when he tore me off a strip or two if things weren’t running smoothly. But he was devoted to our eccentric organisation and wanted it to work as well as it possibly could, which was why he had no hesitation in letting me know when he thought things were going awry. For years he was indispensable – first a community facilitator, then an editor, and finally an archivist. Under his steady hand from 2002-6 we published a long series of articles and interviews, many written by Randy himself, which serve as an important record of the early development of new media writing. The trAce Archive at Nottingham Trent University, which houses as much of the website as we could possibly squeeze in, was built in 2005 by Randy with the help of Helen Whitehead and Simon Mills. In order to do this, he taught himself how to code the whole thing, and it still works today.
But most importantly, Randy was an artist. At his 1999-2005 online studio at trAce you can still explore the projects, writings, photography, and new media he created during that period. He made his own stuff but he was also a supreme collaborator. Randy was always passionate about all kinds of people and he loved photographing them, the more unusual and eccentric, the better. I especially like his gallery of portraits, where he wrote “I live with one camera eye trained on faces, speaking to everyone I photograph, sometimes long conversations”.
Perhaps one of the most significant aspects of Randy’s personality was that he had no interest in fame or fortune. Although he was clearly hugely talented, he rarely tried to sell his work or make money from it in other ways. I don’t think he lacked confidence. He simply didn’t care about making a name for himself, although he would happily work hard to help other artists. His Remix work stands testament to the many people he published and collaborated with just for the sheer love of it.
There is a great deal to remember and enjoy about my long friendship with Randy but here are three special moments:
- When he came to the UK for a trAce Incubation conference I drove him to the Iron Age hill fort at Burrough Hill where we sat on the grass, high up on the ramparts, to talk and gaze across the flattening countryside stretching out below. He remarked that I always took him to wild country places when he visited England, as if I thought that was where he belonged. It’s true. He was right. I did kind of think that.
In 2003, I stayed with him and his wife JoAnn at their house in Nanaimo, a couple of streets from the beach on Vancouver Island, at the far west of Canada. Randy showed me his routine of taking a mug of coffee to the stony beach a couple of streets from his home. We drank it whilst sitting on washed-up logs which had floated in from Vancouver Bay. That visit he also took me to Cathedral Forest, an amazing wonderland of ancient trees. (see image above). So, actually, he took me to wild places too :)
- On Skype, more recently. He’s wearing a black hat and when he turns I see he still has the pigtail. He tells me how much he enjoys sitting by the window and watching the birds in his garden. He looks gaunt, but his voice is the same and when he slips into a forceful cussing rant about this or that he sounds like Randy as usual. We laugh about stuff. We don’t say it, but we both know this may be the last time we’ll talk. As it turned out, it was.
I’ll miss you, Randy. I guess now we’ll just stay friends in cyberspace like we always were anyway.
Postscript from Randy’s trAce studio journal, 10 November 2004.
“Paul Valery said that a poem is the development of an exclamation. Octavio Paz said that reduced to its simplest and most essential form the poem is a song. I wanted to write something very poetic for my last journal entry – instead, an emphatic sigh.” Click here and mouse over the image to hear it. Then smile.
From JoAnn Adams
Randall Paul Adams (Randy) age 62, born September 27, 1951 passed away peacefully in Nanaimo with his wife JoAnn by his side on April 25, 2014. A celebration of life is being held on Sunday, May 11/2014 at the Kin Hut in Departure Bay 12:00 – 5:00 We would like to thank the nurses, doctors and volunteers at the Nanaimo Palliative Care Unit for their kindness and care for Randy and his family. We would like any donations made to the Nanaimo Hospice Society in lieu of flowers.