Monday, August 01, 2005

OB...The Original Blogster

When I was 20 I decided to leave college. It was a classic case of leaping before looking. I was three years into my intended five years at the University of California Berkeley and well on my way towards a Conservation & Resource Studies degree, a study for which I had an idealistic interest but no real conviction. I was also spending more of my time playing soccer and partying than actually studying. So I decided it was time to hit the brakes on my education before it all blithely passed me by and I was left wishing I’d made at least one trip to the academic adviser’s office.

When I left school, I did the most natural and obvious thing I could think of - I traveled around Europe before moving back home for the summer. At the summer’s end, I was unable to face the humiliation of staying in my small town while all my peers returned to their respective universities. So I decided to tag along with my good friends Chum and Dak who were attending school at the University of Oregon in Eugene.

During the fall of 1993, while Chum and Dak were dutifully attending courses, I was left to meander about the grey and depressing town that is home to the Fighting Ducks, the Oregon Country Fair, the state’s largest annual rainfall, and the world’s largest collection Petuli Oil wearers per capita.

At this time, grunge was nearing its peak but Chum and Dak’s bleeding edge taste in music made sure our apartment was not limited to the tunes of the times. The soundtrack of our lives was a flowing mix of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, G. Love, Everything But the Girl, Jeff Buckley, Smashing Pumkins, Lemonheads, Radiohead, Public Enemy, Built to Spill, Pavement, Elliot Smith along with a host of obscure bands that I’m sure my roommates remember but I don’t.

While living with my best friends and having little, if any, responsibility should have been the time of my life; it was instead, a strange and often perplexing period. Both of my roommates were in the midst of painful breakups while I was in the often equally frightening process of realizing I was falling in love for the first time with a girl who was living on the other side of the country.

My days, although free, left ample time to ponder things like - What the hell am I going to do with my life? What on earth do I have to offer this smart and far more independent girl with whom I’m smitten? Why don’t I have as sophisticated taste in music as my friends? What’s that smell coming from the bedroom? All the usual existential stuff.

It was during this time of trying to find anything to take my mind off of everything that I discovered a group of high school students who had turned our apartment courtyard into their before, after and during school hangout.

At first glance, these were the typical alternative kids found at any high school across America – a collection of black-clad, multi-pierced, smokers who looked unapproachable even with a ten-foot wizard staff.

For various reasons, being a non-smoker for one, I seldom mingled with these sorts of students when I was in high school. However, soon after high school ended and when the walls of clicks and social groups came tumbling down, I quickly learned that most of the interesting and creative people who attended my school were of this ilk.

Compelled by boredom and a pathetic need to make up for my idiotic high school social prejudices, I decided to get to know this group of kids outside my door.

Because I didn’t have the balls to step out of my apartment wearing only a bathrobe and barge into their fortress of smoke and attitude with a pitcher of lemonade and say, “Hey youngsters, how’s about a little refreshing beverage and a chat?” I decided to come up with a much more passive and what I hoped to be cooler method of approach.

My approach was to get up early one morning - before the pre-first period smoke - and place a simple cardboard box where the majority of students seemed to gather. Inside the box was a piece of paper, a notebook, and a couple of pens. On the piece of paper I had written down a quote from a Tom Robbins book I was reading at the time followed by a simple request for them to comment on what they thought of the quote and any other ideas they had about life, poetry, art, religion, school or other.

To my surprise, that evening when I went to fetch the box, I discovered a pile of papers inside. At first I thought the students had just decided to save themselves the walk across the street to the trash bin and dumped all their unwanted school print-outs into my box. But upon further examination, I realized that these were hand written pages.

I quickly took the box back to my apartment and began going over each page meticulously. I was amazed at what I found - real, honest responses to the questions I had posed. In addition to the responses, there were original poetry samples, drawings, and short stories. After my initial shock of actually finding responses, I was surprised by the openness and eloquence of the content on the pages. There were thoughts that I remembered having while in high school and questions that shuttered in my mind but that I never could articulate or, God forbid, share with anyone else, especially not an anonymous stranger.

For the next week, I continued to get up early and leave the box outside with a new set of quotes or ideas to ponder along with specific questions or comments about what the kids left inside.

The students had cleverly given themselves alias to disguise their true identities, most probably for fear that this was a ploy by one of their teachers. Unfortunately, I can no longer recall the names or even the specifics of the content left in the box. However, as an example of the level of activity, I do remember one particular kid, who called him or herself The Nile, who left nearly fifty pages of poetry during the first week, decent poetry too.

After a week and a half of activity the box mysteriously disappeared. I simply assumed the students got bored or someone just nicked it. But a few days later I found a note where the box used to be, it was a letter from one of the students saying that the cops had taken the box because they thought it was being used to exchange drugs and asking if I could get another box.

I don’t know why I didn’t get a new box but I didn’t. And now, nearly 15 years later and just a few days into my first blog, I realize that we were on to something back then. The students and I had discovered the need and power of an anonymous creative community. Ours of course was about as non-technical as they come but it was still a place where people could share ideas and thoughts, get a few comments, and wake up the next day feeling a little better knowing we had expressed ourselves.

Now if I had the slightest ounce of foresight or a hint of Steve Jobs entrepreneurial intuition, I’m sure I would have found a way to not only continuing my little box dialog with the student but to turn it into one of the first Blog sites ever, hell, I could have even named it Blogger. And then, instead of updating my Blog within the confines of my grey corporate cubicle, I could be typing away on the veranda of my island villa while some man-servant waxes down my surf board and politely asks me if I’d like to ride the fish or the gun today. To which I would reply, “It looks a bit of small today Stanley, I think I’ll take the longboard for a spin. Have you pressed my Speedo?”

But, alas, I have no entrepreneurial gene in my body, in fact, I couldn’t even tell you how or if these fine folks at Blogger make ends-meat. But then again, milking it for everything it’s worth wouldn’t really be in the spirit of things now would it.

Comment Starter:
Why Blog…


Blogger Chum said...

Being a relative rookie to the blog world, I'd say that I do it because I consider my life to be worthy of a few words lately. I had something silly happen to me today that someone commented was "character building." In a way, the last year of my life has been so character building (from surf adventures to cancer misadventures) that I've felt like the protagonist of some existential book. The only way for me to keep track of it was to start writing things down, focusing on the central theme of surfing, of course, but noticing in it metaphors that reflect the challenges of life.

It is important to note that people would write blogs even if they were never published or nobody else read them. At least I do.

It is perhaps more important to note that the smell in our apartment in Eugene was one of two things: A misplaced "nipple" (one of your sprite bottles filled with warm milk and sugar that had curdled) or a dead cat they found under the bedroom (most likely caused by my habit of pouring turpentine into our compost pile outside). Or maybe it was a combination of both.

12:48 AM  
Blogger OS said...

Very good point. People would write blogs even if they were never published or read. As would people paint, sing, or dance. The sure level of content I received from these kids clearly indicated that they were busy creating long before there was a box to dump it into. I suppose, like you suggest, it's all part of the process of processing.

You'll be happy to know that I'm off the least that particular kind.

2:39 AM  

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