For Nikki

My high school classmates called me Dexter, not because of the glasses I wore, but because I spent a lot of time in front of the computer. I'd fire up FrontPage - remember that? - and do a terribly basic job at making web pages. Then again, I only had FrontPage. I didn't have photographs, or any sense of design, or frankly, any knowledge.

And yet I decided I wanted to be a web designer.

So I bought a handful of books on web design. There was this one book I eyed a lot at the Data Blitz store at the Alabang Town Center. It's this web design basics book: a bit on HTML; a bit on when to use GIFs and when to use JPEGs; a bit more on tapenade. I eyed it for months until I finally had the money to buy it. I flicked through it back and forth, and back and forth again, until I wore out the covers and I was compelled, belatedly, to have it covered with plastic.

I somehow wanted to be able to create a website. GeoCities was still alive then, and I was just discovering the Internet - this was the time when broadband connections weren't widely available, so after school I'd always make a bee line to the nearest Netopia branch, and spend an hour just browsing through websites while listening to what was then called Virgin Radio. It just seemed like a cool thing to do. I also wanted to do what Kince, a guy two years ahead of me, was able to do: make a simple website where he talks about who he is. Hi. This is me. That sort of thing.

"Why are all your links at the bottom of the page?" I once asked him in a very smartass-y way, in hindsight.

"So everyone will have to read through everything first!" he replied.

My fantasies of working as a web designer grew and grew. Suddenly I wanted a Mac for myself. (This was the time when Apple introduced the iMac with the movable neck, for lack of a better term.) I was buying a lot of computer magazines, daydreaming that one day, I'd be able to afford all of those, and use all of them for work. And I continued browsing. But I could not quite get started. I did not have any idea what I wanted to do on my website.

One day, I was watching Convergence, that tech show on Net 25. They happened to feature this website that won some Internet awards thing or something, a personal website, ran by this college student based in Quezon City, I think.

Hm, I thought. Something new to browse.

Her name is Nikki, and she ran this website. She had a host, her own subdomain, and she has a scanner. A scanner. I would kill for a scanner, I thought, albeit not in such an exaggerated form. I always thought of myself as a guy who's good at drawing; I did want to become an architect, after all, until I was confronted with mathematics. Also, the people I drew always had no necks. Just a circle for the head, and straight on to the torso. The newspapers I doodled when I was in elementary school - folded pieces of bond paper with half-fictional stories plopping my friends in some imaginary country - was full of those neckless people: in "photographs", in "advertisements", even in comic strips, invariably called Cool Dude for no reason other than it sounded so, well, cool.

Anyway, Nikki. She scanned all the drawings she did. They had necks, of course. They were simple doodles - crayon, if I remembered correctly. But 14-year-old me was amazed at it all. Not just at the drawings, no: it was the way the whole thing was built. Forgive me for sounding slightly geeky, but thumbnails. Tables. Navigation bars. I wish I had the time, I thought. But alas, I was a high school student, far too busy having crushes on people for no reason other than it sounded so, well, cool.

By then I already had an idea for that website I wanted to build. It was to be called Project Friends-Upper - I don't know why I called it that - and it was to have two colors, both varying (and web-safe) shades of powder blue. It would contain profiles of all the people I have met in school so far. A tall order, considering I don't have photographs of them on file, but it wasn't a problem as far as I was concerned. All I really had to do was fire up, again, FrontPage, and adjust the margins, and type everything.

Nikki's website also had a blog, and I thought that it would be a good idea for me to have one. So, one day, I created a Blogger account and started a blog. It was called the Upper Blog and it was made to document my progress in building that long-delayed website.

I never built that website.

I don't know why. I think I felt I never really had the chops for it. Or, actually, I never really had the tools for it. I could not understand PaintShop Pro. I could not have the patience to learn it, or to actually count the pixels down so I could make my website look exactly the way I wanted it. The mathematics caught up with me, so to speak. Around the same time, Robyn began to goad me to start a blog of my own: we were the writers in our class (although she was definitely better at the time) and I thought, well, it's a natural extension to my doodled newspapers.

So, on this day ten years ago, in another Netopia branch - this time at Festival Supermall - I revisited that blog, deleted the one entry that I wrote, and started typing whatever came to my head. And then I realized I had to go. The result: six sentences in three paragraphs, and the appearance of "hehe".

I assume you all know what happened since.

Two and a half years ago, I suddenly remembered Nikki. What happened to her website? I wondered. I, surprisingly, still remembered her URL, but I quickly learned was already dead. A Google search led to her own domain, which has not been updated for a while, something that she herself saw coming. Apparently she has moved to Singapore, and was working there, doing the very things she was doing when I was an innocent high schooler, or at least a variation of it.

This being 2012, a time when everybody is a Twitter mention away, I proceeded to do just that.

Today I rediscover @bottledsky, I began. I saw Convergence's bit on her site when I was 12, leading to seven years (and counting) of my blogging.

The following day, she replied. "Coolest thing I've read this week," she began. "You actually remember seeing that? Now I'm ashamed I let Tumblr kill my blog."

"Well, my memory was jogged after going through my old entries," I said. "It's likely on YouTube though. Everything is. Also, bah, Tumblr... but it's not like it's that dead, right? I still see a pulse..."

There I was, a 22-year-old. A lot has happened since then. And I was as giddy as a kid.

I never had heroes when I was a kid. I don't think I still have one now. It just felt too grand a concept. Heroes. Aren't those the people you read about in textbooks? You're supposed to admire them from afar, be in awe at the things they've done, the grand sacrifices and all that. It just did not appeal to me. I did look up to some people - Kince, again, he was a really cool guy, and I really wanted to be as assured as he was - but I never called them heroes. I never as much made a declaration that I looked up to them.

But, looking back now, I did have heroes. I did have people I wanted to emulate, more or less. Kince was one of them. Nikki was another.

There I was, talking to one of my heroes.

"A coma, maybe?" she replied. "I haven't had the heart to pull the plug. Who knows, maybe it'll make a miraculous recovery."

"You just need a push," I said. "It? I dunno. We all have those days. So I will push you. Push, Nikki! Push!"

"...and give birth to a really awkward blog post? You might be on to something!"

"Why not? I'll look forward to it. And maybe write about it, I don't know."

"Thanks for the pep talk."

"No worries."

I wanted to write about the conversation, but I just didn't have anything else to add. Also, I would look like a creeper, as if I'm not being a creeper now, recounting a conversation with a stranger from almost thirty months back. I had to recover this with Twitter's advanced search functions. See? Fine, yes. Creeper.

A few days ago I had that thought again, as I was looking at old blog entries, picking out the best one so I could tweet them out, one a day. So I went back and took a look. The plug's certainly been pulled, and she hasn't tweeted in months. You know Singapore, and how it swallows you.

When I started blogging, I told myself I will continue updating until I die. It is, obviously, an overly optimistic goal. Right now I'm juggling far too many things. I get sick more - my throat feels weird as I write this - and I've always had the urge to just curl up and sleep. I've daydreamed, many times, about just dropping it all and taking a break. But not the blog. No. This is my hobby. This is keeping me sane. But no. Nothing is sacred anymore. What if I just pull the plug on this one? Nobody's reading anyway, and evidently my opinions are getting in the way of me moving forward in this so-called real life thing.

And you know, maybe that's how this will all end up. Perhaps, one day, I will realize that I have nothing else to add, and I'll say goodbye to this orange (not blue) thing. Maybe by then I have my own office, and I'm thinking of far more things than I already am right now. Maybe I am raising a family, providing for a family. I don't know. But it will definitely happen. One day, I will say that I just don't have the time to keep up with a hobby. One day, I will pull the plug on this blog. That's just how things go.

But not today. Not for a while. I'm too stubborn for that. Still too stubborn for that.

Yes, we live in times where everybody can be reached with a Twitter mention, but I highly doubt Nikki will see me descend into nostalgic schmaltz - but, well, Nikki, if ever you're reading this, you do not know how you've changed my life. And yes, I know, it's nostalgic schmaltz, but ten years doing something, and realizing you've spent ten years doing something, makes you dewy-eyed. Or something. I would like to apologize for that. And I promise I will no longer be a creeper about this.

As for you, dear bloggie, happy tenth birthday.

And your responses...

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