It was the summer of 2003. We had two months until sophomore year. We had time.
I remember wanting to do many things that summer. Learning to use my dad’s SLR was one. I had borrowed a “book on photography” from the Tsuen Wan Library for that, a book I never read. And until junior year of college, I never picked up my dad’s camera, either.
My friends and I kept in touch constantly, consistently. MSN Messenger was our instant messaging programme of choice. “Johnalene_mae@hotmail.com” was my e-mail address. I tried logging in recently, to delete the account, but some man with a surname ‘Gonzales’ now uses it. I will never learn why.
And then there was Xanga. I do not remember what compelled me to sign up. I had a “website” registered on Geocities, then, under the name “Glitterized Glow,” which I redesigned constantly and occasionally filled in with a word or two on…my latest layout. Lissaexplains.com was of incredible help in those days, and so was Jennyspage.net, which lent out HTML codes for basic layout structures: head, css, body, div. It even taught me to image map.
But then came Xanga, a blogging platform. Apart from my own website, I thought, I could probably have a blog, too. Let’s use ‘evade’ for a username, I told myself. It wasn’t original; I had stumbled upon the word domain-hopping for a ‘host’. The website was called evade.org, and I thought it was a lovely word. Evade. Quickly consulting a dictionary, I discovered it meant ‘escape.’ Fine enough. The name was yet registered.
And then it was.
What did we write about? We wrote about a lot of things: what time we got up. What we had for breakfast. What was on TV. The latest episode of Smallville. That afternoon’s episode of Oprah. What I thought of Ashlee Simpson’s new single. How awesome a tub of M&M’s ice cream was. Oh, we wrote.
I wrote about the surprise 14th birthday party my best friends threw for me, and that post, I believe, is the reason I remember that day so clearly. That I threw on a white sleeveless t-shirt, printed with silver outlines of stars, on blue shorts before leaving the house to buy two bottles of Coke, and returned to a dimmed apartment with so many pairs of shoes on the floor. (Vans.) That I looked up to the sound of familiar giggles and a candlelit birthday cake in the hands of my mom, when some of my favourite people leaped — leaped! — out into my face. That as soon as I had blown out the candles, the fire alarm rang, and so we put on our shoes and stormed out and ran down the fire escape, all of us, at some point going through a light gray cloud of smoke, which, after it cleared, revealed a pair of black shoes (Vans) in the air, held up by one of my best friends who had apparently been running down the staircase in his socks. This was the same friend who, later at the ground floor, after putting his shoes back on, would observe one of our neighbours and exclaim, with incredulity, “If there was a fire in the building and you had to save one thing, it would be a Louis Vuitton bag?”
This, at least, he exclaimed to us.
I wrote about jogging up to the basketball court in front of Adventist Hospital, and trying to shoot some hoops. I wrote about joining the netball team at school after failing to make it to the girls’ basketball team. I wrote about netball, which I grew to love, and playing in positions Goal Attack (GA) and Wing Attack (WA). I wrote not about how we lost our games, but how we played against other schools.
I wrote about science lab, and forgetting to study for exams. I wrote about how we gossiped in Home Economics class. I wrote about running through a sleeping mall, Olympian City 2, and then through a bus terminal to get to school on time. I wrote about Secret Santas during Christmas.
I wrote about guitar lessons on Saturdays and how they were such a drag, and how I disliked our instructor. I wrote about winning plushies from machines in Nan Fung after school. I wrote about Meg Cabot’s All-American Girl, which I thought then was one of “the best books I’d ever read.”
I wrote about a book called Rachel’s Tears, a book on Columbine victim Rachel Joy Scott and how she was my hero. I wrote about a family worship service led by Cathy and Brendan Clancy called Arise!, during which I accepted Jesus as my saviour. I wrote about God.
I wrote about moving, and about taking tutoring lessons for chemistry and Filipino, and how high school in the Philippines was incredibly jam-packed with activities outside the classroom, compared to high school in Hong Kong which, for the most part, locked you in the classroom. I wrote about how things were great and left out anything about anxiety attacks.
And then I wrote about learning to play tennis. I wanted to be like Maria Sharapova who, at the time, was my new hero. I left out anything about quitting a month in, though, due to wrist pain. It was the last summer vacation I remember having; the last summer vacation I wrote about on Xanga.
It was a way to keep in touch. We read each other’s posts and, whether in a comment, on MSN or in person, we would respond to what the other had said. It was like a great, big, ongoing conversation, with multiple tabs of exchanging thought and small opinions. After my hardbound, red-spined notebooks, Xanga was a place I enjoyed writing in. There, somebody read.
At some point during that span of time, my best friends and I decided to get ourselves a Livejournal account as well, because of the community features it offered. It was fun – it was still writing – but even then, I continued to maintain my blog on Xanga. Even after we stopped writing on Livejournal, after we sent fewer and fewer e-mail replies. After communication lessened, and ceased to gracious pockets of time. I felt that, even if we barely kept in touch, Xanga was the place my friends could visit to keep tabs on me. Hey guys, I told them in my subconscious. I’m doing alright here. And I miss you!
I miss you all.
It is the summer of 2013. There is Facebook for those who want to keep in touch on a base level, and e-mail for more thorough exchanges. (Gmail is our e-mail provider of choice.) There is WhatsApp for ongoing conversations; for multiple threads exchanging thought and opinions.
After Xanga, I moved to Blogspot. For a while I was on Tumblr. And then I got a dot-com. Funnily though, I have been writing retrospectives and recollections; backwards instead of forward, and never of the present. I wonder why that is? Is this to address those who might say, oh yes, I remember that! Or to address those who might say, I did not know that about you! I am not sure. Perhaps finding out is what this season is for.
Until then, I’ll write as Kathleen Kelly writes, that is, to a void. To strangers who, as a friend and former blogger once put it, will take anything you say at face value without a history or background to judge it against – and if there is so one, it is the rose-tinted lens of your memory.
Letting you throw it all out there. And hope that, even if nobody is keeping tabs on your per se, your words might still find their echo, the sound of which to remind you that you are not alone.
If a word is printed and there is no one there to read it, would I panic at my own non-existence or marvel in bliss over my nothingness? – to rephrase Andrea Gibson. I’m not sure, but I like the idea of marvelling over words that might render double negatives into something positive. Does that make sense? A nothing still occupies space, doesn’t it?
Or better yet: does it matter?
It has been a decade and I am on Xanga no longer, and while places have changed and changed people along with them, there remains the compulsion to stay connected, to keep in touch, to tell your friends hey! in your subconscious: I’m doing alright here.
And I miss you!
I miss you all.