Wednesday, December 27, 2006

New Wave

When I was the print adviser at the university, I worked with students who published the campus print media. Every year I met inspired young people who were simply compelled to produce newspapers, alternative press, poetry journals. They were incredibly bright, energetic, wild people. I felt lucky to work with them. Every summer a handful of these students stayed in town and committed themselves to putting together the back-to-school issue of the campus student-newspaper of record. They produced a high-gloss cover with an 80 page newsprint compilation of things that might be of interest to new and returning students. Often I was the only adult on the premises, so I became their confidant, their parent, their nurse. It's just the way it was.
One summer there was a shy student who was wearing two hats -- he had agreed to draw the cover art, and to manage the press production. Having one of those jobs is a lot of work, but two was really overwhelming. I watched him struggle with deadlines and the indifference of his production team. He was a bit awkward, not comfortable in his role, or even in his own body. Just that kind of kid. He would often come in and talk to me. I would have to remind him over and over to work on the cover art. It was my job to do that. He understood. We spent many a day together at the Press Center.

One afternoon he arrived in my office carrying a skateboard. It was the first time I'd ever seen him with one. He was very upset and stood there, pale and shaking. He told me he had taken his skateboard up to the top of campus and tried to ride it down to the Press Center. On his maiden voyage he had chosen the toughest hill on campus, fallen and slid all the way down on his side. He lifted his shirt and showed me some fierce lacerations and bruises. He had really injured himself, but instead of going straight to the Health Center, which he had walked past, he came to the Press Center. I sensed that he might have been in a state of shock. I went to get the First Aid kit, but realized that he really needed much more care than I could give him. So, I offered to drive him to Health Center. It was a bit of walk to where my car was parked. While we walked, he was in agony. He finally said that his pants were rubbing against other wounds and asked if it would be okay if he took his pants off. I said, "Of course, take them off, I don't mind. Do what you have to do, please." He did. So, there we were, walking down one of the campus sidewalks, a bloody student in his boxer shorts, and me talking calmly beside him. We must have been quite a sight. I took him to the clinic and they took him in immediately. He was pretty banged up and out of commission for a few days. When he finally made it back to the Press Center, he had his cover art drawing. It was a cartoonish, geeky guy surfing big ocean waves while reading a book. A nice image for a campus situated in a surf town, drawn by a young man who was trying to straddle those worlds.
I thought of that cover the other evening after Roger and I had been talking about about the times in which we live. I think we're all riding waves, but I'm not sure we can identify the wave we're on, or its origin. I don't know if there are any organic waves anymore, ones that arise out of the soil of imagination and then wash over the world-- a new idea, a new way of seeing. We live in a time where those kinds of waves have a hard time competing with the mass media, mass-produced wave machines. Little waves ripple in small circles like pebbles dropped on a pond, but most don't make their way to sea. I don't even know if it makes sense to say it, but sometimes I feel like we live in a time without waves. Britney Spears is generated by a wave machine, so is George Bush. Who isn't? I can hardly feel the organic pulse of movements anymore. What marks our time here now? Is blogging a movement? Was Time Magazine right, are we really the People of the Year? Can a few lines typed into into the ethers be a Magna Carta? a Declaration of Independence? a Guernica? Can a new wave arise and change the world, or have we stepped into a time without wave?

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