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Mabe's Creative Journey

Published October 14, 2009

There is something to be said about my parent's ingenuity, they did a good job naming me. There are only a couple of other people online that share my first name. I have been "blogging" since before the term existed and nowadays my first name is also a domain name.

The term "weblog" was coined by Jorn Barger on 17 December 1997. The short form, "blog," was coined by Peter Merholz, who jokingly broke the word weblog into the phrase "we blog" in the sidebar of his blog Peterme.com in April or May 1999. I have been keeping an online journal since 1996.

I know, I'm over the hill, I've got the scars to prove it. Some would say old skool from the days when having a PC meant you had to build it and then write your own drivers. Even now I smile every time I hear a modem screech. I taught myself everything I know about computers and technology. The first computer I ever laid eyes on was an Apple IIe. I was dazzled by hours spent programming lines and lines of code just so I could see a flashlight flash once or twice on screen using LOGO. It was love at first sight.

I grew up in the back woods of rural Cuba running around half naked or riding bareback on a horse. We had three TV channels all of which were jam packed with black and white propaganda and Russian claymation. We planted all of our food, milked cows and eating meat meant you had to kill the animal with your bare hands. It was an idyllic existence for the most part thanks to my parents who did their best to insulate me from the brain-washing clutches of communism. "You are an individual," was drilled into my brain at a very early age by a concerned father who was hell bent on escaping the system. The last thing he needed was his little girl becoming "a daughter of the revolution."

I grew up without the buzzing influx of American pop culture. My only exposure came during weekends when my dad would take me to see a movie in Habana or when the weather cooperated to bring us glimpses of the Incredible Hulk on our scratchy television. I didn't listen to radio or music, I grew up in a void. Instead my head was filled with the valorous tales of the Olympian gods, tales of imps and witches, fantasy and science fiction. My dad spent hours reading to me and telling me stories, camping, pointing out stars, teaching me how to bike, skate, play baseball and cliff dive. I was a total tom boy. All of my cousins were male and my dad raised me to compete, to thrive, to know deep down I could be the best. This was invaluable.

My imagination flourished. I didn't need fancy toys and all the expensive things kids grow up with. I didn't have toys growing up I had to craft them and find ways of entertaining myself. We made bows and arrows, darts, traps. I would run around in the orchards imagining I could talk to the plants. I think I still can. I never played with dolls, never had the urge to play house or be a "mommy." I was a wild creature, a warrior galloping on her horse. I'd pick wild flowers and swim in the river. I was free.

As the process to leave Cuba ramped up my idyllic world was turned upside down as a dark wave of stress washed over all of our interactions. I spent time in a concentration camp (Mariel) waiting for a boat that never came. I got terribly sick. I will never forget the stench as crowded bathrooms overflowed to the lawn, as people clamored to pack the boats that would leave to Florida. I was half awake. My father was desperate and in the end he was told he could not take me. If he wanted to go he'd have to leave me behind, I was the daughter of the revolution. Dismayed we returned home. I was glad.

Eventually (and this is a long story perhaps for another day) we got visas. The military flooded our house and took all of our belongings. We were humiliated and called worms for leaving la patria (the motherland). I remember distinctly the day the car rolled out of our farm, the look of fear and pain in my grandmother's face. My grandparents were left behind.

We landed in the US on January 22, 1984 during a terrible blizzard. I was nine. In two hours my life, the life I had known, was changed forever. I didn't know the language, had no friends and was relegated to a tiny room. I had effectively lost my freedom. I didn't realize then that I had gained freedom too, I missed my home, the verdant fields, the sunny climes, the ocean.

I wore hand me down clothing. I was a stranger in a strange land. A circle in a square world of rules and regulations, crime, rudeness. Everyone in school called me names and I couldn't defend myself. I became angry, depressed. My dad was working three jobs and he barely spent time with me any longer. My mom became pregnant with my brother. Stress built up in the household until it was akin to a pound of rabid dogs. I escaped into my own world, the world I had so carefully crafted when I was younger. I held onto it fiercely; the magic.

I learned English in three months. I have always been bright. I threw myself into my studies as I saw this as the only way to rise above the noise. I didn't develop good friends until high school. It soon became clear I had creative gifts, writing, poetry, art. I dove into them. I kept reading, researching, building myself up intellectually. I was fascinated with knowledge and I soaked it up effortlessly. I was becoming a geek.

In high school I discovered Dungeons and Dragons and it changed my life. I met people who were creative like me, on the fringe like me who sat around and told fantastic tales. I fell in love with the game. It was through D&D that I met every single man I have ever gone out with. I find this fact amusing. Role playing filled the part of me that sought to escape. My natural ability to visualize making it that much more compelling.

It is no wonder then that I fell in love with gaming. I gobbled up all kinds of games from arcade Street Fighter where I could be the dexterous Vega to Shogun the board game. Along with gaming came an interest in computing. Unlike the other kids I didn't have a computer until my last year in high school (1993). I wrote my assignments time and time again to correct mistakes. We were poor and couldn't justify a word processor.

The Packard Bell arrived and I was stoked. It was Christmas. That day changed my existence as I dove completely into it. I connected with technology with a passion unsurpassed by anything else. I have no idea why but I found the whole thing fascinating. I soon downloaded and installed graphics software and took my art digital. I taught myself Aldus Photostyler, Illustrator and later Photoshop. I learned HTML, played games and stayed up all night on the PC. My parents were furious.

The love affair never ended. I dove deeper and deeper. I joined BBS's, read Wired, subscribed to Byte and 2600. I taught myself more and more design. I learned to upgrade, write drivers, build PC's. I went to computer shows. I found myself connecting with gamers and geeks. I found I loved technology. When I got a 14.4K modem I nearly wet my pants. Wow.

I launched my first online site in 1996. Been publishing on the web since. I went to college for film but eventually got a job doing design. It was my calling even though I was self taught. The foundations of my creativity never left me; they simply coalesced  and became more sophisticated. My sensibilities as a designer have grown and flourished but I have never forgotten my humble and wondrous beginnings.

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Creative Director at RustyBrick, Mabelyn brings twenty years of demonstrated design expertise for both print and web. She is also a fine artist and published author.

This article is under Geek Factor, Creative, Culture

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