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Behold, the wizard of blogs

April 10, 2005|Gina Piccalo | Times Staff Writer

Jardin's father, Glenn B. Hamm, taught art education at Virginia Commonwealth University and mesmerized his young daughter with his indefatigable imagination. But according to Jardin, he was also a manic, obsessive and sometimes physically abusive man. His paintings and antique machines often consumed so much of the family's modest budget that Jardin has memories of eating spoiled leftovers and wearing shoes until they literally fell apart.

When Jardin was 8 or 9, Hamm developed Lou Gehrig's disease. He died a few weeks after Jardin's 10th birthday, leaving her mother, Monica, to raise Jardin and her younger brother, Carl, alone.

The death devastated Jardin, who soon adopted a punk persona, piercing her nose, dyeing her hair, hanging out with an older crowd, smoking, drinking and doing drugs. A few years later, Jardin left home for good. She was 14.

She spent the next 2 1/2 years couch surfing, squatting in Richmond's old buildings and living with older friends in a dilapidated house. A loose community of artists, musicians and teachers helped, sharing meals and occasionally opening their homes to her. But Jardin says she felt incredibly alone. She remembers waking one morning in an abandoned warehouse as a rat scurried across her face. "That was the moment where I thought, 'How did things go so wrong?' "

Through it all, Jardin stayed in school. She immersed herself in Richmond's punk scene, writing music reviews for local punk zines and creating promotional fliers for bands. She also compiled a substantial art portfolio and eventually earned a scholarship that funded a year at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Jardin met Quetzalkanbalam, whom she refers to as "Dr. Munir," soon after. He had established a community theater and arts-centered mentoring program in the Bay Area. (Quetzalkanbalam declined to be interviewed for this story.) Jardin followed some friends there and began performing in Quetzalkanbalam's plays. Over time, their relationship felt like family.

"He turned into her surrogate father," says Jardin's mother, Monica Rumsey. Quetzalkanbalam offered to help support Jardin if she stayed sober and got a job. "Part of what he did for me was provide that kind of tough love," says Jardin. "Broadly, he taught me self-worth. He taught me to believe that I could do things that were out of reach."

Over the years, Jardin says, Quetzalkanbalam taught her "how to craft stories, how to deliver on-camera and on-radio; he taught me voice, acting." She traveled with him, acquiring her new name, and eventually studied journalism at San Diego State University in the mid-1990s and completed a Microsoft computer science program. Jardin was aware of the Internet, but not immediately enamored by it.

"The Internet just seemed like a quiet, internal world, where shy people, who were afraid of the outdoors, spent too much time," she writes in an e-mail. "... It didn't seem really alive and crazy until sound and image and text combined -- that's when it became irresistible."

After several years as a Web developer in L.A. and San Diego, Jardin got swept up in the tech boom in the late 1990s. She started freelancing for several tech publications, including the New York-focused Silicon Alley Reporter and the L.A.-centered Digital Coast Reporter. Within months, she was recruited by the publisher, Jason McCabe Calacanis, to coordinate trendy, star-studded, industry events in both cities for his company Rising Tide Studios. "We were the zeitgeist of the time," says Calacanis. "Nobody did the dot-com era better than us." There, she mingled with a high-profile crowd, celebrities in science, sports, journalism and government, and built an enviable Rolodex.

Just before the terrorist attacks of 2001, Jardin left Rising Tide to pursue journalism. Within two years, she was blogging on and contributing regularly to NPR on the intersection of technology and culture. In the years since, she has reported on the blogs in tsunami disaster areas, Hollywood's battle against Web pirates and the first commercial space flight.

Today, Jardin shares a Los Feliz home with Mar Dore, whom she met with Quetzalkanbalam in San Francisco and now considers her adoptive sister. They're partners in the online furniture company Ambience Dore.

Over time, Jardin has become an adept "geek-speak" translator, an amiable guide through the labyrinthine blog world, where a person's identity or sense of humor or idea of the world is often communicated with a series of Web links that act as a kind of shortcut to camaraderie.

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