A True Story of Two Minds Crossing in the Night

Presenting Mike Sturm

It’s kind of weird to think I’ve known Mike Sturm for more than 15 years now. We met way back in 2001 at NIU in DeKalb, Illinois.

Do you know anything about DeKalb, dear reader? Its two notable claims to fame are it being the hometown of Joseph Glidden, the inventor of barbed wire, and also of Cindy Crawford, the supermodel with a famous mole next to her lips. That’s  about it. There are corn fields and a tall white building named the (John?) Holmes Student Center that looks like a shuttle launch from afar, or, more likely, a blinking phallus.

Credit: Andy McMurray (Wikipedia)

True story: Our ID card featured the castle-esque Altgeld Hall in the foreground with the Student Center rising up behind it, flanked by two bushy round-shaped trees. The interesting thing to note is that those trees never existed. I scoured Google for the image because my card has long since faded and been lost, but alas, it’s been seemingly erased from online existence.

So that’s DeKalb, more or less. A typical Midwestern college town. Most people who attend come from the suburbs of Chicago, places like Naperville, Aurora, Schaumberg, Elgin, or Joliet. I was one of the few southerners from St. Louis.


NIU was almost five hours from home, but just an hour drive to Chicago. When I arrived, I had planned to study journalism. My friend Nathan from high school had gone to NIU a year ahead of me and was staying in Neptune North, a dormitory (fine, “residence hall”) that housed fine arts majors. Nathan was there studying music he fit the bill, but a writer? Because we wanted to room together, we put in a special request and I remember having to write some bullshit essay explaining why I deserved a place in a hall reserved for artists. For some reason they let me in.

And indeed, I’m not being sarcastic about that. There were painters, illustration majors, graphic designers, musicians, and theater majors. Such a melange was a delightful scene. It was a smorgasbord of personalities and ideas, the likes of which I’d never seen before.

One of the first people I met was Mike, who was rooming with Matt, a large lumbering sweetheart whom everyone called Big E. Big E had become tight friends with Nathan the year before, so there was a sort of instant camaraderie amongst us.

Mike was tough to peg down at first. He came from the western suburbs of Chi-Town and was there to study illustration. He had aspirations of making it as a professional artist. But deeper thoughts were always percolating to the surface with him. He followed a punk ethos, cut from a straightedge cloth. I seem to recall him having a tall blue mohawk at one point, though maybe that was sophomore year.

I must admit: it wasn’t ideas or artistry that first brought our minds together. It was Tony Hawk Pro Skater. Number one. Original Playstation.

The Warehouse

We didn’t just play this game. It owned our lives for a time. We’d spend hours playing the level seen above to have a so-called perfect run. We had a system worked out and everything. It got so bad I had all the songs memorized, and I’m not even a huge punk fan. Classes were skipped in pursuit of a new high score. Non, je ne regrette rien.

Eventually, that obsession came to an end. Next came SSX Tricky. Video games were the initial glue of our friendship. Then, we watched Fight Club around the same time and fell into the rabbit hole.

We were in deep. With respect to The Matrix, my most pretentious thoughts and philosophies from that era come from this:

“Can I have the icon in cornflower blue?”

There was something so revolutionary about the anti-capitalist, anti-complacency message that lurked just beneath the surface of a film about a guy who beats himself up and has a split personality/imaginary friend. I remember writing an essay for school about themes from the movie. Mike and I memorized the lines and would quote from them constantly. To this day, as the insidest of jokes, we still begin emails with, “Sir.”

Of course, friendships in college pull the mind and body in different directions. As we progressed through school, we remained friends, but our interactions lessened as we hung out in different circles, had different schedules, and did different things. I started to write a weekly article for the Northern Star, the campus newspaper. But by my junior year, I had switched to English Language and Literature because I found journalism too narrow and restrictive. My Hunter S. Thompson imitation would take me only so far. I had bigger plans.

Mike, meanwhile, gradually became disillusioned with illustration and began to drift more towards philosophy and eventually political science. He envisioned a life of academia, even if that didn’t quite work out the way he had planned.

By 2004, I had moved back to St. Louis to finish my degree. I started to write a novel. Mike carried on at NIU. We managed to stay in touch before the ubiquity of social media made connecting with friends easier, but lost something vital in the ether.

Near the end of that year, Mike sent me an invitation to a beta version of something called Gmail. Maybe you’ve heard of it. The first email I sent is dated from 11/24/04 and the subject, appropriately, is “What is Project Mayhem?”

An excerpt:

I’ve thought of something that would be hysterical to put in my book
and three people in the world would get the joke. You and I are two
of said people. Dave B — — — is the third. With that small clue, you
should already know where I’m going with this. Indeed, I would love
to insert certain sections of our ill-fated screenplay, possibly as
one of his earlier attempts. As it currently stands, after 2 days of
writing this book, I am at 2,700 words.

Yeah, we worked on a screenplay together. Got about 20 pages in and then scrapped it. Because it was bad. Perhaps it still exists on a hard drive somewhere, but I kind of doubt it. Some things are better left dead.

Since we were separated by more than half the state of Illinois, our friendship shifted into a pure meeting of the minds. Our rate of correspondence has ebbed and flowed over the years, but we’ve never run out of things to discuss, investigate, analyze, and laugh about.

Earlier this year I opened up my old Gmail account and read through some of our old emails, among hundreds. Half of them I don’t remember writing, and so the conversation has a sort of fossilized quality to them, like I’m examining a historical artifact of a mental collaboration that is still ongoing to this very day.

Which leads to my not-so-subtle transition as to why I am writing this quasi-biographical introduction.

I am fairly new to Medium, having published my first story back at the end of July. I’m still getting a feel for the place and where my writing fits in.

Perhaps for many of you, however, Mike needs no real introduction. He’s become a visible presence on Medium over the last year or so. He writes fluently and persuasively about topics such as productivity, creativity, and self-improvement.

Our styles and objectives couldn’t be more different. My primary focus is fiction. It’s what I mostly read and write. Mike, though, doesn’t read. Or if he does, he prefers non-fiction. He’s also far more prolific than I.

Around this time last year we had the thought to collaborate on an article for Medium. We exchanged some ideas about being stuck and Mike sent me a draft that I took a look at and offered a few suggestions, but I had neither the time or energy to pursue such a project at that time.

But now we’re both on Medium and writing. I just created The Junction a few days ago and the first person I reached out to was Mike, asking if he would like to collaborate and contribute. He agreed, and I imagine he’ll post something on here eventually.

I have no idea how this publication will evolve. Things are very new and everything is fungible. I’m looking forward to the challenge, and I’m sure Mike is too. If you’re curious and would like to join us for the ride, please click follow.

Thanks for reading!

Stephen M. Tomic