Last summer, Owen Gibson jumped off a bridge while his friends stood by, filming his fall.
For the electrical engineering student, splashing safely into the upstate Wisconsin waterway below did not represent a successful stunt for social media or the meeting of a dangerous dare, but rather a direct confrontation of his lifelong fear of heights.
It will also become a scene in Don’t Blink, an upcoming documentary series Gibson is producing with three childhood friends where they crisscross their beloved home state of Wisconsin checking items off both their individual and collective bucket lists.
Last summer, members of the group rafted a section of the Mississippi River, sunk a hole-in-one, rode an elephant, and milked a cow.
Still, they are just getting started. As the semester winds down—Gibson’s collaborators attend universities around the country— the four are focused on their upcoming summer-long pursuit of 14 challenging, yet doable (and filmable) joint goals.
They will try to dance with Mrs. Wisconsin, cook a gourmet meal for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and dress as processed meats to race around the home field bases of the Milwaukee Brewers in a tradition known as the Sausage Race.
The series’ origins trace back to the April 2014 death of Colleen Smith, the 51 year-old mother of one of Gibson’s friends and collaborators, Greg. While her nearly decade-long battle with cancer did not dampen her appetite for living, it did keep her from completing the list of life goals she’d chalked onto a “dream board.”
Following her funeral, Gibson and his friends vowed to complete her unfinished to-dos. And then, they added their own—pledging to rebuff what Smith terms the so-called “standard track of life,” which the friends describe as the all-too-common succession of school to job to marriage and kids. “What is the point of it all,” asks another of the friends, Kevin Reardon, in the trailer, “if you’re not being the best person you can be?”
Since then, Don’t Blink has morphed into a vehicle for them to avoid this fate, and they hope, inspire others to follow suit.
“It’s easy to say, ‘I’ll do what I want when I’m older, when I’m 60, but you might never get there,” said Gibson, who is from Brookfield, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee. “We’re trying to create a positive reminder that all you have is now.”
The film will double as a love letter to the Badger State by acting as a travelogue of its lesser-known towns and trifles—and as a rebuttal to its reputation as merely a collection of cornfields and farms.
Meanwhile, Gibson and his friends are finalizing last-minute logistics—including raising money. The project is funded, in part, by an active Kickstarter campaign to buy camera equipment to meet the requirements of the public television stations that have tentatively agreed to air the series on the promise of its trailer, which begins with what could be the project’s ethos:
The average American lives 79 years; 26 of those years are spent asleep. … Of the remaining 53 years, you will spend nine watching TV, 10 at work, four in your car, six preparing food and eating it and one cleaning.
The question is: what do you want to do in the time you have left?
For Gibson, the answer comes from the same place that led him to climb that remote bridge and jump off.
“I never want to catch myself going through the motions,” he said. “Now I’m on my way to conquering other fears.”
Learn more about Gibson in this week’s five questions:
1. What do you like most about Cleveland?
That’s tough. Probably its museums, like The Cleveland Art Museum, where I saw the special exhibit on Monet and another on Ancient Egypt. I also like the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Cleveland Cultural Gardens, where I was able to roller blade the other day and learn more about the city’s history.
2. What’s your favorite social media platform?
Facebook—I use it daily. We make a lot of videos to share for Don’t Blink and I can keep up with news and my favorite sports teams, like Arsenal Football Club.
3. What was the most influential class you’ve ever taken?
I went to a Catholic high school, and there was a small class on Catholicism and world religions. There was a lot of discussion and learning one-on-one about how belief systems were similar or different to each other and how they related to Catholicism. It really opened my eyes.
And here at Case Western Reserve, I took Literature of Fly Fishing, a SAGES course taught by John Orlock, [the Samuel B. and Virginia C. Knight Professor of Humanities]. We learned how to cast fishing lines in Wade Lagoon and about meditation.
4. If you could meet any historical figure, who would you pick, and why?
Alexander the Great. He was able to conquer the known world at the time, when only in his twenties. In a way, with our bucket lists, we want to be able to “conquer” our dreams and inspire others, too.
5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
I like the community aspect that’s natural at smaller school. You can build relationships with people because you see them everyday, a lot of the time when walking to class. You don’t get that at large state schools, which I considered before choosing to come here.