Jumping Into The Abyss

By 1997 I was on the Web with a home page hosted at my ISP, Fullfeed Madison, in Madison WI. I tinkered with it from time to time, archiving some of my old posts from USENET, and writing the occasional essay. I was never that good in the computer graphics department, so it was (and is) pretty basic in its appearance. On the other hand, ever since I launched it, the front page has had the following quote from C.J. Silverio‘s “Rant On Why The Web Sucks”:

It’s the content

The rest of it is window-dressing. You can make your pages look absolutely fabulous but if they don’t say anything, nobody’s going to care. Don’t give the world another glorified multimedia dot-finger file. Give the world your art, your music, your poetry, your political rants, your short stories, your first grade photos, your shareware and freeware, your archives of hobby stuff, your hints about how to make great tie-dye, your really handy Perl script, your list of the ten best bookstores in the Greater Podunk area. You know something that nobody else knows. You can do something that nobody else can do quite the same way. You’ve made something that the rest of the world has never seen.

Share it. Put it in your web page.

(Sadly, the whole essay is no longer up.)

Ceej was a fellow netizen whom I’d encountered back around 1992 on the talk.bizarre newsgroup (which she frequented and I occasionally poked my head into). For some reason long forgotten, I kept track of her over the ensuring few years, and she had the first web page I really paid attention to, and put in my bookmarks. And then forgot about.

In the summer of 1997, two things happened: First, I decided to check in on her web page again, and found that she’d launched an on-line journal. Second, CJ attended the Clarion West writers workshop. And wrote about it every day, starting here.

And oh my god was it riveting stuff. I read through all her archives, and then read each new entry as it was published. And in pretty short order I started thinking seriously of starting my own journal.

I’ve never had great facility for doing graphic design on a computer. Once upon a time I was a fair artist with pencil and paper, but that’s really a completely different medium. But I had some sort of graphic program that I noodled around with to come up with a color scheme and some simple graphics, and I worked out a simple layout for the entries. It wasn’t much, but it was servicible. And, frankly, most journals of the day weren’t much in the graphic design department (some of them were pretty snazzy, but not many people bring both writing and graphic design skills to the table; it’s sort of like being a pitcher who can also hit).

The other thing I’ve never been much good at is coming up with titles. I have no idea today what else I might have come up with as a name for my journal, but eventually I decided that “Gazing Into The Abyss” was the one to go with. I was never very happy with it (one friend remarked years later that my journal couldn’t have been much less like an abyss), but it could have been worse, I suppose.

Coincidentally, I launched my journal on August 6, 1997, which was the same day Ceej wrapped up her Clarion trip.

I was very self-conscious at first, and I wrote the first week or two without telling anyone about it (or even linking to it from my home page). These were in the days before software like WordPress that would automagically notify Technorati of new posts; you either had to go tell people you had a journal, or you had to submit your page to a search engine (AltaVista was the state of the art at the time – Google hadn’t launched yet) so you’d get indexed. So keeping it quiet was pretty easy.

Eventually I took it “live” and did things like signing up with the Open Pages webring, webrings being the main way to publicize your journal at the time. At some point I added an e-mail notification service too (later supplanted by a home-spun RSS feed).

Obviously I got over that self-conscious feeling. You have to have a certain egotism to write an on-line journal, I think: A belief not so much that other people want to read what you’ve written, but that what you’re writing is worth writing in the first place, entry after entry.

Or maybe it’s enough just to have fun writing it.

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