June 30, 1999
A *FootNotes* Anniversary
 
That's right ... I'm sneaking one in while you're not paying attention. I'll probably fiddle with this one, on and off, until Saturday: then I'll start bragging about my nephew or complaining about my job again. Or both.


My first "real" online journal entry, posted one year ago this week:

"I would kill for a fan tonight.

An ELECTRIC fan, I mean.

Make no mistake here. I would kill. If my downstairs neighbor came home right now -- the little mild-mannered unassuming nerdy guy who always smells like Jeno's Pizza Rolls and cigarettes -- and he was carrying a brand-new Duracraft Five-Speed Oscillator under one arm ... I guarantee his picture would be on a milk carton somewhere in Boring, Oregon next week.

I hate summer. Grrrr.

Welcome to my journal."


OK. It's not exactly Great Literature. But the night I typed that very first entry and sent it spinning off into the whereversphere  ...  after nine grueling months of research, rewrites and regurgitation   ...  I felt like I was giving birth. Or stumbling into the Baby Boomer chat room for the first time. Except that this time I wasn't nude from the waist down in a roomful of strangers, screaming at the top of my lungs.

I'd discovered Internet journaling by accident a few months earlier. I'd been firmly addicted to AOL for a couple of years already, but the Internet was a vast new world. Likewise, I'd been keeping a personal journal since I was barely old enough to spell "s-e-l-f a-b-s-o-r-p-t-i-o-n" ... but until then I'd never thought of combining it with my love of the cyber world. 

The day I stumbled across my first Internet journal and realized what I was looking at -- "Oh my god! They're publishing their JOURNALS on the INTERNET!" -- I knew it was for me.

A year and nine months later, I'm not an Internet journal expert by any means. There are lots of people out there who have been turning out quality journal websites for years: they make *FootNotes* look (and read) like a poorly-mimeographed 1973 issue of the Sunset Junior High "Panther's Tale." But twelve months of putting my life on display has taught me a thing or two about Internet journaling in general ... and about *FootNotes* in particular.  
Herewith ... some of the stuff I've learned. (Including the word "herewith!"  Isn't it cute??)


* Thing #1: If you're going to start an Internet journal ... warn the people you love in advance.

There are those within the journaling community who would disagree with me on this one, but I believe you should tell the important people in your life, right off the bat, that you're starting an Internet journal ... particularly if you're planning to write about them. It's only fair. It's the right thing to do. It makes you appear *fresh* and *edgy* and *creative,* especially to friends or family members still puzzling over that AOL 2.5 install. And it absolves you of blame later, when you share with your public the graphic details of those eighteen agonizing hours of labor (and the subsequent uterine infection) you endured back in 1981.

(Daughter #1: "You told them WHAT?")

The important thing is that you're not tiptoeing around behind their backs. Maintaining the journal is stressful enough as it is, without trying to hide it from the people you love.


* As for those not-so-important people in your life ...

... that's a tougher call. For instance: do you tell your boss or your co-workers that you're writing an online journal? I was working at The Knife Factory when *FootNotes* began. I not only told everyone about it, I proudly (and stoopidly) handed out the URL to everyone within a thousand-mile radius. And then I spent the next few months editing myself like crazy, to the point where I was uncomfortable writing about significant life events in anything but the vaguest of terms. Like the weekend I stopped drinking, and the excruciating physical withdrawal that ensued. (I told my readers that I had "the flu.") Or the time I accidentally discovered that *he* was taking his wife to Paris, and that I prolly wasn't invited to come along. ("Feeling too run over by life to write anything tonight," I wrote cryptically. And then I threw all his stuff out my third story window.) Or when David and I fell in love last fall, and we spent that sweet  life-affirming first weekend together. (My metaphorical non-entry: "I am transplanted back into Monochrome after four days in glorious Technicolor.") This is stuff I could have written about  --  should have written about, maybe --  but didn't, because I wasn't sure how it would go over at The Knife Factory. Among other places.

So have I learned anything here? Yes and no. Have I told people at the Totem Pole company about my website? Yes  ...  but this time without fanfare. Have I given out the address? Yes ...  but only to those who have specifically requested it.  Have I published the URL in the company newsletter? HELL no. *FootNotes* is hidden in plain sight -- easy to locate by someone with even a rudimentary knowledge of search engines and/or AOL profiles -- so if someone wants to find it, they can. I'm just not gonna draw them a map. (I'll leave that to my special pal, MrFyre.)



* Thing #2: People will question your motives for keeping an Internet journal ...

... especially if they weren't all that fond of you to begin with. They will assume that you're REALLY doing it for revenge, or for pity, or absolution, or therapy, or to steal their boyfriend ... or as a way to present your skewed version of history ... or because you're ridiculously hoping to be *discovered* by an editor at Cosmo, who just happens to surf through your site when you're having a Good Entry Day ... or because you're a pathetic attention junkie with an ego the size of a Chevy Suburban and wayyyy too much time on your hands.

And of course they'll be absolutely correct.  


* Thing #3: Some people will become overly-engaged in your life.

Love getting lots of e-mail? Interested in opinions/personal advice/spelling corrections/thinly-veiled death threats from total strangers? Enjoy living in the eye of a hurricane? Then start an Internet journal ... and publicly admit that you're a mom who voluntarily relinquished custody of your children!  Reveal that you're an alcoholic ... and then attempt recovery without the help of a formal 12-step program!  Publish intimate details of the Cyber Love Affair That Ended Your Marriage ... and then announce that you're moving to California to live with someone ELSE you met in a chat room!

Get a fabulous promotion at work ... and then COMPLAIN about it!

I guarantee you a full mailbox, each and every time you sign on.


* Thing #4, if you're thinking about starting a journal: read lots of other Internet journals first.

Go to MetaJournals or The Diary Registry and just start surfing. It's one of the best ways to learn about Internet journaling. It's also a great way to steal borrow ideas for your own website. It's also a great way to remind yourself that you're not alone: lots of other people hang their cyber BVD's out on a public clothesline.



* Thing #5 ... and this is important: learn to do the grunt work yourself.

I constructed my first, embarrassingly crude homepage using a shareware version of Sausage Software's "HotDog Express." I just typed in my text, pushed a button, and POOF! Instant HTML! When the free trial period on HotDog Express ended, I switched over to a bootleg copy of FrontPage98 .... until I got sick of its spookily intrusive *interface* ("You sure you wanna post a picture of the inside of your refrigerator?") and purged the multi-tentacled beast from my hard drive. Along the way, I have experimented with AOL's Personal Publisher, a couple of other freeware programs from the Internet, and -- of course -- GeoCities built-in HTML "Editor." But nothing, in the long run, has proven as convenient and as reliable and as good old Windows Notepad. (Although I do also like EditPad, an elegant freeware *cousin* of Notepad.)  Of course this meant I had to actually learn HTML -- or at least the fundamentals of HTML (one peek at my sprawling, chaotic source code will tell you how much I've "learned").  But that's been half the fun. It's the cyber equivalent of sticking your hands right into the clay and fashioning the lumpy ashtray yourself, rather than paying the more artistically-gifted kid in the next row do it for you. The results aren't as aesthetically pleasing, maybe ... but ayou know you earned that C-, by god.



* Figure out what works for you -- and stick with it. 

When I started out, I naively assumed I would be writing every day. I beat myself up whenever I missed a day ... and then, when I missed two days ... and then, when I started missing whole big chunks of time. I felt like a failure.

A year later, two entries per week seems like a reasonable -- albeit usually unattainable -- goal.


* And finally a personal opinion, based on nothing more than personal opinion: too much *stuff* is too much.

Nothing says "beginner" like a website full of animated geegaws, Java doodads and MIDI whatchamacallits. They're fun, they're groovy and they're easy to use. They also take forever to load, stop being *fun* and/or *groovy* the second or third or thirty-eighth time around, and they draw attention away from The Main Event: shameless self-promotion. And yes, I realize that I am a fine one to talk. I still cringe every time I remember those stoopid animated feet and the calliope-on-crack rendition of "Little Runaway" that welcomed visitors to Early *FootNotes.* But I'm always trying to streamline the website, and to make it a more pleasant and accessible read. It's definitely been an ongoing process, the past year ... and one I would do all over again in a heartbeat.

There are tons of other little nuggets of journaling wisdom I could probably vomit onto my captive audience this evening ... but I think I've hit on the more important stuff. So I'm going to quit while I'm ahead. For the record: this is the most I've managed to write on a weeknight -- or a work night -- or at NIGHT, period -- since I discovered the pleasures of shutting off the computer and crawling into bed at 9 p.m. with The Other 50% of The Population and a dish of Double Chocolate Chunk.

(Hey! Maybe this means I'm going to actually hit my writing goal for the week, for a change! Unless I screw up and blow Saturday, that is ... )


*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *


Personal Note: I now have photos of the World's Second-Most-Adorable Baby Boy (Right After Son #Only), and I'll be sharing them with the entire universe this weekend.






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