"This is not the way I'd expected to inagurate my journal, but I suppose I could do worse."

--Yours Truly, five years ago.

(The more things change...)

Saturday, January 17, 2004
Fifth Anniversary

So, we've completed year #5 here at Shmuel's Soapbox. Seems like just yesterday that it was the day before the journal's fifth anniversary, and now it's here.

I'm not quite ready for this. I decided some time back that I wanted to write a celebratory entry for the occasion, but of course I put it off until the last minute, and now I'm multitasking on three separate entries. I still have to finish the Dallas trip report, plus I have a "Blog It Forward" entry to write, and now there's this one. But this is the most time-bound of the three, so it's now on the front burner.

I started this journal on January 17, 1999. I had no idea whether it would last. I'd made several prior attempts at keeping private journals, none of which lasted more than a few months. The previous try had begun on August 10, 1997, and sputtered out a bit over a month later.

Actually, I've just reread the first entry of that previous incarnation, and it's interesting to see how much it anticipates this one:


I think it would be nice to keep a journal again.

There are any number of reasons for this. For one thing, it would be good for my writing. The only way to be a writer is to sit down and WRITE, and, [the Campers' Paradise newspaper] nonwithstanding, I don't really feel that I've been doing enough of that. E-mail has some value in that regard, but only up to a point. A journal would be one way of facilitating that. I rather like the suggestion Ceej -- I think it was Ceej -- cited from some book in her diary, which was to write three pages first thing every morning. Quality is irrelevant, but the three pages must be written. This would be a good way of doing that.

For another thing, there are a lot of things which I'd like to write about which I never get a chance to do in general. My thoughts on reading, writing, life, kosher pizza, whatever. There are all these little bits and pieces that don't really belong anywhere, but which would fit into a journal pretty well.

For another thing, as a regular reader of Mary Anne's online diary, I'm slightly jealous, and more than a little impressed. I started reading Ceej's more recently, after Mary Anne mentioned it towards the end of Clarion West. I don't think I could go through with such a project myself, mostly because my family would be bound to stumble across it, and that would probably cause all sorts of trouble. At the same time, I can't help but feel just a bit tempted. So... let's see if I can really keep up a private journal first, and see what sort of stuff I put into it, before seriously considering trying anything like that.

Then there's the little matter of the fact that I'm trying to juggle a lot of things right now, and it would probably be theraputic to get some of it on paper. (This is probably mutually exclusive with the last paragraph; were I going for a public diary, I can't imagine being able to write a lot of the stuff I'd want to put in a private diary. Of course, in the past, I've never really been very good about writing that sort of thing in a private diary either, for fear somebody would find it. *sigh*)


What ended up happening was that the private journal fell through, and I decided to just start writing on the Web and see where I'd end up. Part of the hope was that having regular readers would spur me on to update more regularly. It seems to have worked.

There were a number of decisions to be made before I got started, with the foremost one being whether or not to use a pseudonym. I considered this for a bit, but ultimately decided that Raymond's Ramblings would have a completely different feel than Shmuel's Soapbox, that my name was too much a part of who I was. This has pretty definitely turned out to have been the right call.

With that said, given that I didn't want people who knew me in Real Life to stumble across this journal in an Altavista search (this was early 1999; Google was still in beta), I kept my last name off, but I've explained that multiple times and I'm boring myself now, so I'm going to move right along.

The Soapbox spent a couple of days in beta-testing before opening to the public. Originally, I was going to have a different background color on every page, varying according to my mood. It was pointed out that this looked kinda silly, so I settled on yellow. There've been occasional exceptions to this (grey backgrounds on entries about particularly bad events, and a month of pink for breast cancer awareness), but in general I've gotten pretty attached to my color scheme. And also my layout, which hasn't changed substantially since the first week. It's simple, it's straightforward, it works in any browser. Any urge I've had to redesign the thing has long since passed.

An interesting sidenote is that the aforementioned August 10, 1997 entry mentions A.S. Byatt's Babel Tower in passing. I ended up buying the babeltower.org domain name in May, 2000, and the book is what brought it to mind while I was trying to come up with a suitable URL.

It occurred to me a few months ago (when somebody contacted me about the possibility of buying the URL for a Web page about the Biblical Tower of Babel) that I've never really explained why I chose it in the journal itself. So, for what it's worth, here's what I e-mailed Erin back when I was kicking around possible names:



This one ain't bad. I like the overtones and resonances and stuff, with references to both the Bible and the origin of language. (And, to be honest, my sometimes uneasy attempts to figure out where I stand in relation to both. The Tower of Babel was built by the Bad Guys, after all...) Also the title of a pretty good novel by A.S. Byatt, involving a lawsuit centering around the banning of an allegedly obscene novel.


I never expected my religion to be anywhere near central to this journal. I had no particular plans to write about religious matters at all when I started. It was billed as "ramblings and ravings from an aspiring writer," not "an Orthodox Jewish perspective" or anything like that. But, in hindsight, it was inevitable, especially given the changes I've been through since 1999.

I have, I think, been typecast as an Orthodox Jewish journaller from early on. I haven't always been comfortable with this, especially as I've never wanted to be taken as some sort of spokesperson for the religion. I've never been qualified for that, even when I was fully observant, and I usually took pains to say so. With that said, I did realize fairly early on that, even so, there was some value in being open about my own practices and perspective, even if they didn't measure up to the Orthodox ideal.

To some extent, this became a deliberate decision, especially after a flamewar on Diary-L in which the blanket claim was made that religious people weren't very smart. That flamewar's long since past, but the attitude is still prevalent, and it doesn't sit well with me. I've felt something of an obligation to serve as an exhibit to the contrary. Whatever my current practices, I'm still a theist, and I still basically believe that Judaism is correct about what God wants. And I'd like to think that I don't come across as being either stupid or unthinking. If this has caused one person with contempt for religious people to reconsider that attitude, then it's been worth it.

(The specific claim that tends to be made in defense of the stereotype is that faith -- and, somehow, all religious belief gets lumped into the "faith" heading -- requires turning one's brain off, that if there were anything rational about it, then it wouldn't really be faith. Which is such blatant bullshit that it amazes me that anybody is able to make that claim with a straight face. And we're supposed to be the ones who aren't thinking critically?)

My first goal for this journal was to hit the six-month mark, so I could join the Little Bastards webring, which included Elaine and Trish. By the time I hit the six-month mark, the webring had all but bitten the dust. My next goal was to make the one-year mark, so I could be included on Diane Patterson's "Going and Going" list. I did manage that one... and then she all but stopped maintaining the list shortly thereafter. Just as well that I didn't have any goals for the five-year mark, or I'd probably sink that project too.

It's been a very eventful five years. Got my bachelor's degree (with honors) and my first master's degree (with a boot to the rear). Was in a major auto accident. Moved to Ann Arbor, then to Boston. Stopped talking to my father. Shaved. Travelled a lot. Stopped keeping kosher. Got deep into debt. Made a lot of friends.

And I still don't quite know what I want to be when I grow up. I guess I'll figure that out over the next five years.

The above is not remotely what I'd expected to type when I started this. I'd been thinking of something along the lines of my second-anniversary entry, some wacky fun with time travel and alternate selves. But I suppose I can always do that in my sixth-anniversary entry. Besides, I suppose I'll be able to link to this on the Why am I here? page, which has been basically unchanged since the very beginning. That's something.

I mean, it's not going to get me into Mo's sidebar (it's been over a year, Mo! Do you want me to beg?), but it's something.

Happy journalversary, y'all!


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