Siblings find it oh so hard / When it comes to giving... / Let them once try singing background for a living!

--"Sibling Rivalry," on The Simpsons Sing the Blues

Friday, February 28, 2003
Sister Act

For quite some time now, I've been referring to Erin as my sister, and Erin's been referring to me as her brother. And we haven't just been doing this in our journal; casual references to our siblinghood have appeared in forum posts without a hint of irony or explanation. One thing I found out in my recent Tour of the Country was that this has confused a whole lot of people.

Now, admittedly, a casual reader of both our journals might note that Erin's a Southerner, while I'm a Northerner; she's Christian, while I'm Jewish; and she's a proud Republican, while I'm a proud Liberal. When the above is added to the fact that we're not technically related in any sort of biological or legally binding sense, said casual reader might be forgiven for thinking that something doesn't quite add up here.

In fairness, we've both explained this more than once on our respective sites. Well, sort of. We've given the basic facts, but even I have to admit that perhaps a fuller explanation is in order. So, in the spirit of overkill, here's the story, newly researched by Yours Truly.

In the beginning, there was Treacle Well, the first incarnation of Erin's online journal. I'm not entirely sure how far back "the beginning" goes, actually, as her earliest entries were deleted somewhere along the way, but it's certainly no later than July of 1997. At the time, I was completely unaware of it. I continued to be unaware of it when I started my own online journal, Shmuel's Soapbox, roughly halfway through January of 1999.

Erin found me first. I'm not sure how, but I suspect it was through Diary-L, which leads me to the somewhat surprising conclusion that the flame-ridden mailing list in question did have some positive uses after all. At any rate, she linked to my journal for the first time on February 28, 1999, referring to it as the writings of

Another language fanatic, this time mostly English. Could be interesting.
Not long thereafter, I tracked this back through my referrer logs, found her journal, and fell in love with it, knowing a good thing when I saw one.

If the evidence is to be believed, we both linked to each other next on March 21st. While I know her entry actually went up on that date (I have the e-mail notification to prove it), it would not surprise me to learn that mine went up a day late, that having been in character at the time. At any rate, on this occasion, she provided the earliest indication that we might be related:

I think I've found another cousin journal of mine. Shmuel's Soapbox ... the writings of a fellow student lingophile. His language of choice is English and he gets just as persnickety as I can about proper usage.
For my part, I had this to say:
I added another journal to my list about a week ago. It's called Treacle Well, and it's written by another student and language fanatic, named Erin. Unlike me, her sphere of language knowledge includes more than just English. The content is very interesting, and I've been simply drooling over the layout.

(On the other hand, my site still looks better in Lynx. So there! <g>)
(This was not a "reciprocal link," by the way; I've never done those. There are people who link to me whom I've never linked back to; there are people I've linked to who've never linked back to me; and all of this is fine and dandy. End of disgression.)

One interesting thing here is that -- as both of us noted right off the bat -- our journals were extremely similar... but, as already chronicled, they started completely independently. I'd never seen her journal when I established mine, and mine didn't exist when she established hers. Furthermore, it wasn't long before we started noticing parallels between the paths our lives were taking. To choose one example, various entries of hers dealt with her being in an auto accident, and her mother being in the hospital... and then I wrote about being in an auto accident, and my mother being in the hospital. After posting an update on the latter on August 31, 1999, I added this parenthetical aside:

(It occurs to me that this clinches it: this journal really is most similar to Treacle Well amongst those journals I read regularly. Not that this matters to anyone.)
Siblinghood was established at last in Erin's entry for September 7, 1999:
Shmuel is my long-lost older brother that I've never met, is Jewish, lives in New York, and has so many other siblings I'm sure he wouldn't notice if I adopted him. Well, okay. At least his site is Treacle Well's long-lost brother site. If you read much of his writings you'll find out why. Hell, just read the last two entries in which he rants about the improper usage of "millennium" and obsesses over dictionaries and Sesame Street, and I think you'll agree with me. And then you'll commit both of us.
Shortly thereafter, I either e-mailed or IMed her -- I forget which -- with "Hi, Sis!" as the salutation for the first time, and we've been officially brother and sister ever since. Although I don't think I actually referred to this in my own journal until the March 7, 2000 entry, in which I blithely linked to an entry by "my long-lost Texan sister" without a word of further explanation.

As another aside, while I haven't archived the various versions of my links page, the Wayback Machine does have some of them, including this blurb for Treacle Well at the time:

The journal most similar to mine, in many ways. Erin's another student, in Texas, who's interested in languages. That she named her journal for a Lewis Carroll reference, and that she's a cat person, serve as additional evidence of her taste and refinement.

As the above indicates, one of our earliest and firmest points of connection was a mutual interest in language. While, unlike her, I have not coined a word now used by quite a few people, we're both complete word geeks. In my case, my knowledge is almost exclusively in English, while, in her case, Spanish, Russian, and (reluctantly) Swedish are part of the mix. It's a running thread that's continued to this day. Heck, just read her most recent entry, concerned in part with Spanish and Portugeuse versions of some songs by Sting, and you'll see what I mean. And you'll still want to commit both of us.

Another touchpoint has been religion. In browsing through some of her earliest entries in the past couple of days, I've been struck by how much she put the "Judeo-" back into "Judeo-Christian" (a term I ordinarily despise, but in this case it really does fit) some time before I knew her, with several entries about Jewish traditions relevant to a modern Christian outlook.

Much more to the point, however... our religious beliefs and practices have been very important in both our lives, and, well, that's made us something of an exception to the rule in what used to be referred to with a straight face as "the journalling community." Both of us have found ourselves faced with people who are convinced that only overly credulous idiots believe in all that religious crap. So I was happy to find additional evidence to the contrary -- not to mention good company -- in her, while she was willing to take what she could get in my case.

(Shut up and let me be self-effacing, okay? People find it charming, at least until I ruin it with parenthetical explanations like this one.)

I'm not certain how to account for what's happened since. It's entirely probable that Erin and I were destined to get closer to one another through our natural affinities (which, honestly, have only been touched on in this entry), and that the way we've been referring to one another is just a symptom of this. But it also might be the case that it's impossible to spend more than three years calling somebody your sister -- and being called her brother -- without it affecting the way you feel about one another. I'm guessing both factors have played a part here, to be honest. Regardless... she feels like family now. Perhaps the only flaw has been an almost complete lack of sibling rivalry, but I'm not about to complain.

I'm not sure how Erin gets any work done in between typing to me via AOL Instant Messenger, but then I also don't know how she held down a conversation with me while typing this entry, so she's obviously very good at multitasking. At any rate, quite a few of the more self-revealing entries posted here would never have hit the Web if I hadn't first talked them over with her and gotten the courage to take them to a wider audience. Over the last few years, she's provided a lot of support, given me quite a bit of good advice, and glared at me reprovingly more than a few times. But as my sister, she has the right to boss me around every now and again.

There's no doubt in my mind that I'm going to be visiting Dallas again one of these months, barring the possibility of her moving elsewhere before I get around to it. I felt completely at home and at ease the last time I was there, despite having met her in Real Life only once before. But that stands to reason; she's family, after all.

And I can't begin to tell you how happy I am about that.