The Silken Tent — A History

July 1, 2006

It was early February of 1999. I was almost 52 years old and in my first year of retirement from a long teaching career. I was trying to reinvent myself as a writer of fiction and memoir. I was searching about on the World Wide Web (probably not using Google yet) for personal journalling ideas, story starters, writing prompts that might get my pen moving and help me shape the often inchoate ideas bouncing around in my head.

Thus did I fall into two e-mail discussion lists: Diary-l, and Journals.The lists were populated by many of the same people, almost all of whom had something called an “online journal.” They were posting diary entries, personal essays, and other bits of writing, using space either at a free host such as Geocities, or space that they paid for at any of the commercial hosting outfits.

I’d had my first Geocities site back in 1996. I’d discovered the World Wide Web that spring at the end of my sabbatical. When I returned to school, I established a site for my classes, calling it “English at 808″ (my classroom number). I posted assignments, due dates, reading lists, links to study aids, that sort of thing. When I left the profession I took down all the material and used the space to post the occasional update on what I was doing with myself, sending the URL to friends whose e-mail addresses I’d collected. I didn’t know that what I was doing was part of a new genre, the “online journal,” something of a cross between a private diary and a newspaper column.

I joined both discussion lists, asked for advice and followed links to resources, and spent the first two weeks of February getting a rudimentary understanding of page design and HTML coding. I learned enough to be able to understand in a limited way what the WYSIWYG editor (Netscape Composer) I depended on was doing. I secured my own domain name and obtained space at Dreamhost, a company that many OLJers were using. My domain name and my host are the only things about my web presence that have not changed in all these years, and they are choices I am still comfortable with.

Almost everything else about the site, however, did change. In the beginning I used lots of decorative elements such as floral sidebars and fancy separators. I divided the content into a number of sections, and I renamed the main section every year. There were times when I posted frequently, and times when I posted not at all for several months.

But I never gave it up. I acquired a loyal coterie of readers, a number of whom joined my notify list. My content was catalogued by all the major search engines, and readers continue to come to my site after searching on strings of words I use frequently. If you type “The Silken Tent” into Google, my site will turn up as either the first or the second suggestion, either above or below a reference to Robert Frost’s poem. This fact seemed to both surprise and annoy the director of the Robert Frost Stone House Museum in Shaftsbury, Vermont when I told her about it on my visit last summer.

In 2004, after resisting the term “blog” to describe my site, I began using space at Typepad, a site for the clueless web author that used a version of the Movable Type publishing platform. This content management software allows users to post using any internet connection rather than upload their files through a file transfer protocol program. This allowed me to post when I was “gallivanting,” traveling to author appearances and writing workshops and conferences. When I returned home, however, I went back to posting at my own domain.

When Dreamhost began offering “one-click installation” of WordPress, another publishing platform with a web interface, I decided to start using that. I mistakenly thought it was “Blogging for Dummies.” It’s not. Only the installation is. But it is easy to use, and makes updating much more streamlined, so I continue to learn how to use it.

After all this time, I’ve settled into a name for the main section of my site. It appears that Markings – Days of Her Life will be the permanent name for my journal-that’s-not-really-a-blog. What to do, though, about all my old stuff and the travel material and commonplace book residing at Typepad?

The answer is this. Over the next months I’ll be cleaning up all my old posts (lots of dead links after all this time) and transferring the Typepad posts to this.This post will likely remain the front page of The Silken Tent 1999-2005. Use the links in the sidebar to poke around in the archives. Happy reading, and thanks for being here.