In the Beginning

In one of the comment threads, Scott writes:

I have a request that I think many of us would be interested in. There is obviously some history behind the creation of this site and your independent launch.

It is clear that at one point you worked for various publications, while now you work for yourself. What inspired you to start all this?

To whatever extent you feel comfortable sharing, perhaps you could fill us in on the origins of

I know I’ve written about this before, but since the first three or so years of the Whatever are not currently online, I suppose there’s no harm about doing a quick recap. was registered in March of 1998, about a week after I had been laid off from AOL. AOL had let me go because the group I was working for was dissolved and no one wanted to be responsible for my full salary, so out on the street I went (it wasn’t all bad; about a week later a number of AOL departments signed me on as a contractor, which meant more money for less work anyway. I maintain a relationship with AOL to this day, so clearly there aren’t too many hard feelings there). With the loss of my AOL employment came the loss of my previous AOL screenname, and the little personal Web site I had there; clearly I needed a replacement site. was available to register (because, honestly, why wouldn’t it be), so I took it and coded up a the Website.

The main advantage to the domain at the time was simply that from this point forward I would never ever have to change my e-mail address again, and, so long as you knew my name, you knew my e-mail address. Interestingly, this last point turns out to be less true than you might think, since people who should know better, including family members, continually ask me what my e-mail address is. But what are you going to do.

For the first several months acted largely as my previous Websites had — as a repository for some of my previously published work (film reviews and columns I had written for The Fresno Bee, and columns from America Online as well). But in summer of ’98 I started reading various online diaries, and in particular I was dropping by James Lileks’ site on a regular basis. I had known of James previous to finding him online: I started reading his newspaper columns off the wire when I was with the Bee, and at AOL, when I was editing a humor area, he was one of the two "pros" I specifically asked to contribute stuff to me, which he graciously did (the other: cartoonist Ted Rall. Yes, it was a funny pairing then, too).

I liked what James was doing and more to the point writing something daily online seemed like a good way to stay "in shape" with writing column-length material. At the time my ultimate goal was to get back into newspapers as a columnist. So I started the Whatever in September of ’98, and the "wanna write a column again" thing dictated the form and length of the writing I did there. To a very large extent it still does; the Whatever has never been a short-form, link-oriented experience. I sometimes wonder what a truly "bloggy" blog from me would be like; "By the Way" gets close but I still blab on quite a bit there as well.

As noted a few entries ago, the Whatever has taken on a life of its own, a life that has been very useful for me in terms of my writing career, so these days I write it for itself, not as practice for any other sort of writing. I wouldn’t mind a newspaper column, however, and the Whatever, I think, has kept me sharp for that sort of thing. So if you’re reading this and you just happen to be a newspaper editor: Hi. I can be bought. over the years has had other features to it aside the Whatever, including archives and pages for my consulting business, but at the moment it’s largely a shell for holding the Whatever, with Agent to the Stars on the side. I imagine at some point I will expand it more, but of course I am famously lazy. Maybe I’ll hire someone to expand it for me instead.

Anyway, that’s the story in a nutshell.  

6 Comments on “In the Beginning”

  1. “ was available to register (because, honestly, why wouldn’t it be)”

    You’d be surprised. was snapped up by a company that rents the name as a mailbox to Peschels fool enough to buy into it. For some reason, when I remember to think about it, I find this incredibly irritating.

  2. It’s funny, I can’t remember if I found you through Lileks, or Lileks through you…

    The first thing I can clearly remember reading here is on Sept 11th, but I know I was reading long before that.

  3. Speaking of previous lives, I want a picture of the mad turkey. I can’t find one on my hard drive, and it may have to be part of your stencil shirt. ;)

    Got any mad turkey graphics laying around? Actually… now that I’m saying that, I bet it’s AOL’s property, isn’t it? Dang it.

%d bloggers like this: