February 19, 2006. A new website debuted on MSN Spaces. It was not an immediate sensation. By the end of the year, after 161 items were posted, many of them predating the site’s existence, it accumulated a measly 3200 hits, a non-scientific count that included the author’s own daily visits. The real total was probably less than 3000.
By the end of that year, MSN Spaces became Windows Live Spaces. And in 2007, with a shifted focus, the site started to grow. In between more archival material being unveiled were new pieces covering the ongoing bloodletting at Sun Media. 128 postings led to roughly 10000 page views, more than tripling the first year’s count. Encouraging. A few professional writers began leaving comments & writing emails, most of them supportive, all of them enlightening. A couple of new blogs noted the Sun Media coverage, one of which offered the site owner an opportunity to write, a gig that lasted nine months.
Over the next two years, fewer relics of a writing past surfaced as almost all the postings were created specifically for this platform. Annual hit counts stayed relatively consistent, averaging more than 10000. No big breakthrough just yet.
Then, in the fall of 2010, the big announcement. Microsoft was phasing out Windows Live Spaces by the spring of 2011. There were three options offered: 1. Save all your entries & comments (but not your lists, site design or guestbook) on a flash drive. 2. Relocate your site (just the entries & comments) to WordPress. 3. Delete it or let Microsoft delete it for you.
I went with 1 & 2. And I’m glad I did.
After a slow start at the new digs, The Writings Of Dennis Earl began to grow. Modestly. Between mid-September and December 2010, page views were barely 1100. In 2011, thanks to a couple of unexpectedly popular Gene Simmons Family Jewels pieces, the overall hit count was over 23000. In 2012, they were over 26000.
After going back down to 23000 in 2013, they jumped to almost 40000 in 2014, the same total as last year. What can be attributed to the expanded audience in the last little while? I’m a Huffington Post Contributor and have nearly 700 Twitter followers.
But still no breakthrough. Despite some positive developments since this site moved from Windows Live Spaces to WordPress, I’m not a household name and I’m not raking in the big bucks. I’ve not made one cent from blogging these past ten years, though it’s not for a lack of trying.
During the Spaces era, I had an Amazon ID. No one bought any of the books on my list despite hundreds of clicks. And because I’ve never owned a credit card, I couldn’t participate in one of their ad programs, not that it was terribly lucrative. As far as I know, for their part, WordPress doesn’t offer any moneymaking opportunities for bloggers.
So, why do I keep doing it? I’m 40 now, still at home, jobless, dateless and spend most of my time doing solitary things. It’s not what I envisioned for myself, by any means. Have I just wasted a decade of my life?
The answer is no and I’ll tell you why. Without this site, a number of old friends I had lost touch with for years would not be back in my life right now. Without this site, I wouldn’t have blogged for Fading To Black. Without this site, I wouldn’t be a Huffington Post Contributor. Without this site, I wouldn’t have a voice, a way to relate & attempt to make sense of myself and our ever tumultuous world at large. Without this site, I would not have an outlet for that voice. Without this site, I wouldn’t be on Twitter.
Without this site, I’m not sure what I would be doing right now. Finding a day job has been next to impossible. I’m either overqualified for menial tasks or seriously underqualified for important ones. For a time, I actually signed up with an employment agency which proved frustratingly fruitless. I’ve pretty much given up on having a love life. You meet plenty of cool women online (I’ve made numerous friends on Twitter, for instance) but distance, availability and reciprocation, as always, are the ultimate roadblocks. I’m no longer confident attempting to mingle with women in my own city.
I’m eternally grateful to my ever patient parents for allowing me to stay in the family home. It helps that we have a great relationship. But even they are wondering if I’m ever going to get a life of my own. I’ve been asking myself that same question for too many years now.
The irony of all of this is that this site would not exist were it not for one woman. And not just any woman, either.
I met her through Yahoo Messenger in late 2004. She was 18, I was 29. We instantly hit it off and chatted online & on the phone for three weeks. Then, she changed her profile. It said she was in love with an American soldier. I was pissed. We weren’t exclusive or anything. But she wasn’t truly single like I was led to believe and we had talked about getting together for New Year’s Eve. An angry email was fired off (after she avoided talking to me for a day and a half; I also needed time to think about what I wanted to say) followed by an apologetic explanation & a peace offering. But I wanted more than friendship. A second angry email soon arrived and then another attempt to smooth things over. Shortly thereafter, the communication stopped altogether.
Three months later, we tried again, the anger completely subsided. The engagement with the American soldier was off. (He was the one who insisted she change her Yahoo profile.) Two months after numerous phone calls and online chats, we finally met in person. She was now 19. The chemistry we felt online was right there offline as I had my first ever make-out session in a local park. We made love three times during our second date at her house eight days later. After holding out for so long, it felt so right to finally let go. Later that night on the phone, she told me she could still smell me in her sheets.
She came to my very small 30th birthday party (she got me the terrific Mystic River on DVD) and we fooled around some more. On our fourth & final date, we went to the movies. The whole time we were together, we talked every day on the phone. There were a lot of laughs and a lot of love.
During the reconciliation, she suggested I blog about our relationship which she was already doing. I politely declined. But seven months after we broke up for good (she never stopped talking to that American soldier and when confronted, refused to choose me over him), I revisited her suggestion.
I was a 30-year-old with zero prospects. After only consulting a couple of sites (not realizing there were many more to choose from), with some trepidation, I launched The Writings Of Dennis Earl with no fanfare on MSN Spaces. The original plan was to focus on the outside worlds of politics, movies, music, & professional wrestling, not my own life. Three months after it began, I broke down and wrote about being a terrible student council president in high school. It was only supposed to be one piece. But the bad memories I had shamefully hoarded since 1992 just poured out of me. It ended up becoming an eight-part epic. A 14-year guilty obsession finally laid to rest. Over time, more personal reminiscences started appearing. Another failed relationship (that stayed online and on the phone) with another much younger woman in 2007 led to more pieces. The following year, I finally wrote about my one and only sexual experience with my then-19-year-old ex during a particularly depressing time.
Despite voluntarily ending the relationship in the summer of 2005, it took years to finally make peace with it. Looking back, however, it was always meant to be short-term. She liked country music and Adam Sandler movies. I don’t. She was looking for a husband. I don’t want to be married. She wanted kids. I have no desire to procreate.
Whatever anger and disappointment I felt at the time for not being able to keep it all going has long since dissipated. I’m at peace with what happened. I’ll always be appreciative to her for first, loving me the way she did and second, for inspiring me to start this blog. It’s funny. My vision for this site did not in any shape or form involve posting personal stories. TWODE was primarily conceived as a critique centre, a singular place to share my political opinions & views of various forms of entertainment. I never anticipated revealing so much of myself in so many different ways, and not always intentionally, either.
But that’s the surprisingly welcome reality. This site would not exist if it wasn’t for my ex, a kind, sweet, beautiful, quirky woman who I hope is doing well today. It’s been 11 years since we’ve talked.
Speaking of the present, The Writings Of Dennis Earl currently has close to 1000 entries overall and almost 160000 hits in the WordPress era alone (roughly a third of that total represents my time on Spaces). There have been productive periods and long stretches of inactivity. I’ve been alternately praised and criticized by prominent folks and readers both named and anonymous. I’ve made smart observations and offered incredibly stupid predictions that failed to come true. I’ve been goofy and dead serious. I’ve praised and condemned. Through it all, I’ve strived to be as honest as I can with everything I’ve showcased here.
Now that this site is officially a decade old, the familiar questions are popping up again. How I can make it better? How do I reach a bigger audience? And most importantly, how can I make money with it? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. There never have been.
But despite the uncertainty of my own future, it’s reassuring and comforting to know that whenever I want to say something, whatever it is, and say it immediately without waiting for an editor’s approval, I have my own outlet. All I have to do is type, edit and post. That’s a wonderful privilege for a writer like me to have. I will never take it for granted.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, February 19, 2016