You never know where you're going

Nine years ago, before anyone had ever heard of blogs, back when home pages were the big Internet fad, a friend encouraged me to make my own homepage on Geocities. At that time Geocities was divided into "neighborhoods," and my friend had a homepage in the science-fiction and fantasy neighborhood, as I recall. He thought it would be fun if we were cyber-neighbors.

I didn't have anything to say about science fiction or fantasy, but I decided to make a page to post all my history and royalty links so I wouldn't lose them if my computer suddenly died. I had been volunteering for an online royalty forum as a chat host and newsletter editor, so I had amassed quite a few links.

Making that first page was fairly simple and fun. I downloaded a free HTML program, found a free background image (which was green), and posted all my links in one big long list. Now, what to call my masterpiece? "The World of Royalty" came immediately to mind, so OK, The World of Royalty it was.

And what to call myself? I don't like giving my real name online, and besides, screen names are half the fun of the Internet as far as I'm concerned. I wanted something with royal connotations… but nothing really royal like "Queen" or "Princess" or "Cleopatra," because I didn't want to give the wrong impression (I was already receiving email from royal chatters who assumed I must be Queen Elizabeth herself).

How about a fairy tale name… my mother sometimes called me Cinderella when I worked too hard… OK, Cinderella it was.

Just like that I had a site name and a screen name, two split-second decisions I would have to live with for much longer than I could have imagined.

Around that time, I resigned my volunteer role at the royalty forum because I was tired of the back-stabbing among volunteers. But I kept seeing interesting royalty news stories and wishing I still had a newsletter to put them in. Well, why not post them on my own site? And so the news page was born.

I also had a lot of notes left over from chats I had hosted about Henry VIII, Marie Antoinette, Dracula, Princess Diana, and other royals. These notes became the basis of many of the early articles on the site, which remain the site's most popular articles to this day (although some are badly in need of rewrites).

I soon switched to a purple background image (more appropriate for a royalty site than green), which I've never relinquished even though it makes my site look dated. (My web-designer friends are appalled by my site, and I agree with them that it looks amateurish, but I still like it.) In time I moved from the Geocities science fiction neighborhood to a history neighborhood.

I kept having ideas and adding pages to my site, just for the fun of creating the kind of website I would like to visit. And then lots of people started to actually visit my site — !!! — which I had never really expected. Not only that: People were taking my site seriously, even assuming that it was the work of a lot of people, that I was a big corporation of some kind, if not Queen Elizabeth herself.

There was no Wikipedia back then, so I was inundated by email from students who needed help with their homework. I was inundated by email from anyone and everyone all over the world, or so it seemed. People were offended if I didn't mention their home countries or report certain news stories quickly enough.

Because I am clearly crazy, I tried to address everyone's wishes and complaints and make the site what everyone wanted. It took on a life of its own.

My hobby became my master. I was working very long hours in a "real" job, and my evenings and weekends were devoted to the website. For years I took no time off at all. Madness, but for a while I didn't mind.

In 2001, I relocated to my own domain, And in 2002 I quit my job to run the site full time. Not that it has ever brought in enough money to justify that decision, but the site was my baby and I wanted to devote myself to it. I've never regretted it, because despite the hard work and eventual burnout, I've enjoyed myself immensely, learned a lot, and met wonderful people along the way.

The moral of the story is not that you should follow your dreams. I was crazy to do all this, and I never dreamed where I was going, and maybe I could have spent my time more wisely and profitably.

Today my site is obsolete in some ways; I'm not keeping up with Internet trends very well and I'll probably continue to fall behind because I don't have, or even want to have, the tech know-how or killer business instinct I need.

From a practical standpoint, the site is a lot more work than it is worth. And still, I have no regrets. I suppose the moral is that there is no moral. I am a person who likes to plan ahead, but life can be fun when you have no plan. And life is more fun when it's fun.

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