The first time I posted my writing on the internet was in 1997. I created a website about The Evolution of Mickey Mouse. It was based on a report I wrote in high school about the small mammal. My research for this report entailed several visits to the library to scroll through multiple rolls of microfilm (do kids these days even know what microfilm is?) to find articles that described the mouse during his heyday. I decided to put my findings on the internet so other people wouldn’t have to dig through canisters of microfilm. That Mickey Mouse website did well: For a short period of time, back when the Yahoo! search engine reigned supreme and Google was new, the site was ranked #2 with the search terms “Mickey Mouse”.[1. Disney.com, of course, came up first if you searched for “Mickey Mouse”.] Children from the world over sent me e-mails with instructions to “say hi” to Mickey Mouse. The internet was a sweet and innocent place.
My first blog was hosted on Open Diary. It was late 2000 and I was a medical student. I used a nom de plume that now causes me some mild embarrassment. I wanted to record my experiences in medical training. This was not a new practice for me: In junior high, high school, and college, I filled the college-ruled pages of dozens of spiral-bound notebooks with my thoughts. To my knowledge, there weren’t many medical students blogging at that time. Other Open Diary users read my writing, seemed to enjoy it, and expressed interest in what happens in medical school. Writing for an audience was fun. The internet was a social and friendly place.
Open Diary used fixed templates. While I knew that the substance of the writing was paramount, I wanted more style on the screen. That’s when I moved my writing to Blogger (still owned by Pyra Labs at that time) and adopted the title “intueri: to contemplate”. That would remain the name of my blog for six to seven years. I dropped my nom de plume and started using my first name. No one could figure out who I am with just my first name, right? And even if they do, who’s gonna care?
I wrote about my experiences in medical school… and then about my experiences in residency. My blog moved off of Blogger and I bought my own domain. I used MovableType for a few years. I then tried WordPress and have used it since. I read Instapundit and he posted an e-mail I sent to him. Ezra Klein, before he became Ezra Klein, called me “one of the web’s most graceful prose stylists“. I hosted Grand Rounds a few times.[2. If you know what Grand Rounds is, that shows your blogging age.] I started meeting people who read my writing online. The internet was a dynamic and exciting place.
I started feeling ambivalent about writing online. I closed down comments because anonymous people left statements like, “ALL PSYCHIATRISTS SHOULD DIE” and “YOU’RE A PSYCHIATRIST, YOU KILL CHILDREN”. A physician who wrote a blog under a pseudonym was revealed in court. I worried that my writing wasn’t fictitious enough, that maybe my stories weren’t purely coincidental. My mind generated catastrophes: Someone might read a story and think I was talking about them! They would sue me and I would lose my license! Other doctors would judge me! I would never recover! Even if I did, one of those commenters who hate psychiatrists would then kill me!
So I shut down that blog. The internet was a scary and dangerous place.
I moved to New York City. A man who was living there had been reading my blog for a few years. He suggested that we meet. We dated. We eventually got married in Central Park.
I couldn’t not write. Nearly two years had passed since I had posted any of my writing online. I decided to start another blog, though I did not want to write in fear. In White Ink revealed my full name. (Nothing bad happened.) The first post appeared there in 2010. The internet was not dangerous place, though not an innocent place, either. The internet was a place to learn.
I purchased this domain name, mariayang.org, that same year. Would you believe that it took nearly four years for me to build the courage to finally occupy the space?
Next time: Occasionally asked questions about blogging as a physician.