Dis-Integrating the (Public) Self

Have you noticed that at some point in the last decade “personal brand” became one of those terms that we pretend we’re using ironically in order to hide the fact that we more or less mean it for real?

Recently I’ve been feeling a bit… the term I’ve been using for this in my head is “global and integrated”. There is one version of me, globally accessible, with all of the parts fitting together as part of a coherent whole.

My personal brand as DRMacIver is a pretty broad one, and deliberately so. I write about tech, cooking, sexuality, stargate, voting systems, fanfic… whatever is on my mind really, but there’s still a certain… gravity well of self-image that things naturally orbit within. Because everything is integrated, it must fit in with everything else. Extremes are damped out, and there’s a constant question of “Should I say this?”.

There isn’t really much that I feel like I can’t say, but there is a difference in how much effort it takes to say them – the recent sexuality post is not something I would normally write, not because I don’t want to talk about it but because I set much higher standards for myself when writing that sort of thing than I do when just bashing out a data structures post or writing some nonsense about Stargate or complaining about how everything is terrible.

Maybe none of that sounds too bad to you, but it’s been feeling pretty constraining to me for a while, and I’ve been thinking of creating a writing pseudonym. The difficult I’ve been having there is essentially how to do opsec and promotion at the same time – it’s easy for me in my public persona to get an audience (and I’m both vain enough to want one and self-aware enough to know that. I do plenty of writing in private, but if I’m going to write in public then I damn well want it to be somewhere that people actually read), so it’s never got off the ground.

The obvious solution to this was to just create writing pseudonyms that aren’t actually a secret but are still lightly separated – I link to them, but they never link back to me. It’s not hard to find out that they are me, but it’s also not immediately apparent and it helps me keep some emotional distance from them.

This solution is so obvious that it took me over a year to notice that it existed.

Anyway, without further ado, I would like you to introduce you to my two new writing personae: This Continuity of Self and Not A Teapot (TC and nat for short).

I originally had a particular theme in mind for TC, but it rapidly went out the window, so instead they have personalities and writing styles and talk about whatever they feel like. TC also acts as a normal-ish tumblr, while the other personae will be closer to straight up blogs.

In one of those things where the joke is much cleverer than I realised at the time, TC wrote the following description of their style:

mebbe that’s because we need to come up with a good creole so we can form a common syncretic framework in which the paradigms of boring nerd-speak and funny shit can socially construct a good shitpost

In fact, a syncretic framework of boring nerd-speak and funny shit-posting is exactly what TC does.

Generally the joke with TC is that it writes simultaneously really well and really badly. It’s happy to use $100 words and it uses them correctly. It could use correct grammar, but it has absolutely no interest in doing so, but if it wants you to understand its point it will write it in a way that is actually much clearer than more coherent attempts would often achieve. Most of the time though, TC is just fucking with you in a way that it hopes will leave you thinking interesting ways. Or just because it’s funny.

(Each of the personae have their own pronouns. TC is either it or they/them pronouns, nat is she/her. There isn’t any particularly good reason for this except “Why should he/him pronouns be the default for fictional characters?”)

In contrast, nat is slightly stuffy and precise, but mostly very earnest. She is routinely exasperated by her sibling, TC, but they actually work quite well together. Where nat takes everything too seriously, TC takes nothing seriously, and the combination of the two perspectives is useful for sandwiching a point. I really enjoyed writing them arguing and will probably do so more.

The joke with nat is that she is constantly on the cusp of degenerating into pure academic-ese, but actually uses fewer big words than TC because she genuinely wants you to understand, while TC just wants you to think. Where nat introduces academic words, she does so in a pedagogical style that is designed to teach you how to use them.

This doesn’t always work, mostly because of the difficulty with roleplaying someone who is smarter than you – where nat fails at pedagogy, it’s because I’m failing at it.

It’s not a deliberate part of the joke that the ridiculous character has a pretentious name and the pretentious character has a ridiculous name, but I like it enough that the next time I create one it probably will be part of the joke.

The advantage of these personae is that they let me change what is difficult for me to write. TC allows me to lift the constraints of dignity and gives me permission to not make sense, while nat allows me to go into full hyper-focused nerd mode and explain some aspect of a problem in extreme detail. Both of these are things that I feel somewhat reluctant to do as DRMacIver (which isn’t to say that I don’t do them, I just feel like I have a budget for how much I allow myself to).

Those are the three personae I have so far, and I think they’re sufficient for the area of persona-space they explore together. Their interests and values are pretty much like the more intellectual side of mine, they just have different focuses and preferences around them. Between the three of us I think we’ve got that covered.

Once they’ve settled own a bit more and I’ve got a better handle on them I’ll likely add some more. I’m idly thinking of some of the following:

  • a persona that is much more embedded in the world and mostly posts detailed descriptions of things that ignore their context and implications
  • a persona explores things from a more mystical perspective (this will be extremely difficult for me)
  • personae to explore more varied writing styles (“writing badly” and “writing more academically” are not exactly stretching my repertoire)

In the meantime though, nat and TC are a lot of fun to write, and I definitely plan to continue doing so.

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