Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Identity Crisis

I've been having a low key identity crisis over the past few months. No- I'm not having a mid-life crisis. I'm trying to decide under what name I should publish my upcoming children's book (and probably any other future writing I choose to publish in a non-blog format). I had generally assumed that I would publish under a pseudonym, but lately I've been considering using my real initials and last name.

I've been thinking about showing Pumpkin my book- which is her bedtime story- and explaining why it is not my name on the front. What would I tell her? Would I feel good about my explanation and what it said to her about me, her, and our place in the world?

I do not kid myself and think that I am truly anonymous here. Far from it- anyone who knows me in real life and finds this blog will recognize me, and I am aware that it would be trivially easy for someone who wanted to find out my real name to do so. I have two main reasons for writing pseudonymously: (1) I worry about potential employers googling my name and finding the blog and reading something that makes them not want to hire me, (2) I worry about having something I write about the kids come back later to cause them problems (e.g., teasing at school).

In short, I've thought that by blogging under a pseudonym, I am protecting myself and my family. I have started to rethink that.

On the first issue, what is it that I write that could potentially sour an employer? I used to joke that I didn't want someone who was considering hiring me to find a bunch of posts about how sleep deprived I am- but I am not sleep deprived anymore. The more likely scenario now is that the potential employer disagrees with my more feminist posts or doesn't like my assertion that working long hours is unproductive. I rarely blog directly about my work and never blog anything even close to proprietary. In a fair world, nothing I write would cause me any problems with my career. But we do not live in a fair world, and I know that, so I worry.

Still, I find myself thinking about the worst possible career outcome- namely that I get fired and/or cannot get hired someplace else because of something I write- and find that I don't care. I would not write anything where such an outcome would be justified, so if I did suffer any career repercussions for anything I write, I think I could live with that. I have money in the bank and other ideas about what I could do to make more money. Perhaps I should reject the idea that writing honestly about my life as a mother in the workforce might jeopardize my place in the workforce, not because it couldn't do that, but because it shouldn't do that. I have long felt that the safest course for me in my career is to avoid being linked directly with feminism. Perhaps it is time for me to stop being safe and do my small bit to help make it safer for women in science and technology to be outspoken.

The second issue is trickier. I still would not name my kids on my blog. I don't have the same last name as my children, and my last name is a fairly common one. So realistically, by the time my kids' friends are old enough to find this blog, they would be old enough to break through the thin veil of anonymity I have now- but it isn't likely that they would do so by accident. The more likely concern is that I could pick up a troll who becomes scary, i.e., who figures out who I am in real life and threatens me and my family there. This is very unlikely, but sadly, not impossible. In a sane world, nothing I write here could possibly spur someone to take such hateful steps. But we do not live in a sane world. We live in a world where the outcry and discussion around the outing of the man who created and moderated disgusting and harmful Reddit sites is more around the fact that someone outed him than around the fact that his sites were a safe haven for men who engage in predatory behavior towards women and girls. We live in a world where all young women have to worry about the ever present camera and what an inopportune photo can do to them in the hands of the wrong person. We live in a world where Kathy Sierra can be hounded offline by trolls issuing death threats. We live in a world where Facebook allows disgusting hate speech aimed at women under the guise of "humor" and "satire." And in this world, women are just supposed to shrug and ignore all of this because of "free speech." (Note: most people do not understand what free speech really means.)

But as I've been reading all of the recent news, and reflecting back on the Sierra story (which occurred right around the time I was first becoming active online), I find that my primary emotion isn't fear. It is anger. I am angry that this is the world I have to explain to my girls someday. I am angry that I'll have to coach them to be careful about pictures, and that I'll eventually have to explain about sexists and misogynists and the happy home those people have found for themselves in certain corners of the internet. I am angry that I have to pick my way past that sexism and misogyny online, and that my daughters undoubtedly will, too.

And come to think of it, I am angry that I have to worry at all that writing under my own name about being a working mother and being a feminist could have negative repercussions on my career.

I am sick of this stuff. I want it to get better. Maybe it is time to revisit my old adage to "never give them a reason to disrespect you" and acknowledge that the people who are going to disrespect me and try to hold me back will always find a reason, no matter what I do. I do not kid myself that my reach or importance are anywhere big enough to mean that my decision will make an iota of difference to the rest of the world. But it will matter to me, and to the example I am to my daughters, and that is reason enough to think this through. What message do I want to send them? And how, exactly, do I best protect them from the ugliness that is in this world?

My decision is made, but I am not going to tell you what it is, because I want to hear what you think in the comments. Tell me, please.

42 comments:

  1. Why don't you say here that you are writing under a pseudonym, and then use your initials & last name. Anyone who really knows you will know its true, random Internet ppl will assume its a pseudonym so your real name must be anything BUT your actual real name. That gets you recognition from those you know and anonymity from those you don't.

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    1. I just realized I wasn't very clear- this blog stays Cloud's, no matter what. The book(s) I write get published under something that sounds like a real name- either mine or a pseudonym. I put up links to the book(s) here. The concern is that if I use my real name for the book, it makes it possible for someone googling my real name to end up here, and it makes it easier for a nasty troll to figure out who I really am.

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  2. I have no advice for you because I'm struggling with a very similar question myself. I'm also coming to the conclusion that maybe I don't care as much as I "should" if employers reject my application because I have a picture of my kid on my academic webpage. I've had so many people recently come to me for support because I am vocal about having a kid in academia, that I owe it to my younger colleagues to serve as a role model. Don't know if I have the courage to be quite so out as a parent, but I'm toying with it.

    I'll probably keep blogging anonymity for my family's sake. I've been bitten in the past by my political stances hurting my family, so I'm more cautious about that.

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    1. It is so sad that it is advisable for mothers in some workplaces to be so understated about it. I don't generally worry about linking my real name to the fact that I'm a mother- but I am in industry and the issues around motherhood are different, and I think less obnoxious.

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  3. Mr.Snarky has told me that when he was hiring (me), he found a picture of me that I think was not exactly flattering, and he thought something like, "This is a girl who knows how to have fun and would fit in here." I don't think that photo played a part in me getting hired since it was someone else who finally made the decision to hire me, but I do think an online presence can work both ways. Someone may not hire you because of the views you've expressed in your blog, but someone else may read the blog and think, "She's perfect for us." And that might work out better for everyone.

    Then again I don't know that I have room to say anything as I am extremely careful about what I'll post online. I try to avoid controversial comments. But I am cautious in real life, too, preferring to feel out the views of the people around me before announcing any of my own opinions.

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    1. That is such a Mr. Snarky thing to do/say....

      You are right- there could be pluses to publishing under my real name, too. Not so much with the kids' book, but with some of the other things I'm toying with writing. So that is factoring into my decision making process, too.

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  4. And just after reading your blog I see a link to 5 Tips for Building a Personal Brand.

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  5. Engineering Elf6:05 AM

    I do not have an active blog; but I used to write posts for my college blog under my own name and I had a livejournal account under another name. I never felt worried about the college blog because I did not really consider that I should. My Livejournal account was for rants and complaints and things I wanted to say but probably would be taken the wrong way if I talked to people directly. At that point no one was using their real name online so I didn't even think of it.

    Now that I have kids I only post under a psuedonym and having a Facebook account makes me squirm. Too many things can go sour on the internet and too fast. I love reading your blog and feel no need to know you by your legal name. You are supporting me as I talk to my coworkers about family issues and strategy whatever name you choose to use.

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    1. I am not at all considering changing my policy about pictures, mostly for privacy reasons. Which is sort of sad, too. We live in a screwed up world!

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  6. I'm de-lurking, unfortunately not to join in this discussion, which I find very interesting, but about which I have very little to add (I write comments but otherwise don't blog/have a large web presence), but rather, to ask about the decision process you went through when you ended up with a last name that is different from your kids'. I'm about to get married, and the name-changing topic is weighing on me. I thought I had basically made up my mind, but I'd really like to hear what you have to say on the topic.

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    1. I'm not sure my thought process is much help in a general case. I'd already earned a PhD and published scientific articles under my name, so I never really considered changing it. From what I've observed with my friends, I think that path is more common among women my age (I'm 40) than among younger women. Younger women seem to be changing their names more often.

      I can say that I've had no problems from having a different last name than my husband and my kids, for whatever that's worth.

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    2. I thought very seriously on the same topic when I got married. My husband was very much against me hyphenating my name, and he was totally indifferent as to whether we had the same name, so it was totally up to me. I decided to keep my name, and we basically rolled the dice as far as what last name our daughter would have. She wound up with his name, which I had originally thought would be really weird, and turns out not to matter to me at all. She's just about to turn 6 and she's really noticing that we have different last names, and was asking about the possibility of using my last name at activities where I'm the person who usually drops her off, so she definitely notices. That's really recent and I don't know exactly what prompted it, but overall I'm very happy I kept my own name. Good luck with the decision.

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    3. My three kids have a different last name than me. No one thinks it's weird anymore. I'd say about a quarter of the (married, two-parent) families we know have parents with different last names. You're not any less married just because you didn't change your maiden name and your husband didn't change his bachelor name.

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    4. We took the rarest of paths - I kept my name, and the kids have my name. My husband kept his own. I felt really strongly about it and he didn't care. Our families freaked out at first, but everyone got over it. I have to admit, I like sharing a last name with them. I don't know why, it's irrational and it surprises me, but there it is. I wish more women gave their kids their last name - not for any particular reason other than diversity (I certainly don't judge/care what families decide).

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    5. the milliner7:43 PM

      Our son has my last name too. Interestingly, it was on DH's insistance. I was fine either way and probably would have tossed a coin. But hyphenating was out as we both have long last names and it just seemed like too much.

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  7. Abby Kavner6:56 AM

    Real name. Take credit.

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  8. I would write under the real name, but not link to the book(s) on this blog. It will be a small downside for us readers, but it's not worth getting outed.

    Getting outed scares me, too. The internet is full of creepazoids. But even without them, the society is such that it's really never prudent to say what you really think in real life, about almost anything. Not sure what to teach your girls; I find the real world to be an unwelcoming place where you have to be on your toes and keep up appearances all the time. Writing pseudonymously online is, for me, a welcome outlet, enabling me to write (relatively) freely about what I think and feel. I would not want to lose my pseudonym. YMMV, of course.

    Good luck whatever you choose!

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    1. I honestly think that unless I somehow enrage the really nasty trolls, the most likely consequences of being outed for me would be, at worst, a few uncomfortable conversations at work. "So you were bored." "Yes. But I'm not anymore." "OK." Things get a little more dicey if I end up out looking for another job, but even then... I don't know. I've got to balance the unlikely but real bad possibilities against some upsides and this feeling that I shouldn't have to use a pseudonym for anything I want to say! It has been an interesting internal argument.

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  9. I would put my own name on the book if I were in your shoes. As you've pointed out, you're only pseudo-anonymous here. I feel that writing under your own name gives you a lot more credibility because you have to stand behind the positions you take, and I don't really see you as being afraid of doing that.

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    1. The credibility issue isn't such a concern for a children's book... but it is for some of the other things I'm considering. So yes, this has been on my mind, too. But then, I've always seen a clear difference between anonymous and pseudonymous. My "Cloud" identity has credibility, too- more credibility that my "real" identity would in some venues!

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  10. Anonymous8:59 AM

    When I start my blog, I plan to use my real name, and just make sure that I am comfortable with anybody reading what I write (some of this may be risky if my opinions rub anybody the wrong way -- I do not plan to completely sensor myself -- but I will be careful to not talk about people I know in a negative light, etc.) Part of my reason for this is that (a) writing anonymously is a challenge, and (b) ideally, if I gain some amount of recognition from my blog, I'd like to use this to my advantage.

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    1. My policy has always been that I'd never write something I wasn't OK with my Mom and my boss reading. My Mom reads this blog. My boss doesn't- at least not that I know! But I always assume he might.

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  11. You know, I have the same concerns (although I'm not particularly concerned about malevolent people--more about small-minded ones).

    But I do think about how Baguette will feel about my blog when she's older. Maybe by then no one will care. Maybe she'll hate it. But at least there's plausible deniability with pseudonyms.

    Long before I started blogging, I decided that I would write under a pseudonym--also for privacy rather than security. I wouldn't hide it from people I know, but I don't need the whole world to know me.

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    1. I've always been on the fence about the pseudonym. Back when this was going to be a travel blog (ha!) I almost started it with my real name. My husband talked me out of that. Interestingly, he doesn't have much of an opinion about my current decision.

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  12. mom2boy10:02 AM

    I'm genuinely curious - how do you stay anonymous and publish a book? Especially a children's book since I don't see those as being viable in an e-book only format just yet. How do you do meet and greets and how do you self-promote with no background to get readers to relate/buy what you are selling?

    Practicalities aside, I don't see an ethical dilemma (never fails I spell that word wrong on the first try) with writing/publishing under a pseudonym. Privacy is just as important as authenticity (and I don't think one negates the other) and is yours to create and keep for yourself and your family as much as you can if that's important to you.

    I am outraged by lots of things in the news lately.






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    1. mom2boy2:27 PM

      Clearly I'm late to the kids e-books publishing party. I missed the original post on you writing a children's book (awesome!) and the review of the ebook Secret Agent Josephine. So now that I'm all caught up - I see that you absolutely can go the e-book route as a children's book author. :)

      Congratulations and however you choose on your publishing persona, I hope you have great success!

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    2. Thanks! Xist started out as a primarily eBook publisher, but now I think they are doing print runs of all their books, too.

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    3. the milliner8:00 PM

      I heard an interview with an author on the radio recently. He wrote a successful series (mystery I think) under a feminine pseudonym. Much to the chagrin of his publishers who had a big challenge in marketing his books. It was getting increasingly difficult for the publicists as I guess the whole "meet the author" thing (being key in book marketing I guess) is pretty much impossible if you are not who your readers think you are. After two collections he actually decided to 'out' himself, mostly out of respect for his readers and also as he was realising how increasingly difficult he was making is publicists' lives in essentially trying to help him sell books.

      So, not that you can't remain anonymous or use a pseudonym, but there may be practical reasons not too.

      Your decision is already made, but FWIW, I'd do your initials and last name. I love the idea of writing under a pseudonym if only for the capability to 'reinvent' yourself...Or at minimum, create a persona out of certain parts of yourself that maybe aren't usually in focus.

      I agree with @mom2boy that the pseudonym question is more a question of privacy than authenticity. And ITA that the two things aren't mutually exclusive. Though I can see how this is less of an issue for fiction and a more complex issue when talking about non-fiction.

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    4. the milliner8:07 PM

      Oh! And congratulations about the book! Somehow I missed that original post too.

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  13. I've been thinking about this since I read it last night, and while I have very different opinions about being online (hi there, I post about myself and my kid up one side of the internet and down the other), I understand the decision to stay anonymous online, so I'll leave my thoughts on that out of this.

    However, from a publishing perspective, I would really advise you to publish under your name (even initials/last name) if you have plans to do more than one book in the trade market. You CAN publish under a pseudonym, but everything gets an added level of difficulty these days--publicity & promotion in particular, but also if you ever do decide to change that stance, you lose any connection to sales data that may help a publisher decide to publish your next book.

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    1. I hope it didn't come across that I think it is always a bad idea to blog under your real name, post pictures of kids, etc. I don't. I think there are pluses and minuses either way, and people just have to figure out what works for them.

      Thanks for the advice from the publishing perspective! I appreciate it.

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    2. Oh, I didn't take it that way! I reread my comment and it comes across a little defensive, which wasn't what I was going for, I promise.

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  14. I write/blog/speak/etc under my real name, but this is what I do professionally. I want people googling me! I like Cloud or Wandering Scientist as pseudonyms. I was thinking your children's book could be Cloud. Your grown-up books could be by Cloud, the wandering scientist, or some such. That way you can promote your books online through here while maintaining your anonymity and still having your other separate scientist life too. I'm curious to learn what you decided.

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    1. I agree with @Laura Vanderkam.

      There's a reason you've been so cautious - it's a cruel world out there. There's a sense of vulnerability.

      You know the choices I've made: I will never put my real name out on the internets in connection with my blog. I purposely avoid mentioning the specifics of what I do for a living and where I live. And I would never put tagged pictures of my minor children or their real names out on the internets - I don't think the benefits outweigh the risks.

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    2. That's an interesting idea! I don't think i could do it, though. I am the daughter of a librarian, and think of the alphabetization issues that would raise!

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    3. Ah, we'd just create an authority file for you anyway and a bunch of See and See also records in the catalog. :)

      I don't really have any advice--I'd say I made utterly different decisions, but actually, I didn't really MAKE any decisions. I've had a website with my real name on it since 1999. I've been Googleable for as long as there's been a Google, via that and public postings to listservs. I work in a profession where a lot of people blog under their real names (and include stuff about their kids on their blogs). And I wasn't ever planning to have a kid. :)

      But now I have a kid AND a web presence, and I can't change either of those things. So I mostly don't worry about it.

      I'd also note that in over a decade of publishing stuff online, I've almost never been trolled, stalked, or otherwise impeded in life. I was unemployed for awhile, but I think that had more to do with my having an MFA and no actual work experience than with anything I wrote or put on Flickr.

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  15. A lot of mom bloggers eventually get caught on this question. It doesn't matter if they are originally incognito or not. There is not much to be said on who really ended up eventually reaching their set goal. I am following their stories... And each of the bloggers seem comfortable

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    1. Oops that was published before I was ready! There is someone I know of, who unveiled herself on the blog forum so that she would not have to write a book with a false name.

      If you write a book by your real name, and if that book has been referenced here, then, you might as well give Cloud her real name! If you worry about potential employers being bothered about the contents of your blog, and if they are indeed bothered by it, they are really not worth you, are they?


      I had a blog and long went private. Deep soul searching articles like yours are restricted to pen and paper!!

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    2. Which ever way you go, my best to you!

      Love your blog, btw! (Have I said it before?)

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    3. Thanks! I am glad you like the blog.

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  16. Thanks for the comments and perspectives, everyone. Sadly, you'll never know for sure what I chose. Unless you know me in real life. Sorry about that!

    I definitely want to link to the book here, though- I was always sure of that. So you'll know when the book comes out. It should be soonish.

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  17. Personally, I'd feel like publishing a book under a pseudonym would make me feel like I wasn't getting any of the credit for it :)

    Good luck on whatever you decide!

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