Persona

Who am I? Par­tic­u­lar­ly, who am I when I write? Does a dif­fer­ent per­son emerge from my writ­ten words than the per­son you might meet in a qui­et pub, or on the church steps, or in a dark alley? And if there is a dif­fer­ence, is it delib­er­ate? Is it even avoid­able?

(I always like to start with more ques­tions than I can pos­si­bly answer. [Once in my senior sem­i­nar for my Eng­lish major we were going over ear­ly drafts in small groups. A class­mate point­ed out that in my five-page draft I had some­thing like twen­ty-two sen­tences end­ing in ques­tion marks. {It may have been even more, but I’m not sure how eas­i­ly I could dig out the draft in ques­tion and con­firm the true num­ber.} The con­sen­sus sug­ges­tion was that I only ask ques­tions that I could then answer or at least address with­in the scope of the par­tic­u­lar piece of writ­ing. I am still learn­ing.…] But I might actu­al­ly get to all of these, since I have — to use a qua­si-time­ly hunt­ing idiom — kept them in a pret­ty tight pat­tern.)

The con­cept of per­sona has been on my mind a lot of late, ever since Michèle tried to con­sole the Cap­tain about his own per­sona angst. It is not new ground for me; for as long as I have been writ­ing for a pub­lic forum I have been con­scious that my ‘voice’ was a bit more over the top than might be the case in casu­al con­ver­sa­tion, and won­dered what to do about it. But hey, that’s writ­ing for you, right?

Bean­er’ was not, I believe, ini­tial­ly con­ceived as a per­sona per se, but it quick­ly became such in prac­tice. I devel­oped con­ven­tions for my newslet­ter writ­ing that were marked­ly dif­fer­ent from my every­day style of speech, but still felt nat­ur­al to me as they poured from my pen. It didn’t take long before I could tell when I was writ­ing for the rag by the con­trivances that I piled on with­out even think­ing about it. My ram­bling self-absorbed prose, ini­tial­ly meant to be play­ful, crept back­ward from the page into my life.

I crossed a line in 1998 when I intro­duced the ana­gram per­sona Hen­ri Don­cks-Delane, the Anglo-Bel­gian arts review­er and cat fanci­er who con­duct length­ly inter­views with Bean­er when­ev­er this writer couldn’t fig­ure out how to say some­thing in essay form. It was cheap par­lour trick, and I relied on it for years. Between his intro­duc­tion in the August 1998 issue of The Float­ing Egg until his vir­tu­al dom­i­nance of the final issue in Octo­ber-Novem­ber 2004, Hen­ri con­duct­ed no few­er than sev­en inter­views with me, includ­ing one with me and m y wife about our first year of mar­ried life. I also used Hen­ri to write a (to my mind) fan­tas­tic piece attack­ing my love of Tolkien; I still think it is one of the high points of the Egg’s lat­er issues.

By the time I met my wife, I had become ‘Bean­er’ to an extent that was no longer appar­ent to me. In her words, I was a “pre­ten­tious twit” and it took much of the first year of our rela­tion­ship to peel away the façade of per­sona that I had built up and redis­cov­er the gen­uine self that I had buried alive beneath. It is not a process I wish to repeat, and I am not sure it is even yet com­plete.

In reviv­ing my writ­ing in blog form I reflex­ive­ly brought ‘Bean­er’ out of retire­ment as well. But I see it more as a han­dle than a per­sona in this incar­na­tion; I feel that my writ­ing is straight­for­ward and gen­uine where my col­lege-era prose was overblown, pre­ten­tious, self-aggran­dis­ing, and all too often wordy for its own sake. I hope to keep that the case; not that there was any­thing ter­ri­bly regret­table about my ‘younger’ writ­ings, but I am no longer the young man I was then, and my words are bound to reflect that. I can­not claim that my writ­ten words are pure and unfil­tered from my soul; it would be ridicu­lous to make such a claim. Of course my prose is fil­tered through my writ­ing process, such as it is, before it reach­es your tired eyes. But there is no con­scious effort on my part to make my writ­ten voice some­thing that I would not or could not be in per­son.

I will not say that I would nev­er use a per­sona again; I can think of many per­sona-dri­ven projects that I would love to try. But for the time being, I plan to keep it real here. At least my brand of real.

3 Comments

  1. Aren’t you a Gem­i­ni? That means you have no con­trol over the fact that you have two per­son­al­i­ties. At least yours don’t phys­i­cal­ly split like Jesse’s. Like when one is sup­posed to be at work and I think I’m home alone and the oth­er is cough­ing upstairs.* And at least you’re not a Libra like myself, who grows per­son­ae at will to the point where oth­er peo­ple just have to deal with who­ev­er wants to read out loud next.**

    *This may have been a neigh­bor or the cable guy, but I’m pret­ty sure it was *oth­er* Jesse. And I don’t mean to lim­it you by say­ing you can’t man­i­fest your­self phys­i­cal­ly in more than one place, I just have nev­er per­son­al­ly wit­nessed it. Okay, now he’s walk­ing around.

    **Hey! It’s my turn!!!

  2. I think that the writer’s voice nat­u­ral­ly emerges and requires lit­tle shap­ing when you write a lot.

    If you want to strip away the veneer and make your writ­ing more gen­uine, I rec­om­mend writ­ing about things that make you sad for a while. That will kick the pom­pos­i­ty in the ass.

    Or at least, that’s been my expe­ri­ence.

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