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 thoughts on “Persona

  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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