My author bio states that I am an occasional pole dancer. Now, I have to confess, this may be something of an exaggeration. I do go along, occasionally, to a pole fitness studio near to where I live and I dangle precariously from the equipment then stagger off home feeling as though I’ve been run over by a truck. Pole dancing is Hard Work and not for the faint of heart!
But there are others who go along who are much better at it than I am. I daresay the instructor, Nadine, offers up thanks on a daily basis for these hardy souls. One such person, we shall call her Jane, had managed to master a new pose known as the pretzel, so called because it involves somehow curling your body around the pole in a most improbable and gravity-defying manner. It looks pretty impressive and had taken Jane a lot of practice, sweat and unladylike grunting, but she got there. Then, as is the usual tradition on such occasions, Nadine took her photo on Jane’s mobile phone so that Jane could show the evidence to all her friends.
Being rightly proud of her achievement, Jane uploaded the prized picture onto her Facebook profile, only to find herself suddenly engulfed in a shit-storm of outrage and pious fury. The reason? As well as being a pole dancer, and , incidentally, a skilled physicist at the university, Jane also volunteers as a part-time scout leader. Hanging half naked from a pole, was, in the view of the great and the good of the scouting fraternity, behaviour unbecoming for a scout leader. She had a choice. it seemed. Remove the picture or stop volunteering with the scouts.
Jane duly took the picture down, but amid much grumbling and complaining. Apart from the fact that there was nothing even remotely half-naked about the image – she would wear less to take the scouts swimming – what did it have to do with the Scout folk anyway?
A good question, but not the main point of this post.
I think the object lesson here is that as soon as you put anything ‘out there’ on social media there’s no getting it back. Time was when we could compartmentalise our lives, and some of us still try, but social media has a way of outing you.
We authors experience this a lot as many of us write under pen names and have multiple personas out there in Facebookland and the Twittersphere. I am no exception. I do have a Facebook account in my real name, but I can’t remember when I last logged onto it. I’m always on line as Ashe Barker, and for me Ashe is every bit as real as my other, legal identity.
I know the difference. I’m perfectly clear that Ashe Barker can’t sign legal documents, for example publishing contracts. Nor can she hold a bank account or a passport. Ashe Barker is a badge, my brand, you might say. But I answer to Ashe in conversations and every time I send an email I have to think which name to sign it as. Ashe is very real to me.
All of this was perhaps vaguely interesting but didn’t matter too much until fairly recently when I started increasingly using Ashe’s Facebook presence for ‘real world’ things, just because Ashe is always there, active and current. It felt easier than jumping between identities would be. But I keep having to explain who and what Ashe is, and although I’ve never felt a need to conceal the nature of my writing, I do get some funny looks down at parish council meetings when I try to explain why the deputy mayor has a public profile which uses this strange alter ego and rather dodgy imagery.
Even more recently I started volunteering at the community library in my village. It’s nice work, involves messing about with books, stamping them when people borrow them, and of course taking in the returns when readers have finished a book. One or two of my titles are in the library because the Council bought them (local interest and all that), and as luck would have it one of them, Darkening, came back while I was on the desk.
“Did you enjoy it,” I asked.
The elderly lady handed me her library card, shuffled a bit and flushed bright pink. “It was a good story, but too much swearing for my taste. Some bits were just filthy, I had to skip those…”
“Did you finish it?”
“Oh, yes. And there’s a sequel, I think. I’ll probably take that next.”
I directed her to the right shelf and opted not to further burden her with the knowledge that she was talking to the author.