Life Within the Simulacrum: My Name Is Not My Name

Life Within the Simulacrum is a featured column focusing on technology & social media, travel & literature.


Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to truly be an artist. I walk a tightrope between two worlds. One as a creative soul who constantly lives on the brink of an existential journey, and then one where I’m just here to make money and survive.

See, I was never a person who just threw caution to the wind, said “fuck it” and despite all the risks, threw themselves into being a full-time creative dreamer. As a Type 1 Diabetic I literally can’t survive without health insurance. It just wouldn’t be possible without putting me into a crippling debt. Thus, I’ve always tried to maintain a full-time corporate career while straddling the world of art in my spare time. The thing is, in today’s internet world maintaining a full-time job often times maintaining a clean, Google-able record. Especially in client facing roles.

So I made a pen name.

And now my name is not my name.

For the reasons listed above, the practice of using a pen name is becoming more and more popular. I’m not the only one. Having a pen name means one also has multiple email addresses, people from one’s past commenting on status updates with said person’s real name, while said person’s name is displayed on all social media as their fake name. People who have known me outside of writing attend events and pause before addressing me, remembering I’m someone else. Thus, I’m a woman in two world – one where I’m me and then another one where I’m also me.

So how does life really change for someone who’s living between two names? It’s a bit bizarre at first but not the worst thing in the world. It doesn’t really split your identity. If I lived in two complete personalities which were devout of each other that would be easier. The tricky part is, you learn to live as one person, which a personality where certain attributes are more “highlighted” at times. At work I’m more aggressive. In writing I’m more open. In both scenarios, I’m confident, forthright and funny (if I do say so myself).

So does it really matter then, to have a pen name? For the most part, no. I’m a person and that’s that. But to others who have to live a semi-false existence due to personal paranoia when it comes to one’s career and “the man” I’d recommend the following when choosing your pen name:

Either chose something so fake it’s obvious it’s fake (like ‘Star Unicorn Fantasy’), OR use your original first name with just a new last name. If you choose a name that’s too normal it just feels like a lie. Which it is. So make it obvious it’s a lie, or just use your damn first name.

Ensure said name is highly searchable / Googleable and that nobody else has it. If you’re going to go through the trouble of changing your name for writing make sure you benefit to the fullest!]

Commit to it. Make sure everything you do, your emails, your bylines, every single article is in that name going forward. Make no compromises, or your identity as a writer will start to split into several Horcruxes like Lord Voldemort.

At the same time, be ready to admit that name is not your name (kinda like I’m doing by writing this damn article). It will come up, eventually. Whether you’re referring someone you know from writing to your job, or you get close with a fellow writer to the degree that they meet your brother or sister, your pay for a round with your credit card, it’ll happen. Own it. It’s okay. We’re all living within the simulacrum with a false sense of self anyway.

And Godspeed. I can tell you my name is not my name. And yours doesn’t have to be either.

Dallas Athent is a writer and artist. She is the author of THEIA MANIA, a book of poems with art by Maria Pavlovska. Her work, both literary and artistic has been published or profiled in BUST Magazine, Buzzfeed Community, VIDA Reports From The Field, At Large Magazine, PACKET Bi-Weekly, YES Poetry!, Luna Luna Magazine, Bedford + Bowery, Gothamist, Brooklyn Based, and more. She’s a board member of Nomadic Press. She lives in The Bronx with her adopted pets.

Life Within the Simulacrum: Status Update

Life Within the Simulacrum is a featured column focusing on technology & social media, travel & literature.


If you’re reading this, it’s probable that you follow or are friends with a lot of writers on social media. Perhaps, you, yourself are a writer. You are on PANK, after all.

Assuming this is true your social media feed probably looks similar to mine. Every day I see at least 10+ links a day shared by other writers about how grateful they are to get again have a poem or story published. It usually goes something like this:

“I’m so honored to have [x] published in [x]. Thanks to [person tagged] for being such a force in the literary community.

[insert link].”

I, myself, have posted such statuses. I’m sure you have too.

On each post, the hearts start flying. The tagged individual who’s responsible for publishing said piece will not only “like” the writer’s post themselves, but then comment or reply with an additional “<3” emoji. The rest of us writers will continue to like said post. Sometimes we even love it. Who doesn’t love it when a person we know gets published?

There, technically isn’t a problem with this. I’d be a horrible person if I thought support for fellow writers was a bad thing. (Truth be told, I may be horrible, but for different reasons.)

My bigger question, however, is out of allllll of those likes, how many people are actually clicking the link and reading? Dear reader, I regret to say that I think that number is likely dismal; I personally confess to only going out of my way to read 1/10 of the links that I “like.” While that’s literally embarrassing to admit I know I can’t be the only one adding hearts to things I never have any intention on actually reading.

As I ponder this truth, I even realize I’ve probably liked things in the past that are probably, in fact, abysmal with no idea since I never clicked the damn link!

The thing is, we can’t possibly read everything that comes through our feed each day, but does that mean we should keep reacting to it? In the past I’ve done this to show I’m somehow supportive of the person who shared the post, even if I knew I didn’t have the time nor mental capacity to read it.

But I’m starting to realize this is more harmful than it is helpful.

Being published seems to have become more about having a status update to share with people about being published than having people actually read said piece. So here’s a pop quiz question for 2018:

Which is more valuable to a writer’s career:

  1. Having one person read their work, and really getting something out of it
  2. 100 people seeing on social media that the writer was published but not reading their work at all

Honestly, I don’t know for sure so don’t feel like you failed anything if you don’t agree with me, but it certainly seems like the latter, and that’s, well, just downright depressing. But you know what? I have faith we can change that.

Dear reader, I call on you. Stop hearting things you didn’t read! Join me and stop it.

Stop. It.

Because the truth of the matter is, this does nothing for the literary community. It forces us to live within a simulacrum of success, meanwhile the hard labor we put into writing goes into a vacuum and is swallowed up by yet more links and publications. In a desperate attempt to move literature forward and be noticed not as a craft of the past, we mistakenly believe the more we boost each other’s posts the more we’re giving visibility to poetry and fiction, and this is actually doing the opposite. It’s causing us to have a larger sense of engagement, when nobody is really engaging at all. The best thing we can do is try and entice people who aren’t into literature to read our sites by NOT liking anything we don’t read, try reading at least one thing a day, and then actively commenting on what we thought of it. It may feel as if we’re taking away support, but in fact, it will put responsibility back on the literary community to be strategic, purposefully and create an overall, better experience for online publications.

Long story short, let’s just stop aimlessly clicking in an effort to be seen, shall we?

Dallas Athent is a writer and artist. She is the author of THEIA MANIA, a book of poems with art by Maria Pavlovska. Her work, both literary and artistic has been published or profiled in BUST Magazine, Buzzfeed Community, VIDA Reports From The Field, At Large Magazine, PACKET Bi-Weekly, YES Poetry!, Luna Luna Magazine, Bedford + Bowery, Gothamist, Brooklyn Based, and more. She’s a board member of Nomadic Press. She lives in The Bronx with her adopted pets.

[REVIEW] Theia Mania by Dallas Athent

Words in a book are more useful than the sentences they spell out. They can make beautiful shapes and patterns on a page that greatly enhance the messages they convey. Set those printed shapes and patterns beside hand-drawn artwork that compliments them, and you get a dynamic home for great poetry. Such is the construction of Dallas Athent’s new 66-page poetic tome, Theia Mania, with illustrations by Maria Pavlovska, and book design by Eve Siegel.
The book’s launch event was recently held (April 30) at Pavlovska’s well-lit high-ceiling studio at Mana Contemporary in uptown Jersey City, New Jersey. There, visitors got a closer look at the original abstract sketches used for her art/poetry collaboration with Athent. Those buying the book online via the publisher, AntiSentiMental Society (an imprint of Off the Park Press), will find a short paragraph describing the sketches as “delicately scrawled thread-like drawings that seem to mimic the internal landscapes described and experienced in these poems.”  The original studio wall-hugging illustrations range from toweringly large to book-sized in scale — an appropriate setting for the event’s lineup of poetry-reciting authors, which included Athent, AntiSentiMental Society editor Ronna Lebo, Brooklyn writer and filmmaker Prospero Vega, PANK senior editor Chris Campanioni, and culture chronicler Anthony Haden-Guest. It was the title of Haden-Guest’s memoir about Studio 54 (The Last Party) that helped inspire the launch event’s title: “Theia Mania: The Last Book Launch on Earth.” Indeed, the theme of Athent’s poems echo Studio 54’s long-ago aspiration to host a mix of the sublime and the profane in one swirling space. Hence the the English translation of the book’s ancient Greek title: “divine madness.”
A clue to that aspiration is the oversized presence of thick black words “Degenerate Deity” on page one. Flip a few leaves, and page 5 holds perhaps the most succinct poetic expression of that enigmatic opener:
i am a venus rising.
a venus rising
from the rain fell
to the gutter.
i pick pennies off
the ground
and buy keebler 
wafers from the
here we call them
i am a scumbag
The shapes of such paragraphs live on the book’s right-hand pages — with designer Eve Siegel intuitively moving and morphing word groups around the white space to mimic Pavlovska’s left-page illustrations. Only on page 58 do the words finally cross the spine to stand beside a slim vertical illustration that resembles a dark tower of smudged letters. Siegel situates the nearby poetry lines in similar tight paragraphs, including Athent’s mini-ode to English artist friend Natascha Young:
SO I go to England. Where I belong. I see
the gray and brick and towers of mirth and
gloom. I feel the powers of nations rolling on
history and the river Thames, bones washed
ashore and discarded. And I feel rich. Richer
than a Sulton. There are clocks that could
have paid for my college. There are canes
with marble bells for handles that only a
diplomat could be seen with. We’re so drunk,
Tascha and I. My spirit: Tascha. The mother
of this earth and then some: Tascha. Project
Venus: Tascha. We had all the wine in the
world. All the wine on the table. And then we
had cheese.
“those were dark days.”
“those were dark days.”
those were dark days,
we speak of Wolverhampton.
Yet, Theia Mania’s recurring flirtation with dark themes is not of the naval-gazing goth variety — rather, they revel in electric-lit cityscapes of buzzing shadows, where the liquor-infused nightlife drives a writhing kinetic energy that is intoxicating and addictive. Athent emphasizes her modern urban themes with a sprinkling of smartphone shorthand, the text-worthy symbols seeming like printed sisters to their spoken siblings:
Pictures of an Atlas
playing baseball with a
semi-automatic weapon and the ball = my <3
This is what it means to be Atlas
This is what it means to be Dallas
The divine madness of Theia Mania’s many poetic meanings are allowed to swirl and soar thanks to a very effectively-structured trio-collaboration between author, artist, and designer. The artwork by itself is resonant but abstract. The poems, powerful but shaped as sentences. Together, and jointly reshaped with every turned-over leaf, the resonance and power of the combined product jumps across the pages… and off of them.
Christian Niedan is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. He is co-coordinator of Brooklyn events for literary nonprofit Nomadic Press.