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