I’m Not Sure a Pseudonym is Really Me, and Other Debates
June 24, 2019 § 9 Comments
By James Irwin
During my most recent trip to India I was invited to speak as part of a series called The Other Side, in which business leaders share stories about how they rebounded after failures and setbacks. At my advanced age I have plenty of those, but I decided to tell them The Big Story about how I had been a successful media artist and writer and consultant in San Francisco before the Violent Unknown Event devastated my life at age 34, after which I reinvented myself as a marketing communications strategist working for The Man. And that was the tone I used, that something Really Bad happened but I wasn’t about to explain the details. Even now, in this piece, I’m glossing over it, using an arcane film reference for my own amusement rather than be candid and tell you that everything in my personal and professional life was destroyed, that I was so affected by all the loss I would have been suicidal if I had the energy or emotional engagement but I would have gladly agreed if someone volunteered to shoot me in the head to end it all quickly, that the nightmare followed me back east where my relationship with my father was so irreparably damaged because of his complicity that years later as he lay in a coma in hospice I told him what a piece of shit he had become and sent him off with a good riddance, something I would never admit out loud or for goodness sakes put in writing because Jesus what if my sisters read it they would be heartbroken. So I just bottle all the stories up.
But a woman came over after my Other Side talk and asked why I don’t write again. (This was refreshing enough since most people ask me why I don’t make films again and I dislike explaining how whatever filmmaking part of my brain that wasn’t scorched when the heavens rained fire upon my shoulders was deadened by teaching film in universities.) She had a point, of course: before my life went south I had a screenplay in development in LA, influential people were complaining about my journalism, and my agent was close to a deal with Farrar, Straus and Giroux for my first novel but that, I told her, was five thousand years ago, before I put on my mask and blended in.
I was lying, though. I’m a few years from retirement and I have a plan, or at least part of a plan, about 12 percent of a plan, that I’m going to return to writing. I’ve started in a bunch of strange ways. I thought at first I would do it under a pseudonym so I’ve established a couple of personas out there – you might have come across one in your travels! – but I’m not sure a pseudonym is really me. I’ve also put together a proposal for a book about organizational communication. I’m even returning to speaking in public which I haven’t done for over a decade, my next gig is at a conference later this year in the Midwest. At some point I’ll need to install flying buttresses to support my social media platform. Taking tentative steps into the Out There, from the safety of my professional identity.
What I can’t shake off is that I’m so sorely tempted to craft The Big Story as a memoir. I know it would make compelling reading because I told it, or at least the juiciest and most mystical parts of it, to my son when he was 19 while we were having brunch in a diner and he was so fascinated by this Great Tale that he essentially forgot to eat his broccoli and cheese omelet, and the kid really likes his diner omelets. Thing is, I’ve been sorely tempted for years; it’s a leap of faith that I never seem able to take.
So I thought, maybe I should write something short about this situation, send it over to Dinty W. Moore for the Brevity Blog. Splash a little water on myself at the shoreline before I dive into a wave. It will publicly announce my intentions in such a way that I’ll feel honor-bound to go forward. I can slyly make a passing reference to there being mystical parts. My decision to submit to the Brevity Blog could be discussed in the essay, a dollop of unrevealed meta that will give me just enough of the ironic distancing that I seem to need. Because really I’m not getting any younger and I have stories to tell and it seems a waste not to tell them, if only for myself.
James Irwin leads a global marketing communications team for the world’s largest business services firm. He has an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and a BFA from New York University. He’s published widely in magazines, journals and newspapers, and is associate editor of the Atlantic Journal of Communication. Before the VUE he earned awards from the Rockefeller Foundation, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, American Film Institute, National Endowment for the Arts, and National Endowment for the Humanities. He lives in northern New Jersey, and is on Twitter and Instagram @jamieri
I have a computer folder I save all the Brevity Blogs in, but I had to make a brand-new folder for this one. Mr. Irwin’s is a truly original voice that I hope and pray I will be reading again, in his memoir. Very clever, how he has stoked our curiosity regarding the Violent Unknown Event. I’d pre-order, if only the memoir was available. Please write that memoir, Mr. Irwin. My omelette is getting cold.
That was way too generous a comment, but I appreciate it nonetheless! It took a lot for me to draft this essay, and I didn’t tell anyone it was coming out. Just I and the Brevity editors knew. Back in the day I lived a rather public life, I’m trying to remember how to do that!
Inspiring and timely post James, thank you for sharing. I compiled the broad bones of a memoir after retirement from Health Visiting (Public Health nursing) in 2010 and have since added bits and pieces. As well as adjusting to retirement life events got in the way. Perhaps I have been too ambitious in expecting to write about ‘cradle to grave’ (Health Visiting/term) events.
I seem to have come to a standtill with my daily journalling practice which helps me ‘see the wood for the trees’ and likewise with blogging.
Today I have decided to have a break from blogging as per a post on ‘hughsviewsandnews’ and maybe my journalling pracice will assist me in developing my memoir bite by bite.
This platform could be the answer, who knows!
Thank you for your note, Margaret. I think when we get older there’s so much to cover that the ‘cradle to grave’ approach does get a bit overwhelming, right? I know when I write this memoir it will need to be focused and have a specific thread running through it, or I’ll lose my way (or the reader will lose hers!).
Thunderbirds are go!
Thank you for your feedback. I only started my blog at the end of 2017.
Initially I was quite reticent to share much but when I look back it surprises me to see how much I did share with complete strangers.
I have an idea for a theme for my memoir but maybe I will write short stories about certain parts of my life story.
I am ‘on Facebook’ but use it selectively.
I will look out for your memoir and good luck with it. I am sure if it is written from the heart it will be a success.
Have you got a word press blog?
Based on this essay, I’d love to read your memoir. Not because you’ve piqued my interest (although you have), but because you captivated me with your writing.
Thank you. That is actually very encouraging. I write like I speak, with the benefit of revision!
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