I keep getting messages from Facebook telling me how so much has been going on recently I have the impression that if I miss checking up even for a day the world will have moved on beyond all hope of my ever catching up with it. But although Michael Graeme does have a Facebook account, he doesn’t use it because, well, he feels there’s an existential danger in spending one’s life simply recording one’s life – that eventually all we’ll have to record is the fact we’re recording we’re recording, ad infinitum. It’s at that point, he thinks, the entire human race will disappear into a self-created singularity.
It’s also a factor that beyond the keyboard, Michael Graeme doesn’t have a recordable life at all, at least not one that’s easily disentangled from that of his primary personality, who is by contrast too reticent to have his innards plastered all over the Internet. If I Google my real self, I appear once in a blurry photograph taken years ago at a Tai Chi retreat, and even that’s more exposure than I’m happy with. Google Michael Graeme however and he’s all over the place with his books and his stories and his blog-blatherings. But I’m careful the one should not be identifiable as the alter-ego of the other, which I admit is a bit schizophrenic, and certainly isn’t the way authors usually go about promoting themselves.
That said, my admittedly fragile cover may have been blown. We had the decorators in this week and one of them was asking my wife about me – where I worked and what I did in my spare time. Oh, he writes, she said, then produced an old Lulu copy of The Lavender and the Rose to show him. So, what’s it about, he asked? I dunno, she said: I’ve never read it.
I felt uncomfortable, that some real life person might know where Michael Graeme lives, that he might tell others who I am. Hey, I was at this house today and you know what? The guy who lives there writes stories?
But so what? Michael Graeme’s not exactly a household name, and I’m not expecting a press pack to descend on our doorstep should I find myself widely “outed” as the author of that particular tome – or any other for that matter. Why then be so protective about Michael Graeme’s anonymity? After all he’s not that much different to me; he drives the same car, lives in the same house, likes visiting the same places. He even thinks the same thoughts as me, so why not let him simply be me?
Well, where he differs, fundamentally, is in the way he escapes my primary personality’s admittedly neurotic belief he must say, do, think, and conform to a set of obligations that are necessary for face to face interpersonal, professional and societal harmony. Or in plainer words I’m interested in a lot of stuff that is of no use whatsoever to a suburban life, and which never comes up in conversation with the people I know. So I give all that stuff to Michael Graeme, who is better placed to make use of it than I am.
There was an interesting case a little while ago about a blog written by a Lancashire Copper called Nightjack. It was an expose of police work that revealed policemen very much as human beings doing a difficult job, while slowly being buried under the crushing weight of bureaucracy and political interference. That said it’s honesty and its engaging style probably did the service a lot of good on the public relations front. Officially though Nightjack was skating on thin ice; the blog although anonymised and semi-fictional, was a bit like keeping a diary on active service in wartime – it happens but its frowned upon and you’re for it if you get caught. Then the press – bless them – decided they had a public duty to “out” the identity of Nightjack, which they did by means both fair and foul. It got them a bit of a story. It also got Nightjack keel-hauled, and the blog taken down – but not before it managed to win the Orwell Prize for political blogging.
Was public interest served by outing Nightjack? I think not. I have no problem with anyone telling it like it is, or like they see it, and I wish more would do it, and if that needs to be under the cover of an anonymous blog, then so be it. It’s only by getting behind the serenely smiling mask of public relations we see a picture approaching anything like that of the real world. Policing, the NHS, Teaching, Mental Health Service – these are vital institutions, the very bedrock of our nation and get a very different impression of these things from the “off-record” front lines than we do from the “on-record” headlines.
Yes, I know there’s a delicate balance between blogging anonymously for honest means, to inform or enlighten, or blow the whistle, and doing it to deceive or to defame, or to suit one’s own dubious agenda. There was a popular and very touching blog some years ago apparently written by a young Lesbian woman living in a Syria, a place where the persecution of gays is severe to say the least. It turned out though she was actually an American guy living in Scotland who’d simply made the whole thing up. I forget his reasons now, but this one left a bad taste and upset lot of people. It also presents a good counter-argument for why all anonymous bloggers should crash and burn eventually.
We all deceive. We all pick our noses while pretending to others we do not. We do not present the same face to the boss we present to our friends. And even among our friends that mask will change, so we become two faced, or even three or four faced. We can be more truthful to a stranger, more truthful to the unknown reader, than the reader we know, and who we must rub along with in real life. If I wrote as myself, for readers I know, I fear I would have very little to say to them – as little as I do in real life.
Give a man a mask though, said Wilde, and he will tell the truth.
Or at least in so far as he sees it.