Recently, a blogging pal of mine asked me an interesting question:
What can you advise others on keeping safe while working with the public?
Especially when people attempting to promote their work can’t always “stay behind the curtain”?
Here are my thoughts and recommendations, based on my own need to “stay behind the (iron) curtain”. Since I am in exile here in Mexico (hiding from a psychopathic stalker), I still want the freedom to write (publicly) about my experience. So I have to take some major safety and privacy precautions, even just to do something so simple as blogging.
My “iron curtains” still let the sunshine and warmth in, but keep the bugs and bats from flying through my window when I least expect it. Beyond my front door and windows, I also have a massive metal gate that peeping eyes could never see past and a 20 foot concrete wall around my home that no Mexican could scale (without some heavy duty climbing gear)(or a stolen ladder, but those are hard to come by here).
Besides the physical aspect of a secure and private home, none of my neighbours know my real name nor where I am really from (plus I can still act like a tourist and get away with saying “no entiendo” – “I don’t understand” as the standard reply to any nosey questions).
Furthermore, not one person in my family, or any of my (foreign) friends, actually know where I live – exactly (well, besides the name of the city which is home to 22 million inhabitants – good luck trying to track me down here).
What are your curtains made of?
Do you have thin transparent sheers or thick heavy velvet curtains that cover your private windows at home? Literally and figuratively, think about what level of privacy you have in your abode. And in your personal and professional life.
Imagine suddenly being tracked, monitored, followed and obsessed over (yes, some people wish they were until they actually are, and then it isn’t so much fun anymore). It truly sucks – take it from me. Get yourself in a position where you are not at risk of being stalked or harassed. Sure, it may sound like it could be a great story to write about, but I assure you, not one you’ll want to go through.
Honestly, the best way to have privacy and safety is to be mysterious. Half the time, people only ask you questions about yourself to make small conversation. You may notice the next time that someone you just met starts asking you questions that make you a bit uncomfortable. That’s your intuition telling you to keep your lips zipped. If you don’t know what to say, ask them a probing question. See how they like it.
Really, people (especially strangers or obsessed fans), don’t need to know everything about you. Plus, the only time people remember any of the details you told them are when they are a) true friends, or b) an obsessed stalker. My aunt doesn’t even remember half the stuff I tell her, and she is the one always asking!
Knock, Knock, Who’s There?
The best way you can be mysterious is to decide when to draw the curtain or open the door (or when to just stay on the couch in your jammies blogging). Be anonymous. Not everyone in the world needs to know “the real you”. Especially if it’s one of those bad-hair days.
Even if you are already a “somebody” (or just a “wannabe“), you can be anybody. Use a pen name or a pseudonym. Have fun with it. Call yourself what you want! Be the character you always wanted to be. (Just maybe not Jack Torrance from The Shining)
You do not need to legally change your name to do this and it need not be complicated. As long as you keep telling the tax man your real name, and the licensing registry, you are not defrauding anyone. Not even your loyal fans. Writers, actors, sports stars and famous people do it all the time.
You can go through the time and expense of a legal name change in the courts and fork over your (small) fortune to a lawyer. But really, it isn’t necessary.
Obviously, the real benefit of doing this is for privacy. You can go out to dinner with your family and not be recognized and bothered. You don’t have to worry about an obsessed fan or stalker showing up at your home, because all of the elements of your life (property registration, utility bills, taxes) are all under your real name, which nobody really knows (except maybe your closest family and dearest friends).
Me, Myself, and I?
There is no limit to how many pen names or pseudonyms you can assume. For example, since some people write for a living, in different genres or covering controversial topics, they may use different names for different purposes. Reason being – they hope that people won’t be able to associate or link them to what they do in the day opposed to what they do at night.
Others maintain full time jobs and don’t want their writing to negatively affect their career, their religious or their political life. Imagine being a lawyer, doctor, or politician and having a fiction book affect what people think of you. Not cool if you came to work one morning and were fired or a scandal started because you wrote an article about your fabulous dinner, the week before, with a well-known Nazi war criminal.
Some people use a different name because their own name isn’t “marketable”. Or maybe a publisher tells them to use a different name because another author already has a name that sounds similar. Changing your name can also move you to the beginning of the alphabet and perhaps closer to the top of the book list. Some people alter their name to sound more romantic, more business-like, or more trendy (Lady Gaga or Madonna). It all depends on how you want to market (or brand) yourself.
Really, the reasons why people choose a pen name or pseudonym are countless, and not just for privacy. For example, Stephen King also wrote under the name Richard Bachman. He proved that he was a still a great writer, in this particular case, to his critics. The masses called Richard Bachman “the next Stephen King”. He also used the pen name Richard Bachman so he could write more novels than the publishers would allow each year. So every situation is different.
Just be who you want to be. By the end of this article, you may have had a few names pass through or stand out in your mind. Try a couple of them with strangers you meet, or drop your pseudonym at parties or with those nosey retail clerks at Radio Shack.
I do recommend that everyone have a pen name or pseudonym, especially if they plan to write anything on the internet, publish anything, market any kind of product, be an actor or actress, even enter a science fair. Basically, anywhere you can be noticed by people you weren’t trying to impress and don’t really like.
In The Spotlight?
Regardless of you assuming a pen name or pseudonym, you may still not be immune from having a rock-solid (private) existence. It doesn’t matter if you are famous or not (yet); carrying out your trade publicly (no matter what you do), involves potential exposure to the media and people who (may) take a liking to what you have to offer.
Maintaining a private life is key if you want to completely avoid harm from a stalker or crazed fan, be unnamed in lawsuits or criminal allegations, and remain untouchable by any vindictive ex-friends, business associates, or even family members (who may want a share of your status or cash). I could post examples of all the celebrities and their problems in the spotlight (especially those exposed by their bad-hair yearbook photos dug up from the 70s and 80s) but I will spare you. We all know how good people can get screwed over badly.
Your Curtain is as Opaque or Transparent as You Want it To Be
Think about some ways that you could (already) be exposed. Ask yourself:
Are you traceable by your real name? – On the internet , in business dealings, in any directories? Can anyone look you up and show up where you physically are? One example – when you registered your website, did you provide your real name with your real address? Check http://whois.domaintools.com/ to see.
(Tip: Change your personal info with your domain registration immediately and avoid unwelcome knocks on your door, or peeps through your curtains.)
Are your assets (property, vehicle, financial accounts) private or registered in the name of a holding company (LLC)? (Tip: If not, seriously considering doing so, in a jurisdiction where your true name is not attached or listed as the registered owner.)
Is your personal email account separate from your business or career email? If you were hacked, is there any revealing information a lunatic could find on your business email? Separate your business life from your personal life.
Do you belong to any social media sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Digg, etc.? Do you post intimate details about your life such as your birthday, phone number, home address, job position or have you ever made comments that could reveal things about you (ie: “heading to the record store at the mall now” or “Father Sam sure said one hell-of-a-sermon today at church“)?
Is the information really private on your profile (even with security settings on high)? Realize that with stalkers and psychopaths, they can take the smallest details about you and assemble it all together like pieces of a puzzle.
Are there any pictures or real-life stories of you posted on the internet or in the media? First of all, my readers will never see a picture of me or anyone in my family. Secondly, I do not post any details (or pictures) on my blog that could reveal my physical location, habits, routines, ever. Thirdly, I do not have the need (AKA ego) to have to prove anything about my personal life, my background, or my history, with anyone. Even if Oprah begged me for an interview (better be soon, cause this is her last season), I would be that mystery woman, with the distorted dark face and voice, filmed from a private location. Basically, my readers would never connect (the real) me to a book I have written because my mug-shot would never be on the back cover to begin with.
Until you have been in a crazy situation, you will never know. So keep your curtains closed, and only open them up (a little) with people you can really trust. Make friends by all means, but develop your relationships with people slowly before divulging too much about “the real you”. I have no idea what name my blogging pal who posed this question truly goes by, but hey, that doesn’t stop me from being her blogosphere friend.
From now on you may want to be more conscientious of who you really are and how much you want the world out there to see you through “the curtain”. Don’t be caught like the Wizard was, with his pants down (that’s the version I remember), from Oz. Eventually someone, somewhere, can find out who you really are, if you don’t take some simple and common sense precautions to begin with.
Until next time… keep safe and sane…