Tuesday, July 15, 2008


In Which Life Imitates (Comic) Art...

It’s a standard dramatic theme of comic-book stories: The Secret Identity Complication. When a hero adopts a secret identity, he may do so for the sake of privacy, prudence, and the safety of his loved ones, but a secret ID also comes with its own unique set of problems, and in the comics, stories about them are nearly always pivoted on the danger of the heroes’ identity being revealed.

It appears that my blog--hell, my life--is imitating the comics. If you study any particular hero long enough, you’ll see that his identity tends to become less secret throughout the course of his career, revealed to others in various story types, and so it has happened here at the Masthead:

Story Type 1: The Reveal (accidental or deliberate) to a Loved One: This often happens in a hero’s earliest appearances, and the reaction from the loved one ranges from excitement to alienation. In my case, the first reveal came the night Her Lovely Self went to type in a Web site about masonry and got as far as typing "mas" when the browser history--which I'd forgotten to clear--prompted a Web site she'd never seen before. Her reaction wasn’t excitement or alienation. If I had to pick an emotion, I think I’d have to go with anger, as in “What the fuck are you doing putting up pictures of me in a bikini?!?”

Story Type 2: The Reveal to a Sidekick: If a hero is destined to have a partner, this usually occur about a year after the hero’s own debut, often when he encounters a young person with unique skills, yet sharing similarities with the hero. In my case, the similarity I shared with my sidekick was half my DNA. And so I revealed my identity and trained up my young partner, and Artlad, the sensational character find of 2005, exploded on the ‘sphere.

Story Type 3: The Discovery By a Close Friend/Deadly Enemy/Intrepid Reporter: These are bad stories, karmically speaking, because in the comics, any non-regular character who discovers the hero's identity usually dies by the end of the story, often just before he can blurt the information out in some public fashion. For the first couple years at the Masthead, it was the vogue here for readers to try to find me out. God, Shane Nickerson was practically my own personal Lois Lane, only hairier. I can't blame him: Everyone loves a mystery and the more people who stopped by, the more people I had sending me emails with guesses about my real name. Most were off by a very wide margin, but in those early days, two people nailed it.

I can now reveal that my old blogging pal Rurality sussed it first, and was so kind and classy about breaking the news to me that I didn't mind. Plus I was able to bribe her to keep quiet, so that was fine. Shane, by this time acting less like Lois Lane and more like that reporter that was always following Bill Bixby around in the Incredible Hulk TV show, finally cracked it a few months later, but only after making two wrong, but close (but wrong) guesses. But I give them props. At that point, finding me was no mean feat, let me tell you. I had a pretty tight rein on my anonymity back then, using proxy servers and posting from libraries and other people's laptops and all kinds of crazy shit.

And luckily for them, neither one was shot down by criminals or struck by a falling safe or suffered any other kind of messy death as a result of their knowledge. So far.

Story Type 4: The Reveal to Other Heroes: This usually happens once our hero has established himself among a pantheon of others like him. All is well for a while, but then comes an extremely serious event--in the comics they like to call it a "Crisis." Sometimes, in the course of such a crisis, heroes are unmasked, whether by accident or design. But usually, the information stays within the secret fraternity of other heroes, where it is (mostly) eternally guarded by bonds of affection and trust. And so it was me and, well, all of you, when in my grief, I leaked enough information to make a secret ID a non-issue.

Well, almost.

Because as much as my identity is now fairly findable for any reader here with the time and inclination to dig up the key posts, the fact is, my secret identity as a blogger has to date been completely intact among my coworkers.

Which means I've been vulnerable to that other story type:

Story Type 5: The Ironic Identity Compromise: You've seen this a hundred times: Perry White assigns Clark Kent the reporting task of finding out who Superman is. Peter Parker stands sweating while J. Jonah Jameson wonders aloud how Peter always manages to get such great pictures of Spidey. Bruce Wayne fidgets in his tux, part of a group of society partygoers being held at gunpoint by vicious criminals that he could flatten with his pinky toe, yet...he dares...not...ACT!

Well, I'm no hero, but because I've chosen to adopt a secret ID, I've been prone to encounter all of these difficulties. Even, now, that last one. Here's how it started:

Six weeks ago:

The editorial management team and I are in a meeting with the head of the Web site for the Really Big Magazine, who is going over all the latest changes and improvements to the Web site. It's a semi-regular meeting and I'm listening with only half an ear.

Until the Web site chief says, "Also, we're finally launching a blog, and we need the editors' help with it."

And I sat bolt upright.

As the chief outlined, this new blog would feature content written entirely by staff editors for the RBM, and they would be encouraged to write a little more off-the-cuff and informally, offering interesting stories, anecdotes, and a behind-the-scenes perspective on the editorial life here at the magazine. Since none of our editors (that they know of!) has ever blogged, the chief walked them through the very rudiments of posting.

"Can we include pictures?" one editor asked.

The Web chief explained that this was possible, and began to outline the process, when another editor interrupted him.

"What about videos? Lotta Web sites and stuff do that streaming video or whatever."

"Well," the Web chief said, realizing he was speaking to an elementary audience. "It's a little complicated."

"You mean we can't just upload the video to YouTube and then embed the video's URL in a post?" I blurted before I could stop myself.

All eyes turned to look at me, and I immediately gave a simpering smile. "I mean, I hear it's real easy to do stuff with, uh, video, on that YouTube site. Because, you know, I did that story about blogs a while back--remember?!?--and someone said something about that," I said lamely. The Web chief nodded and agreed that embedded video was possible, but he wanted the staff to do plain old writing first--walk before you run, you know?

The moment passed. I thought I had gotten away with it (whew!) but then:

Three Weeks Ago:

I bumped into the Web chief, who tells me the Really Big Magazine's blog is due to launch before the end of the summer. "You know, I read that story you did a while back about families staying in touch online. When you were working on that piece, did you ever dabble with blogging or setting up a family Web page just to try it out?"

Shit, he had me on the spot. I couldn't outright lie--heroes don't lie, not even when their secret ID is at stake, right? What would Superman do?

I faked a brief coughing fit, gathered my thoughts, then said the only thing I could think of. "Well, yeah. You know, I, uh, sort of put a little something out there. My son. He wanted to upload some drawings so his grandparents could, uh, view them. But then, you know, like a lot of people came to look at the pictures and it kinda got out of hand."

The Web chief laughed. "That's pretty funny. You know, there was this little kid once who had a blog with all these pictures on it. Huge deal in the 'sphere. Got thousands of visitors in just a couple days. Even got a write-up in the Columbia Journalism Review. I forget his name. Art Boy, I think." He leaned in conspiratorially. "Imagine if you were his Dad. You REALLY would have freaked out when you saw all that traffic coming at you."

"Wow," I said, adding the world's most awful har-har-har bluff laugh. "I guess I would have freaked." And we both laughed some more. But all I could think was Jesus Christ, my life IS turning into a comic book!

Last Week:

My boss called me into her office. She had a kind of funny look on her face, the kind of look that made me think I was either about to be fired or promoted.

"So, you remember that meeting we had about the magazine's blog a month or so back?" she asked.

"Mm," I said noncommittally.

"Well, seeing as you're the one who knows so much about blogging--"

"Me?" I said. "Oh, no, no--"

"Oh stop it," she said. "We all heard you at that meeting, talking about importing video into blogs or whatever. You were speaking a totally different language. You were speaking blogese."

And I hung my head. And I waited for her to ask The Question, the one I'd been awaiting and dreading for six weeks. I waited for her to ask me if I had a blog of my own.

But instead, she said, "So, we want you to run the blog for the magazine."

I looked up at her. "What?"

"We need a point person, someone who can generate fun copy and get it out of others. And you have at least a little familiarity with the technology, after that story you did a while back. So, that's the deal. We want you to be our blogfather."

I nodded dumbly through the rest of the meeting, then staggered back to my desk, feeling not that I had escaped, but only that the net was drawing tighter, ever tighter.

How CAN one man keep the two separate halves of his life from being inexorably drawn together, when it seems that the very FATES themselves are conspiring against him? Surely it's only a matter of time before our hero cracks under the strain and his secret is REVEALED to all the world?!?

Keep reading, True Believers. We'll find out in a future issue!

From Somewhere on the Masthead

I wondered if you were going to be assigned the task of interviewing the man who blogs at www.masthead.com. That would be funny.

You might want to browse thru any work related posts on this site - you know? Just to be on the safe side.
If you could manage to make a corporate blog entertaining in the least..you would deserve "hero" status.

Good luck with that.
Does that mean we can call you BlogFather from now on? ...Because that would be totally great.
I agree with kimberlydi. It's very Peter Parker photographing Spiderman.

I'll be waiting for the next issue with baited breath!

I just had a conversation about this very topic this morning. I have registered for a BlogHer convention in Boston, but my blog is anonymous.

I have no clue how I am going to make it work...
Oh my, the comment by your boss about the "Art Boy" blog had me laughing out loud. Looking forward to your further tales of blog derring-do! (Is derring-do a real word?)
If you get dooced, you can always fall back on your true calling:

You can become a private investigator! You could have a utility kit for your belt, set up an office in your basement, and everything. You could work at home and go on all kinds of adventures.

Think HLS will go for it?

Think this one through carefully.


p.s. ever notice how I've never seen Barbara Gordon and Batgirl in the same place?

p.p.s. or naked for that matter?
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This post was so much fun. Can't wait to hear more about it.
That is HILAROUS! Have I said before that I wish you guys lived next door... I think I would love talking to your family!
This is so much fun! I remember how thrilled I was when I discovered your true identity--wait 'til you're outed at work. You know it's just a matter of time. Good luck! (I hope nothing bad comes of it if/when you are discovered by the REALLY BIG MAGAZINE. Oh, the pressure would kill me...)
Your Secret is safe with me, SuperBlogger.
Oh the suspense!
To paraphrase Poe (I think):

"A Magazine Man divided against himself cannot stand."

(Fall of the House of Usher, I think.

And there was the episode of Seinfeld where George said the same thing.)
I think we're all just looking forward to the episode where you get your costume. I vote for tights. (I almost always vote for tights.)
@anonymous: That wasn't Poe—it was Jesus (and, later, Abe Lincoln).

@MM: Proud to have been your personal Pete Ross, brother.

Well, see, early on I decided to be one of the X-Men of bloggers; no secret identity, and openly wrestling with my mutant status.

However, as you know, I have been sworn to keep secret the identity of one of the main characters of my blog - MY WIFE. Her name is never mentioned. Beyond that, though, I've published her picture a few hundred times, and anybody with even a modicum of computer skills could probably track down her real name by linking searches with me.

Since I am one of the ones entrusted with YOUR secret identity, the above would not engender great faith in my ability to keep it secret. So, the sooner you spill the beans to the world at large, the easier it will be for me (which, after all, is what it's all about, right?)

Good luck!
I must be missing the stalker gene, because I just love the stories, the pictures, the getting to know the hero. It is fun to be the sidekick in these tales, which I get to do without any fear of falling off of the ladder, because I get to do so from my desk chair. Who are you? I don't want to know, because it doesn't matter to the stories. So, MM, "tell us a story" because that's why we all come here. To laugh and to cry, because of all of the stories.
It still kills me that Rurality beat me to your true identity. :)

Oh yeah, and that DVD is on the way...

..or it will be, now that I've remembered that I forgot.

Looking forward to seeing the RBM blog.
I agree with (the allegedly Caustic) Bunny...

As laugh-out-loud funny as the "Art Boy" incident was (and are you *really* sure the webchief wasn't trying to lift the mask?) it's all getting a bit close to the bone.

Being a card-carrying member of The Secret Society, I'm a bit nervous for you...

Tread carefully, and call Heather Armstrong for advice...
Scraping by without the seemingly imminent reveal is very comic book like. Good luck!
This was a great post! I love it!

I remember how guilty I felt when I found out who you were. I was basically googling based on the death of your parents, and I hated myself for doing it. I didn't find you directly. I came across a mention at an unrelated site, and then I googled that name and came across another mention at an unrelated site--except this one was an accolade for a certain writer, and I knew immediately from reading that brief paragraph that you had written it. After that, I pretty much confirmed my findings with Dariush, who'd done the real reporter legwork and found actual proof.

After I knew, I couldn't tell you. I was drowning in my guilt for months (or maybe it just felt like months). And then, when I finally "came out" to you about it, I felt like a stalker. Something had irrevocably changed in the small--infinitesimal, really--relationship we had formed...at least on my end. I had known all along that if I found out your identity that way, I would never be in your inner circle. I would basically be the paparazzi. But I did it anyway.

Still, I will always read your stuff, always delight when I see your real name in print, and always comment when I feel I have something to add. I can't say I'm important enough to be your Lex Luthor--sure of something, but never really knowing, never let into that circle--but I am happy, at least, to be your fan.
Fear not, MM, if RBM starts sniffing for clues in the vicinity of Casa Oceanside, we won't tell 'em a thing. Your secret is safe with us for as long as you want to keep it.
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