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a disclaimer on The Brand

At this point, I’m far too old to say the internet is new to me, and anyway my opening premise here is more that I’m sort of new to the internet as a commodity to be consumed. I say this because I want to make it clear that I understand how easy it is to read someone in error when they haven’t given you much context to work with. So I’m not being defensive (although reactionary by definition) when I say that I’ve noticed The Internet forming the wrong idea about who I am. This is what the internet does, I know.

Getting-to-know-you posts and “about me” blurbs are sort of my worst internet nightmare. Part of this is because of good old-fashioned shyness and part of it is performance anxiety.  As an unpublished author laboring under the oft-repeated mandate to “build my online presence,” and “establish my brand,” and all of that vaguely distasteful corporate speak we have to be familiar with in these times, I know that everything I say with this name is supposed to tell the reader something about me designed to interest them in buying my stories. So I get hung up on the expectation that anything I put into a space dedicated to the purpose of selling myself has to be not just interesting but clever. That’s why I usually choose to say nothing at all. Enigma is better than disappointment, right?

This has largely remained academic, since no one has really been paying attention to me or my online spaces anyway. No one who doesn’t already know me in “real life.” (And I always feel vaguely guilty for calling their attention to my online presence for some reason. Like I’m asking them to buy my Tupperware.) But somehow, through no legitimate effort on my part deserving of any praise, people have managed to start finding me online. Strangers. People whose reasons for reading what I have to say are a complete mystery to me, since it’s not like they’re mining for something to talk about the next time we find ourselves awkwardly standing across from each other at a party with nothing to say. It occurs to me belatedly that I’m a mystery to these strangers as well.

I say this admittedly in response to coming across some vigorous discussions about that piece I wrote that is now floating around the ether, and more strangely, about me the author in connection to it.

Seeing myself talked about by third parties who don’t know me, with their own reasons for invoking me in the conversation that have nothing to do with the actual Alyssa sitting behind this screen is, I have to say, an entirely new and disorienting experience. Something to get used to, since I do rather hope it’s a thing that will happen often when I’m published, but still kind of an out-of-body moment. Because I know they’re talking about me and my work, but it’s also not me. It’s a version of me that is taken out of context and reduced to salient talking points for the discussion in progress – the way we casually invoke long-dead historical figures as though they’re facts rather than people. Different from overhearing friends or family talk about me to each other, because they at least have some component of an observed reality based upon my whole on which to formulate their Alyssa. Or that’s just my perception of the difference. Since perception is reality, that’s all I have to go on.

And maybe this is a thing that’s actually no big deal for anyone else, or maybe it’s one of those things we’re supposed to pretend we don’t notice and I’m making one of those awkward autistic social blunders by talking about myself like this. But that sort of dovetails into the point that actually prompted me to begin this dialogue, which is that I don’t know how to be any version of myself other than the one I am.

If you want to know more about that Alyssa, the real one, you’re free to ask whatever it is you’re wondering. I might just answer. But whether I ever successfully portray a public version of myself that comes close to representing the private me, know that what you do see is never not real. I’m not pretending to be anything, and while some aspects of the online brand are of course meant to appeal, they’re displayed rather than crafted. I am not an affectation.

Now that that’s off my chest, I may just have a rant in me about the importance of story and character, and the reasons why humans have always made a practice of not just telling stories but mining them for meaning. How the purpose of story is to capture, examine, and reflect the human experience; how characters are built with the specific intent to be identified with; how empathy for fictional characters is not a quality to be avoided or ashamed of, no matter how deep the feelings go, because it means we’re doing what the story wanted us to do; how it’s okay to just be entertained but it’s also okay to look deeper, and the two things do not exclude one another. Because these are topics that are deeply important to the actual Alyssa.

Maybe another time.

7 thoughts on “a disclaimer on The Brand

  1. I don’t think I could describe the “real” me with any success, since I’m different things to different people, including myself on any given day 😉 I personally don’t like to be put into a box of what people think I am, or what I want them to think I am. although I’m a lover of the behind-the-scenes aspect of movie making, and I want to know more about the actors I choose to admire, I do see the down fall in knowing too much. it gets harder to accept at face value the character they are trying to sell you, because you know enough about them personally to see the discrepancies, “he would never do something like that, he would never say something that way, I know he dislikes that particular thing”,etc. which then takes you out of the story and back into real life; not good! so I think the same could be said for the writers themselves. not that you need to remain a mystery, but don’t feel like you have to give a background about yourself, your likes, desires, etc. unless you’re using real life experiences to convey points or ideas within your writing. it’s confusing enough trying figure out who we are ourselves, without adding who we think we should be to others 🙂

    • It’s an awkward idea, isn’t it, and a flawed one — that we could ever accurately describe a “real me” to other people? On a very basic level, there are always going to be aspects of ourselves that we give priority because we think they’re the most important, that to someone else are irrelevant. And the fact that they want to focus in places other than where we’re trying to shine the lights is totally valid for them but frustrating for both. So we could craft the most detailed, candid character analysis of ourselves in the history of mankind, and it would still end up being unsatisfactory and incomplete because it’s not possible to objectively project the self, nor is any audience ever objective.
      In less wordy words, it’s easier to put people into boxes because we know we’re never really going to get the whole picture anyway. I’ve always hated that. I’m fiercely curious by nature and it seems lazy to give up on trying to unravel the complexities of an individual just because you know it’s a task that never ends. And because I tend to be pretty belligerent, I usually go out of my way to make myself harder for other people to box. Which is probably the *real* reason why I hate “About Me”s. 😉

  2. Hmmm. This is written very enigmatically, so let me say a few things that may be totally off the mark:

    Ceterum censeo: It was a lovely post and it moved several people who read it to tears. The reason strangers (including me) want to talk about you for whatever reason is because of the beautiful piece of art you created (which was so powerful that it also moved people in other directions). Let’s not lose sight of that. Your words changed people’s perception of the world and this is IMO the most important thing any writer does. In that sense, maybe people were not lacking for interesting things to talk about but what you wrote was as or more interesting than those things, it was one of those things. What you have to say is interesting and provocative. I know that if you’re used to being ignored it may be hard to process that assertion.

    re the discussion of you: I felt strongly that you the person should not be criticized / attacked for your viewpoint. Your viewpoint itself is fair game, but I encouraged you to complete that post when you mentioned you were writing it; when you did publish it I was bowled over and wanted other people to read it and did what was in my power to make sure that happened; and I followed the reactions elsewhere. I also felt that people who read my blog might be interested in the variety of reactions others felt to your piece, and I wanted to direct them to where they could be read, but given that some of those readers had expressed themselves as extremely sympathetic to you, I didn’t want to send them blindly into a situation where you *the person* were being criticized. As much as you identify w/Lucas North, some of those people have now identified with you. And while this situation wasn’t the only one, it was the one that finally provoked me to say what I’d been thinking recently about delegitimating fellow fans by saying they are “too” something or other. (In other words, you weren’t the only person it happened to recently. And I am starting to be able to take it when it happens to me, but I felt responsible insofar as I pushed you to publish that post.) In that sense I inadvertently provoked a wave of sentiment that I hadn’t entirely anticipated and would not necessarily have sought in the form it came. Live and learn.

    The point for me in your case, anyway, was that no one is too closely identified with a character to speak cogently about him/her. To me, formulating a comment that said that was a not very nice way to say something entirely different that I did not want people saying about you after the bravery you showed last week. At the very least it needed to be pointed out that that was the thrust of what was being said. Maybe you are used to this. I assume that many autistic people are possibly more accustomed to hassles about their personalities than I am. But that doesn’t make it fair.

    Finally — on the big question here: what I found as I started blogging was that people were constructing me in exactly the same way I was constructing Richard Armitage. Some of them were constructing me with good will, others were not. But the more I asserted that I was real, that the Servetus who was writing was a lightly modified version of the real person writing and not a deception, the more that people have moved into identifying with their own constructions of me. The people who lacked good will would accuse me of doing something to Richard Armitage that they themselves did to me. It’s been a weird experience — but, I have to conclude, an unavoidable one.

    I’m really looking forward to witnessing your further journey.

    • Heh. I thought I was going for general rather than enigmatic. 😉

      The conversation you reference is the last thing I took in before blogging and provided the moment where the out-of-body feeling was strong enough for me to recognize it for what it was, but it wasn’t my sole reference point in this experience. Even in places where alyssabethancourt is being discussed in a more complimentary tone, it has been noticeable that it’s not actually me they’re talking about, and it has been a strange feeling. Not *bad*, just *strange*. New.

      “What you have to say is interesting and provocative. I know that if you’re used to being ignored it may be hard to process that assertion.”

      That’s it exactly. I’m used to being ignored, at least in my role as Writer. For better or worse, the majority of my work has always taken place in a vacuum and usually remains there. Oh, sure, I can occasionally get a friend or two to give me a read and a shout afterward, but that’s not at all the same thing as what this experience has provided. Not least because of the many shadings of light and dark and layers of removal that have been involved here that will necessarily be absent from the comments of people who know me. I don’t at all regret the experience; I’m just commenting on its newness to me, and the fact that I know I need to get used to it.

      As an autistic person, I am all too accustomed to being gaslighted. It’s something I have to be on my guard for: trying to suss out the difference between someone teaching me in good faith that the way I’ve been doing things isn’t the usual way, and someone disregarding the validity of my methods and perceptions *because* they’re not usual. My intense identification with fictional characters and my need to deconstruct story and character are things I became comfortable with in myself a long time ago. Having examined the motives of the kinds of people who have traditionally brought these tendencies up in a derogatory light, I feel confident that the problem isn’t on my end and I recognize the criticism as an attempt to devalue my opinions by calling them too emotional. Which is ironic because it is the exact opposite of the complaint usually brought against me in literally every other sort of discussion/argument. I feel almost like it’s another form of gaslighting, keeping the terrain shifting beneath my feet and acting like I’m the only one who can feel the tremors.

      But I’m maybe wandering off point. What I meant to say is that I saw it too, and if I’d seen it being done to someone else, I’d have said something too. I appreciate the sense of responsibility you felt, having encouraged me to share my work. That genuinely warms my heart.

  3. I thought it was strange, too, just in the sense that people with autism are not usually criticized for being too emotionally connected to / involved in things. But it’s hard to read people over the Internet. Anyway — keep rockin’ on.

    And gaslighting is a good way to put it. That’s what it was. (And what it is, whenever someone starts an argument but undermining the interlocutor’s capacity to perceive.)

  4. Because everything is so cloaked in enigma this week, I’m going to jump in to say that I am assuming that it was my blog and its comments that partly prompted your post and I apologize for the distress it has caused you. It was never my intention to de-legitimize you as a person whether on the blog post itself or in its comments, and because I failed to recognize it as it happened, I can only say again how sorry I am.

    It was never my intention to strip you of who you are based on an opinion over a show, and pick you apart without your consent, whether in the blog post itself or the comments that followed.

    • It was never my intention to strip you of who you are based on an opinion over a show, and pick you apart without your consent, whether in the blog post itself or the comments that followed.

      I appreciate that you offered the apology, but rest assured that you did none of those things and I wasn’t distressed. Not in any but the vaguest sense. I didn’t really intend this post to be cloaked in enigma as much as I was simply ruminating on the strangeness of finding myself discussed by strangers — which, as I said, is something I’m perfectly aware will be a common occurrence when I have books published on the shelves. You don’t need to feel guilty for anything you did. I promise. 🙂

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