#3 – List all aliases:
I was asked about aliases recently as I filled out paperwork for my FBI background check. In Pennsylvania, if you plan to work with children, you need to prove—up-front—that you don’t have a propensity to molest them. To facilitate this, your employer needs to review your “Rap Sheet.”
The first time I heard the term Rap Sheet used in relation to myself, I laughed out loud. It’s a term I’ve ever only heard on detective shows.
“How do you know he’s a flight risk?”
“His Rap Sheet’s a mile long.”
I’m happy to say my Rap Sheet is blank, but on my application, I wound up listing an alias. For two years, I had an online presence under the pseudonym Charley Rider. I blogged; I had a Facebook account; I joined online communities for runners and cyclists, for mental illness advocates, for environmentalists and to engage in religious debate. I had a larger online footprint than most real people. I made friends, created correspondents. Everyone—maybe two hundred or so people—knew me as Charley.
Because he was completely anonymous (and not real), Charley was a slightly more colorful version of me. Angrier, happier, more outspoken, friendlier, more empathetic, more obnoxious. Charley took all of my smooth edges and made them pointier. He made you think.
Is it weird that I talk about Charley like he’s a real person? I think it is. That’s partly why I killed him. I was becoming increasingly comfortable with having an alter ego. There was always a minor internal conversation going on in my head: How would Charley react? He had to go.
And no, I didn’t actually make him die. I outed him. I linked Charlie Rider to me. Anyone who was interested could stay in touch with me as I became Jeff Cann (which is actually my name… swear to God).
I stopped posting on Charley’s blog, Undercrust, and began blogging as myself.
As Charley Rider, I wrote longform essays on the topics of mental health, fitness, rock music, family life and culture—many of these are topics I write about now—although I now work hard to keep my stories concise. I’ve learned that no one is interested in twenty-five hundred words expounding on the Walking Dead.
But initially, on jefftcann.com, the plan was to write about running. Maybe not exclusively running, but mostly running—maybe nine out of ten stories. I branded my blog as “Writing, Running, Other Stuff.” My banner was a running trail from a popular local race. My “About” page had my favorite marathon picture. I had recently restarted my training program, and I was escalating my mileage rapidly. I was obsessed with running, and I wanted to share it with the world. I expected a running magazine editor to read my blog and give me a monthly column.
So yes, my blog was about running. It’s right there in the title. Other stuff? That was just a catch-all phrase for the times another topic grabbed my attention.
As it turns out, there is only so much you can write about running. This is why magazines like Runner’s World recycle their topics every eighteen months. If you ever buy a two-year subscription, three quarters of the way through you’ll be thinking “Hey, I’ve read this before.” More and more, as the first year progressed, my stories slipped away from running. They became focused on the other stuff.
What other stuff? Well, Tourette Syndrome, and substance abuse, and parenting, and childhood, and books, and blogging, and even some fiction. Anything that was rummaging around my brain made it’s way onto my blog.
About a year ago, I renamed my blog “The Other Stuff.” By then, the running content was so rare, it was just another of the many topics I explored. But my banner, my “About” page, these were still focused on running. My tag-line was still Writing, Running, Other Stuff.
Last week, I finally decided to finish the job of re-branding my site. I recreated my banner, I rewrote my tag-line (Cultural Commentary, Mental Illness, Running—note: there’s still a nod to running, I’ve got at least a dozen stories on the topic), I updated my “About” page. Now my blog is focused on the other stuff… which is everything and anything that comes to mind.
I’d love to get some feedback on the changes. Do you like the banner? Is it engaging? Is the name too cryptic? Does it make you want to read… or move on to the next blog? I’m contemplating compiling an e-book. It will be many of the stories from this blog grouped by topic area—running, death, mental health, childhood, etc. My new banner is what I envision for the cover. What do you think? Does it work?