Saturday, October 1, 2011

What's in a Pseudonym?

Sometimes, when you see something a student of yours has published, you wonder if you have not demonstrated enough to that individual or demonstrated too much.  You were looking at something by a former student of yours this morning in The Atlantic when the thought came to you.  The material had focus, drive, voice, and entertainment.  As though that were not sufficient for the piece, it had wisdom.  As you read the concluding paragraphs, you even found yourself considering role reversal; the student had such stature as you to feel what the teacher must feel, that tangy blend of envy and pride.  But wait; was there anything to suggest the student had even listened to you, had not at some remote time back in the past found the necessary propellant to give her own work orbit?

There are times when you look at your own work, particularly work that had pleased you, to see if you’d demonstrated enough for yourself or perhaps too much, or if you ever bother to listen to yourself.

Is it patronizing of you to approach the published work of a former student with what approximates a sense of propriety?  What about your feelings when someone for whom you have the barest respect, telling you how much he, approaches you enjoyed a particular piece?  What as well about someone who has approached you with complements, only to realize that you have been mistaken for some other writer?  To add yet another dimension, what about times you have had interpretations attached to something you said in a classroom or published somewhere that are alien to your intentions?

These are all visions you confront.  You are sometimes asked about these matters in long, bewildered email or snail mail notes from former students.  As best you can, you address the issue from the perspective of being a part of a large cluster of meteors as they orbit a planet.  You believe you are in orbit about earth but you recognize some of your chums and former students are in orbit elsewhere, by choice and by temperament.

On occasion, we meteors fall out of orbit.  We impact our host planet with a thunk, leaving some trace of the identity we carried at the time.  We evolve, accumulate more mass, more velocity; our orbital path may change.  When you look at things you have written or said in the past, you are sometimes amazed by how much or how little you knew at a particular time, more than anything humbled by the fact of your persistence, nevertheless.

One joy you take from reading something from the past that now causes you particular pain is the distance you have overcome in freeing yourself of habits and mannerisms that caused you to wince.  It is easy to be judgmental.  To the extent that it is so easy, you are happy for the lack.  There were influences on you, things you copied with sedulous deliberation or unintentional envy.  It is a joy to you now that the mistakes you see are more original in nature, more likely to have come from some risk or, better yet, from the momentum of a riff that held you in its sway. Some parents have handsome children; others have bright or quirky sons and daughters.  Some have shrewd children, athletic children, talented children.  Parents tend to be proud of their children.  You have had a passel of notional cats, quirky, outrageous dogs, and an enormous spectrum of students.  You have more published materials with attention deficit that you might like, but they are reminders of you as you were and as you are.  With some thought, you would recognize the circumstances in which they were brought to life.  Even those things you wrote under pseudonyms for various reasons are things for which you claim parentage without hesitation.  You are indeed Adam Snavely.  You are Gunnar Bjorkstrup.  They and others like them, Craig Barstow, and Walter Feldspar, remind you of your more inchoate approaches to swagger.  They have contributed to the bounce in your step now being hard won and prized.

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