For a while, Helena Hann-Basquiat was everywhere on the blogosphere. She was posting regularly. She had full-length novels she was working on. She was reading and leaving insightful comments on more blogs than seemed possible at times, given there are only 24 hours in a day, and some of those have to be spent eating and sleeping. Her voice was unique and dominating. And then, one day, the truth came out: Helena was a pseudonym being used by a male writer. I invited H.K. Abell to share a bit of his story with our community because it is certainly one that should not die:
1 – Helena
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I never wanted to be a blogger.
What I wanted – what I have come to understand is impossible – was just to write, and to have that writing stand alone, on its own merit. I wanted utter detachment from the art itself, and wanted people to read my writing, and not give a fuck about the man behind the curtain.
The problem is that people did care, and so I came to realize that I couldn’t have what I thought I wanted. It doesn’t work that way. People assumed, rightly or not, that I was writing an autobiographical blog – exaggerated, perhaps, but more or less my story – the Countess Penelope of Arcadia’s and mine. I fully admitted to being an unreliable narrator, and my stories were larger than life, but I suppose there was enough reality there (the line became blurry) that people cared about Helena and Penny.
I didn’t start writing under the name Helena Hann-Basquiat to protect any innocents or to infiltrate the Interwebs like some Catfish (though the accusation has been thrown…) but instead to just remove myself from the equation. I really didn’t want to have people like me – because then I’d always be wondering if they liked my writing simply because they liked me (in hindsight, this is rather ridiculous – I created a character that people fell in love with. Maybe I just don’t know how to take the compliment.)
I also didn’t initially choose to write under the guise of a woman for any consciously feminist reasons – though by virtue of being seen as a woman on-line I certainly learned a lot, and was privy to what being treated like a woman is like – though, to be honest, I was never as objectified as some. The feminist – experiment, for lack of a better word – developed almost organically as I continued. But more on that another time.
After two years of living as Helena Hann-Basquiat on-line, during which I wrote and published two volumes of Memoirs – a collection of stories compiled from the blog, and a Shakespearean-style play starring the Countess Penelope of Arcadia – I came clean about my identity (which went mostly well) and now, post-Helena, I find myself often not knowing what to do. Surely I have more Helena and Penny stories to tell, but now that the cat’s out of the bag, I find it hard to put that hat back on, so to speak.
I’ve half-considered starting it all over again, seeing if I could create a new character, but the truth is, the darker part of being Helena was that it could be very lonely. I’d backed myself into a corner, wanting to connect with people after holding them at arm’s length for so long. So no, I wouldn’t want to do that again. I like the idea that people now know that I write/wrote as Helena, and that I write all the creepy shit under the name Jessica B. Bell (I do have a reason for choosing the pseudonyms rather than just write under my own name, but it’s inconsequential, really) and that they can read the Helena stuff as it’s intended – some of it is true, some of it is partially true, and some of it is completely untrue, but none of that should matter as long as the story moves you. So, in that way, I’d like to think that I did achieve what I wanted – distance from the story. It doesn’t matter what percentage is fact or fiction, so long as your laughter or tears are real.
2 – Social Media Burnout
I am, by nature, an introverted person. Well, that’s not entirely true – one on one, I can be obnoxiously outgoing. I’m that terrible type of person who will talk your ear off if we start talking about something I’m passionate about. Which makes the Interwebs a terrible trap for me, because by its very nature, I can search out like-minded people with whom to engage in these passionate conversations. Unfortunately, part of the game is trying to juggle all those friendships, and that can be stressful. I suffer from depression and anxiety, and I find social media sometimes overwhelms me. The signal to noise ratio is lopsided, and I have a really hard time tuning out the noise. I won’t get into what I consider noise, because I’ll just go off on a rant that will likely just get me all worked up and upset, and nobody wants that.
So, after two years, publishing five books, with two novels in editing and a collection of short fiction forthcoming (or, just read: a fuck-ton of writing and promoting and schmoozing and networking and chatting and befriending and etc…) I think I hit the wall. The urgency to keep going just wasn’t there anymore. And when I lost my job back in August, I just sort of withdrew.
3 – Mid-Life Crisis
It’s nothing to laugh about, but I find myself, at the age of 40, having been fired from the longest job I ever had, due to, well, I have to face up to it – mental health issues, specifically, absences caused by mental health issues. Now, they couldn’t say that’s why they fired me. They gave me the pretty standard non-specific “we’re moving in a different direction” “we’re not picking up your options” “it’s not you; it’s me” “I hope we can still be friends” reasoning, and I don’t have a legal leg to stand on, I suppose.
So, where do I go from here? Well, I used my saving to buy a red convertible and I am now dating a 21-year-old stripper named Alison Wonderland.
I did get a couple tattoos (less expensive and less damaging on my marriage) and I’m trying to go back to college.
Which means having to study mathematics for the first time in more than 20 years.
So, I’ll be spending less time writing for the next little while, but that’s okay.
4 – Parting Shots
What was I talking about again?
Ah yes. Pseudonyms, social media, and changing life paths.
Writing under a pseudonym is easy. You just change your name. No big deal. But when it comes to social media, if you are going to be that person – some persona that is completely different than you are – then be prepared for a couple of things. First, you are going to alienate/put a wall up between you and some people. I read something somewhere that said that meta-fiction is, by its very nature, alienating. The same can be said for creating a fictional persona. The moment that persona begins interacting with people – real people – they become characters of a sort, against their will, in the story that you are writing. Some people are going to take to this like fucking pancakes, and love the idea of being a part of it. Others are going to keep their distance, and you won’t be able to figure out why. Coming clean, I learned from talking to people that they had a hard time connecting with Helena because they knew she wasn’t real.
So, be prepared that some people are not going to trust you. The Internet is a dangerous place, and it shocks me how much personal shit people share with complete strangers. There were times when people would say things to me (as Helena) and I’d have to stop them, telling them that they didn’t know me; that I wasn’t comfortable with them telling me certain things.
Those are the challenges. I will say that I had a blast being Helena. I loved being able to say whatever the hell I wanted. I loved challenging conventions of writing – clandestinely breaking all sorts of rules (don’t use alliteration; don’t use adverbs; don’t speak to your audience – these are three off the top of my head that went out the window on day one for Helena). I loved making people’s heads spin. I loved being NOT ME for a little while, until I was comfortable enough to mix part of me in there.
What else? Ah, Social media. Social media is a necessary fucking evil, and how I feel about it depends on the day. I love that I can find like-minded people, I don’t like that I have to play all sorts of social games, else I be ostracized. I hate that I’m not allowed to criticize (not “hate”, but actually argue critically) without being trolled. But my love-hate relationship with social media is like biting the hand that feeds me, so railing against it is kind of counter-productive. I will say that I have wasted WAY too much time trying to get certain people to like me when the truth is, I didn’t really value their opinion at all – I just thought that I needed the stamp of approval of the popular crowd. Turns out high school mentality never really leaves you – but I am learning to try to nurture the good and ignore the bad.
Changing life paths. Hmm. What to say about that? Well, I think it can be summed up by the theme of Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume Three (forthcoming – when, I don’t know):
To Be Continued…
H.K. Abell is a writer, a poet, a sometime musician and artist, and the father of three beautiful girls. Sometimes, he writes as the enigmatic Helena Hann-Basquiat, a self-proclaimed dilettante who dabbles in whatever she can get her hands into just to say that she has.Some people attribute the invention of the Ampersand to her, but she has never made that claim herself. As Helena, he published Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One, and this past April, released Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume Two, as well as the Shakespearean-style play, Penelope, Countess of Arcadia. His pseudonym Helena has her own pseudonym, Jessica B. Bell, who not only writes strange, dark and twisted fiction, but is herself the subject of the meta-fictional novel JESSICA, and its sequel, SINGULARITY, written in collaboration with a host of talented writers. VISCERA, a collection of strange tales, will be published by Sirens Call Publications later this year under the name Jessica B. Bell.