Joey and Me
We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be. ~ Kurt Vonnegut
I'm my own imaginary friend.
Literally. In the classic sense of "literally."
Joey Michaels started out in 2000 as a joke - an extension of a silly online improvised sketch at a now defunct improv comedy website. I would periodically post terrible ideas about how to perform improv as Joey Michaels. He was specifically meant to be a parody of the concept of an "improv guru" (which is the phrase we in the improv community seriously employ to describe the really great teachers) which was aimed an audience of improvisers. He was never meant to be taken seriously.
Oddly, he was taken seriously and some of his terrible ideas were apparently embraced and performed, specifically in Scotland. I'm not making this up.
By 2002, Joey had morphed from a character I pretended to be into being my actual online identity. I wrote at a large number of "E/N" sites (which is what we called blogs in a small section of the Internet in the early 00's - it meant "everything/nothing"), had my own (rarely visited) blog and started the joeymichaels LiveJournal. Indeed, Joey Michaels has a significantly larger online footprint than real-life me has.
And this is where things get weird.
In real life, if I have a personal issue, I keep it to myself an pretend publicly everything is ok. Joey talks about the issue. If I have something I want to say about a political or social issue, my job sort of requires me to keep my mouth shut. Joey rants about politics. When I was diagnosed with diabetes, I didn't tell anyone but my wife in real life. Joey told everyone he knew.
If I had to say who was more "real" between me and Joey, I'd choose Joey. Joey doesn't exist offline but in almost every way he's more of who I want to be. He's, perhaps, the person on the inside who is trying to get out. In 16 years of writing as Joey, I've become a better writer and have worked hard at shaping his (my?) personality to be more like how I ideally want to be.
This, of course, raises a whole host of Freshman Philosophy 101 identity issues (many of which Billy Joel addressed in song form). Its particularly strange to me that I think of "Joey" as a different entity from "real life" me while, at the same time, acknowledging that he's just me with fewer masks and filters. On the other hand, the masks and filters obviously make up part of who I am, too. Am I the masks and filters? Am I the person I am without them? Am I both? Isn't Joey just a mask that allows me to drop other masks?
And what about the gremlin voice in my head that wants me to die? Is that me? Is it somebody else?
There's also a number of ethical issues that I've been grappling with that arose in part because Joey Michaels is semi-anonymous. I have some decade old friendships with people who did not know my real name. I knew their names, however, and I felt this created a unbalance of power that made me profoundly uncomfortable. I revealed my real name to about 10 or 15 of my long-term internet friends last year because the line between "lying to people I care about" and "trying to protect my identity" had become uncomfortably blurred.
This has led to some confusion on their part because they know me as Joey and, thus, my real name seem fake. Joey is more real to them, too. I've been told that I don't act like myself on my real life Facebook and, yeah, that's exactly right. I don't.
I wrote about this during LJI Week #19, but I've been wrestling with identity issues almost all of my life. Years in theatre have made it easy for me to slip in and out of character (as I described during LJI Week #20 - don't feel like you need to read those if you haven't - I'm just pulling some threads together here). Perhaps it makes sense that I've grown to see my identity as a kind of fluid thing that takes the shape of whatever container it happens to be in at the time. Maybe "Joey" is that fluid and the various masks I wear are those containers.
All of these masks:
Sometimes, I wonder if identity isn't just an illusion we create for ourselves. A recently published theory on objective reality and quantum physics suggests that the real world only exists the way it does because our brains choose to perceive it that way. If we can't be sure about our brain's interpretation of objective reality, how can we possibly hope to be sure about our brain's perception of itself?
We can't help but be our own imaginary friends because, maybe, imagination is all we actually have. Joey is imaginary but so is "real life" me, too. An imaginary friend of an imaginary friend.
I'll be happy to discuss this more in the comments, though I can't tell you for sure who will be responding to you.