Sunday, 1 May 2011

Virtual Identity: Obnoxious Frankie

                                       “… there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.”
T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock

Chris Jenkins (the Web Guy), an old virtual friend of mine, started a new on-line project recently and sent me a message on Facebook suggesting that I might be interested in contributing. While I felt very honoured, I found myself wondering about how I could possibly give him a positive answer.

My writing is a hobby. I don’t make a living from it (in fact, I don’t make a penny from it, though this does not mean that I would be averse to getting paid for it J) and much of it I do in my spare time. In the past months, I have been fortunate that my job, while involving long, unsociable hours, actually also involves a lot of time doing “nothing,” so that I can use this time for writing. Still, producing around two posts a week for this blog is quite time consuming.

Apart from the time, the essay format I’ve chosen to explore here also demands a fairly constant stream of inspiration; thinking about themes, reflecting on how to present them, trying them out. They don’t all get finished either – sometimes the “Muse” decides that she has no interest and the creative inspiration just quits on that particular topic, or the manner I’ve chosen to treat it. I don’t throw them away though, I’ve been able to come back to a few quite a while later and they have finished up turning into adequate posts. Still, I’m inclined to be a bit possessive about my ideas where this blog is concerned.

Attempted Essays is very much my baby; over the past fifteen months it has grown and developed beyond any dreams I had when starting it and (unless someone starts offering me good money to write something else) I have no intention of neglecting it. Besides, it struck me as pretty superfluous to start doing the same thing that I do here somewhere else.

And there, flickering at the edge of my consciousness, was an idea. If I were to do anything for, it would have to be something different to what I do here. And that led me, somehow, to start thinking about identity, character, personality.

In our everyday lives, we play all sorts of different roles and take on all kinds of identities. I am a different person at work to the person I am at home – at least in some respects – because I am occupying different roles.

Sartre (centre) with Simone de Beauvoir and Che Guevara
This playing of roles is a central theme in Jean-Paul Sartre’s bleak existentialist analysis of life. In Being and Nothingness he offers a cold, clinical description of a French waiter playing his professional role and goes on to analyse it as what he calls “bad faith,” the inevitable alienation from our authentic selves to which we are subject when we identify with the roles we play out in different situations. The human quandary is that the authentic self is empty; in order to live and relate with others we must take on and identify with these roles which force us willy-nilly into falseness. Life becomes absurd, relationships inevitably involve lies and other people are hell.

Although I would basically describe myself, philosophically, as an existentialist, I do not share Sartre’s bleak view of the human condition – though I see much of value in many of his insights. Despite all sorts of inhibiting factors, I do think that we create our own existence. This continuous act of creation is the consequence of our basic freedom (and it also entails that we are responsible for that which we create). Create is perhaps not precisely the best word to describe it, the German word gestalten is better, carrying as it does connotations of arranging, configuring, moulding, fashioning, patterning, organising.

So we create our identities, wonderful, dynamic, shifting, multi-layered things, and adapt and develop them constantly in response to the situations and people we encounter and become involved with. It is this constant dynamic process of identity creation and adaption which makes human relationships so complex, fascinating and – often – frustrating. For that which I want to project to the other may not be what the other perceives; caught up in his/her own history and own picture of him/herself, he/she may receive something quite different to what I thought I was transmitting. But this too contributes to the variety, spice and wonderful depth of the existence we are continually creating, gestalt-ing, individually and communally.

Before the background of such ideas, I then began to think about the identities we project on the internet. The web is particularly conducive to the creative forming of different identities, since it generally works on the basis of a very limited simple interface – keyboard and mouse – mediating between communicating imaginations. Seen from this aspect, it is no wonder that many people create multiple on-line identities, particularly in chat rooms. After all, on-line there’s no way to know that the sexy seventeen year old vamp from Tucson isn’t actually a seventy-three year old retired priest in Manila, or that the particularly aggressive troll causing mayhem in half a dozen discussion groups isn’t really a mild-mannered granny in Uppsala. Second Life is a phenomenon which explicitly serves this wish to be someone else on-line, even if its popularity has waned considerably in the past few years.

And then – for the mind (or at least my mind) works in strange ways – I found myself thinking about one of my literary heroes, Brian O’Nolan, otherwise known as Myles na gCopaleen, or Flann O’Brien. Myles (for that is the name under which I usually think of him) spent his creative life playing with different identities, even going so far as to write pseudonymous letters to the Editor of the Irish Times complaining about the column he wrote in the newspaper. His hilarious metafictional masterpiece, At Swim-Two-Birds, features characters in the novel (as well as characters in a novel in the novel!) rebelling against their writer and getting up to all kinds of mayhem in doing so.

So Frankie came to be. He’s that part of me I would never let near Attempted Essays – or most other parts of my life, for that matter. He’s loud, rude, opinionated and insulting. He’s prepared to make hard points and tell plain truths without ever considering that there may be another side to the story. He’s someone for whom the rant as a form of communication could have been invented.

I let him out of his cage in the dungeon of my consciousness where I usually keep him locked away and he’s had his first outing over at - you can read it here. He seems to have enjoyed himself and I’m sure that he’ll be clamouring to get out again soon. At this stage I have no idea about what he’s capable of getting up to, that’s something the future alone will show. I only hope he doesn’t disgrace me too completely at, because it really is a very good site with contributors who are producing some excellent content. Even if you find Frankie a little hard to take – and I certainly wouldn’t blame you for that – I suggest that you read some of the other stuff posted there. You won’t be wasting your time.

* * * * *
This is the hundredth post on Attempted Essays. As it happens, I’m finishing it during the last night shift I have before beginning two weeks holidays in the morning (still a few hours away). I have various things lined up for those two weeks, particularly some fairly dedicated R&R, so I may not post anything here during that time. I’m not making any categorical statements but I am liberating myself for the duration of that time from my self-imposed commitment to post regularly. A century does seem to be an excuse for a break anyway! But, as Arnie famously said, “I’ll be back!”


Or if you prefer your music in German:

Pictures retrieved from:


  1. I followed the link that's quite an alter-ego you've got there Francis!

    I do get your point however. And maybe the frustration that you now feel having created a "persona" for this blog which you feel locked into.

    I tussle over the same thing. Especially when it came to my decision to try my hand at fiction. In fact I originally intended to start a new blog for the fiction, but as with work I barely have time to maintain my one post a week I knew two blogs would be impossible if I wanted to maintain any sort of consistency. So for the time being I'm posting my fiction on my "travelblog" - I figure that at some point when I've stockpiled enough fiction I might create a new blog to showcase it all. Maybe.

    Anyway. I think writing whatever you feel like on the one blog is being more "authentic to yourself" in a way that Sartre would appreciate.

  2. I'll have to check out Frankie, then! He sure sounds interesting, and seems to be so in a different way to Francis, whom I've come to like a lot :-) Have yourself a wonderful time off; I'm doing the same, by some strange coincidence, and what's more, I will not even have any internet access for more than ten days! My mom luckily doesn't do internet (nor anything remotely linked to computers); luckily because otherwise, it would mean hours of explaining things that are obvious to me to someone who hasn't got a clue. So I'll see you again in two weeks then; I'll be certainly much fatter (thanks to mommie in advance) and will be craving to connect again at last!

  3. I think my blog persona is a bit of a put-on. I'm good with that because the people I truly want to talk to and share with seem to recognize the whole person behind the facade and thus I've developed some nice friendships via email, where I can be fully myself.

    I'm not the type of person who can share everything about myself with the whole world.

    As for Frankie. I'm still trying to figure him out. This first rant of Frankie's is one I can identify with because I'm a frustrated American who is leaning closer and closer to total disgust. I was brought over here, I received my citizenship when I was thirteen and by all accounts I am, by now, more American than I am Portuguese. Sometimes I really hate that.

    I'd like to continue to read what Frankie has to say and I did give warning! :-)

    The site you're writing for contains some provocative material. It's good to shake things up a bit and let them explode.

  4. Oh. That should read that I was given full warning. Sorry. Also forgot to mention what a cool find that photo is of Satre, Simone de Beauvoir and Che Guevera. Won't you just love to have been a fly on the wall around that crew? :-)

  5. Bingo Frankie, uh, I mean Francis! BTW I LUV LUV LUV Myles na gCopaleen do you get the ones where he writes in English with Irish orthography? Those are great!

    That's why I do comics, so that my characters can show a point of view that I might be uncomfortable expressing as myself.

  6. I thought Frankie's first rant went very well indeed and not so different from your voice around here. It seems to me if you combined the two (the beatification post is getting close) then you'd be sure to have even more readers. Intellectual honesty along with a good tirade is quite refreshing.

    I used to worry about my voice on phantsy during the first few months but after a while I realized it didn't matter. Eventually my old friend Crow arrived to tell his occasional stories and all was well.

    Congratulations on your 100th Attempted Essay. I've enjoyed all the ones I've read and hope to be here when you celebrate 500.


  7. I've really enjoyed reading your work thus far, and the discussion about personality creation resonated with me. As a resident of second life for nearly three years now, it's been interesting to watch the dynamics of relationships there, between the alter egos of RL people, as well as my own SL personality development. One thing I've come to realize in the process, however. Regardless of what we set out to do, WHO we set out to be, there remains a kernel or our essential self in it all. It seems we always revert, in one way or the other, to our true selves. Perhaps that's comforting...then it?

  8. I'm sure you have talent. Dropped by to say a quick hello to Chris - miss him at his best. I was looking forward to being more net active and to read and converse more with you over the net - but the job in Syria is off, for obvious reasons.

  9. If you are interested in making a little money on the side by writing online, there's a site that I've used in the past called The most you can make is about $15 per article, but it's better than nothing if you've got some time on your hands. The pay scale is based on your writing skill, and you can accept as many assignments as you can handle (one at a time of course).

    The only problem I had with textbroker is that it gets boring. Most of the stuff I wrote was for company websites and the like, so it was pretty dry. But it is one of the only legitimate "write online and get paid" companies I've come across, and I got paid every time I asked to clear my account.

    Just a thought...

  10. Congratulations. And lovely picture!.))

  11. I had another look at today and wanted to leave a comment on the TED talk (which I'd sent to a friend a few days earlier). The site wanted me to type in my wordpress sign-on which I don't quite understand. I have a number of friends with wordpress blogs and usually they'll ask for name, email, and url and remember you ever after. I'm not sure why this one is different.

  12. A general reply:

    The idea of the identities we adopt when writing fascinates me. This is, of course, most obvious for someone writing fiction, who gives him/herself a whole range of characters to play with.

    But even in the more modest blogging world, I think we are all experimenting with identities. Writing gives us a lot of control over what we show and what we don't show.

    The author of Attempted Essays is very much me, yet he is also, to an extent, an evolving creation. There's nothing very special about this - I think we all have friends, for example, with whom we relate in very different ways - creating particular shared worlds together. This does not (or should not, at any rate) imply inauthenticity - but there are friends with whom I can happily discuss the events taking place in the Bundesliga for long periods and other friends who have neither knowledge of nor interest in German football.

    Frankie is, above all, a writing experiment.I really don't know where he's going to go. There'll be another piece from him, hopefully, published tomorrow in which he doesn't rant as such, but lets another distasteful aspect of his personality out - the fawning, obsequious stage Irishman. There is certainly an element of satire about him - but outrageous satire can also be a vehicle to make statements and comments.

    Susan - I have no idea about what happens with the log-in process at; I created an account to get started and Chrome (as a browser) conveniently remembers my password for me when I log in again. (I think I originally picked up the TED link from you!) In the past week, Chris has added a forum which it may be easier to access.

  13. Just read your piece of writing at and...Wow...
    Frankie Rants 1 & 2 sum up some things I have in mind and you put it down so sharply and, off course, intelligently.

    "Vatican’s Next Top Miracle" sounds like a great idea.


Your comments are, of course, welcome. I've had to reinstall captchas recently as - like most other bloggers - I was being plagued by spambots.


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