My Life Brand... and a Fable

My Life Brand

“We all have personal brands and most of us have already left a digital footprint, whether we like it or not. Proper social media use highlights your strengths that may not shine through in an interview or application and gives the world a broader view of who you are. Use it wisely.”
– Amy Jo Martin, American author, speaker, entrepreneur, and founder and CEO of Digital Royalty.

Now I get it!!! The Memo, that is...
For almost a year, “But I Never Got the Memo” was the subtitle of this blog...
It was time to change it to reflect the brand aware and branded me.
Whether or not an ordinary life like mine is worthy of branding is debatable. After all, I haven’t cured cancer, created the most-awesome-must-have tech product, or starred in a blockbuster movie.
I have written and published some books and have been awarded a Fulbright Award – not too shabby for an ordinary life – but mine is not a famous life or brand.
I hope that, as a teacher and sometime scholar, I have made a difference in someone else’s life – one can only hope.
We all leave footprints of some kind; I hope that most of my prints have been positive and that the negative ones haven’t been too difficult or run too deep.
In 2014 it is almost impossible to not leave a digital footprint. In fact, my mother, who has been deceased since 1979, has a digital footprint. I am responsible for some of them, of course, but she had her own, even before I was aware of them.
Back in 2001, I bought into the bromide that if you can’t find yourself on Google, you don’t really exist.
Fearing that I might die without having really existed, I Googled myself – three tiny entries popped up. One was a mention in an Amazon review for Eating Our Hearts Out: Personal Accounts of Women’s Relationship to Food, an anthology in which an essay I wrote was published. The other two I don’t remember, but the entries weren’t that interesting or memorable. But I was excited that something I had written touched someone in some way and that I would not die without having been indexed in Google. 
My full name now brings up about 2,500 Google entries, which is about average for an unknown person with a digital presence.
My forum name for Namepros has more entries (7,800) than my real name, but that makes sense since I do more casual posting under the forum name than I do my real name. Also, my books are not bestsellers. (Cry crocodile tears here, boo, hoo.)
I had also read an article in one of the writing magazines that writers needed to secure the dotcom of their names, that if they didn’t, an unsavory person might squat on their names – especially writers fortunate enough to become well-known – and build porn sites on them.
On May 22, 2001, I registered my first dotcom: my full name.
Later I dutifully secured my first-name/last married name and my first-name/maiden name dotcoms – my first ventures into personal brand protection.
Recently, I created a pseudonym based on a domain name that I already own: (J.I. Fly, my young adult writer’s name and not something I’m trying to hide, LOL).
With pseudonyms, one has choices and can develop a branded writer’s name based on dotcom availability and desired public image.
I have since learned that “fly” can be used as a noun to mean “clever,” “smart,” “awesome,” etc., but I assure you that I did not know about these superlatives before choosing my nom de plume for my young adult books; I just thought it was just a cool, short name.
My real name is long and a bit uninteresting (sorry, family and better half) and difficult to remember and spell, which is okay for my regular books, but for YA books, it seems advantageous to have a kicky five-letter name – a name that attracts attention on its own terms.
I mean, if one is going to use a pseudonym, why not an interesting and memorable one?
So I have actually been branding myself for a long time; I just didn’t think about it in that way. My first attempts at branding had more to do with protecting my identity, not carving out a brand for myself.
Given that this essay seems a bit overly focused on the inner workings of my own branding, I thought it would be charming to include a fable by Mark Twain, who foresaw, over a century ago, the advent of the modern day selfie:

Mark Twain

A Fable

[A Selfie as Envisioned by Mark Twain]

Once upon a time an artist who had painted a small and very beautiful picture placed it so that he could see it in the mirror. He said, “This doubles the distance and softens it, and it is twice as lovely as it was before.”
The animals out in the woods heard of this through the housecat, who was greatly admired by them because he was so learned, and so refined and civilized, and so polite and high-bred, and could tell them so much which they didn’t know before, and were not certain about afterward. They were much excited about this new piece of gossip, and they asked questions, so as to get at a full understanding of it. They asked what a picture was, and the cat explained.
“It is a flat thing,” he said; “wonderfully flat, marvelously flat, enchantingly flat and elegant. And, oh, so beautiful!”
That excited them almost to a frenzy, and they said they would give the world to see it. Then the bear asked:
“What is it that makes it so beautiful?”
“It is the looks of it,” said the cat.
This filled them with admiration and uncertainty, and they were more excited than ever. Then the cow asked:
“What is a mirror?”
“It is a hole in the wall,” said the cat. “You look in it, and there you see the picture, and it is so dainty and charming and ethereal and inspiring in its unimaginable beauty that your head turns round and round, and you almost swoon with ecstasy.”
The ass had not said anything as yet; he now began to throw doubts. He said there had never been anything as beautiful as this before, and probably wasn’t now. He said that when it took a whole basketful of sesquipedalian adjectives to whoop up a thing of beauty, it was time for suspicion.
It was easy to see that these doubts were having an effect upon the animals, so the cat went off offended. The subject was dropped for a couple of days, but in the meantime curiosity was taking a fresh start, and there was a revival of interest perceptible. Then the animals assailed the ass for spoiling what could possibly have been a pleasure to them, on a mere suspicion that the picture was not beautiful, without any evidence that such was the case. The ass was not troubled; he was calm, and said there was one way to find out who was in the right, himself or the cat: he would go and look in that hole, and come back and tell what he found there. The animals felt relieved and grateful, and asked him to go at once – which he did.
But he did not know where he ought to stand; and so, through error, he stood between the picture and the mirror. The result was that the picture had no chance, and didn’t show up. He returned home and said:
“The cat lied. There was nothing in that hole but an ass. There wasn’t a sign of a flat thing visible. It was a handsome ass, and friendly, but just an ass, and nothing more.”
The elephant asked:
“Did you see it good and clear? Were you close to it?”
“I saw it good and clear, O Hathi*, King of Beasts. I was so close that I touched noses with it.”
“This is very strange,” said the elephant; “the cat was always truthful before – as far as we could make out. Let another witness try. Go, Baloo**, look in the hole, and come and report.”
So the bear went. When he came back, he said:
“Both the cat and the ass have lied; there was nothing in the hole but a bear.”
Great was the surprise and puzzlement of the animals. Each was now anxious to make the test himself and get at the straight truth. The elephant sent them one at a time.
First, the cow. She found nothing in the hole but a cow.
The tiger found nothing in it but a tiger.
The lion found nothing in it but a lion.
The leopard found nothing in it but a leopard.
The camel found a camel, and nothing more.
Then Hathi* was wroth, and said he would have the truth, if he had to go and fetch it himself. When he returned, he abused his whole subjectry for liars, and was in an unappeasable fury with the moral and mental blindness of the cat. He said that anybody but a near-sighted fool could see that there was nothing in the hole but an elephant.
You can find in a text whatever you bring, if you will stand between it and the mirror of your imagination. You may not see your ears, but they will be there.


*Hathi, a bull elephant that lives in the jungle, is a fictional character created by Rudyard Kipling for the Mowgli stories collected in The Jungle Book (1894) and The Second Jungle Book (1895).

**Baloo, a bear, is a fictional character, also featured in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book from 1894 and The Second Jungle Book from 1895.


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