I'm watching The Bourne Identity on ITV tonight - which is a far more accomplished film than I expected - and the protagonist's identity crisis has sparked a memory from a little earlier this week: someone called me "Thrawn" on MSN.
I haven't gone by the name of "Thrawn" since, oh, before this blog was born (sorry - couldn't resist that particular reference). It's a very strange thing, being part of an internet community, especially if you assume a "nick" - a name (and/or persona) that you are only on the internet. The internet allows you the luxury of discretionary anonymity, and this can be a very seductive thing. It allows you to be someone different in an online environment to what you'd normally act like in person.
Lord Thrawn of Thrawn, my ex-online self, was a far more abrasive and outrageous version of my real self - spurred on by the knowledge that I'd unlikely meet the people I was treating somewhat less than civilly. I think the problem with being "Lord Thrawn" started occurring when I actually started meeting people in real life whom I'd originally met online. "Lord Thrawn" and me, Iain, gradually started to meld: much in the Leonard Nimoy "I am Spock" sense. The first person I met over the internet and have subsequently come to know in real life (and, indeed, is one of my closest friends) has occasionally identified when I've had "Thrawn moments" during times when I've had him over for curry and a beer, or whatever - and it makes me stand back and think "Is this really me?".
It was even more strange when we'd have forum meet-ups and afterwards people would start calling me "Iain" on the forums: didn't they understand that "Iain" and "Thrawn" were separate people? Evidently not, and as time wore on, the gap between "Iain" and "Thrawn" narrowed until they were essentially indistinguishable - which lead to the whole (terribly regrettable) Mad Iain phase. I'm not a someone overly prone to introspection, but if there's one episode in my life I'd like to erase, it's this one. It was a period where I was singularly uncompromising in my online affairs (mainly because I was using the internet as an escape from a particularly shitty period in my work), and I ended up alienating a lot of people; for which I unreservedly apologise for. I'm not a *complete* idiot: I don't intentionally go out of my way to annoy people - sometimes it just turns out that way...
Over the last year or so, "Lord Thrawn" is a persona that I've increasingly tried to leave behind, but it's hard to disassociate yourself from it completely when it's helped form part of who you are, and how you've come to know people you call friends. I think giving up frequenting internet forums (partly through choice, partly through work pressures, partly through unintentionally managing to alienate the people running the only forums I'd be interested in posting on) has helped restore a lot of the equilibrium.
I'm happy enough, and confident enough, to let whatever I say online stand beside my real name now. I don't feel the compulsion to hide behind an idealised vision of what I'd like myself to be. Grand Admiral Thrawn, in Star Wars lore, is the last of the Emperor's Grand Admirals: an intellectual and strategic genius. It was an identity I assumed (with a Lords of Midnight slant) with the utmost insincerity and conceit. I'm not intellectually shorter than two planks, but I'm hardly Einstein, either. The character of Thrawn simply appealed to my sense of the grandiose, plus I have the wit and articulacy to get away with it, so Thrawn I became. (Barring the blue skin and glowing red eyes - though given my chronic bloodshot, I'm not far off the latter) But as time drew on, the perception of what people saw me as (as opposed to what I actually am) diverged more and more, until things inevitably came to a head, and I had to cut ties - if only to preserve my sanity.
Lord Thrawn ceased to exist in all but my MSN name, and I have to say that I'm happier for it. I don't think it's something that will disappear completely from what makes me what I am: it was far too important a part of my life for far too long for that - plus there are still a few lingering regrets about the way I handled things when I still went by the name of Thrawn. Would State not have gone under had I stuck to my guns and not relinquished control? I guess we'll never know, but there's no sense living in the past. As the cliché goes, all good things must come to an end, even if it's an ignoble one. Besides, the time investment versus the reward of running the place must go down as one of the greatest examples of diminishing returns in history, so maybe putting the forum down was an act of mercy. I don't know...
Ah, well; this is probably the final entry in The Chronicles Of Thrawn. The Annals of Iain, however, will continue for the foreseeable future. If I have anything to say about it, anyway. Here's hoping you'll stay tuned.