When I was studying sociology in school, one of the first things I learned was that the job you end up with will become your identity. Anytime you meet new people, they will always end up asking, "What do you do?" In past years, the answer was straightforward and simple. You would always default to your day job -- you know, that thing you either love, dread, or tolerate.
Now, the question "What do you do?" is complicated. We live in a world where anyone can have a blog, Etsy store, or even his or her own album on Spotify. Today, we define ourselves by multiple things. You can swap identities as you please depending on the social situation you are in.
I worked in television for seven years. For four of those years, I simultaneously ran a webcomic. By day, I was working at a post house for one of the biggest nonfiction cable companies, and by night, I was writing and drawing weird comics about food and animals. Depending on where I was, I would either introduce myself as a producer or an artist. I could choose to represent myself in whatever light I felt like.
At my day job, I would poke around to find the secret lives that people led. It's amazing what people will tell you when you simply ask them about something other than a deadline. It turns out that almost everyone lived a double life. My old boss was a yoga instructor at night. I discovered lots of secret stand-up comedians and a technician who doubled as a touring drummer in a famous heavy metal band. There was also another guy rumored to run his own customized S&M apparel. I never made it as far as to confirm if this was fact or fiction. In a lot of ways, I want it to remain a mystery.
It was easy getting the people at work to share their secret identity, but when I tried to flip it the other way around, it wasn't that straight forward. Being a webcomic artist means that you have to exhibit at a lot of conventions. On the weekends, my husband and I would exhibit our work and meet fellow artists. Once you experience getting sandwiched in a busy exhibit hall shoulder to shoulder with artists for two 10-hour days, you end up chatting about a lot of things. At some of my first conventions, I didn't know that one topic was completely off limits.
It's like the code Batman has with Superman where they both know they have "day jobs" but they never address it while fighting crime -- or ever really. At my first couple of conventions, I totally broke the code and asked people what they did for a living. It was almost like I had broken the fourth wall and needed to be escorted out. Now, not everyone was this anal about not discussing their day jobs, but you could definitely tell that "going there" kind of broke up the vibe of fleeing your 9 to 5.
Those that would share would always whisper what they did or lean behind their table so the attendees couldn't hear. Everyone's jobs were always slightly different. I met engineers, lawyers, lab geeks, and a night shift security guard. I also met a few illustrators who drew children's books by day and then dirty, sexy comics at night (if only the children knew!). I was amazed by how many people were doing exactly what I was doing -- finding an escape or any excuse to be labeled exclusively as a creative and not a paper-pushing corporate slave.
I eventually stopped asking what people did for a living at conventions out of respect for what we were there for. As a whole, we all honored being Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman because on Monday we all had to go back to being Bruce, Clark, and Diana.
Our secret identities are so often our passion, which explains why it is so easy to share that other side of you when people ask about it. I recently quit my 9 to 5 to do something I loved doing even more -- making comics. I guess that puts me in the realm of X-Men's Beast where I can't hide my identity even if I wanted to.
Do you have a secret identity? Reveal your double life in the comments. I want to know.
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