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(Photo: Is that your final answer?)

Another in a string of recent unexpected happenings, last week, fellow blogger Chris Brunn asked to interview me for the Third Coast Audio Festival. He was fascinated by my being a fan of the Chicago Diner’s Radical Reuben (read all about the interview in my Gapers Block post: When an Omnivore Loves a Veggie Reuben).

What I found more fascinating, though, were the two versions of Yours Truly who appeared and vanished in turn, each time the microphone was turned on. And shoved in my face–do you know how hard it is to eat a sandwich with a mic boom an inch from your nose? But I digress.

The off switch engendered measured, thoughtful responses:

“So you don’t like vegan cheese?”

“It’s fine, it tastes a lot like tahini. It just has a soft consistency that seems out of place on a Reuben.”

At every flick of the on switch, however, the bitchier blogger in me ran right out on stage:

“So you don’t like vegan cheese?”

“It tastes like a coven of vegans in the back chanted ‘Taste like cheese’ over it or passed it somewhere near a cow at some point in the distant past, which would be fine if the curdy mess of it didn’t look so much like a yeast infection.”

Halfway through the interview, vegan Chris called me on the two faces of Michael. “I expected a candid interview, but you know you alternate between hysterical when you’re answering a question and kind of candid when you’re just being yourself.”

I’ve been pegged like that before. Not long ago, Back-of-the-Yards baby Rich told me that in the time he’s gotten to know me since I profiled him for my Chicagoans Project, he’s been surprised that what he calls the “real Michael” is a “softie”, not at all like the “bitchy hardass” I portray myself to be on the blogosphere.

And on our recent trip to Ohio, the rather incisive Cincinnati Jamie asked me what I liked to be called, Mike or Michael? Because they seemed to be two people.

I guess in some ways they are. After all, I often liken myself to the whore of my own, personal media empire. When Jamie asked, I had to think for a minute before giving my answer.

“I’m Mike on my blog and Michael to my friends, so what do you want to be friends with? My online brand or me?”

Not that what I share in public is insincere in any way. To the contrary, it’s almost torturous for me to share some of what I say about my life on the blog. But wanting to zero in as firmly as possible on my points, some of the finer bits of the blogger making them can get lost in the process.

Of course, sometimes I just clench. Said hopelessly cute summertime suburban therapist Mark, “So you really don’t share everything on your blog, then, do you?”

No. In my blog posts, I’m not always the protagonist, rarely at a happy endpoint, and often may suffer in the telling of some private detail. That’s life. It’s just not all of my life.

A lot of people tell me they wish their lives were interesting enough to share in public. I usually respond that everyone’s life is interesting. The only reason I have an audience is because I share deeply personal items that, by dint of their mundanity, are universal. In some ways, everyone has the same life. Happy, sad, annoyed, surprised, grief-stricken, joyful–they’re are all flavors of everyone’s life. On those terms, anyone can be a virtual memoirist.

What I usually don’t say is that sometimes it really sucks for my life to be as emotionally harrowing as I have at times quite honestly portrayed it to be.  Or that sometimes it’s just too harrowing to let out at all, even for me. That’s when a comfortable online persona can come in handy.

Broke up with your partner of two years and spent an entire day sobbing into your carpet because you were too distraught to stand? Strong-arm mugged in your old neighborhood by a gang of African-American teens and ashamed that you still flinch in fear every time a young black man walks by? Terrified that your lifelong Adult ADD will prevent you from ever having a successful, lasting relationship? Don’t want to share all that with the world exactly as is?

Nothing helps in that regard like the poetic license that comes with your own, personal online persona. I wish I were Mike Doyle. He has it easy. Hell, sometimes I think my avatar has more fun than I do. Someday, maybe we’ll all be the same happy person.  I’m not holding my breath.

Near the end of our interview, with the microphone still on, vegan Chris tried his best to get Michael Doyle to admit that he really didn’t think there was anything wrong with vegan cheese. And I finally did.

But damned if I didn’t wait until that mic was back in its storage case.

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