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More Life at the Edge: What’s in a Name?


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June 1, 2014


After a conversation this morning with my overnight guests over coffee and toast, in which we talked about, among other things, the motivations and habits we all have that play out in our daily lives, my thoughts drifted to small choices we make.  Later, on my own, I wondered in particular about the screen names people choose, why some of us use a version of our own names, some use one that’s attached to a fantasy of some kind and what else?  I know some here have names others have given them which they like, DrF for example, who’s told his story.  Some are travel related, very appropriate for the purpose here, some entirely unrelated, but there must be a reason for them all.  


After choosing names for myself on a number of websites and forums over the years, usually without giving it much thought, I wanted one this time unlike any I’d used before, initially in an effort at anonymity.  But the specific choice had reasons.  Port Moresby is a character in one of my all-time favorite novels, ‘The Sheltering Sky’, by Paul Bowles, a writer and composer who lived much of his life in Morocco, one of my favorite places on Earth.  In the movie of the same name, the fabulously edgy John Malkovich played Port, or Porter, as Debra Winger’s character, his wife Kit, called him.  They were travelers, not tourists they agreed, so much better a concept than the light-weight and somehow slightly ridiculous “tourists”.  Then one day, looking at a map of Southeast Asia as I planned a trip, I saw it, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, and I laughed out loud at Bowles’ joke.  While I’ve never been there, I’ve been close and besides, anywhere palm trees live, that’s where you’ll find me.  Or thinking about going.  It all came together, PortMoresby, multi-faceted, ambiguous, my alter-ego for Travel Gumbo.  


If you saw me walking down the street, I don’t think edgy would be the first adjective that would come to mind.  In fact, I suspect you’d hardly notice me, if you noticed at all.  But I think, by definition, someone who aspires to be the “center” of attention, cannot also be at the edge.  I like to think that genuine edges are secret places and don’t give up clues to their identity at first glance.  Further, to be a successful traveler, rather than tourist, one must surely benefit from blending in or even being invisible.  Older people sometimes complain about invisibility as a down-side of aging.  But I would put forth the premise that there’s a distinct up side to invisibility that makes our lives easier and more enjoyable if the mainstream is not that to which we aspire.  We cannot fail publicly or be otherwise judged if it isn’t apparent what we’re up to. So, back to our names, ambiguity is fun, I think, on a number of levels, as is going through life with at least a little invisibility.  We can be seen when we choose to be, but also enjoy our experiences at the edges, and few will guess what we’re really up to. That sounds like heaven to me.




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I admit to a long fascination with the names people choose; clearly whether screen names on websites or as names chosen for daily living, they tell some story of self-reflection, just as PortMoresby's does.


What, I always wondered, made someone choose to be J. Edgar rather than just Edgar (or even just John?) That sort is more puzzling to me than the screen names that shout aggression (Warrior, Conan) or whisper softly (Miss Maisie, Teatime) or are ironically self-referential (my favorite was on the Frommer forums: Mother of Chaos, who was planning travel with her children). 


My rationale for PHeymont or PHey has always been the thought that what I said might be viewed more seriously with a real name--and yet that, too, is an illusion. Plenty of posters around the net use their real names and say nothing worth noting—some of the best posters I can think of have gone under names like, to pick a live example, Road Crazy.


As a child, I made up many names I'd rather have had than my own; they tended to sound like characters from an Eric Ambler novel (Severyn Janacek, Cartel Wange). 


But then again...why J. Edgar and not John or Edgar?

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

A little more...I've just been criticized for not recognizing those who took other names to protect themselves from an oppressive government (Lenin comes to mind) or a gender barrier (George Sand) or to allow political debate without reference to personality (Publius, the name used by Jay, Hamilton and Madison in writing the Federalist papers).


And then there's Martin Gardner; I've just finished reading his autobiography (titled Undiluted Hocus Pocus) in which he reveals that he occasionally used a pseudonym to write scathing reviews of his own books...

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

It's an interesting topic, PortMoresby (and I always assumed you'd named yourself after the New Guinea city).  


We are given names by our parents that some of us change but most of us keep for a lifetime as part of our identity.  But an alias is clearly of our own choosing and it makes you think sometimes about what's behind that person's choice?


Equally interesting to me are the avatars some folks use, or don't choose (please, if you have an "empty head"avatar, load a photo into it!)  Your choice of the palm tree makes sense perfect sense given what you've written here.  I've chosen a chimp as my avatar, one I photographed at the Singapore zoo.  This young adult and I spent at least a half hour studying each other across a wide moat that served as a barrier to keep him in.  But somehow we connected.  I wish I could have read his thoughts, and if I could have I'd have taken him home with me.  He genuinely intrigued me and I think I him.

Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

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