From 2007 to 2013, I patted down people's crotches to put food on the table. Yeah, I know.
I worked for everyone's favorite post-9/11 security agency, the Transportation Security Administration. I was also a humor writer that entire time, contributing to publications such as the one you're reading right now. It didn't take long for me to put the two together and begin secretly humor-blogging about my federal experiences with private parts; it was actually a pretty smooth transition from Cracked. By day, I was a TSA employee, viewing nude images of airline passengers and confiscating people's bottled water. By night, I was an anonymous controversial blogger. I went viral for the first time about three months after starting my site. A lot of eyes, including the government's, were suddenly on me.
Two months ago, I revealed my identity to the world, and a goddamned 80-megaton media bomb went off. It's been a crazy ride, but I've learned a lot of surprising things about this whole anonymous blogging game along the way.
5Staying Completely Anonymous Was Such a Pain in the Ass That I Gave Up Trying
Quick: How do you completely cloak your online activities from the world? There's got to be some relatively easy, surefire means by which to do it, right? Some advanced IP-masking software out there that hackers use, or some such?
It's not that easy. Not that easy at all.
WikiLeaks recommends that its informants use Tor for anonymity. That's what I used to run my site for the first couple months, operating online with a masked IP address, thinking it was a watertight guarantee of anonymity, until I learned that it doesn't really guarantee shit.
"The mask is just to keep my face warm."
Then there's the fact that the Internet doesn't take kindly to people with masked IP addresses. Try logging into Gmail while signed into Tor and you'll discover that Gmail instantly locks you out. Trying to build and operate a WordPress blog with a masked IP address is like trying to play piano wearing boxing gloves. Features are stripped to the bare minimum, and loading times are in 1990s territory.
What about public computers, you say? That's mostly how I ran the blog for the first few weeks, going from public computer to public computer, using libraries and FedEx stores, until I realized there were cameras in all those places watching me peck away at my controversial little project. Anyone truly determined to find out who was behind the site would be able to do it.
And so I just gave up.
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Come and get me, coppers.
Internet personalities who try to remain anonymous after gaining public attention almost always end up being de-anonymized. A popular piece of wisdom when it comes to anonymous blogging is to always assume that you will one day be unmasked. It's a piece of advice that I took to heart: Day 1 of my blog marked the beginning of my mental countdown to the hour when I would come out from anonymity, preferably in a halfway respectable publication.
But little did I realize just how hard it is to get respectable publications to cooperate.
4Actually Getting Out from Anonymity Was Extremely Difficult, Too
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After I resigned from the TSA and was no longer doing the whole TSA employee by day, "former" TSA employee/blogger/lame version of Batman thing by night, I decided it was relatively safe to make the reveal: I began submitting coming-out-from-anonymity pieces to publications. I was sure that by that point -- eight months after I started blogging, having gained a decent following, as well as a few mentions in major news publications -- it would finally be a little less of a battle to get the attention of editors.
It's been said a million times before, but it bears repeating as fair warning to those thinking about getting into writing: The odds of getting accepted by a publication, no matter what you have to say and how well you say it, are always ridiculously long. Even after my blog had been covered in print by the Los Angeles Times and appeared on the websites of Fox News and ABC News, I was still getting my ass handed to me by editors from publications via form rejection letters. You'd probably be shocked to learn just what it takes in the writing world to impress an editor at a large publication.
OK, maybe it's not that shocking.
Faced with slush piles like black holes, it's easy for anyone to lose faith in their ability as a writer or in the value of what they have to say, since one could conceivably submit evidence of first contact with extraterrestrial life to a major publication and have the body, UFO debris, and accompanying report returned with a form rejection letter.
I submitted nine op-ed pieces to major U.S. newspapers in which I attempted to come out from anonymity (all of them rejected or ignored), as well as a 5,000-word essay (the same essay that would pull down over 8 million views four weeks later) to 11 small literary publications. Every publication that got back to me did so in order to reject me.
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Some more memorably than others.
Then one day an editor at POLITICO contacted my anonymous alter ego after coming across my blog, asking if by chance I would be willing to contribute to the magazine. Finally, the stars aligned. It's a damn good thing I checked my anonymous email account that week, or else I'd probably still be getting my attempts to come out from anonymity alternately ignored and shat upon by editors across the nation. Which brings us to another of the biggest things I learned ...