PB Floyd Comes Out – the visionary and the pragmatic

There is no one named PB Floyd who writes for Slingshot — it’s a penname I made up and that I’ve been using for 24 years. This issue, I’m giving up PB and from here on out, I want to write under my own real name. There’s no reason for you, dear reader, to care — so long as someone writes those Slingshot articles it’s probably all the same. But for me, this is a big deal, a sort of coming out even though my friends and family have always known that I am PB. Permit me to briefly explain because I think it relates to some critical contradictions that radicals ought to address.

I started using the name PB when I was 18 years old because some other activists made fun of an article I wrote using my real name. They said the article was naive, and looking back on it, they were probably right. Who has their whole ideological/political analysis together when they’re 18 years old? Or when they’re 42 for that matter. But I found that I liked using a pseudonym — it felt cool and it added to a sense that us radicals were somehow outlaws, operating an “underground” paper, rebelling against authority and corporations and the police.

It felt freeing — I felt like I could write whatever I wanted about protests or immoral or illegal actions and not risk getting in trouble. Of course I also simultaneously knew how silly that was — if anyone really wanted to figure out who PB Floyd was, I knew it wouldn’t be very hard since anyone who wandered into a Slingshot meeting would immediately learn the truth.

But it was still fun and freeing, and that felt like enough reason to keep it. Over the years, I even began to feel like PB had built up a body of work of sorts — sometimes people would tell me they had read my articles. It was exciting. When I got a professional job to earn money, it felt better to have some separation between my Slingshot reality and my work reality. At one point, I was going to loan closings on high floors of banks wearing a suit. It felt better to have a bit of distance between that role and PB’s articles that were about tearing down capitalism and banks and suits.

When I wrote as PB, I didn’t have to ground my articles in the real, boring, flawed, compromising me, so it somehow felt easier to express the parts of me that aren’t boring or scared — that can take risks, dream great dreams, and put my whole heart and soul into the struggle for liberation. I think all of us have both kinds of people inside — the brave visionary, and the stuck pragmatist. In a sense, struggling for social transformation is about figuring out how millions of people can simultaneously find their inner revolutionary, and not listen to the doubting, fearful side.

The real me can be a pain in the ass — often saying the wrong thing, acting like a stubborn bully, being selfish, loud, rude and stupid. The real me has to make compromises with the hard real world to keep a job, have a place to live and have enough money and stability so I don’t go crazy. The real me is insecure and I don’t always like myself very much. I’ve been in therapy for 11 years and I still feel like a total psychological mess — often unable to enjoy my life or get beyond the coping mechanisms I developed when I was 15. I’m middle aged now and as I get older and older, I pile up more regrets and I feel less and less sure about what I ought to be doing or whether my core beliefs even make sense. I’ve broken the hearts of those who loved me, let down my friends and squandered my potential. PB was never weighed down with any of that messy reality.

And yet the mistakes I’ve made aren’t the whole story, because the real me is also the person who created PB and amidst all the compromises, I’ve mostly been able to figure out ways to resist the machine, struggle for change, contribute to the radical community, and be free. I’ve managed to arrange my life around publishing Slingshot — setting up my job, my housing, and my social relationships to support involvement in the grassroots radical community.

By keeping PB as a separate part of myself, I’ve avoided taking that part of myself entirely seriously. I’ve always kept one foot in the mainstream society while the other foot was in the radical community. The main reason I want to unmask PB and write under my own name is because I want to get rid of the split. I want to fully commit to the PB part of my personality and devote myself to the struggle for a different world with my whole heart.

I went to school and got a career and I’ve been working it for 15 years, and it isn’t what I want to do. I can do it okay but the real excitement in my life — my real life mission — is working on Slingshot and pursuing alternatives to the corporate/industrial society that is destroying the earth. I’m tired of rationing and suppressing and denying all of the stuff that makes my life feel meaningful and good — raw experience and adventures, biking in the sun, working with my hands rather than in front of a computer, building and gardening to create something real and tangible, struggling hard to push back eco-destroying machines and systems.

Doing Slingshot and being involved in other aspects of the radical community is the ultimate mind-altering, gratifying, life-giving experience. There are a lot of frustrations and ways alternative communities fall short, but at the end of the day they are about something meaningful — creating social relations that are just and sustainable — whereas being practical to get by in a society that is killing itself and the earth is crazy. It is crucial that we participate in these counter-cultural projects not only to build something for the future, but to actively participate in passionate lives now.

Writing as PB all these years has permitted me to be a lazy writer. By shifting into a PB character when I wrote Slingshot articles, it was easy to write from an idealized, pure place that the real me — and none of my readers — could ever live up to. We ought to distrust purity, absolutes, and idealized realities. Instead, I think what is most interesting is not the idealized utopias we can think up in our heads, but the messy compromises we make with the real world in which we nevertheless still try to live up to our values and visions.

I want to focus on these contradictions and compromises more and I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the radical community to try this as well — less purity tests and more acceptance and compassion for each other as we all build paths outside the dying society together.

By the way, PB Floyd stands for Pretty Boy Floyd, a depression-era Oklahoma outlaw immortalized in a fantastic Woodie Guthrie song that concludes “Well as through this world I’ve rambled, I’ve seen many a-funny men. Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen. But as through this world you wander and as through this world you roam, you will never see an outlaw drive a family from their home.”