Becoming Myself

A few years ago I wrote a piece called “Becoming Levi Asher” to explain why I began to use a pen name in 1994. (Short version: I was about to publish my first short story, a satire about my job, and I didn’t want to get caught.)

Today, after using the pen name for 21 and a half years, and making a nice little space for myself in the world as Levi Asher, that freaky book blogger from Queens … I have come to the conclusion that I don’t want to carry the pseudonym around anymore. The pen name has become a barrier to me, and maybe even a symbol of a certain psychological duality that once felt important to me but no longer does. I”ve come to realize that life is too short for two names.

Here’s what’s been the problem all along: to the people I interact with on a daily basis, to my older friends and relatives and co-workers, I’m not Levi Asher. I’m Marc Eliot Stein — just a regular “that guy” kinda guy, a proud father, a highly accomplished web developer, a bad karaoke singer.

I never got rid of the first name when I chose the second, and I guess that was my big mistake. I pulled off a transformation back in 1994, but it was an incomplete transformation, like when Jeff Goldblum became half a fly. I became Levi Asher but I never stopped being Marc Stein. This caused me to spend the last 21 years balancing a sort of Jekyll and Hyde identity, which was never something I wished to do. (I still never figured out if Levi or Marc was Jekyll or Hyde.)

21 years later, I’m sick to death of juggling two identities. I also feel that I’ve reached a point as a writer where I am dealing with more serious and more worldly topics than I have dealt with before — North Korea, gun violence, terrorism in the Middle East. I feel a need to “get over myself” when I write about these topics, and somehow the vanity and duplicity of a literary pseudonym feels misplaced at times like this.

I’m not sure exactly why, but even though it feels perfectly fine to write about, say, David Bowie as Levi Asher (after all, David Bowie was born David Jones), it doesn’t feel appropriate to write about genocide and violence and nuclear crisis under a presumed identity. I’m dealing with some super-real shit on, and I need to make sure I am super-real myself when I deal with this stuff.

On a more practical level, the new project that is currently obsessing me is intended to be not just a website and a writing outlet but actually an entire organization called Pacifism for the 21st Century. This is based on a very challenging and ambitious business plan built entirely upon the extremely controversial concept that pacifism is still relevant in the world today. This business plan is the farthest thing in the world from a sure thing. Pacifism for the 21st Century could easily fail, or crash and burn, or die of discouragement (and believe me, as I go around talking to everybody I know about world peace, I get a lot of discouragement). I need to give this project everything I’ve got. If I don’t, the project will fail.

It happens that I have a lot of impressive experience as an independent businessperson and advanced software developer named Marc Eliot Stein, including major projects for Pearl Jam, Words Without Borders, Bob Dylan, iVillage, Center for Disease Control, History Channel, Foreign Policy magazine and many others. I absolutely need to leverage my technology/business experience and reputation in order to give Pacifism for the 21st Century its best shot at success, and in order to get the grants and major donations that will be necessary to help this organization grow.

So that’s the most urgent reason I’m finally merging my two identities today, but I’ve dreamed of doing this for years. The fact is, it’s really a pain in the ass managing a double identity in the Internet age. I don’t recommend it to anyone. I’ve had to deal with a lot of aggravation over the years.

Imagine me at the Forest Hills, New York post office trying to explain to the impatient lady behind the bulletproof glass why my Post Office box has to have two names on it. There’s a long line of customers waiting behind the rope, but the lady keeps putting me through the same Abbott and Costello routine, because she really doesn’t understand what I’m trying to explain.

“Who are you?”, she demands.

“I’m Marc Stein.”

“You’re Marc Stein.”


“Then who is Levi Asher.”

“That’s also me.”

Crickets. A long stare. A sense of rustling anger from the line of waiting customers behind me.

“That’s also you.”

“Yes. It’s a pen name. I’m a writer.” (At this, at least one impatient person waiting in line behind me loudly coughs in derision.)

My decision today to simplify my name game is not only a practical one, but also an emotional and personal one. The birth of has been difficult, and has taken place during a convulsive period of my life. I have made the decision to devote myself to this new project because the mission of advocating for inner and outer peace feels right to me in a time when I myself am in need of both inner and outer peace.

I went through a few major life changes in 2015, and these are the changes that bring me to the place I am in today. During this exciting but tumultuous year, there have been times when I felt despair, and when I felt seriously alone.

But those moments have been short, and every time I felt a moment of despair in 2015 I was thrilled to discover that there were people in the world who cared for me, who loved me, who sincerely wanted to help pick me up and get me back on track. And here’s the miraculous thing: when I think of the people who helped me a lot in 2015, I find that many of them were friends I made on Literary Kicks. Friends who know me not as Marc Eliot Stein but as Levi Asher. (You know who you are. Yes, you.) These friends saved my life in 2015, and helped me save my own soul.

That’s why it feels frightening to let go of the name that these true and important friends know me by. And that’s why I’m writing this article to explain that I’m only changing the name so I can keep the friendships. In January 2016, I am drawing myself in to become a simpler and more straightforward person. That person’s name is Marc Eliot Stein.

But I’m going to keep doing Literary Kicks, and I’m going to keep every single friend I’ve ever made as Levi Asher — because you people are the best in the world — and I want these friends to get to know Marc Stein. If you have always known me as Levi, I’ll let you decide whether you want to call me Levi or Marc. I’ll happily answer to either one. The fact is, I’m so used to answering to either name that I probably won’t even notice the difference.

“Marc Eliot Stein”. I don’t love the sound of the name myself. Never did. It sounds strange to me. “Levi Asher” is a much more melodic and beautiful name, which is why I chose it. But it’s not the name I was born with, and it’s time for me to face the fact that I really can’t choose my name, just like I can’t choose my face. I guess the face I was born with isn’t that bad, and I guess the name i was born with isn’t either.

Let’s take this out with a Jim Croce tune. Thanks for listening, friends.

19 Responses

  1. Either way I call you “bro.”
    Either way I call you “bro.” This creates melancholy feelings for me. Because of you, I’ve been yragasher when we played bridge. Do I have to give that up? Should I be following your lead and no longer be yrag – a name that predates Levi and has absolutely no following but is fun for me. Even though you’ve always been Marc to me I’m not so easily ready to give you up as Levi. This feels as touchingly sad as when Martha and George gave up their pretend child in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. But I’m proud of you for your forthrightness and decisiveness. And by the way, under either name you are not known as a bad karaoke singer but rather a heartfelt karaoke singer who puts it all out there every time and hits it out of the ballpark.

  2. Dear Marc
    Dear Marc
    From the time that I met your brother, you became a very special person to me, not just because…it is your way to think about life, the thinking person you are, the kindness person you are with others whatever your name will be.

  3. You are so thoughtful about
    You are so thoughtful about your life. I appreciate that. It’s interesting to me that you came back to your name. Makes me think more about my name… That’s what is good about writing, it keeps us thinking, changing, becoming more and more ourselves, with any luck. I wish you all the luck for a good year, and the least that I will do to help is to post your LitKicks and Pacificism21 posts onward. Let me know if I can be of any more little help.

  4. Hi Levi.
    Hi Levi.

    I mean Mark. I mean Sam. I mean Marc!

    Hi Marc!

    Can I call you Marko?

    The Marc Man?

    The Marc-Meister?

    Marco Leviticus Atom Smasher Stein?

    Dead Pan Alley?

    Monster Truck Demolition Derby?

    Sausage and Eggs?

    Human Unit Stein?

    Arizona Lit Kicker?

    You can call me friend and admirer.

    Thanks for all the years, Marc.

  5. …written sometime in 2012.
    …written sometime in 2012. Knew there was something bout ole levi…

    Glowing To Know

    thought the rain wouldn’t stop last night
    the day, a common blur of decisions and worry.
    everything seems lost, everything seems blurry.
    la la la la la la la la la la la

    i wanna drown in the holy water
    i wanna love my wife and protect my daughters
    i wanna get down to the truth
    Lord i wanna, i wann, i wanna

    all the time i tell myself the blame is justice
    don’t care if the easily offended get miffed.
    don’t care what you drank, or smoked, or sniffed.
    la la la la la la la la la la la

    heard ole levi got lost while walking in the woods
    thoreau it was, wrote a chapter on the benefits of walking.
    once you get Him started he’ll be talking and talking.
    la la la la la la la la la la la

    knowledge is captured revelation to revelation
    the minds coming alive and glowing to know.
    i’m glowing, i’m glowing, i’m glowing to know.
    la la la la la la la la la la l

  6. Well, I like you under any
    Well, I like you under any name you prefer to go by. A rose is a rose is a rose, you know.

  7. It will seem strange, since
    It will seem strange, since for 13 years now (almost to the day), I’ve known you only as Levi Asher (well . . . and “Brooklyn” for awhile. Or “Litkicks Staff”). Funny, and I was just thinking about possibly taking a pen name. Food for thought.

    I have a lot of respect for what you’re doing. Because you’re DOING, not just talking. It’s easy to talk; I’ve done a lot of it. I complain about injustice and ruinous politics and institutional mass-violence at times, and I become just another complainer, and negativity tends to breed more of the same. But you are actually doing something to try to make a positive difference. I should be doing this too– well, more than I’ve done so far, at least.

  8. You’re lucky to know who you
    You’re lucky to know who you are, Marc. I was given my father’s name when I was born but my father gave me a nickname (as he did my brother and sister), which stuck for years around the neighborhood. When I ‘joined’ public school my mother decided to use my second given name rather than my first name which I never even heard my own father being called.

    When I became somewhat internet savvy, (thanks to my oldest son who turned me on to a really far out website, LitKicks, which he knew I would enjoy because of the heavy leaning in Beats… I was enthralled with the Beats in my mid teens). Thanks to some unknown being on the other end of the monitor, Levi Asher, I entered the cyber-world, but not with my given name and no, not with my long time nickname, but rather my first given name, the one my father never used, ‘Cecil’, which was kinda urged to surrender up to when I was in the USN and fellow mates wanted to know what the “C” which I used to initial incoming messages on the teletypes. I tried to blow off the need to know they had until I finally burst out “Cecil!” which drew some chuckles and smiles… I was 21 and could now accept my given name… and it felt so good! But on the internet..? not ready. I had to have a nome de plume (?), and from my art works I had come up with “empty mind” which then became “m.t.mynd” and shortened to “mtmynd”, which I use less and less, but has been my handle here on Litkicks since 2001.

    When I signed up to FaceBook I boldly used my given name (sans the ‘jr.’ as my father had been long passed), and ‘Cecil B. Lee’ was re-born as my common, everyday name. It had been a long journey to reach that… too long in reflection. I still get the occasional phone call calling me by my old nickname (a clue to who it is), or someone using my middle given name, “Berry”, (yes with an ‘e’, thank you. My father was given that middle name as a sign of respect to the doctor who delivered him).

    For quite awhile I shuffled between at least three names, each having a different identity (so I felt anyway), but here in my senior years I find myself who I am, Cecil B, Lee.

  9. You look younger and more fit
    You look younger and more fit than I always imagined Levi Asher looking. So there’s that.

  10. Goodbye Levi,
    Goodbye Levi,
    I want to thank you for the lovely Litkicks life you created back in the day. You’ll probably never fully know the impact you’ve had on me and countless others. Thank you, for being you, and for being more than just you. Litkicks gave me a voice when I desperately needed one. It gave me friends, some I’ve met in person and some only here. I’m glad to have met you, have written with you and of course, I’m glad to know there is a new chapter coming.
    Hello Marc,

    Jessica (piph)

  11. It’s wonderful to hear from
    It’s wonderful to hear from you, Piph. (Short for “epiphany”, if I remember correctly.) Glad to meet you, Jessica! We all have our many names. And yes, nothing is ending here, and old friends are ALWAYS welcome.

  12. Marc Stein is tall, strong,
    Marc Stein is tall, strong, good-looking young fellow. I met him at KGB Bar years ago; a very good and decent person. Now I’m old, sick, near death. I hope he is doing better.

  13. A great piece, Marc, and good
    A great piece, Marc, and good for you!

    It always makes *me* happy to see someone else becoming happy through the natural arc of personal evolution. It inspires me to encourage that same evolution in myself, and to happily wonder where it will take me. I like you, Marc. Not because of your wonderful accomplishments, or for what you’ve provided us, but because you’re *you*. And you’re a terrific version of you, no matter the title.

    Hell Yeah!
    tony z (ironhands :))

  14. Your middle name, Eliot, is
    Your middle name, Eliot, is the name of the house I was in for three years while attending Harvard College. It is also the house where the Unabomber lived, having been named for Charles W. Eliot, a Harvard president who transformed the school from a college to a research institution. The first paragraph from Wikipedia’s entry for “the Eliot family” relates that it

    “ the American branch of one of several British families to hold this surname. This branch is based in Boston but originated in East Coker [England]. It is one of the Boston Brahmins, a bourgeois family, whose ancestors had become wealthy and held sway over the American education system. All are the descendants of two men named Andrew Eliot, father and son, who emigrated from East Coker to Beverly, Massachusetts between 1668 and 1670.”

    Wikipedia does not confirm the prevalence of lawsuits by Andrew Eliot descendants aimed at preventing anyone or any corporation or business from legally adopting the name “Eliot” with a single /L/ and a single /T/, but many persons corroborated that prevalence to me while I was at Harvard Law School. In the case of individual names I think it was only surnames that were challenged by such descendants. An exception was made for persons, corporations, and businesses associated with the branch of the American Eliot family descended from Rev. John Eliot of Roxbury, Massachusetts.

    I legally changed my middle name from “Andrew” to “Ozyvort” on March 4, 1987, although I was not trying to distance myself from Andrew Eliot.

    The United States Olympic Committee has the benefit of a federal statute granting it a monopoly as to the business use of the word “Olympic” in this country. Public Law 805, which granted the USOC’s predecessor a federal charter, was enacted in 1950. The USOC licenses enterprises which seek to use the word “Olympic” and regularly sues infringers in order to collect royalties for the support of US Olympic athletes. The Eliot family’s notorious vigilance may have inspired the 1950 law.

  15. Very interesting, Ozzie! For
    Very interesting, Ozzie! For what it’s worth, my mother (who is very into poetry) once verified for me that she did indeed adopt T. S. Eliot’s spelling for my middle name. We never got sued by the Eliot family for this. I don’t think my mother ever gave a damn about the legacy of the Eliots of Harvard, but she was into T. S. Eliot, as I eventually would be too. Still, maybe I would have preferred “Whitman” or “Poe” or “Rimbaud” or “Verlaine” as a middle name.

  16. Well, I just stumbled upon your website. You seem to be a great writer—and from I can tell a really good man (not “bro”) I mean you do have a name, or two. Sensitive. Love NYC btw for half my life I lived there. Thanks for your blog.

  17. I also have a pen name, although it wasn’t as “ironclad”. I went by “Steve Plonk”until about two years ago. I still sign on with it. I got my poetry compilation book ,STAWBERRY MOSS ,published last March by Newman Springs Publishing, 320 Broad St., Red Bank, NJ 07701.
    My real name is John G. Willis. I got the book published under my real name, while mentioning this site and my pen name.
    Since you were struggling with “two identities” I think you made the right decision, as did I.

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What We're Up To ...

Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!