Deb’s note: To be clear, I am not taking sides. Both “James” and “Harry” are my friends and I hope this will be the case for a long time to come.
As the quiet partner behind Men with Pens, I found Harrison McLeod intriguing. While James Chartand was clearly the outspoken leader, the mystery behind Harry made me want to know him better. The Pen Men handled a couple of redesigns for FWJ and are responsible from changing us from a single blog to a network.
Each time I contracted James and Harry they went on and beyond the call of duty. James was in constant contact and I had several late night G-chats with Harry who never complained, even though I’m sure I can be a pain in the butt sometimes. They were especially helpful during the Great Server Crash of ’08, and when they dropped everything to help and never treated me like an idiot even though I’m technically challenged. I can’t remember when I had a better customer service experience.
By now you know both James Chartrand and Harrison McLeod are women. Each chose to make themselves public in their own way, reflective of their very different personalities. We heard from James a few days ago, and now it’s time to learn more about Deb Dorchak who most of you know as Harry McLeod.
You’re probably not surprised when I tell you Deb is the same quiet, gracious and talented person. The only thing that’s changed is the name and gender we originally knew her by.
I give you, Deb Dorchak:
By now you’ve read the post on CopyBlogger, is there anything you wish to address?
Yes. There have been a few insinuations along the way that James’ hand was forced into coming out. Some have even gone so far as to label it blackmail. What is even more disturbing is that this rumor is allowed to perpetuate and at no time has the record been set straight. In no way were revenge, publicity, slandering Men with Pens or any of its members, destroying MwP, or causing intentional harm to James and her family the motivation for this situation.
I left. I left because of personality conflicts with James. I quietly resigned, told four people who were closest to me, who I respected deeply and who I felt I had to apologize to if I had hurt them in any way. Whether or not they wanted to continue a relationship with me, as friends or co-workers, was totally up to them.
I was starting clean. I owned what happened and left it up to the Powers That Be to figure out how it would all turn out.
I honestly thought I’d be starting with nothing. No portfolio, no contacts, nothing. The net isn’t as big of a place as people would like to believe. All of us run in circles that overlap. For better or worse, news travels fast.
People are also not stupid. It doesn’t take much to connect a few dots. I’ve been told there’s a lot of negative fallout from this. If there is, I don’t see it. Or maybe I haven’t seen it yet. Who knows?
What I do know is that I used Harry in name only. I’ve always been a private person and even if one of my close friends I’ve known for years asked me for a picture of myself, I’d be hard pressed to give one simply because I’m never one to be in front of a camera. Just ask any of my High School buddies on FaceBook. I think they can count the number of pictures they have of me on one hand.
The thing is, personal life is personal life, business is business. I’d like to think that all of my interactions as Harry, whether they were on the blog, in IM or in other correspondences were handled professionally and that I didn’t lead anyone on to believe I was more than their designer, tech adviser or a friend to spend some time chatting with.
If you’ve been keeping up with the news around the blogosphere, you probably have noticed bloggers questioning the Men with Pens name and design. Why make it so darn masculine and why suck everyone in with a persona rather than androgynous names or initials?
It started as a tongue in cheek joke. What amazes me is that no one can seem to laugh at themselves without getting offended. We were brainstorming blog names. I thought of that old skit on “In Living Color” called “Men on Film”. My mind made the leap to “Men with Pens”. The inside joke? The characters Harry and James were gay. They were both characters we had on an RPG creative writing board we used to run. We liked them, used the names and called it a day.
Looking back, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Hell, even my mother thought it was hilarious – and she dealt with the glass ceiling of the corporate world for twenty-something years. Now I’m seeing from the many points of view I read that it’s really doing everyone a disservice. Men, women, the human race in general.
Face it, this is human nature. There will always be one group or another that thinks itself superior. No matter how evolved you think you are, unless you’re Mother Theresa or Gandhi, or even Jesus Christ Himself, there’s still a small part in everyone that will in some way or another, be biased for some reason.
I didn’t start out to suck anyone in with a persona. And I don’t think I did, either. I hope not. Harry may have struck some as slightly feminine. That’s fine. I happen to be a woman who enjoys a lot of the things that men do. I ride a motorcycle, practice archery and iaido, I’d rather spend my time shopping for chrome than shopping for clothes, don’t give a damn about the latest fashions, never wanted kids and the moment a group of women I’m with start talking about babies, I’m gone. Are those stereotypical remarks? Sure they are.
I’ll tell you something though, stereotypes start with a tiny grain of truth. Maybe we over compensated for the masculine aspect. I don’t know. Men? Speak up, I’d like to know.
Was the increase in income really that substantial for a male dominated business over a female dominated business?
The increased income didn’t improve full force until we did the first redesign from JCME to Men with Pens. The writing was a struggle. It was long hours for very little pay and competing on auction sites for projects against third world countries bidding far lower than the rest of the world. Didn’t matter if you were male or female.
The moment our new blog design came out we started getting requests for graphics. Writing began to take a back seat. As I’ve said before, the work spoke for itself. From the time that site launched to the present, people came to us without any solicitation.
Now that I’m out, I find that the same is true. My work speaks for itself. The clients and contacts I have couldn’t care less if I’m a man, a woman or a Wookie. They like the service and products I provide and that’s the bottom line. I get paid what I’m worth, and if they don’t want to pay it, that’s fine. I’m not going to twist their arm or cry foul and pull the gender, race or any other card on them.
Did you enjoy being a woman trapped in a male online personality?
Didn’t even consider it much. I think if I were a man, I’d have the same personality. I’m very much like my Dad in that I’m quiet, like to work in the background and don’t go in much for following the crowd. I’m extremely patient and try to treat others the same way I’d like to be treated.
If I was trying to emulate anything at all, it was simply being a kind human being.
Was it as if “Harry” was taking over your life and you were no longer Deb?
Harry never took over my life. The only thing that hurt the most and wore on me over time was I made some very genuine friendships. There were many times when these friends would come to town (after all, all roads lead to Vegas, don’t they?) I’d have to decline a drink or a visit and the opportunity to get to know them better, or even just to say thank you.
The urge to say screw it all and tell them was strong. But I promised I wouldn’t, despite my many attempts to ask James to give this up and say enough was enough and call the show to a halt. She wasn’t interested.
Did you ever find yourself having to check yourself to make sure you were the right person?
No, never. I kept my personal life and my online life separate.
What made you decide to give it all up?
The internal personality conflicts, the power plays, the constant miscommunications and endless days of stress where there shouldn’t have been any. I was told I changed, and I really started to believe that. Using Harry’s name didn’t screw with my head half so much as the issues going on behind the scenes.
Last August I hit rock bottom. I had deep depression, felt totally alienated and really thought there would never be any way I’d be able to pick myself up and start over. I did that once before. Lost everything in a divorce shortly before I moved out here. It felt like I’d been through a disaster where my home and everything in it just got burnt to the ground.
I felt that way again. I had to dig deep and see where this was coming from. Had I changed? Had I lost my integrity? Was I being manipulated? Was I manipulating others? The mirror asks a lot of hard questions.
Now, before anyone starts to think I’m fishing for sympathy, I’ll be the first to tell you, that’s not the case. I didn’t broadcast this to the world, and I still don’t like talking about it. But that’s what happened. Again, it had nothing to do with gender, these were my problems, my situations that I either created myself or allowed to happen.
I owned it, picked myself up and made a decision. I could go on living like this or I could get off my ass and out of the pity party and do something about it.
Tell us about your new business…
Ahhh…the new biz. From the ashes of destruction grow glorious new things. Sirius Graphix started when one of my now team members, Rose Redelfs said she’d always wanted to write an ebook. I said go ahead, do it, I’ll design it. We’ll sell it. I wanted to do more ebooks anyway.
That led to talking to Wendi Kelly, who said she’d market that. From there I said I had a theme I developed, we should get that out…
One thing led to another and before I knew it we were three (four counting Elizabeth Fayle who was with us at the time as well) individual service providers pooling our skills together to drum up some business.
From there, Sirius Graphix was born. In the space of a week, we already had clients knocking at our door. We had no home site, nothing to show them from past projects, we didn’t even have our services and price list together.
But we had clients.
Within a month, the website was up. Yes, with a blog. That was a tough decision for me because I really don’t enjoy blogging. But people like what I write, so there you go.
When I realized I needed a good code person to help with the theme development and other technical aspects of web design (I think if I had to choose between coding and blogging, I’d take blogging) we took on Allison “Sushi” Day.
Although I knew I could have done this all on my own, I didn’t want to. I wanted to design. Not spend hours with code, or hours writing. Just design. My team allows me to do that. And I give them the freedom to do what each of them does best. You want to know the real secret to business? Teamwork. No micromanaging, no looking over anyone’s shoulder. Just let your people do what they’re best at doing.
We bounce ideas off of one another, and never shoot down any idea. Like Wendi is fond of saying, “There’s no such thing as a bad idea.” (much in the same way I like to tell clients there’s no such thing as a stupid question).
Are your new clients receptive to your ideas and prices even though you’re a woman?
Alright. I’m putting my foot down on this one. Enough already with the gender thing. It stays alive because we keep perpetuating it. And before anyone starts quoting my own words back at me, yeah, I know I started it with that Big Idea three years ago.
That’s what growing is all about. I bet a lot of you had some foolish ideas in the past you thought were great, only to look back and say to yourself “What was I thinking?”
Clients are receptive to our rates because we’re honest about the time it takes to put a project together. As much as I would like to give stuff away (and Wendi has to frequently hold me back and remind me when I’m in an overly magnanimous mood) the reality is everyone’s time is worth something.
I’m no different. I still have bills to pay, expenses to take care of and an internet connection to keep connected. Hey, I may not have kids, but I do have a roomie and two cats who still like to eat – not to mention myself. Food is nice. Very nice. So is enjoying life in general.
What’s next for Deb?
The sky’s the limit. I’ve got several concept projects in the works, everything from theme development to publications. The Team and I can’t stop the ideas from coming and it’s going to keep us busy for a long time to come.
I’ve always been impressed with the bond the “Pen Men” had with their community. I’m sure you miss them a little (and vice versa): Is there anything you’d like to say to them here?
I missed the people who were there at the beginning. By the time I left MwP in November of this year, there wasn’t one name in the comment section that I recognized. It was like I woke up one morning, looked at the comments and wondered where everybody went.
Once it all came out, I reconnected with many of the old crew. I explained the situation, and apologized for any misunderstandings. Whether they still wanted to be friends or communicate was totally up to them.
What I found was an amazing amount of support, I was missed, and they were glad to have me “back”. It was something very personal, between me and them, and something I’ll never take for granted or forget.
For more information about Deb Dorchak and her new design business, please visit the Sirius Graphix website.
If you have respectful questions for Deb, feel free to post them as she agreed to come by from time to time and respond.