A few weeks ago, I tried to renew my driver’s license only to have the Bureau of Motor Vehicles “discover” that the way I have spelled my name my entire life does not match my birth certificate or my social security card.

For the record, they have known this for decades. Only now is it an issue with the new compliant licenses for travel. I’m not mad. This is the most exciting thing that has happened to me in quite some time.

I did receive my “compliant” driver’s license anyway, so, if you have been wondering how well that new level of bureaucracy is working, I will suggest that the answer is  … not well. I never thought I would be cool enough to have an alias.

Now that I have gotten the matter of who I am somewhat settled, I get to deal with what I look like.


I have made it a point to be sure to have a fairly up-to-date byline photo every few years. I believe in embracing my age. The current photo was make-up-free, slightly sunburnt, and a few years old.

I had been thinking about getting around to taking a new one as soon as the weather warms up. This is the midwest, so that would be some time between March and never seemed likely. I planned to sit out on the porch and take a few snaps. No pressure.

Free to criticize

I have friends who work in online video and television media. They have it much rougher. Every hairstyle, outfit and even the color of lip gloss they choose is apparently subject to daily criticism from viewers.

People feel completely within their rights to just be rude. Bless their hearts.

Since I am usually watching these talented folks, while I myself am sitting at home in yoga pants and a messy bun, it has never once occurred to me to pass judgment on their appearance. I am there for the news, not a fashion show.

Thus, I was not quite prepared to be told that my little byline photo was bothering innocent folk.

To be fair, I receive lovely comments and mail weekly from readers. I appreciate every single one. People are so kind and share so many facets of their own lives — and laughs. Frankly, I think we are all quite delightful. I was simply caught unaware that some are bothered by a less than stunning headshot.

Of course, I responded as any educated, gracious and civil adult would. I momentarily planned to make that photo a hill I was willing to die on. I now had to keep the same photo — one I did not even like — forever. I toyed with the idea of becoming the Betty Crocker or Dear Abby of bylines. Maybe that Cracker Jack kid? None of them seemed to ever change.

Fortunately, I have the grudge-holding attention span of a gnat. I quickly moved on to my normal response — which is to laugh out loud. I have often said that the only person I can make fun of in print with impunity is myself. I was excited to pick a new pose.


It should be noted that I once pasted a cartoon pumpkin over my photo on a state employee ID card and no one cared for years.

I’m what’s known in the trades as “irreverent.” The byline update would be no different. I decided to crowdsource my new photo. Over a hundred people chimed in to help me have fun with it.

We played around with poses ranging from Olan Mills portrait circa 1989 — head cocked, staring into the distance, Glamour Shots — me with a feather boa, or the standard dead eyed stare of a circa 2000 corporate keypass photo — when zombies work a 9 to 5 shift.

I absolutely love the one of me in fake glasses with butterflies swirling around my head. It combined my love of nature (ha!) with a scholarly flair. I have never laughed so hard at my own photos in my life.

In the end, I did what made the most sense. I took a quick selfie. It was a good hair day, with amazing natural light and the God-given power of a great lip gloss. Hundreds of people said it was nice. I’m middle-aged, so I take what I can get.

It took less than two weeks for a friend to inform me, “my wife thinks that new photo of you is awful.”

I give up.

My next pose might resemble a mugshot. That might go well with my alias.


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