Not long ago I was hiking in a nearby county park on an overcast afternoon. The forest canopy was so thick it seemed like twilight. I heard an owl hooting and recognized it as a Great Horned, which I’ve been fortunate to spot several times wherever I’ve lived. It occurred to me to hoot back, wondering what would happen. Turns out I have a bit of a talent for owl mimicry, because the bird called again. We talked to each other back and forth a few times, then I saw something big and gray flying silently through the treetops. The owl had likely decided, “She sounds sexy. I have to meet her!” Or perhaps, “I have to check out this goddam interloper.” The forest was so thick I didn’t get a good look at the bird, which must have come to perch near me. And I’m sure it was then like, “Oh, hell, it’s just this human down there screwing with me.” But it had found me, because it had to.
And this experience brought to mind a conversation I’d had many years ago at a cocktail party at the house of a multiple award-winning, trailblazing, fairly famous lesbian author. She had actually read some of my first work and admired it. During our talk, she mentioned that fans occasionally would show up at her house, being drawn by the power of her writing, being moved by it, feeling compelled to meet her. (It was common knowledge what city and neighborhood she lived in, and people figured it out.) I said that must be unnerving. She said it was, because of course you never know whether the stranger is entirely stable. This was before social media and all that.
I said, “Well, I hope to get as famous as you, but I’m going to protect my privacy as best I can.”
She gave me a flat look and said, “They will find you.”
In the many years since, I’ve garnered a little bit of fame, and no strangers have shown up at my door, but indeed they have found me. I’ve received unexpected propositions via snail mail, e-mail, and social media. One of my e-mail correspondents jokingly calls herself my “friendly stalker,” and our back-and-forths are just that, friendly.
Another correspondent was pretty frank about being attracted to me (although we’d never met). I believe she felt warmly about my main character, Lillian Byrd, and thought I must be somewhat like Lillian. I am, actually; she’s certainly my alter ego. Had I not already been attached, I might have been open to the possibility. There was a man of a mature age who, for a few years, turned up at my talks at conferences. He was shy and didn’t say much, but he did once tell me he came to all my events. He seemed simply to be a genuine fan who wanted to learn whatever I had to teach. Now I regret not trying to get to know him better.
In a different vein, there was a convict of some notoriety who sent me a letter via Writer’s Digest magazine. He said they got the magazine in the prison library and he liked my articles a lot. Furthermore, he had decided I would be just the person to collaborate with him on writing his life story.
I did a search on the guy and found out quite a bit about him. He was a high-level con man who’d been incarcerated more than once, and who had done TV appearances and that sort of thing. A freelance writer had done a profile on him for a national magazine. I read that piece, then I got in touch with that writer. I told her about being approached by this guy and what he wanted.
She said, “Whatever you do, do NOT get involved with him. He will find out everything about you and he’ll never leave you alone. He will find out where you live. He will learn the names of your relatives, and he’ll find out where they live, and he will send gifts to you and will never stop trying to be in touch with you.”
Now that’s what I call a professional doing a solid for another.
I have to say no more here except that I politely declined this man’s offer, and after a little bit more correspondence, I didn’t hear from him again. If you’re interested and we’re at some conference in person and you buy me a drink, I’ll tell you more. But I’m being cautious enough not to use his name here. As of this writing, he’s out of prison.
Certainly, like many people, I’ve had unwelcome romantic attention on Facebook, but it’s easy to block that. When I was doing consulting work with private clients, one expressed surprise that I’d give her my mobile phone number.
And now I come to my point: You can’t control everything, and one must take risks here and there, or just sit in a concrete bunker all day. I mean, I’m not some big public figure, but as you see, even I’ve had unusual experiences. No matter who you are, at some point you have to decide to relax and enjoy the ride!
What do you think? Have you had stalkeresque experiences? Have you been a friendly stalker?
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