With respect to Socrates, my unexamined life is not worth living. The front room is the face we show everyone but we hide our true self in the back room.
Not my shining moment. Or moments. When I was taking Psychology in high school we were given the assignment to follow someone at our local mall (remember those?) and then report back what happened. I still remember my subjects, a father and son, walking from store to store. I got a thrill hearing their conversations over a 30 minute period, finding inventive ways to hide out in the open.
Often something small becomes larger when not monitored. I liked following these guys around; at Sam Goody checking out the latest New Edition or Taylor Dane album, filling out a sweepstakes ticket for the huge sports car near the food court… and within a few years, the loneliness and voyeurism had me following girls around campus I found intriguing in class. Hardly ever complete strangers. I may have even helped them answer a question and shared a smile. Soon after my distanced curiosity took hold.
I spoke to girls I liked and asked them out as well. It wasn’t all creepy. Though it was creepy when the two attempted to join. She sensed someone was following her and was rewarded with the stalker asking her out.
Shockingly, I never charmed any girls this way.
I liked the idea of getting one side of a girl in class and then watching her in plain sight living her life on her own; stopping at a store, chatting with girlfriends, and entering her off-campus housing.
I convinced myself this was okay as I built on my damaged self-esteem. I even dabbled in pathetic displays of attention, hoping to be someone’s stalkee, observing me in emotional pain and saving me.
I also convinced myself that no girl would ever be scared of me as I considered myself “non-sexually threatening”. In college I was oblivious of the poor choice of words. I knew what I meant but as is often the case I could not successfully convey the meaning.
Just a harmless slight white guy. Except for the girl whose nape alertly bristles hearing the crunching of leaves and the snapping of twigs behind her on a remote path.
Terrifying my subjects was never my aim. I wanted to know them and was too shy to be straightforward.
As my writing became more visible in class, with girls positively reacting, I eventually saw a new form emerging blending my writing with stalking. The harmless slight non-sexually threatening white guy could describe a girl in her environment, so real and true, as if I had been watching her living her life, sitting under a tree, twirling her hair or arranging crafts in a pile sitting cross-legged in her bed, nibbling at her favorite mini cow cheese…
A new form of stalking for me and a new level of discomfort for her. A girl who read a story scarily resembling her life would never look at me the same way ever again. Since this new form came to me in the last fifteen years the desired reaction was attention, preferably positive but settling for negative.
One can easily see the many levels I identified with Patrice Leconte’s Monsieur Hire from my previous post. However, I often tried to justify my stalking as mere sociological experiment, the girl an unwitting participant. What a great opportunity for my writing, to capture unfiltered dialogue and behavior. Especially since I consider contrivance the bane of a good story. Precisely why the Coen Brothers’ Fargo worked so well. You believed these characters said those words and did those things. Marge Gunderson just looking for a reasonable place to eat and the Radisson was as good as any in the Twin Cities. No suspension of disbelief needed. Also, by the way, why Juno was a delightful film but a nightmare of contrivance. You needed a 90-minute suspension wire to traverse the unbelievable dialogue (believable if Juno had an older sister, which she didn’t) and misplaced behavior (Jason Bateman’s character takes an unrealistic left turn out of nowhere). Striking the balance of real characters in unreal situations puts us in Alexander Payne country with films like About Schmidt, The Descendants, and especially Sideways. The characters are game and maturely apropos for the wacky shenanigans placed in their path. The whole wedding ring fiasco at the near end really shows how far we’ve come with Miles and Jack and how much we’ve come to care about them.
I’m not trying to whitewash my unbelievably invasive actions. On the contrary, I realize now how dangerous low self-esteem can be. Often talked about in terms of self-destruction, the actions we purport in mundane hopelessness are not always victimless crimes. Privacy is a treasure we prefer to hold onto, parting with it under consensual terms.
The final and most modern form of stalking is familiar to us. And at my lowest point in the last ten years I dove headfirst allowing myself to be consumed by self-loathing. Internet pillage. Tracing the history and personal details of people I vaguely knew piecing together their lives for them. As cybersleuth my obsession and reach had no bounds. Even though this information is easily accessible and often permissive, there is a way to gather information on the Internet about a human life we didn’t think about. Connecting the pages of different sites can paint quite the picture.
We are a world under a magnifying glass and I have had my share of going in for a closer look.