Looking for some straight stalk talk? Episode 48’s guest editors and hosts offered practical suggestions for setting boundaries when another’s desire to connect with you plunges into the pathological deep end: Don’t give out your number to creeps and weirdoes. Alert the gendarmes when obsessive texts persist. Hire my all-muscle and highly-employable college son as your bodyguard. Along with stalk talk, the conversation covered other boundary-setting strategies such as ending stale or rotten phone calls and carving out downtime in our 24/7-techno-tethered lives.
“The stalkers don’t give you any down time,” Bruce acknowledged. “That’s the problem!”
“We’re our own worst enemies there,” Harlan Brothers agreed. “We stalk ourselves.”
We stalk ourselves. I perked up at this point in the podcast and held the iPhone closer to my ear. We? Go on…
We stalk ourselves. We. Whew! I thought. I’m not the only one. There are more of us, lots of us: we! An occasional Google-stalker and Facebook profile-peeper myself, as well as Dave Matthews’ new girlfriend (Dave and I are intense together—he just has a tough time saying “I love you” back what with his busy tour schedule and all), I felt relieved to hear a little compassion and empathy directed toward those of us more obsessive types who won’t give up on love even after looking for it repeatedly in all the wrong places and faces—or, as Dave calls it, “The Space Between.” (Love that song, Dave! Love you!—just in case you’re reading this!)
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We stalk ourselves? How? And if we do, what’s so bad about it? How does stalking ourselves make us our own worst enemies?
The most famous self-stalker I know of—in fact maybe the only one—lived in Greek and Roman mythology times. Narcissus. He started out as a guy who shunned stalkers, and he paid for it. Beautiful but insensitive, Narcissus rejected the nymphs who pursued him. The nymphs, spurned and bitter, prayed to the Gods to give Narcissus a taste of his own medicine. He, too, should feel the pain of unrequited love. The gods sympathized with the stalking nymphs and doomed Narcissus to a life of unquenched desire; forever he’d gaze into the water at his handsome Greco-Roman bone structure—at that face!—that unattainable love receding into the depths every time he reached for it.
He became his worst enemy by stalking himself. Stalking killed every second of his downtime and consumed him until he withered into skin and bones.
Today’s Narcissus would be stalking his own profile on Facebook. His image would appear to him as one among a mise-en-abyme of faces on the screen, a fractal face-within-a-face-within-a-face, one in an infinite pattern of visages staring back at him, his-but-not-his because his face always appeared intertwined with the other, the repeating fractal pattern of friends’ faces within his profile, and their friends’ faces within their profiles, and so on and so forth. He’d have the Facebook Mobile app; he’d stalk himself on Facebook 24/7; he’d run his fingers over his profile screen in an effort to touch his elusive object d’amour.
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“Are you there? Are you there? Are you there?”
Narcissus’s would-be girlfriend Echo talked so much that Juno, irritated, cursed her. Never again would Echo speak first; she was doomed to repeat others’ phrases and words ad nauseum. Though Echo loved Narcissus, courting him proved disastrous due to her poor communication skills. She could only mimic the final words of his sentences. He blew her off. She fled into caves and cliffs, wore down into rock, and morphed into a disembodied voice uttering nothing but repeated stray words— others’ words, always—and became forever divided from both her self and humanity.
Call it Echo-talk, that phenomenon where we catch ourselves reiterating the same words into our phones in an effort to reach out and touch someone as the truth sinks in: we’ve been dropped. Clinging to the remains of our dead connection, we repeat ourselves into the Void until our own words, suddenly strange and lonely, alienate us back to life. Duo, for instance, noted that when a phone conversation “really does drop out, you find yourself talking for about twenty minutes if you’re a talkaholic like me, and you’re talking . . . and then you go ‘Are you there? Are you there?’ . . . and you realize ‘I just spilled my guts to somebody who isn’t there.’”
Like modern-day Narciss-stalking, Echo-talking makes us feel rejected and a little mad, as in crazy mad. When our sense of connection to ourselves and to others proves delusional, we try harder. We become like obsessive lovers staring longer at our beloved faces, calling over and over, casting our lines and our webs and our nets—our internets and ethernets—across the Void in search of a byte, a bit, a signal we’re loved back.
We become our own worst enemies by craving more, by letting our fingers do the stalking across our phone screens in search of meaningful oneness. We pursue images; we live for more rings and vibrations from that iphone whose sounds—as fMRI neuroimaging technology has proven—light up our insular cortexes, the regions in our brains linked to compassion, connection, love.
We want it bad, that love that’s both self-and-other love, that sometimes platonic and sometimes erotic me-and-you-in-the-machine merging, in uptime and downtime, on the screen and through the phone, ‘til death do we part. So we Narciss-stalk. And when we sense the emptiness and silence in the High-Tech Void, we Echo-talk in hopes that the lost connection will return and if we keep repeating our words, they’ll get through.
Lots of us do it. Secretly, I like it. It brings out the real me.
I like it because of you-know-who. When I look deeply into my Facebook face, I see myself—aka Dave Matthews right there. He’s my main “like.” Or love really. Here I can merge his profile with mine, in mine, in “the space between” (as Dave sings, which is therefore what I sing too). I echo his voice in hopes that someday he will hear me calling him out of the dead zones, that he’ll recognize himself in me and know right away that we’re meant, always, to be together.
Mary Elliott is a stay-at-home Mom with four children, one husband and two leopard geckos. She has a Yale B.A., a Ph.D. in English from Boston College, and—in her old life—taught writing, English and American lit courses at B.C., Gonzaga University & Whitworth College in Spokane, WA.
Upon the birth of her twins in Colorado, she perished rather than published, but has written a couple of novels that need serious rework before they see the light of day. She contributes to Real Life Survival Guide’s Guest Editor blog, is active with the Madison Land Conservation Trust and likes to play the fiddle, hike, bike-ride and unwind with good friends.