A sleight tale

‘I know you’re watching me.’
She typed the words onto the computer screen and stared at the flickering cursor, hesitating.  Should she save or delete?  Should it be a Facebook status comment, a Twitter update, or a post on her blog?  Or should it be a personal e-mail?  The last was a bit direct.  On reflection, she thought not.
As she pondered the prospect of deleting, she was suddenly reminded of her friend’s novel where some strangers all type the same sentence into their computers and through an internet search they get directed to the same house where their lives change irrevocably – change for the better.  Writing things on the internet, following your hunches and intuitions, is a little scary.  Maybe it has happy endings in some novels, but what about real life?
She reflected on an earlier time in her life which came to mind unprompted.  When she was a student she had a teacher who would occasionally send her postcards with quotations from Henry James novels.  She was never quite sure of the oblique references but she knew the notes were for her – after all, they were addressed to her and they ended up in her pigeonhole.  She used to look out for them and was secretly delighted to receive them.  Their ambiguity was delicious and it was part of a shared unspoken communication.  She still had one of these postcards, with a quote from The Ambassadors: “Stage: Stage III: ‘Waymarsh had accompanied him to the play, and the two men had walked together, as a first stage, from the Gymnase to the Cafe Riche’…..[But then ‘It came over him for instance that —- looked perhaps like Mary Stuart’].”  Now what was that all about?  The no-doubt once meaningful references, the relevance of what was quotation and what was not – all of that had faded into oblivion.
Anyway, this was different.  Or was it?  First off, she wasn’t sure she was being watched, she wasn’t sure any of the comments or references were for her.  How could she be sure?  But there were coincidences – themes that had arisen, words that were being used.  It was the kind of situation where you could go mad.  You could become paranoid if you let yourself, if you doubted yourself.  It was a test of self-definition.  It was a challenge.  But she trusted her intuition, it was a healthy fine instrument, and it was very often right even when she might have preferred otherwise.  She always challenged it too, using the blunter instrument of logic to hold it in check.
A peculiar moment earlier that day – she had been wandering around a shop wondering whether the latest comment was indeed a sign that this person had discovered her blog, when idly gazing she observed some lovely hard-edged artwork.  The subject matter was creatures and birds.  The artist’s name was written in calligraphic script on an ornamental card.  Her glance fell upon it – and it was the name of the man in question!  But of course it wasn’t him.  Was that a sign, an omen, or a meaningless coincidence?  Life plays tricks, he is a trickster.  Always a tricky question to determine whether something is a synchronicity or just a meaningless coincidence, whether the inner matched by the outer holds any significance.  It was quite a common name really, though not one she came across daily – or even ever, she thought, on reflection.  Timing is everything.  She thought of the phraseology of that latest comment and she felt in her bones she was right.  
There had been two of these too-close communications in as many days.  One she had queried, and of course there was a plausible answer as there always is.  There were two levels of dialogue going on.  On the surface level there was argument and confusion and missed or mixed messages.  On a deeper level there was this other message, the teasing taunting, ‘I know you, I know who you are, I know where you are, I see you, I’m watching you. You won’t catch me, I’m clever, I’ll never tell.  You’ll never find me out.’  This was the trickster in a dream.
Her blog was her sacred space, and one of its principles was that it was open to all.  She had invited various people on to it, some had discovered it, she wasn’t sure how many read it, but she was often surprised by the occasional comment people made.  She knew that inadvertently she had given this person a trail to her blog through a technical mishap.  Perhaps she had wanted him to find his way there – the unconscious has strange ways.
Did she like it?  In fact she didn’t mind if he was there, it was certainly intriguing and it could feel quite companionable in a way – but to have him lurking, unacknowledged, was a little disconcerting.  It could also feel like an invasion of privacy.  But what did that mean – the whole internet is open to all, how could there be an invasion of privacy online unless of course you had security systems set up to keep people out?  

People often said, ‘how can you be so open on the internet?’  That didn’t bother her.  She had no sense of self-deluded grandeur and could not believe that many or any strangers would wish to spend time reading her trivial ponderings about the meaning of life.  But to know or suspect that he was there and wouldn’t ever say – that was an unexpected feeling.  Perhaps that was the intention?  Or maybe if he knew he was welcome, it would be different.  Maybe he was lurking in the shadows, having found his way there due to her mistake, and like her he was wondering what to do. 
She thought crossly, a normal person would just say, ‘I’ve found your blog.  It’s interesting’ (if they thought it was).  Maybe even, ‘I’d like to comment, is that ok?’  Or if they thought it was tedious, they wouldn’t bother.  But who is a normal person anyway, and this wasn’t normal behaviour.  Somehow it felt like bird-watching, someone in the hide with binoculars, fascinated and keen not to disturb or be discovered. Once the bird knows it’s being watched, it usually flies away or becomes unnatural in its movements and behaviour.  Was that what was happening here?
But how could she leave her blog?  She thought of renaming it, rehoming, but that was too much hassle, not just for her but more for all the readers and commenters.  And why should she need to leave anyway? She felt angry and, even more, she felt self-conscious in a way she hadn’t since knowing that teacher back in university.  How strange, travelling backwards in time.  And now when she wrote on her blog, she struggled to find her voice.  She was always wondering, should she say that?  Should she mention that name?  Was she too wordy?  Did she make sense?
This endless barrage of self-questioning – from the veracity of her intuition to the validity of her views – was undermining and irritating.  She resolved to stop it, but she wondered whether it would always be there now, a feeling in the back corner of her mind, haunting and distracting her.
Self-consciousness – wasn’t that what Henry James novels were all about in both style and content?  And what was it James had said about Americans?  It is, I think, an indisputable fact that Americans are, as Americans, the most self-conscious people in the world, and the most addicted to the belief that the other nations of the earth are in a conspiracy to under value them.’  James was the master at writing about and creating American self-consciousness, culminating in The Golden Bowl whose plot, she remembered, was almost undecipherable.
That was how this felt.  What was the plot?  Was there a conspiracy?  Was she losing the plot?  Maybe there was no plot.  Maybe it was all moves and maneouvres. Mirrors and mirages.
A cul-de-sac of thinking not worth travelling too far, she could become like Ophelia floating down the river.

Did it matter?  Did she want it to end?  Did she want to challenge it?  Probably not.  She liked games after all – children’s games in their innocence.  Yet now she was tired. 
‘I know you’re watching me…..Now you know I know.  Maybe I thought you knew, maybe you thought I knew.  Now we both know for sure.’
She looked at what she’d written.  Probably best to delete on reflection.  The law of unintended consequences would no doubt kick in if she did anything else. 

She looked at the blank screen knowing she would never have known anyway, even if she had put that sentence out into the virtual world. 
Best to sleep on it.  Tomorrow is indeed another day.  Or, as has been said elsewhere, ‘Look at the present moment, What is gone is gone.’
A sleight tale – A work of fiction based on some fact.  All names have been withheld, to protect the innocent.
This entry was posted in American character, connections, dreams, friendships, groups, Jung, writing, blogging. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to A sleight tale

  1. ooh it’s intriguing and mysterious Karin! I think you should turn it into a novel.

  2. Viv says:

    Super piece.
    I know well the feeling of being watched and of trying to decipher things.
    call me if you’d like to talk about it.

    • karin says:

      Thanks Viv – always nice to talk though nothing here to talk about. Hope you liked the ‘credit’!

      • Viv says:

        I did.
        It made me feel like a real author!!!
        Laughing aside, the novel I completed a few months back did actually feature cyberstalking. The hero(who suffers with panic and anxiety disorders, as a result of PTSD) starts getting emails from an anonymous hotmail account that at first just say things like We’re watching you, and then become abusive, but in such a way that he knows they must be from someone who actually does know him somewhat. I became acutely aware of quite how alarming the concept of being watched would be (hence the short story the Moth’s Kiss etc).

      • karin says:

        Will look out this novel, it sounds interesting. What’s it called?

  3. souldipper says:

    Some solid, modern suspense! Plus a good reminder of the value of privacy.

    When I read “she was suddenly reminded of her friend’s novel where some strangers all type the same sentence into their computers”, I fell into a frenzy of web gathering. Aha, I know this book… And the author appears before me!

  4. Chronicles of Clovis says:

    Beware those who lurk. The lurker is unreliable beast-prone to dangerous practices and avoidance of responsibility.

    On no account put your hands through the bars to feed it for you will surely lose your hand-or worse.

    • karin says:

      Thanks Michael – it is you, isn’t it? You’ve got to get better at this – the e-mail address is a dead give-away!

      Chronicles of Clovis – hmmm. As AA Milne says in his introduction, ‘There are good things which we want to share with the world and good things which we want to keep to ourselves.’ How appropriate.

      • karin says:

        PS meant to say I hope you liked the double entendre, it was there at least partly specially for you – you did get it, didn’t you?

  5. Viv says:

    The novel is still sitting on my hard drive, as it is the 3rd in a series, and I confess, is even without a title at the moment. However, since the series and especially the first one, is my best and deepest work, I suspect you may enjoy them when they do come out.
    I wondered if you might be intending to take the story further, and was just wanting to know if you perhaps needed to brainstorm for directions it might take, one writer with another. Guessing where a story may be going can be useful to determine where it WON’T be going!!!

    • karin says:

      Thanks for the offer of a creative conversation, Viv. Just not sure at the moment whether I will take this forward or not. Writing it just suddenly came to me, no future plans just now. We’ll see…xx

      And will look forward to reading the novels in due course.

  6. Chronicles of Clovis says:

    You mustn’t breach the cover of commentators- naughty.

    No I didn’t get the double entendre do please e mail me and explain so I don’t miss it.

    • karin says:

      Forgive me if I differ! I only have one commentator, or do I mean commenter, with cover – and I have at least one with no cover. Why is cover necessary other than the one we are given at birth? Our given name is our ‘clothing’/cover.

      I will e-mail but in the meantime, I just mention the word ‘sink’ should that illuminate.

  7. Stephen says:

    All this talk of being watched makes me think that paranoia is part of our psyche. Of course there’s also the thought that we consider ourselves worthy of being watched. The future of technology means that we are likely to be more exposed than ever before, if CCTV wasn’t enough in the near future our smart phones will allow others to know exactly where we are and what we’re doing. The use of Near Field Communications (NFC) means that soon we will be paing for goods and services through our phones instead of credit cards. If anyone has seen the film Minority Report you will recall that as people approached a shopping mall the adverts greeted them by name and displayed goods that matched their purchasing profile – all this is possible now.
    Despite all the discussion around protecting our identity so many of us surrender ourselves to the wider world without a second thought, the young in particular. An old fogey may ask the question “how will it all end?” or alternatively “how can I succesfully live in this new society but retain my values, beliefs, identity and individuality?”
    We live in interesting times.

    • Karin says:

      Hi Steve,

      I think it’s more self-consciousness than paranoia, though one can blend into the other. As you say, it is interesting to reflect on what makes us consider ourselves worthy of being watched, or interesting enough. A lot of people seem to feel anxious about being watched or seen by Anyone, the general unknown public. I was speaking to someone about how it can feel safer/more comfortable to write a comment on a blog under a pseudonym than as oneself. What essence am I trying to protect? Why do I feel I need to protect? I am still trying to work out my thoughts on this, but it seems to me less uncomfortable to be watched by Anyone (aka No one important?) than to be watched by someone specific, especially someone you know. But why is being watched such a bad thing anyway? I watch things that interest me usually because they stimulate my thinking, engage me, entertain me whatever… Does there have to be a sinister motive imputed to the act of being watched? Do we equate being watched to an absence of trust or an unsettling interest? I guess that being watched by someone specific suggests there is some form of connection and therefore what is important is whether that connection is beneficial or detrimental. So in that sense being watched is a neutral phenomenon.

      It is fascinating to observe one’s own responses to the feeling of being watched – the whole range of feelings, physical and psychological, and work through what that is all about.

      My stream of consciousness thoughts – maybe some of that makes sense.

      The description of the shopping mall that greets people by name horrifies me – why? I don’t like unknown others to presume they know my preferences and habits, or even know I’m there. I like to think I am not that predictable or visible. What I love about life is discovery not predictability. But maybe that’s just me. Also I don’t like to feel I’m being manipulated, particularly towards material ends.

      You have really got me thinking! I am not sure any of this hangs together. I hope no one’s watching me!

      We are all defensive, and while the young may be more comfortable self-disclosing for example on the internet, that does not mean they are more open or less defensive. There are infinite ways to be protective and defensive, surely I shared my list of 40 with you once?!

  8. Stephen says:

    I remember as a young teenager nearly getting into a fight with a much older lad because he accused me of “looking at him” – “you looking at me mate?”. I was puzzled and at the time too stupid to suppress my curiousity so I asked him how he knew I was looking at him and he replied “cos I saw you”. Being the idiot I was but also unable to be anything but logical I replied “so you must have been looking at me to suggest I was looking at you therefore it’s ok for you to look at me but not the other way round?” The end result was that I had to run very fast to get away from this encounter or face the consequences.
    I believe people are watching me because I spend so much time observing others (sometimes very critically).
    With reference to the shopping mall – if you’ve ever shopped on Amazon you will always be greeted by suggestions of goods based on your past purchases. The future is here now!

  9. Karin says:

    Hi Steve,

    I can well imagine this encounter – I’ve seen that thought process pass over your face but you are now far too skilled to go down that route! The story does remind me of a quote I saw recently though – ‘tell someone a lie and they’ll be angry, tell them the truth and they’ll be livid!’

    In what circumstances do you or don’t you mind that people are/may be watching you?

    I am nearly always indifferent to the suggestions Amazon offer me – clearly they don’t know me very well!

    • Stephen says:

      Hi Karin
      I’m flattered that you think I’m “far too skilled to go down that route”,
      I think I’m schizophrenic when it comes to being watched. There’s a strong part of me that wants to be noticed – for my intellect, sense of humour, and morality however there’s another part that just wants to blend into the background for fear of criticism or picked out as a failure in some way. Age has moved me further in the direction of a reclusive and less prone to moments of desire to be in the spotlight.
      I guess the Amazon suggestions are quite wide in their approach but I presume they think that if they hit you with enough suggestions one of them might stick.

  10. Karin says:

    Hi Steve

    I recognise what you describe.

    Liberation from the self, peace and perhaps indifference (in the best possible sense) lie somewhere outside the frame of that schizophrenic move between wanting and not wanting to be noticed, and all the feelings, motives, needs that underpin it.


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