An Open Letter to TNB Writers Pursuing Online Admirers (aka: An Open Letter to TNB Readers Pursuing Online Writers)By Rich Ferguson
July 06, 2011
For a while, I’ve kept what I’m about to tell you to myself. Why I’m sharing it with you now, dear writers and readers, I’m not exactly sure. Maybe it’s because TNB is celebrating its fifth birthday, and being one of the site’s original writers I’ve always done my best to be as open and honest as possible in every piece I’ve posted.
I’m also driven to share this tale because I’m fascinated by the interplay that occurs between creative artists and their online audiences. Once we writers put our work out into the world, there are scores of people we’ve never met checking out what we have to say. We writers have no idea whether or not our words will resonate, offer purpose and meaning. It can sometimes be an overwhelmingly vulnerable experience to bare our souls, only to feel our most heartfelt thoughts have slipped off—unnoticed and unloved—into the farthest, loneliest reaches of cyberspace.
When our words work, however—when people comment and sing our praises—it’s a true high. Better than heroin. Because every one of those compliments make us feel strong, healthy. Truly noticed, understood. That high offers an even bigger kick when the person complimenting is HOT.
That’s what I’m about to share with you: a story about a time I hooked up with a hot TNB reader. While what I’m about to tell you doesn’t strive to point blame at any particular party (I, for one, am as innocent or guilty as the others involved), it does serve as a cautionary tale for those of you writers who are thinking about meeting up with a fan, or any fans who are thinking about meeting up with a writer in the real world.
It all began about two years ago. A woman began leaving favorable comments on a few of my TNB posts. This woman—I’ll call her Jane—and I eventually connected on Facebook. That connection led to texting and phone calls.
I’m usually terrible on the phone. Any conversation longer than five minutes, I become anxious, irritable. But with Jane, I could stay on the line much longer. She was bright, quick-witted. Was interested in the same art, music and literature as me. And her voice: soft, warm, inviting. A lush, beautiful bed in my ear.
During one of our calls, I suggested we get together in person. Since she lived less than a day’s drive out of LA, this seemed a fairly reasonable request. While the idea intrigued her, she couldn’t commit to a rendezvous. I let it go at that.
For a period of time afterwards, we fell out of communication. Not because of any awkward feelings. We were just busy leading our own lives.
Then, about three months ago, we reestablished connection. Without explanation, our phone calls and texts grew in frequency and intensity. More intimate, more sexual. In one of her texts she even sent a photo of her standing in her bathroom in nothing but a bra and panties. She wrote that she was sending the picture because she liked the light at that time of day; how it streamed through the window and across her body.
I must admit it was an extremely lovely, alluring shot; both tasteful and tawdry in its depiction of light and shadow falling across her flat belly, full hips and breasts. Think Edward Weston crossed with Richard Kern.
Despite its artiness, I saw that picture as an invitation: the chance to finally meet Jane. And I won’t lie to you, dear writers and readers, I was also hoping our meeting would lead to sex. I phoned Jane. Instead of rebuking my advances, she agreed to drive to LA.
That phone call was on a Thursday night. We made plans to meet that Sunday.
The next day, Friday, after work, I checked my phone. Noticed I’d received a series of missed phone calls without messages. The area code seemed familiar—like Jane’s. I dialed the number.
A guy answered.
“Hi,” I said, confused. “I noticed you called but didn’t leave a message. How can I help you?”
“Do you know who this is?” the guy asked.
“Well I know who you are,” he said. “You’re Rich Ferguson, that LA spoken word guy.”
He said that like I was some bigshit poetry rock star. In any other situation I would’ve been flattered, but not with this guy. His voice was tinged with contempt.
“How can I help you?” I said.
“I’m Jane’s fiancé.”
Those three words spun my head roulette. “You’re what?”
The guy proceeded to tell me how he and Jane were engaged, had been living together for some time. He then spit out, “You fuck her yet?”
“Dude,” I spit back. “I’ve never even met her.”
“Well has she sent you any naked photos?” he pressed.
The way he said those words, like he’d asked that question to others before me. Suddenly, I felt bad for the guy. So I bent the truth. Since Jane had only sent that one picture of her in a bra and panties, I told myself it didn’t technically count as a nude photo—just an artful study in shadow and light. “No way,” I told the guy.
He said since I hadn’t known about him, or hadn’t yet had sex with Jane, things were cool with us. But if he ever found out that I did have sex with her in the future, that would be another story. He closed with: “You cross me, and I’m coming for you. I swear you’re a dead man.”
Then click, he was gone.
Keep in mind, dear writers and readers, I’ve had guns pulled on me twice—once while working a job in high school, and years later while wandering lost through Harlem at 3 a.m., and a gas station attendant I’d approached for directions thought I was about to rob him. As scary as those situations were, neither seemed as frightening to me as someone verbally swearing my death. Those words seemed far more real, far more imposing than any pistol pointed at my heart.
Add to that: I’ve never brawled in my whole life. These days, I get my aggressions out by ranting on stage, or doing push-ups in yoga. If I were to be involved in a fight club, I’d be the waterboy, or the guy that offers encouraging words to someone who’s just been pummeled to pieces. If this fiancé guy ever did come for me, it was exactly like he said: I’d be a dead man.
I was terrified. I stood with the phone still pressed to my ear. Couldn’t move. Couldn’t speak.
Once I came to, I realized I had two choices: remove myself from Jane’s life; no contact, nothing. Or speak to her one last time, demanding an explanation. I chose the explanation: that seemed fair after what had just occurred.
I texted Jane. Told her I’d just spoken with her supposed fiancé. Asked what was up with the guy.
She got back to me right away, swearing they’d once been involved but it was long over, and now they were just friends. When I asked how he’d found out about our conversations, she told me he’d gotten hold of her phone while hanging with mutual friends one night, and had read her text messages. She apologized profusely for all her drama spilling over into my world. Said if I never wanted to contact her again she’d understand.
I replied, yes, time apart would surely be best for all parties involved.
The following week, I headed to NYC to perform a series of spoken word shows. Also hung out with TNB compatriots: Greg Olear, Jessica Anya Blau, J.E. Fishman, and Kristen Elde. As amazing as it all was, I couldn’t help but to feel haunted by what had occurred with Jane.
Upon my return to LA, I remained hurt and confused. Add to that, the California-hippy, touchy-feely part of me yearned for clarity and closure (told you I wasn’t fight club material). All those conflicting emotions got the best of me. Despite the fiancé’s threat, I contacted Jane. This time I wasn’t thinking about sex. All I wanted was an honest explanation for what had occurred. She agreed to drive to LA so we could discuss matters face to face.
Once she arrived at my place, I realized she was far sexier, far more charming and intelligent than she’d been in any of our phone calls, texts or online correspondences. My raging hormones clouded over all the bullshit weirdness.
I wrestled with those hormones—doing my best to let reason prevail over fantasies of kisses and coitus—as I asked all kinds of questions about her supposed fiancé.
Again, she swore they were no longer together—just friends. “That was how he found out about us,” she reiterated. “It was one night while out drinking with friends that he got hold of my phone and read my texts.”
The way she spoke—direct eye contact, no wavering of voice, no nervous hand gestures—seemed absolutely convincing.
Still, I had my doubts. She could be telling the truth. Or was one hell of a good liar. In the end, I believed her. Not because she was so convincing, but because I needed to believe her. Didn’t want to believe that our last two years of conversations—our trading of intimacies and experiences—had been built on lies.
Furthermore, dear writers and readers, I also realized I was at a crossroads. The sensible route: walk Jane to her car, wish her well, and tell her it was best for everyone if we never again contact one another.
Or, I could pursue my darker curiosities.
And as we all know, we creative artists—and most human beings for that matter—are driven to pursue our curiosities, no matter how dark and dangerous they may be. Call it sheer stupidity, the pursuit of a dark curiosity, or a death wish, I made a choice.
Fiancé or no fiancé, I slept with Jane.
It was sweaty, passionate. Tender, caring. Kissing, caressing. All the things you hope for in sex. Afterwards, we talked, laughed, went out for a wonderful meal. Through it all, I’d become so high on endorphins that my logic skills were shot. I was officially punch-drunk crazy about Jane.
Later that evening, we parted ways; promising to keep in touch, figure out a time in the not so distant future when we could again be together.
Over the next two weeks: a blizzard of traded texts and phone calls, the two of us dreaming out loud about our next rendezvous.
Then one night I received a call. Without checking the incoming number, I picked up the phone: “Hello?”
Silence on the line.
That silence spoke volumes. It was the fiancé. My stomach twisted up, so did my tongue: guilty origami.
“I know you fucked her,” he said.
I didn’t know what to say. He’d given me fair warning. Had clearly said things were cool with us as long as I didn’t sleep with Jane. But I’d clearly crossed that line. I figured I deserved whatever I had coming: be it a beating or a bullet in the head.
“Game on,” he said. “I’m coming for you, fucker.”
Then click, he was gone. Just like me: a full-on goner.
I texted Jane. Asked what the hell was up. Why was I still hearing from this guy? Was he truly her fiancé or what?
Nothing from Jane.
I texted again. Even called. Left a message, saying: “So you’re just gonna leave me hanging alone on this one, huh?”
What an idiot I was, I thought. I’d been so blinded by her attention to my creative work, and how I’d felt she’d seen me for who I truly was, that I guess I’d missed some huge red flags. Like maybe she really did have a fiancé. Or if not, how I’d misjudged her as a person. Just when I thought she cared for me, she’d cut all ties when I truly needed her. I was devastated.
That feeling carried on for days.
Not only was I heartsick over Jane, the fiancé also made me a nervous wreck. Everywhere I went—be it performing in a dark club, or strolling hoity-toity Larchmont, yoga mat in hand—I was constantly looking over my shoulder, wondering whether or not that would be the moment he’d appear, ready to take me out.
I eventually decided to come clean, contact the guy. Tracked him down through Facebook, wrote a lengthy letter. Said I didn’t mean any disrespect. I’d only pursued Jane because I’d become quite taken with her in the time I’d known her, and wanted to believe everything she’d told me was true. Swore to him that from that moment on I’d no longer have contact with her.
It’s been at least a month since I’ve sent the letter. In that time, I’ve kept my word. Haven’t spoken with Jane. Haven’t heard from her or the supposed fiancé either. And while I don’t miss the drama and death threats, I do miss certain moments with Jane—the laughter, the sex, and conversations about music, art. And, of course, TNB.
Can’t forget TNB, now can we?
Can’t forget all those great writers like Jonathan Evison, Aris Janigian, Nick Belardes, Milo Martin, Lenore Zion, Irene Zion, Duke Haney, Megan DiLullo, Erika Rae, Uche Ogbuji, Wendy Chin-Tanner, Slade Ham, Richard Cox, Joe Daly, Gina Frangello, J.M. Blaine, Zara Potts, Simon Smithson, James Irwin, Gloria Harrison, Tawni Freeland, Becky Palapala, our fearless leader Brad Listi, and oh so many more!
So happy fifth birthday, TNB. And to all of you out there, let me say that TNB is a great place to share creative ideas, build alliances, maybe even hook up on the side.
But if you do, be careful. First make sure your hookup doesn’t have a fiancé.
Or don’t listen to me at all, dear writers and readers. Like me, maybe you’ll decide to throw all caution to the wind, and pursue your darker curiosities. After all, that’s what being human and being a creative artist is all about, right?