James Lasdun On Being Stalked
The quick outline; James Lasdun (his real name) was a happily married college teacher of writing who had a promising student called Nasreen (not her real name). After her graduation, they communicated by email, he trying to encourage her talent by reading her work, and helping her find an agent. She developed the odd habit of sending him LOTS of email. such as copies of her correspondence with a lawyer she was consulting about a harassment case. Eventually, Lasdun, family and professional obligations taking all of his time, started to distance himself from her by, without explanation, not responding to her email. Possibly gradually descending into mental illness, she began to retaliate by sending email to his agent saying that he had stolen from her work. An accusation of plagiarism is extremely serious for any person whose livelihood depends on their creative output.Accusations of misogyny and racism are awful when completely untrue.
Nasreen determined to ruin Lasdun, and began a program of denunciations and insinuations that he could not counter. She posted an accusatory review on Amazon, he eventually got it removed, but she moved on to other sites. Hateful accusations poured from her like lava from a volcano.
Given the number of books and blogs written by stalking victims, why is this book interesting and important? First, most stalking victims are female, so a man’s experience is slightly different and worth understanding. Second, Lasdum is an excellent writer who has taken his fiction skills and produced a book that is literary, not just autobiographical. His musings on the meaning and importance of one’s “reputation” will resonate with anyone who has had a friend pillory them, not just in person but on the internet where those awful words will remain forever.
He says, “I am a loser, a monster, a jerk, a slut, whatever, goes the logic of the despairing outcast; how can I ever hope to counteract something so vast, and if I can’t, how can I ever how my face again? Spite has never had such an efficient instrument at its disposal.” She edits his Wikipedia entry, just enough to discourage anyone who didn’t know him, but was trying to check him out there. She sent email to the head of his academic department, accusing him of having an affair with another student, of being a racist, and of stealing her work.
When she had been at it for about a year, Lasdun started to fight back. He actually talked to someone in the FBI, but got no real help. He tried lawyers, who were clueless. He tried a private security company and his school’s security department also unhelpful. Finally a detective in a police department in New York said she was committing a misdemeanor called “aggravated harassment”, but that because she had moved to California, expensive extradition was about of the question, but he would call her and tell her to desist. He did, she didn’t.
Lasdun says, “Her obsession with me achieved perfect symmetry: I became just as obsessed with her. I couldn’t write, read, play with my kids, listen to the news, do almost anything, without drifting off into morbid speculations about what new mischief she might be getting up to.” He talks incessantly to other people about what he is going through. He becomes easily angered, depressed, anxious, and sleepless
Nasreen found a website where one can put in one’s own email address together with comments and email addresses to send to. She learned that she could put in Lasdun’s email address instead of her own, and thus send email to anyone purporting to have come from him. In this way, she increased her harassment to start interfering in his relationship with his agent and other professionals. Finally, this was identity theft,
By the end of the book, there is an important trip to Israel, but no happy ending. Nasreen is still stalking him. He is getting better at preventing her attacks from affecting him and his profession, but knows she will always be out there, targeting him.
Not everyone likes this book. One of the readers said this, on Amazon:
“In laborious detail, he describes his suffering, mental anguish, anxiety, and an incident where he yells at some unknown British tourist because he had left his coffee cup on a cafe table when leaving and Lasdun lost it because he was so stressed by the unceasing emails from the nut job. ...
I also find his complete passivity quite interesting. I can assure Mr. Lasdun and anyone else who cares to listen, that if some crazy woman were causing me as much grief as he claims to be suffering, I would have dealt with her lickety split and to my complete satisfaction.”
I’ve been consulting with stalking victims for many years now, and when I saw that comment I longed to tell that reader that he (or she) doesn’t know beans about stalking. Not every stalking victim gets PTSD or some of its symptoms, but many do - anguish, anxiety, sleep disturbance, depression, and temper outbursts can be part of that.
Lasdun wasn’t passive. He did what experts suggest, not replying to the email, but monitoring its content to see if there are any changes in the stalker’s communications that might indicate a shift from verbosity toward dangerous action.
“Dealt with her lickety split,” indeed. Just what would that have meant? Lasdun reported his situation to the police, and the FBI. Though stalking is illegal everywhere, getting law enforcement to act in an effetive way is usually impossible. Law enforcement acts best when there is a clear threat. For years, Nasreen never explicitly threatened, but cleverly undermined her target’s professional and personal lives.
If you want a how-to book about stopping a stalker, this isn’t for you, but is you are curious about what it is like to be the victim of a probably mentally ill woman who has all the resources of the Internet at her disposal, this can be a fascinating read.