“Wait, that’s your penpal?” I asked, feeling my mouth dry up.
“Yeah, why, have you heard of him?”
I couldn’t believe she hadn’t. I told her he’d sold 65 million books, and linked her to a trailer of the latest adaptation. She seemed, at last, impressed.
The author had contacted her to say how much he’d enjoyed her work – fan mail, if you like. Here was this titled, lauded writer heaping praise on my unassuming friend. She, in turn, is renowned within her field.
I can think of many cases like that. My hero on the red carpet, his friend saying, “Oh, he’s just some guy.” Given time, I start to see him the same way, too. I’ve got friends who are celebrated, but either what they do doesn’t interest me much, or I’ve reached Stage Five of Fandom.
STAGE ONE: I LOVE WHAT YOU DO
This is a lot like falling in love. Someone has made something extraordinary – far beyond what you could ever even dream up – and you are fascinated by it. You can’t get enough of it, and even the thought of it fills you with joy. You feel the need to express it everywhere, to everyone. This is, like, the best thing ever. If you are in the position where you can contact the person who made it, you want to thank them just for making it because of the sheer amount of entertainment and happiness it has brought into your life.
STAGE TWO: I WANT TO KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT YOU
You read an interview or two, or maybe you meet them or speak to them in person, and you find out that they’re sweet and charming. You’re bowled over by them – they’re not just brilliant, but lovely, too! You’re more enchanted than ever. You start to notice little references here and there that didn’t make sense before. You get the in-jokes, feeling part of some exclusive club as you chat together with other fans and happily dissect the work in question. You memorise every biographical detail to fill out the gaps in your knowledge. “Oh, of course he was writing about alcohol at that time, because that’s when he went to rehab”.
You learn what inspired your hero and load up on that stuff too, as though it’s some Rosetta Stone for decyphering the key workings of their mind. If it’s someone you’ve spoken to, you feel smug and glowing after every correspondence: “this wonderful person is talking to me! Imagine that!”
STAGE THREE: SO YOU ARE HUMAN, AFTER ALL
This is when the cognitive dissonance kicks in. They start to relax, and that careful mask of politeness begins to slip. Sometimes they don’t feel like “being nice”. They might be irritable some days, and you might find out things about them that you wish you didn’t know – things that interfere with that oh-so-rosy mythos that you’ve established for them. In short, sometimes they’re a bit of a dick, just like everybody else.
STAGE FOUR: WHO THE F*** DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
This is where it ends, at least in most cases. You start to think, “This person thinks they’re better than me,” when the reality is … you’re right. You think they’re better than you, and they think they’re better than you. Slowly it dawns on you that really they’ve just got a bit more natural aptitude and a lot more practice, and certainly a lot more dedication to their craft.
They’ve got so used to your fascination with their work that they don’t know how to talk about anything else. If you talk about yourself, their eyes glaze over because they genuinely have no interest in your life. That shouldn’t, logically, come as much of a surprise. It might very well turn out that other than your mutual agreement on the subject of their own brilliance, you have absolutely nothing else in common.
STAGE FIVE: JUST SOME GUY
On the other hand, much as you might have started out thinking that your hero is all kinds of wonderful, mabye they’re starting to see you that way, too. You can converse without awkwardness, because your relationship is no longer based on the job they do, but on the other shared interests and values you hold in common.
Just like the colleagues you hang out with after work, you don’t talk about one thing all the time, but share balanced conversations about the other interesting things in your life. They’re just another friend – “just some guy” (or girl!) – and you’ll even forget from time to time whatever it was that drew them into your life.
Either that, or you’ve just lost interest in them. It doesn’t require any particular malice for someone with whom you have absolutely nothing in common to not be very interested in you – like the many colleagues you don’t socialise with after work. Maybe in your insistence that they should treat you like a normal human being, maybe that’s exactly how they are treating you. They’re just doing you the courtesy of not pretending any more. They’re a bit of a dick sometimes that doesn’t care very much about you: that’s the truth of it, and they’re exhausted from pretending to like the other people fawning all over them.
In most cases, you’ll never have spoken at all to the subject of your admiration, but you’ve just found out enough about them to know that you’d never be friends in real life, but that’s OK. You can go on being you, and they can go on being them. The sole thing that drew your attention in the first place – them being good at a job – hasn’t changed. You’ll probably buy the next thing they do, and continue to show a detached interest in their output.
It’s just that, however you’ve got here, the spell is broken. You know they’re just another person with a particular skill. I can sing How Much is That Doggy in the Window backwards: I’m sure somebody somewhere thinks that makes me the most awesome person alive.