Stalking: or networking with your idols

My first opportunity to attend the NWP annual meeting came in 2005, when I was fresh from the Summer Institute and completely ignorant about the ways in which the writing Project functioned as a national program.  All I knew was that NWP coincided with NCTE and that Red Cedar was sending me to Pittsburgh with an iPod and a laptop for me to wiki, blog, and podcast.

It was the podcasting that began my stalking habit. The podcast idea inspired me to set out to interview someone amazing, someone who I had admired since I was a fresh-faced pre-service teacher: Jim Burke.  I was determined to hunt him down and interview him with my little iTalk/iPod set-up.  When I blurted out that I was planning to stalk Jim Burke in the car ride to Pittsburgh, I was met with howls of laughter from my fellow RCWPers.  But thanks to Paul Cryderman, I did meet Jim Burke.  And, reader, I interviewed him.

The word “stalk” always takes people aback, especially when I blurt to my stalkee that I’ve been stalking them. (because I tend to so admire the people I stalk, I get a little nervous when I get to finally meet them and talk too loud, too fast, and say something inappropriate).  But let me be clear: when I say “stalk” it is merely to indicate that I have dedicated myself to networking with my intellectual heroes.  Networking feels a little predatory anyway.  The social interactions are a bit awkward.  My intellectual idol has no idea who I am, yet I have read every word they have written, subscribed to their blogs, parsed every tweet.  How to start a conversation?  The situation always fills me with dread.  But in the end, the stalking always pays off.

So, here are my tips to stalking your idol:

  1. Identify a target by knowing who is going to be in attendance at the conference.  Check out programs and when you see a name that gives you a little thrill, you’ve got your target.
  2. Tell everyone you know that you are stalking this person.  Your friends and colleagues will help you. Strangers will catch wind and will be intrigued by your total geekness.  This will inspire them to help you, too.
  3. Eventually, someone will be so excited to introduce you, that most of the time you don’t have to make the approach yourself.
  4. In the event that your friends and colleagues fail in #3, try to place yourself in close physical proximity to the target.  Look for a moment when they aren’t surrounded.  If you’ve picked a good target, they’ll be popular and you’ll have to pick your moment carefully.
  5. Take your cell phone/digital voice recorder and ask for an interview.  No one has ever denied me an interview.  This can always be your in.
  6. Make sure you share your good news with everyone in #2.  After all, they are now invested in your experience, too.

Happy Stalking!

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