The following is from Sheena Patel’s I’m a Fan. Patel is a writer and assistant director for film and TV who was born and raised in North West London. She is part of the poetry collective 4 BROWN GIRLS WHO WRITE and was named as one of the Observer’s “Best Debut Novelists of 2022.” I’m a Fan was longlisted for the Women’s Prize, shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas prize and the Jhalak Prize, and won the British Book Award in the Discover category.
I stalk a woman on the internet who is sleeping with the same man as I am. Sometimes when I am too quick to look at her stories, I block her temporarily so she doesn’t know I absent mindedly refresh her page fifteen times a minute while Netflix plays in the background on my laptop, my stomach flipping sick with delight when her profile picture is ringed red. She has tens of thousands of followers, is verified, and is the daughter of someone famous in America. An endless stream of white people fawn in the comments under her posts. She has opinions about household objects which I have never given a thought to before; firm taste in the types of beeswax candles to burn, lays exquisite cloth on her table in anticipation of dinner, knows where to buy limited edition pottery from well-regarded potters, she will happily spend $300 on a vase where she displays really, really organic fennel flowers, by which she says there is organic and then organic, buys a $500 ring for herself during a time of financial strife for the rest of the world and shows it off in a selfie. She uses a filter on Instagram which burns up her flaws, it thins down her cheeks and radioactively erases the two thick lines shaped like spooning ‘v‘s which are carved in her forehead and erupt from her face more prominently when she raises her eyebrows. A sick sense of satisfaction rips through me when I see them. She orders take-out from the right restaurants, seems to know everyone in the higher echelons of society, is accepted into the kind of circles which seem out of reach to me. Sometimes I wonder if I ever met her, what would I say to her, would I tell her of our connection? Would I tell her I know where she lives, would I tell her how I guessed that she broke up with her boyfriend. Will I tell her I know why the tone of her stories changed because the man we are both sleeping with, the man I want to be with, shamed her for exploiting her privacy the last time they saw one another. Would I tell her that I know who her ex-husband is, I‘ve seen his new family and he seems happy now, happier than the photos I‘ve seen of the two of them, would I tell her I know who all her friends are and I watch their stories too, would I tell her I screenshot the photos she takes of herself and study her face so intently sometimes I fear I‘ve picked up some facial expressions or tonal inflections from her because I listen to her speaking with her father on YouTube over and over before I go to sleep. Would I move in closer to smell her and feel what he felt when he felt her—would I taste the inside of your mouth to find out what was so compelling, would I press into you, I want to know exactly how your body moves when you are turned on—to know for myself why he cancelled fucking me to fuck you.
“tell me what i want”
I refresh, refresh, refresh, refresh. The woman I am obsessed with usually posts around this time. I‘m half-watching Gilmore Girls on my laptop. I refresh again and suddenly on the ninth refresh, the squares shuffle to the right, go white, quickly blink back into colour and there‘s a new post—a selection of the products she sells from a web-shop she owns called Terroir. It may or may not make a profit but regardless of this minor inconvenience, it seems that being a founder of an independent web-shop is the new rich kid thing to do. All her friends have variations of this curated online presence where they push a skincare line or expensive household furniture, or cookware—objects which have been taken outside of their cultural contexts to be placed artfully in your home to make you appear more interesting. I‘ve learnt about mid-century furniture this way. I think of my parents‘ generic in-built wardrobes in fake wood that I‘m sure is veneered plastic which they proudly picked out of the company magazine from a wholesaler warehouse in Sudbury.
I know the woman I am obsessed with has many of these tastemaker friends, where the acquisition of beauty seems to fuel them as much as food. One of these friends posts notable artists‘ interiors like she does. I know this as I stalk him too in case he posts photos of her because I like to know what she wears every day, which makes me feel shit but then makes me feel like I‘ve achieved something when I know but really, I lose a tiny part of myself every time I screenshot a photo of her or her new studio flat in Marfa now she‘s single or her previous flat she shared with her ex-boyfriend or her father‘s house where I try to map the geography of the rooms. I save these screenshots to the Album in my phone which, when I scroll through, looks deceptively like I have a very good friend whose life I celebrate, as if I want to treasure her memories alongside my own. I don‘t have any opinions about furniture. If I was to ever have a home I‘m not sure what I would fill it with. I don‘t own anything that would tell other people how much of a tastemaker I am, how much of a grown-up. I fit into spaces which already exist and contort myself to fit a shape which has been allocated for me. I don‘t own anything. The thought of antique shopping for each individual item is exhausting and exhilarating and expensive. I click through to the shops the woman I am obsessed with tags in her posts, who she thanks, the painters she recommends on her stories, helpfully including a link to buy one for yourself. I look up the price of a painting she angles into the sun, on top of her brightly coloured mantlepiece with the hashtags of the architect who built it and the painter who painted the painting. I google the artist‘s name and ‘price‘ and he‘s dead and his work costs between fifteen and twenty thousand dollars and my jaw swings open and I want to own it too but how and where do you go to buy paintings? Or perhaps what I want is the disposable cash to be able to buy a painting but actually what I want is something much harder to attain which is to know what paintings are worth buying in the first place combined with the innate belief I deserve to be in surroundings that need paintings on the walls before I am able to feel at home. I read the caption on the new post and it says, meet us at our pop-up at a friend‘s house in Notting Hill, dm for details. The post is a graphic amalgamation of the items Terroir sells, the objects hung disembodied on a white background. The uniqueness of her business is that she is a daughter of someone who is famous for being aesthetically rigorous and if you part with a minimum of $500 you might be able to buy into this upbringing too. I think—this is my chance.
Excerpted from I’m a Fan by Sheena Patel. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press. Copyright © 2022 by Sheena Patel. All rights reserved.”