I admit it: I’d googled my name. It’s a modern narcissism I work to avoid, but last week, when a different Lisa Rundle was making front-page news, it felt unavoidable.
The search pulled up lots of stories. But imagine my surprise when I found myself staring at a picture of my head, fused to a photo of disgraced Penguin Canada CEO David Davidar’s, on a Mumbai-based news site called Mid-Day. The caption explained: “Lisa Rundle is suing David Davidar for sexual harassment.”
It was the scandal that rocked Canada’s publishing world earlier this month. First, Davidar suddenly resigned to “work full time on his third novel.” He said he’d likely move his family to Delhi, though they’d just bought a house in Toronto. There was worried musing about what this meant for Canadian publishing. Then, two days later, the rest of the story: serious charges of sexual harassment and unlawful dismissal from a former employee, and a half-million-dollar lawsuit. A press release from Penguin Canada saying, “Mr. Davidar will play no further role in the company.” And the messy details from her statement of claim: he said she should not fight him; he allegedly called her “a vision in pink” in increasingly lustful emails; he forced his way into her hotel room at the Frankfurt Book Fair and forced his tongue into her mouth.
For some it’s a story of egregious abuse of power; for others it’s tantalizing gossip. For me, weirdly, it’s been more personal.
The day before news hit of Davidar’s departure, I got a message from the Globe and Mail on my home phone asking for comment. Within days I was introducing myself as “not that Lisa Rundle” and fending off looks, both sympathetic and suspicious. I worked in publishing before becoming a producer at CBC Radio’s Q, so it was easy to assume I was the Lisa Rundle in question. My voicemail was soon filled with messages of all kinds for the other Lisa Rundle: from concerned-sounding acquaintances and headhunters and folks vaguely connected to the publishing industry who seemed to be seeking further details.
And emails and calls started rolling in from my own acquaintances. Many were deeply compassionate, some just curious. My partner and close friends were getting questioned, too, I suppose by those not wanting to bother me during this trying time. And by Wednesday, there was the Mid-Day face fuse.
This isn’t the first time the travails of other Lisa Rundles—I know of at least three—have burst into my life. I’ve built a repertoire of strange encounters. One Lisa Rundle nearly prevented me from graduating from the University of Toronto. It seems they withhold that precious paper if you have outstanding library fines. She’d racked up quite a few. I was almost given another Lisa Rundle’s medication. I ran up onstage to claim a raffle prize once, at a small queer theatre event in Toronto, only to feel a hard hand on my shoulder from the true winner: another Lisa Rundle. And I was nearly bestowed a different Lisa Rundle’s physical assets, when the clerk at the fancy bra store asked for my name, typed it into the computer, and asked hesitantly, “Have you . . . lost weight recently?”
Then there’s the Lisa Rundle I call “Bad Lisa Rundle,” who rented a car in Tallahassee, Fla., and never returned it. It took me a long time to convince the U.S. border police that I’ve never even been to Tallahassee. I also blame Bad Lisa Rundle for the two-year period over which I was stalked by debt collectors.
I’ve used my middle name, Bryn, off and on—in print especially—in an effort to assert my singularity, but it’s always felt a bit cheap. The look-at-me cry of the three-named writer. It’s also ineffective: I have it from a good source that even articles brandishing my Bryn have padded the resumé of at least one Lisa Rundle who isn’t me.
But, for all my efforts to distinguish myself from other Lisa Rundles, this week I’ve felt an unexpected connection. When my life collided with this Lisa Rundle’s, I got a small slice of her experience. I find myself thinking how hard it would be for someone who works in the business of telling stories to now find herself the subject of the story. And about how public this one is, how people take sides, or, worse, stay quiet, and how tremendously isolating that must be.
As I write, new voices are coming out in support of Lisa Rundle’s claims, even as Davidar’s lawyer proposes a whole other scenario. However the case plays out, I’m proud of my other self for going a hard way. And if it helps her to know this, there are more people who feel for her and wish her well than she might realize. Their messages have just been going to the wrong Lisa Rundle.