The Joy of Twitter

joy of twitter

You hear this all the time: social media is harmful because it deprives us of authentic flesh-and-blood contact with fellow human beings. For example, yesterday I caught a piece on NPR’s “Morning Edition” about an on-line project to bring Trump and Hillary voters together for face-to-face meetings in hopes of humanizing and creating empathy.

Well, I happen to know several Trump voters and don’t need to be in their physical presence to recognize our shared humanity. Of course, they’re not Russian-Bots; of course, they’re generally decent people; of course, we agree to disagree amicably. The secret is to avoid politics in conversation, which, I concede, is more difficult nowadays given the hour-by-hour reality-television-like drama generated by the current administration. But hey, it’s baseball season, celebrities are dying daily, weekly new movies are being released, the ospreys have returned to build their nest atop the cell phone tower on Hudson Avenue. There are plenty of things other than Crooked Hillary and Deceitful Donald to bandy about.

That said, sometimes I prefer the company of the avatars I follow on Twitter to that of flesh-and-blood human beings, whether they voted for Hillary or for Trump or Stein or Johnson or Prohibition Party candidate James “Jim” Hedges. On Twitter, [name drop warning] I have traded witticisms with James Wolcott, received thanks from Frank Rich, been winkingly chided by Emily Nussbaum, and had Josh Marshall privately expand a public point for clarification’s sake.

It’s not that these fewer-than-140-character exchanges I mention are all that meaningful, but I have had one-on-one communications with Pulitzer winners, i.e., brilliant journalists with ever-so-arid senses of humor. If you follow someone on Twitter, you get to know that persona (the way you don’t on Facebook). You choose to follow personae because they are informative, interesting, witty, and compatible.

Take Matthew Yglesias, the Vox correspondent, for example. If I’m sitting at the bar at Chico Feo or the Jack of Cups Saloon taking a break from grading essays,[1] chances are I’d much rather be checking out what Matty has to say in cyberspace than shoot the shit with the man-bun sporting fellow sitting to my right, who might very well bludgeon me with tales of last night’s barhopping or descriptions of the numerous micro-breweries he’s visited in the last two years.[2]

Matty, on the other hand, will be wittily commenting on a subtweet about Potemkin villages, providing a link to one of his clearly written explanations of macroeconomics, or dropping a line from Alanis Morrisette’s “Ironic” – “like rain on your wedding day” – to troll some obtuse tweeter’s mistaking coincidence with irony. I’ve never laid eyes on Yglesias, but I feel as if I know him better than I do some of the Facebook folk I’ve conversed with in the flesh.

If cultivating shallow ego-boosting connections with minor celebrities “ain’t [your] cup of meat” (to quote the Mighty Quinn), Twitter offers a less egocentric service: it provides up-to-date information on breaking news stories. I follow almost exclusively journalists, so when important news breaks, I can get lightning fast updates instead of watching the same looping video on CNN or MSNBC. In fact, I followed the election on Twitter instead of cable and was in bed by ten knowing that I would awaken the next morning in Oceania.

So Donald Trump and I do share one characteristic. We like to hang out on Twitter. Maybe we should meet in person to try to better understand each other’s viewpoints.

[1] I grade my essays in bars. I can grade six in an hour-and-a-half in the time it takes me to nurse two delicious craft IPAs.

[2] To be fair, I could also bore him comatose if I started in on how English’s being a hybrid language means it has an enormous vocabulary that provides its speakers with the ability to express innumerable shades of meaning. Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Queer Theorem, Shambolic Health Care Zombies, and Cecil B DeMille’s Riding Crop


from Cecil B DeMille’s Male and Female, featuring Gloria Swanson

I spend much of my waking time reading. Unfortunately, during the school year, a considerable amount of that reading time is spent correcting the inexact writing of adolescents or revisiting worn out texts that I now find tedious, like To Kill a Mockingbird.  However, this spring break I managed not to bring work home with me, so for the last seven days, I’ve been binging on recreational reading.

A shallow person who prefers style to substance, I’m always on the lookout for cool turns-of-phrase or apt imagistic analogies, so rather than sharing any profound truths I ran across this week, I thought share a few stylistic winners.

Early in the week, I read an essay by Samantha Hunt called “Queer Theorem” appearing in the spring 2017 edition of Lapham’s Quarterly. In researching her novel on Nikola Tesla, Hunt discovered  that her subject was quite eccentric. For example, he housed “a large population of New York City’s pigeons in his hotel rooms” despite suffering from “a terrible germ phobia.” In addition, Tesla had fears of “pearl earrings and human hair.” These irrationalities of the scientist who “invented radio” and “our modern AC electrical system” lead Hunt to wonder about the possibility of the existence of “Queer Science.”

Here’s my favorite sentence, one that ends with a delicious inversion of clichés:[1]

Queer physics, queer healing, queer chemistry, and all of it conducted by starving scientists and mad artists.


[1] All of the italics are mine and used to highlight the phrases that send me.

Andrew Sullivan, whom I was hooked on for years, had disappeared into silence for too long but recently has resurfaced with a weekly column in New York Magazine. Here’s his description of the debut of the Republican replacement for Obamacare:

In Washington this week, as this shambolic health-care plan staggered, zombielike, into the House, there was a palpable sense that political gravity may, for the first time, be operational around Trump. If he somehow muscles this legislation through, he will be stuck with an avalanche of angry.

What a killer image. How apt.

illustration by WLM3

Staying on politics, perhaps my favorite prose stylist is James Wolcott who in his February Vanity Fair column offers a piece called Trump: The Movie, Coming Soon to a Theater Near You (if Theaters Still Exist).” Here he suggests various directors who might be able to do the subject justice. Here he is harkening back to the beginning of film:

To do Trumpzilla justice, the film should be blustery, spectacular, gold-garish, and neo-pagan, a Circus Maximus Cecil B. DeMille might have whipped up with his riding crop after a fever dream.

Wolcott’s got rhythm, music, and imagination, mixes high and low with aplomb.

Illustration by WLM3

Interestingly enough, Wolcott’s name came up rather unflatteringly in Dennis Perrin’s Mr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O’ Donoghue, a biography I finished Tuesday. O’Donoghue was perhaps the most influential member of the original National Lampoon and Saturday Night Live. Perrin calls Wolcott “squeamish” when he describes O’Donoghue as “a master of hip how-do-you-make-a-dead-baby float humor,” which sounds less squeamish to me than matter-of-fact.

Anyway, I thought I’d offer this O’Donoghue bit of bad taste that network censors axed from Weekend Update:

And in Detroit, a handicapped eight-year-old schoolgirl was attacked by a supposedly tame lion while television cameras rolled. The child, a deaf mute, suffered only minor scratches from the lion but, according to doctors, she did break three fingers screaming for help.”

[cue cymbal  crash]

O’Donoghue in center between Aykroyd and Belushi

My last entry comes from Haruki Murakami’s Infinite-Jest-jumbo-sized novel IQ84, which, of course, has been translated from Japanese, and I inherently distrust translations as far as style goes. Nevertheless, this description of a character’s first memory did arrest me for a moment:

The vivid ten-second scene was seared into the wall of his consciousness, his earliest memory in life. Nothing before or after it. It stood out alone, like the steeple of a town visited by a flood, thrusting up above the muddy water.

Okay, enough. The Screaming J’s are playing down at Chico Feo, and the non-literary life is calling me.