Is there any expression more ephemeral than the tweet? Tweets are like mosquitoes, they bite and you have to scratch, and they fly about in swarms. Of course, you don’t have to go out into the twittering evening. There are many species of tweets but all have a short life cycle. Tweets are tiny. Large tweets are called blogs.
Of the many species of tweets, the wry with a twist is perhaps one of the most coveted. The topic hardly matters, but the more mundane the subject often the better to surprise with the wry. It’s as if to say, I could go on about this, but your attention warrants only my slightest swat. But when these fail, the tweets about brushing one’s teeth with a tube of diaper rash ointment because you couldn’t find your reading glasses, for example, or the photo of the morning bagel with cream cheese, and you were sure the baker was trying to send you some covert message, the wry is treated like a bad pun, noses in the air.
I have nothing to tweet, and I am tweeting it, and that is Twitter, as I need it, to do damage to John Cage‘s “Lecture on Nothing,” but it does seem appropriate to some twitterers. If one truly has nothing to say, who will listen? But if we begin with the admission, perhaps something of interest will follow. For having nothing to say, and saying it, is having something to say, after all.
Speaking of follow, Twitter’s format permits a kind of democratized social media, where one can follow without fear of being followed or be followed without fear of having to follow back. Is this freedom? One can lock one’s tweets, as Emily Dickinson did. But the mass of Twitterers follow more than are followed. There’s a crossover point, somewhere, a kind of demarcation separating the pro twitterer from the amateur, the popular from the wallflower, but which can occur at any level.
But what’s got us all atwitter this morning? Just this, an article followed from a tweet, “Librarians of the Twitterverse,” by James Gleick, in a post at the NYR Blog. To whit: probably (at this point) over 200 billion tweets have been imported into the Library of Congress, where the hope is to create a file that can trackback every mosquito in the swarm, and their every bite, an everyone’s Diary of Samuel Pepys.
But where to begin, now, if not then, letting the future worry about them and then. What do we look for in a tweet, in a blog post? Most of what we see is a kind of cat twitter. But that’s ok. Like Buckminster Fuller said, or might have said, if he knew about Twitter, 1,000 people should tweet, and one will come up with a tweet good enough to retweet, but you never know which one.
So, who to follow, whose tweets or whose blog posts. Here at the Toads we’re always on the lookout for something clear and concise, purposeful and meaningful and reflective, though we also enjoy the quixotic and the chaotic, the wry with the sad, the happy with the bubbly. It’s seldom so much what’s being said, but it’s always about how it’s being said. I’m always adding and subtracting from my blog feed subscriptions, somewhat capriciously, a fickle reader, yet there are a number of blogs I follow regularly, and when I see there’s been an update, a new post, I go directly to it. What is it about these blogs that keeps me going back to them?
This morning I want to pass along a blog I discovered recently that surpasses the average for its lucid and honest prose and lovely style. It’s called “Small Fires.” I hope you check it out. Reading the posts, I get the feeling here is a writer, someone who seems at ease with words, though not always with the subject, for some subjects are not easy, but whose ease puts the reader at ease. How does she do this? I don’t know.
But to close on the quixotic and the chaotic, another cat cartoon:
Now here’s a treat; the Pope’s to tweet. The news arrives not by tweet but via the promise of a more social-media engaged Vatican (see the Pope’s message “Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age,” June 5, 2011), but the tweeting news comes, also, at a moment of alleged intrigue, corruption, and scandal within the Papal Towers. Thomas Jones, editor of the London Review of Books Blog, in a review of a book exposing the Vatican’s seeming scheming culture, summarized that culture thus: “Even if you can’t follow all the tangled threads (and I certainly can’t), the overwhelming impression left by Nuzzi’s book, and the whole Vatileaks saga, is that the Vatican is seething with conspiracy, faction, infighting, self-interest, venality and back-stabbing. (When do they find time to pray?)” (p. 25). Not to mention, when will they find time to tweet?
Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers (1857) begins with a question: “In the latter days of July in the year 185––, a most important question was for ten days hourly asked in the cathedral city of Barchester, and answered every hour in various ways—Who was to be the new bishop?” What was the audience for such a question? Today’s Trollope might write: “What will be the Pope’s first tweet?” And the audience would consist of his Twitter followers, who would for the next month or more hourly tweet suggestions for what might be the Pope’s first tweet. Reuters reports the first Papal tweet is not expected for another month or so. I’m not the world’s fastest writer either, but a month to compose 140 characters? No wonder they’re still living in the Middle Ages.
The Pope is not without his critics within the Church. The most notable perhaps is the Catholic priest Hans Kung, who continues to call for changes, though a tweeting Pope is probably not one of them. The Vatican has been trying to censor Kung for some time. Maybe Hans will get his own Twitter account. Martin Luther would have written some choice tweets.
“It will, however, give you no trouble to write another article next week in which we, or some of us, shall be twitted with an unseemly apathy in matters of our vocation,” Trollope’s moderate-right hero of the High Church, Mr. Arabin, tells Eleanor.
But tweets are not articles. Tweets are aphoristic, often sententious, conversational pith. But the Pope won’t be able to qualify his Twitter profile with any kind of disclaimer, even if the tweets are not his own.
And how much less trouble to skip the article for a tweet. The verbose and prolific Trollope would fail the tweet. As he nears the end of his Barchester Towers novel, he worries about fit and about being twitted for his efforts:
“And who can apportion out and dovetail his incidents, dialogues, characters, and descriptive morsels so as to fit them all exactly into 930 pages, without either compressing them unnaturally, or extending them artificially at the end of his labour? Do I not myself know that I am at this moment in want of a dozen pages, and that I am sick with cudgelling my brains to find them? And then, when everything is done, the kindest-hearted critic of them all invariably twits us with the incompetency and lameness of our conclusion. We have either become idle and neglected it, or tedious and overlaboured it. It is insipid or unnatural, overstrained or imbecile. It means nothing, or attempts too much. The last scene of all, as all last scenes we fear must be,
Is second childishness, and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
“Is there anybody following?” twitted the Twitterer,
Twitting on the backlit laptop;
And his cat in the silence watched the empty light of the screen
Of the laptop’s infinite face.
And an ad popped up out of a modal window,
About the Twitterer’s eyes:
He twitted again, blinking his eyes;
“Is there anyone following?” asked the Twitterer.
But no one twitted back inside his white window;
No comment from the rotting laptop
Popped out of the blank light to interface,
Where he sat, eyes pulled to the screen.
But only a virtual host of phantom followers behind the screen,
Dwelling eyes dwelling within the one lonely eye,
Sat following in silence on the blank laptop face
To that twit from the world of men twittering:
Sat following in the light of the laptop,
That glows with unsleep through the window,
Disturbing the web in a twittering window,
By the twittering Twitterer’s twittering screen.
And he saw his strangeness in his laptop,
And their weirdness, through their eyes
Moving in white and blue background twitter,
Even the cat transfixed by the cursor blinking in the face;
He suddenly twittered again, his face
Lifting from the laptop’s window.
To his cat he twittered:
“I stayed as long as reasonable at my screen.”
Never once did the followers bare their eyes,
Every twitter he twitted from his laptop
Fell into the echo deep in the heart of the laptop
To the one man whose twittering face
Saw a blank set of eyes,
And heard the cat scratching at the window,
And felt the whistle filling with white light the blank screen
When the cat twitted off leaving the Twitterer
Sitting at his laptop staring at a blank window,
His face at one with the blank screen,
His eyes ever alert for the next twitter.
I was up late last night, twittering through “The Late Show,” the best way to watch Letterman, and awoke past the dawn to discover a delightful missive, a kind of plumbing noir note, left inside the TP wheelbarrow, placed atop the closed loo. The empty wheelbarrow was a first clue to the mishap that must have unfolded in the wee morning hours. The note, pictured above, elegantly written, including exclamation points fore-and-aft a cap rigged Danger, follows, in its entirety:
! DANGER !
Plumbers are not usually prescriptivists, recognizing options. I called in Long and Shorty. Shorty did the trick.
The note, marvelously ambiguous, understated in its use of only two question marks, where a more excitable writer might have been inclined to exaggerate with three or more, though not if they were in a hurry, now sits on my desk, offering no apology to William Carlos Williams:
…so much depends upon, this is just to say, notes, fore-and-aft
There is much danger inherent in plumbing and poetry, fully suggested by the writer of the pink bordered note.