Hey, where did that Tweet go? Never-mind, check this out: Cat Twitter and Blog Beautiful

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:

Cat Twitter

– I joined Twitter! Check it out, my first Tweet!
“Sitting under apple tree looking though wintery bare branches waiting for birds tweeters jay flickers titmice owl or the occasional squirrel” – exactly 140 characters including spaces.
– I notice you are not partial to punctuation.
– I already have 5,000 Twitter followers! And a bunch of Retweets!
– All birds, you say? Might want to rethink giving away your location.
– Cats of the future will read my tweets at the Library of Congress!
– I don’t doubt it for a tweet-second.

The Pope Tweets

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.”

The Twitterers (after Walter De La Mare’s “The Listeners”)

The Twitterers (after Walter De La Mare’s “The Listeners“)

“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.

A Plumber’s Noir

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 !

NOT FLUSHING

VERY WELL,

? ?

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.

Poems referenced in this post: “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “This is Just to Say,” both by W. C. Williams.

Related Posts: E. B. White and the plumberThe Postman Always Rings Twice, the Plumber Rarely More Than Once

On The New Yorker On Twitter; or, Drink, Memory

This week, The New Yorker, on Twitter, is sponsoring a tweet-fest, calling on followers to tweet their all-time favorite New Yorker piece. My first response was a tongue-in-cheek, “The Cartoons”!

I’ve been reading the New Yorker, a weekly, for over 40 years, but these days when I intone the magic words, “Speak, Memory,” I often receive in reply a feeble tweet, even falling short of the 140 character limit. Anyway, it takes more than a tweet to recall a full piece, at least for this twitterer. I do recall one of my favorite all time cartoons, from the mid-80’s. I taped it to my at-work monitor, until my boss at the time told me he didn’t get the joke. I brought it home and taped it to the icebox. Just so, most of the articles I remember are those I tried to encourage others to read, too. I remember the William Finnegan piece on surfing off San Francisco (August 24, 1992); I mailed it to an old surfing buddy.

Ian Frazier, in “Hungry Minds: Tales from a Chelsea Soup Kitchen” (May 26, 2008), wrote what has become one of my all time favorites. In “Hungry Minds,” Frazier explores at least three kinds of hunger: physical (the soup kitchen), intellectual (the writers’ workshop), and spiritual (the church). Must every hunger be fed? One might hunger for anything (war or peace; duty or love; work or play; music or silence; risk or safety; celebrity or privacy; memory or amnesia; nirvana or grace), and the human appetite seems insatiable. Then there are the thirsts, which Frazier’s article also touches on (to belong; for community; for recognition; to tell one’s tale; and a thirst to feed the hungry). Human thirst seems unquenchable. What else can explain Twitter?

Taking the facebook Pledge; or, The Allegory of the facebook Cave

I decided again to leave facebookland. I’m back on the facebook wagon. I spent too much time driving around in circles, and my time on facebook was beginning to feel like living on a freeway, not free, and only two ways, on and off, and I had to keep up with the traffic, stay out of the way of semi-posts, watch out for falling photos. True, the sky was blue, the windows down, the radio on, everyone waving to one another: life is good in facebookland.

I also ditched twitter, which had come to feel like reading in a nest of mosquitoes. When I left facebookland, I was detained by lures of questions asking why I was leaving, and I was distracted by messages claiming that my friends would miss me, specific friends: Jack will miss you; Jill will miss you. Twitter has a slightly different guilt driven, exit poll strategy: I was advised that I may never come back using the same name and address. It’s like going home again: you can go back home, but only as a different person. You may re-enter the facebook highway anytime you want; your friends may not even know you got off. If, when you exited, you de-friended them, that’s problematic, since they may not re-befriend you, but they’ll probably be happy to have you back, and say something like, I thought we were already friends.

Facebook has features I never used, like the real time chat, which must feel something like an electronic cocktail party rather than an endless freeway commute. It’s not facebook’s fault, my leaving. Facebook is a clean, well-lighted place that never closes, even if it is a cave. There is no night in facebookland; the sun never sets. Part of the reason I found myself soaking up more and more facebook light recently is my new laptop, a refurbished MacBook Pro I bought a couple of months ago. It’s a hovercraft. I love the way the keyboard lights up in the dark. The design is perfect, like a well-fitted, classical guitar. No viruses. As intuitive as a bicycle. It goes everywhere my backpack goes.

But the primary reason I left facebookland are the writing and reading projects I have going. There’s no pursuit more pleasurable and rewarding than reading and writing. Not that I’ll ever finish any of these projects (can one finish a blog? one might end it, but that’s not the same as finishing it), but that’s of no consequence, whether I finish a writing project or not. Abandoning a writing project is an experience very close to finishing one, though perhaps not as satisfying. One abandons books, occasionally, as ill-suited, poor fits, bad choices. Just so, one abandons one’s own writing projects. Perhaps we were not ready for them, the writing or the books we gradually let go of, until one day, they were simply gone, like past friends. One must read and write every day, without interruption, just as one must pick up the guitar every day, or the brushes or sticks, or the golf club, or the fishing pole, or the shovel or rake, or the hammer, or the ball and glove, or the pool cue, or the surfboard. And whatever distracts from these purposes, these pursuits, must be put away.

Perhaps facebook is a kind of reading and writing, some new electronic sub-genre, like texting, videos, and other sound bites. But at least facebook is what it purports to be, a social media, driven by advertising dollars, purposed to persuade users to continue, to keep on, to stay in. Facebook is a new rhetoric, a new art of persuasion. Here is facebook’s mission statement: “Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” Does the world want to be more open and connected? Apparently so, given the number of facebook users. But what does open mean? How does one measure more? And connected to what? “Open Sesame” gets you into the cave of the thieves, but you don’t want to forget the magic words that unseal the cave so you can get back out. Those magic words might be “Deactivate Account.” Or we are back in Plato’s cave, and though it appears we are looking directly into the light, what we see on the wall of the facebook cave may not be reality, but shadows of advertisements passing before the fire of commerce that burns behind our backs.

Increasingly, we seem to live in two worlds, “in twosome twiminds,” as Joyce said, the electronics of visual perception (the charge of the light brigade, for Joyce, was the coming of television), and the philosophy of acoustics, and we are drowning in doubt.

Note: Meaghan Morris, “Chair Professor of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University, Hong Kong, and Professor in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney,” published a scholarly article titled “Grizzling About Facebook” in the November, 2009 issue of the Australian Humanities Review. The article is not what you might expect. For one thing, Meaghan resists the old journalist codger who would “urge me to spend more time off-line (‘making new friends and maintaining old friendships’) for the sheer good of my soul is a grizzle from those fairies at the bottom of the garden” (para. 9). Yet she acknowledges that facebookland does indeed have its back alleys and unlit corridors:  “I certainly do not mean to suggest that all criticism of Facebook is grizzling. Serious legal, ethical and political issues are arising from or being intensified by the ‘Facebook’ phenomenon (to use a typifying metonym myself), in the process sharpening some of the challenging debates of our time; free speech and its limits, censorship, the right to privacy, the negotiation of social protocols for a transnational economy that thrives on difference as well as inequality, the relations between semiotic and other modes of violence, tensions between legal, communal and performative models of identity, the foundations of community, the power of corporations in our personal lives, and the technological transformation of work are just a few of these” (para. 10). But while recognizing the traps in facebookland, Meaghan seems to think the risks worth taking, and this is what makes her scholarly viewpoint worth listening to: “…what Facebook does well is combine: you can write private letters, play games, send gifts, do quizzes, circulate news, post notes, music and clips, share photos or research, test your knowledge, join groups and causes, make haiku-like allusions to your state of mind and chat on-line with friends, all in one place and time—restoring or relieving, according to need, the pattern of an everyday life” (para. 22), and who among us, Meaghan asks, does not value these life on the street, at work, and at home activities? I’ve mentioned Meaghan’s article in a previous post, here. Meaghan’s article is a scholarly gem.

Double Consommé; or, the Doo-wop of the Tweet

What was the first human’s first utterance? Did it fill 140 characters? “The fall is into language,” Norman O. Brown said, but we picture a slip on a banana peel followed by Joyce’s 102-character utterance:

“The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonner-ronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoordenenthurnuk!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian minstrelsy” (Finnegans Wake).

So the tweets re-circle, and the Twitter Big Bang is well on its way to 300 sextillion tweets. What does 300 sextillion look like when not doing “duty for the holos”? 300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. But multiply that number times 140 to get a closer look at the Twitter universe. Who can read it all, each tweet a star?

Two converging posts sent us tweet gazing this morning, Mozart in the background, one (over at the Books I Read blog) drawing our attention to Alain de Botton’s recent tweeting experiment, a kind of History of the Western World in 7 Tweets, the other an essay in yesterday’s Times suggesting we might use the 140 character limit of the tweet in college composition classes.

The tweet is to writing what the Doo-wop three-minute song is to music. But we like Doo-wop, and we enjoy the well-worded tweet. As interesting as Joyce’s vocalized fall is, we think the first human’s first words were probably more like “doo-wop,” and the fall may indeed have been into banana cream and not language. This is the way T. S. Eliot’s world ends, not with a bang but a tweet.