Friends, I have a confession to make.
Several posts back I professed my dislike of Twitter. I may even have used stronger words than “dislike.” True, for lo these many years I did not see the potential benefits of tweeting and being tweeted at. I’m a natural-born Slow Reader, skimming when it suits my needs but generally preferring, in reading as in all endeavors, not to rush. In my previous explorations of the Twitterverse, loose arrays of words seemed to hurtle toward me with meteoroidal velocity and indifference. Too much, too fast.
Since first reading Walt Whitman as a teenager, I have taken to heart the poet’s admonition to dismiss whatever insults my soul (which, despite the egalitarianism expressed in his poems, I now know would include some of Whitman’s own beliefs). And so it was with Twitter. Aside from engaging in some mass tweeting at Congress, I have pretty much avoided Twitter altogether. Two things prompted me to reconsider Twitter:
First, I read “Should You Be on Twitter?” by Annie Neugebauer at Writer Unboxed, in which the author enumerates the pros and cons of joining Twitter. After considering the considerable pros (some of which apply to writers with books to promote, but I think Twitter can be more generally useful in connecting writers with other writers), I felt that perhaps it was time to lay down my “grudge” against Twitter and give it another try.
And then, just as I was beginning to soften to the idea of Twitter, I came across “The Tweetable Letters of ‘Mother Whitman’” on the blog of Duke University’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The poet’s mother’s “tweets” are excerpted from “walter dear”: The Letters from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Her Son Walt.” The full volume, edited by Wesley Raabe, Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Kent State University, appears on the Walt Whitman Archive, along with Whitman’s correspondence with other family members and with eminent figures of the time. With tweets such as these, I was won over:
It turns out that the Good Gray Poet himself is pretty tweetable. Were Whitman alive today, I’m not sure he would use Twitter, but then again, his poetry has always struck me as rather urgent. Maybe letting loose with a few barbaric tweets over the Internet would have satisfied his need to sound his “barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.” Or maybe not.
Maybe the fact that I was spurred to join Twitter by the “tweets” of people who have been dead for more than a century doesn’t bode well for me socially. But in the week or so that I’ve been using Twitter, I’ve come to appreciate its spareness, relative to Facebook, as well as its capacity as an information-sharing medium and a tool for connecting like-minded people. (I also see the potential for distraction, procrastination, and feeling bad about myself.) In order to keep it manageable, I’ve decided to limit my following to writers, agents, editors, literary journals and writing-related publications, libraries, historical societies, bird organizations (well, because birds), and friends. Writer Nina Badzin provides a great primer for new Twitter users. Following Nina’s advice, I’ve truly enjoyed my Twitter experience so far.
Writing, as we know, can be a lonely undertaking. I didn’t think it was possible to enjoy myself on Twitter, slow-reading introvert that I am. Obviously, I was wrong.
To see what I’ve been up to since joining the 21st century, check out Tweets Like Birds in the sidebar at right.