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.
April 23, 2014 at 2:59 pm
I must admit that I hate the idea of Twitter! I have never even been near the thing because I’m a Facebook user and I feel satisfied enough with that as a time-waster, without adding Twitter to my list of Things That Waste My Time And Provide A Way Of Procrastinating! Though by the sounds of it, you’ve been brave enough to delve into Twitter and embrace it! This is something I highly doubt will come about for me any time soon!
April 23, 2014 at 9:44 pm
Teaqueenboo, I didn’t think I would ever warm up to Twitter, but I’m really having fun with it. I think figuring out what I wanted out of it was the key. It definitely has procrastination potential, though! Thanks for reading the post and commenting!
April 23, 2014 at 5:32 pm
Thank you so much for linking to my posts! You already know I love Twitter. I don’t not think it’s “necessary” and any publishing professional who says so is probably forgetting that Twitter doesn’t actually sell ANYTHING to anybody. Nobody likes a commercial. People do, however, like to connect. Every paid writing opportunity, short story that I eventually placed, and general good writing connection began on Twitter. And I’m glad we found each other as well. I’m happy to help if you ever have a question.
April 23, 2014 at 9:53 pm
Nina, thanks so much for checking out the post and for the retweet! I’m so glad to connect with you on Twitter. I’m sure I’ll have a question or two for you down the road! In the meantime, your wonderful tips should keep me from committing any tweeting faux pas. :-)
April 23, 2014 at 5:37 pm
This is so lovely! Thank you for sharing it with me, and of course for the shout-out here. I can’t tell you how happy I am that my post helped sway you to give it a try! I completely agree with Nina ^ that although it’s not necessary, I’ve gained much from it. Knowledge, connections, opportunities, joy… you name it. I hope your experience continues to be positive, and if you ever have any Twitter questions I’d be happy to do my best at answering!
April 23, 2014 at 9:59 pm
Thanks so much for your kind words, Annie, and for the follow! Your article was largely responsible for my seeing Twitter in a new light. I look forward to reading more of your work. I’m so glad to be in touch! I’m sure I’ll need to avail myself of your Twitter wisdom again in the not-too-distant future.:-)
April 24, 2014 at 9:21 am
And I’m cringing to see that I had a typo in a six-word tweet (“to” instead of “for”). It may take me a while to master paring down my tweets on the fly without it resulting in word salad. :-)
April 24, 2014 at 8:32 pm
Thank you very much for mentioning the letters of Walt’s mother Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. I had begun a bit to sour on the task of tweeting daily from her letters, to 28 followers. But then, I suppose, as Maria Popova (@brainpicker) said today, quoting Gabriel García Márquez, “In the end all books are written for your friends.” I thought of Mother Whitman’s letters as being valuable to the next great Whitman biography, as she had been treated so shabbily in many of Whitman’s earlier biographers. In contrast, I found her endearing. Not without faults, but reading her brought out for me the tenderness in Walt’s poetry, which one can easily miss if bothered by the sexual bravado in Whitman’s poetry, as I was when reading it in early college years. Again, thank you for the kind notice.
April 25, 2014 at 12:53 pm
My pleasure, Wesley! I love the Mother Whitman tweets and always try to read the letters in their entirety. I feel a lot of tenderness reading Louisa’s letters to Walt, and now I want to know if he reciprocates. I just popped over for a look and found that Walt closed one his letters to his mother very sweetly: “Dear Mother, tell Mat & Miss Mannahatta I send them my love—I want to see them both—O how I want to see Jeff & you, mother, I sometimes feel as if I should just get in the cars & come home—& the baby too, you must always write about her—dear mother, good bye for present—” (http://www.whitmanarchive.org/biography/correspondence/cw/tei/loc.00785.html). I haven’t read any of the biographies–is there one in particular you would recommend? I’m also interested to read more about Anne Gilchrist, thanks to Mother Whitman. :-) Thank you again for the tweets and retweets–they made my day. I hope you continue to tweet from Louisa’s letters. I’m sure I’m not the only person who delights in reading them.
April 25, 2014 at 1:43 pm
For major Whitman biographies, it would depend on your taste. Reynolds, Kaplan, and Loving are all good. But Roper’s recent family biography, Now the Drum of War, is the richest on Mother Whitman and the family. If you want to see the period of greatest tenderness, it is from January 1873, after Walt’s stroke, through her death in May. Those letters from him are not yet on the Whitman Archive (though they should arrive soon). The easiest thing to do now would be to read his letters in Edwin Haviland Miller’s Correspondence and hers on the Whitman Archive. But ignore EH Miller’s footnotes, which are mean and spiteful toward her. My introduction “walter dear” provides a brief and more sympathetic survey of that period.
May 16, 2014 at 10:29 am
Lisa, what a delightful post! I’ve been using Twitter for a while but not very effectively. I’ll follow through on your recommendations re Annie’s and Nina’s work. It sounds like they’ll spur me on. Thanks for following my blog! I don’t know how you “found” me, but it seems we have much in common, and I look forward to following you here, too.
May 16, 2014 at 2:11 pm
Thanks, Gerry! I enjoyed looking at your blog, but I can’t think how I ended up there–some virtual rabbit hole down which I disappeared in the pre-dawn hours this morning. Might even have been via Twitter. :-) I look forward to reading more of your posts.