Things I’m Going to Hell For: Unfollowing Roxane Gay

With this post,  I’m opening myself up to a lot of Young’uns Being Outraged by my Actions or Laughing at my Innocent Folly.  I’m okay with that.  It was only last year that I had absolutely no idea how to use, post to, or even read Twitter.  I’d always thought Twitter was supposed to be some sort of rolling message board, but then I’d peek at my husband’s feed and all I could see was page after page of

MT @ RT bang bang r u sure I said #fragipani cluckfalls georgie RT ?? #whatthefugzlyamIdoinginRussia ..@@nekkidpinkEE 5min #frackilishuz

But I learned, consarnit!  For the sake of this web site and my own desperate need for attention, I taught myself how to navigate the Twitterverse, how to use hash tags, how to figure out what’s trending, and which accounts go with what awesome celebrity.  (Hugh Laurie’s on Twitter??  Woohoo!  It’s never lupus!!!)

So I started following a bazillion accounts.  (It’s so easy to hit that Follow button!  Just like popping Pringles!)  And I found out that there are, in fact, Things Going on in the World that are never mentioned anywhere else.  Indie readings!  Debates on gender identity!  A kajillion new literary journals I’ve never ever heard of!  (And, in case you were wondering, 1 kajillion > 1 bazillion.)  I was having the time of my life being so Connected to Things.  For the first time, I started feeling like one of the Cool Kids, which in itself is nothing short of a miracle.  (I could show you the picture some Facebook friend posted of me, from behind, during marching band practice, wearing my sock tops neatly folded and a pair of shorts that made my ass look like a hang glider.  I could show you this, but I can’t find it now.  Surely, someone took it down for the sake of everyone’s sanity.)

Then I found this Flavorwire article about 35 writers who rule social media and discovered that three of these movers and shakers–Neil Gaiman, Cheryl Strayed, and Roxane Gay–are on the list of people I follow!  Yes, thunk I to myself, I ems TOTALLY hangin’ with the IN CROWD NOW!!!  Yay me!!!

A few days later, I noticed something strange.  A post from a literary journal slipped by me, and when I followed them to their twitter feed, I found dozens and dozens of tweets that I’d never encountered before.  I went back to my own feed, only to determine that of the bazillion accounts I was following, a small percentage were taking up every single inch of real estate.  I’d have to be glued to Twitter 24/7 (which I’m not; my phone is paleolithic and my brain easily overstimulated) to remember the existence of all these cool People and Things that I’m supposedly Connected to.

How could this happen??  Twitter’s supposed to be my Virtual Fountain of Knowledge, not some overgrown garden I have to expend energy tending to.  How can a handful of accounts choke out the rest of my follow list, anyhow?

They could and did, however.  The truth was abundantly clear.  With this epiphany, my ever-so-brief flirtation with the Internet fast lane came to a close. Sadly, I realized that if I wanted to reap the benefits of staying Connected to accounts that directly impacted my life, I had to make some changes.  Even more sadly, one of those changes revoked my membership to the Cool Kids Club for all eternity: unfollowing the fabulously talented literary mega-superstar Roxane Gay.

For the record, I want to make clear that I didn’t drop Gay from my list for anything she did.  Indeed, one of the reasons I followed her in the first place was because she’s a flat-out amazing writer.  She’s original, insightful, and most of all, prolific.  Her feed is like watching a continuous experiment in documenting the human stream of consciousness.  She tweets incessantly.  While she’s shopping.  While she’s cooking.  While she’s walking down the street.  It’s mind-boggling.  Also, she must have a smartphone implanted in her wrist, because that’s the only way I can fathom how she live-tweeted herself unpacking after she moved into a new apartment.  I’m completely not kidding.  That day, my Twitter feed was replete with descriptions of boxes, moving men, unearthed books, and one accidental self-inflicted bash on the chin with her laptop.  How, how, I ask you, can a person smash her own chin and then turn around and tweet about it?  How many arms does she have?  I can barely carry a cup of water from the kitchen to the dining room without spilling it.

Then there’s another problem that happens when a writer, even a brilliant one, records all the witty observations that flow through her mind.  Once again, this has nothing to do with her and everything to do with me, or rather my relationship to her as a reader.  Namely, the things on which our respective conscious minds ruminate are not the slightest bit compatible.  For me, this became painfully obvious when Gay was watching TV.  When I was still one of her followers, I always seemed to catch Gay watching Ina Garten.  Now, I love cooking and eating and foodie stuff.  My husband, Inspector Spacetime, and I watch Top Chef and various Food Network programs, although we’re mainly into the hard-nosed competitive programs, especially the ones featuring Anthony Bourdain and Tom Collicchio.  Ina Garten, though, has never been a fave of mine.  Too sedate, too esoteric.  Not loud and crabby enough.  In a word, dull.  And yet however much I was bored to tears by Ina Garten and her latest culinary escapades, my Twitter feed was swimming with descriptions, from Gay and her followers, about Ina’s every move.  Granted, they were funny descriptions.  Gay always writes as a viewer transfixed.  Ina creates her own salad spinner.  Ina pronounces hummus “hoomus” and talks about the “artisan bread movement.”  Ina has an “I’m with a friend” laugh.  Ina Ina Ina Ina Ina Ina Ina Ina Ina Ina Ina Ina Ina…oh, sweet mother of God, make it stop!

The day Gay announced that Ina would be holding a butter tasting, I knew it was the end.  I could not, for the life of me, even for my very soul teetering on the brink of perdition, face a live-tweeted Ina Garten butter tasting.

So, tragically, I’m now both Uncool and Going to Hell.  And I think I’m about to be damned twice over, as Neil Gaiman is hanging from my follower list by a thread.  Seriously, Neil, I love and respect you and your work.  You are a storyteller supreme and a class act all the way.  I realize, too, that your flood of tweets represents an actual desire to communicate with your huge fanbase of lovestruck followers.  Still, if I see one more fan’s picture of promo material for Ocean at the End of the Lane, which I read over a year ago, I think my fragile emotional state will finally shatter.  I’m not certain what will happen after that.

On God and Fickleness

Here is a wise and righteous general conducting a defensive war to save his country. At mid-summer an observer says to him, “General, have you not changed your plan of campaign since you began it?” He replies, “I have.” Says the observer, “Then you must be a fickle person?” He replies, “No, I have changed it not because I was fickle, but for these two reasons: because I have been unable and have failed in some of the necessary points of my first plan; and second, I have found out things I did not know when I began.” We say that is perfect common sense, and clears the general from all charge of fickleness. But suppose he were, in fact, almighty and omniscient? Then he could not use those excuses, and if he changed his plan after the beginning he would be fickle. Reader, dare you charge God with fickleness?

–The Reverend Robert Lewis Dabney, Confederate Army chaplain and Stonewall Jackson’s Chief of Staff

Shakespeare Is Everywhere: Disney Addendum

Sometimes allusions to Shakespeare are so egregious they bash you upside the head with a leather-bound volume of the First Folio.  (Think of Simpsons’ product parodies, like “Much Ado About Stuffing.”)  Sometimes, though, Shakespeare references are like a gold coin tossed into a fountain full of loose change.  Those are the best ones, in my opinion: the allusions that make you work to find them.

Two days ago, I posted a little tidbit about how in Disney’s “One Hundred and One Dalmatians,” the mother dog is named Perdita, who is an abandoned child raised by shepherds in The Winter’s Tale.  I applauded Disney for their subtlety, in that Shakespeare’s Perdita is an adoptee, while Perdita the dog eventually becomes the adoptive parent of all those extra puppies.  (In the source material for the movie, there’s actually a third Perdita, but I won’t go into that here.)

Very quickly, my husband, whom I’ve decided to call Inspector Spacetime for the purposes of irritating him, leapt to the fore and discovered another instance of clever Disney Shakespeariana (Shakespearean Disneyana?)*: Iago, the parrot from “Aladdin” who’s named after Shakespeare’s nastiest, most cunning and morally bankrupt villain.  Shakespeare’s Iago is best known for deception, especially when it comes to his own nature and motivations.  Throughout Othello, Iago is known as “Honest Iago,” even as he’s lying through his teeth and carefully orchestrating the bloodbath that takes place at the end of the movie.  While the Disney version isn’t quite so violent (to be honest, I didn’t even remember an Iago from the movie until I read the Wikipedia entry), Iago the parrot is indeed a treacherous little creature, hiding his intellect and choking down crackers until he can avenge himself against a man who barely thinks twice about him.  Yup, that’s Shakespeare’s Iago to a T.  For some unknown reason, Iago has a vast, venomous hatred for Othello, even though to Othello Iago is just another soldier in the platoon.  It’s one of those unsolvable Shakespearean mysteries that English professors can and will ponder for decades, because it seems so urgent to resolve, like the the true nature of humanity or the existence of evil.   Bravo to Disney for having the guts to stuff all that material into a parrot.

Now, we could also go into the choice of the name Ariel for “The Little Mermaid,” seeing that in The Tempest Ariel is the resourceful spirit who gets jammed into a cloven pine by the evil witch Sycorax.  Ursula, the evil Disney witch, also tampers with Ariel the mermaid’s movement in the world.  But then, Ursula gives Ariel legs and takes away her voice, which imprisons her in a certain way, but doesn’t outright paralyze her.  So is there really a parallel here?  Does this really make a statement about enslavement or empowerment?  Is the world the Little Mermaid’s cloven pine?  Does everything–Disney movies, hydrogen molecules, hemorrhoids–point back to Shakespeare?

And this is the point where I step back from the abyss and try to track down some tequila.  Goodnight, Fickle Readers!


*This the Inspector conveyed through the even more clever vehicle of a nice little run of dialogue from “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”:

“Emphasis on Iago—backstabber!”
“I’m surprised you’ve read Othello.”
“What the hell is Othello?  I’m calling you the parrot from Aladdin.”

Here is an instance of a Shakespearean reference spawning other references and on and on into the mediasphere.  Such quote-sharing has been happening ad infinitum since about the year 1700.  And yes, you can spend your whole life documenting all these permutations.  You can also attempt to write dissertations about them.  Now you know why I’m insane.

Neat Ideas for Writers’ Residencies

Apparently, there’s an upsurge in people and organizations offering urban writers’ residencies, from those tied to community service projects to individuals offering up office space in their own homes.

Of course, here in the Fickle household, any Writers in Residence would soon be buried in a sea of laundry, comic books, and mailers we haven’t thrown out yet.  Little Fickle would insist that you play games with him such as List the Arctic Animals You Know in Alphabetical Order and Which Marvel Superhero Would Like This Beatles Song, and Why?  Husband and father of the household, whom I’ll call Inspector Spacetime, would spend your tenure avoiding your gaze and grumbling if you try to start a conversation during his TV viewing.  (Trust me, Writers in Residence, you do NOT want to say ANYTHING during a new run of Doctor Who episodes.  Grammy Fickle tried this once and nearly got snapped in two.)

Yeah, I don’t think we’ll be joining this wave of writerly opportunities anytime soon.