What Would Twitter Do?

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Welcome to What Would Twitter Do? the ninth and three-quarter edition with Roxane Gay! Next week will be Week 10, the final interview. In this series, I talk to some of my favourite people on Twitter about their Twitter philosophies and practices. Roxane Gay, in addition to being a brilliant fiction writer, blogger and essayist (this season she published her collection Bad Feminist to huge acclaim), is a seasoned and constant Twitter user. It’s possible that it was her, more than anyone else I follow, who made me begin to wonder: What is Twitter? She used the medium in the way other people did—posting links, declaring things—but in another way, too: as a constant running monologue, a real stream of consciousness, a literary Modernist on Twitter. There isn’t a sense of hierarchy among her now 80,000+ tweets. It almost seems part of her living—in the way that you wouldn’t say this breath is particularly important, while those twenty other breaths I took are less important. One begets the next. She was also maybe the first “Twitter celebrity” to me, in that I knew her “Twitter work” before I had read any of her other writing. She seems to be one those people always in centre of the swirl of the debate—especially around feminist issues—while also managing to stand cooly outside it.

Sheila Heti

SHEILA HETI: I remember when I first started following you, I couldn’t believe how often you tweeted. It’s not like you’d save up and tweet special thoughts. It was more like a constant stream for your life.

ROXANE GAY: Living in a rural town really compelled me to start tweeting so much. Mostly, my Twitter usage is fueled by loneliness. I can go days without talking to another human being unless it’s my mother, especially when I’m not teaching or on break. 

SH: Many of your thoughts must now just appear as tweets. Is that so? Is there a portion of your brain that is always tuned to tweeting?

RG: Hmm. There’s certainly a portion of my brain that is always tuned to making wry observations about the world, but that portion of my brain was alive and well before Twitter. 

SH: Do you always tweet on your phone or from the website, too? 

RG: I tweet from my phone, the Twitter app on my computers, and once in a while, the website. 

SH: Do you care whether an individual tweet be “good,” or is more the overall approach that you think about?

RG: I don’t care. Twitter is my happy place. I am not there to overthink 140 characters. 

SH: What has tweeting done for you on a professional level? 

RG: Tweeting has definitely expanded the reach of my work.

SH: As you have had more and more success, have you become more self-conscious on Twitter? 

RG: Yes. The other day, I saw a blog post where a woman wrote about why she was unfollowing me and that made me feel incredibly self-conscious and embarrassed about my tweets. I also feel more exposed now that I’ve become a more visible writer but then I try to get over all that and just use Twitter the way I want. 

SH: Do you feel better about the tweets that get more stars and retweets? 

RG: It’s an ego boost, sure. Most of my favorite tweets go completely ignored but most of my favorite tweets are probably really lame or inside jokes between me and my [redacted]. See what I did there?

SH: What is your system or rule around what you retweet, when it comes to people praising your work?

RG: Before my books came out this year, I thought I wouldn’t retweet praise but I am weak and I do. I try to keep it to a dull roar but the praise people offer is so grand and it makes me feel validated and I love sharing that energy. 

SH: Do you feel obliged to respond to people who tweet at you?

RG: I do feel some obligation but I simply can’t keep up anymore. I have too many followers. I try to favorite the tweets I really like so people know I am reading and paying attention.

SH: What do you enjoy on Twitter? Who do you like following and what do you like reading?

RG: I love how I can see some of the thoughts and ideas of my favorite cultural figures and still also chatter with my friends and family. It’s a cocktail party with a fraction of the awkwardness of an actual cocktail party. I like following xTx, Alexander Chee, Casey Hannan, Elliott Holt, you, Laura van den Berg, R. Michael Thomas, Michael Taeckens, Michael Schaub, Kate Spencer, Michelle Dean, Molly Backes, Kate Harding, Anna Holmes, Jelani Cobb, Erin Gloria Ryan, Randa Jarrar, Amy Hundley, Maya Ziv, Cal Morgan, Jessica Lustig, Ashley Ford, Isaac Fitzgerald and Jenna Wortham to name a few of my favorites. I like reading anything they have to say. 

SH: Do you think Twitter has had an effect on the feminist conversation? 

RG: Absolutely. Twitter has allowed the conversation to broaden and become more inclusive. At times, the conversation is really tense but that’s because we’re talking about really important issues. It’s not going to be easy but at least the conversations are happening.

SH: There’s a relaxing deadpan tone to your tweets, which always makes me feel all right. I sometimes think that when I tweet, I work myself up to a certain “twitter energy.” Do your tweets and your life basically weave around each other in a calm and cool sort of way?

RG: My tweeting is cool and calm unless I am riled up about something and then I just surrender to the fury of my fingers.  

SH: Do you ever worry about tweeting too much? 

RG: All the time. I am really self-conscious about how much I tweet and the relative triviality of 67% of my tweets. 

SH: Do you ever envy people who aren’t on Twitter? Do you ever think about going off, and how would that change your writing?

RG: I don’t harbor any such envy. I love Twitter. It doesn’t keep me from writing and I think it’s a really convenient scapegoat when the truth is that the real issue is self-control. I am totally fine admitting i have none. I’m not going to blame Twitter for affecting my writing. And also, Twitter doesn’t affect my writing. 

SH: How do you imagine your tweets fitting into the tweets around them? Do you visualise your tweets popping up in a stream, or do you see them more as part of your own feed?

RG: I see my tweets as a current joining a bunch of other currents in the world’s craziest ocean.

Week 1: Kimmy Walters

Week 2: Kate Zambreno

Week 3: Teju Cole

Week 4: Mira Gonzales

Week 5: Tao Lin

Week 6: Christian Lorentzen

Week 7: Patricia Lockwood

Week 8: Crylenol/Sadvil

Week 9: Various

Week 9 ½: Melville House

Week 10: Kenneth Goldsmith