Alain de Botton on Twitter & Opera vs. Literary Event

you-are-never-too-old to try something stupid anne taintorLast summer I had a disastrous experience with Twitter.

My cousin set up an account for me because it was “time for me to get into the 21st century.”  Why?  Don’t I spend enough time on the internet?  Twitter did not seem attractive, but I subscribed to the feeds of Lydia Davis, Jo-Ann Mapson, Sherman Alexie, Natalie Merchant, Ron Charles, Jay McInerney, and Salman Rushdie.

My husband said, “I don’t get it. You’ve read War and Peace six times and now you’re on Twitter?”

I didn’t get it either.

It was extremely boring.

About 100 links were coming by tweets a day.  Tin House was the worst.  All day long, links to unknown writers’ websites.  Newspapers tweeted every time they published an article.  And then all the lit pages tried to be hip and sponsored Twitter lit contests.

Finally I closed my account.  I hated it.

Alain de Botton, a philosopher, recently advised his Twitter followers to delete Twitter from “at least” their phones for their mental health. He also spoke to a writer at the Washington Post,

Twitter is of course a wonderful thing, but it is also the most appalling distraction ever invented. It sounds so harmless. But it wants you never to be in touch with yourself again and never to have time to catch up on ‘updates’ from the person you really need to keep close to you: yourself. It denies us that precious non-specific time in which you can daydream, unpack your anxieties and have a conversation with your deeper self.

I do agree with him.

The minute you’re without it, life goes back to normal.  You’re not constantly checking to see if someone will finally make the Twitter experience worthwhile.  You know what?  Nobody is ever going to make the Twitter experience worthwhile.  It is a waste of time.

So I say, good for Alain de Botton.  He thinks it’s a good thing to take time off from Twitter.

This weekend we have so much going on.

1.  A literary event.

2.  An opera.

The minute I realized both were scheduled for the same weekend I felt doomed.

Weekends are for idling.

I haven’t gone to a literary event in a long time, but we have been looking forward all summer to seeing Jonathan Lethem at Prairie Lights in Iowa City.  My husband introduced me to his novel, The Fortress of Solitude, and I have since read most of his books.

One hundred miles IS a long way to drive, though.  And there have been some disappointments.  Where was Will Self the time we went?  Canceled.  Where was Jeffrey Eugenides?  Canceled.  The last great reading I went to in Iowa City was by Sherman Alexie.

The thing is, we cannot do both opera and literary event.  I don’t know how we scheduled this.

I like rock and live jazz, but I do not really care for opera.  I love the Met HD series, because even an almost tone-deaf person appreciates the Met.  But operas last hours and hours and hours.  “I ha-a-a-ate Carmen,” I told my husband when I realized we would have to choose between the opera and the lit event.  Does every regional opera company put on Carmen every year?  Can there BE any more hip-wiggling and shoulder-shrugging?  They put on Carmen when they’re not putting on La Boheme.   (All right, I like John Adams’ Nixon in China, but it’s safe to say we’re not going to that.  It’s probably Madame Butterfly.)

Anyway, back to the literary events, I recently found an autographed copy of a book by Carol Shields and remembered that event with fondness.  Autographs used to mean something to me, and now I don’t even have real books.

“Your book would probably be worth more money if it was autographed,” my husband says.

“Buy me the paperback.”

But I don’t think we’ll actually make it to I.C.  We’re still repairing the damage done by the storm last week.

Freakishly Luddite & The Solar Eclipse

Solar Eclipse, Nov. 3, 2013

Solar Eclipse, Nov. 3, 2013

After freakishly checking Twitter every hour for news about Donna Tartt’s new novel (it was finally published), R.E.M. (Peter Buck was interviewed at Salon), and the specials at the local diner (chicken and noodles or vegetable omelet), I realized I wasn’t finding what I was looking for online.

Here’s what I wanted.

A solar eclipse.

I actually missed one on Sunday.

By then I had already quit Twitter, because I couldn’t decipher 140-character fragments.

Twitter was uneventful.

I wanted something that made me breathless.

I should have followed the solar eclipse.

How could I miss a solar eclipse?

Probably most of you were up bright and early, if that’s when it was.  You photographed it.

Well, I don’t live on the east coast, so I couldn’t have seen it anyway.

But I made a discovery about myself.

I got dozens of tweets and retweets every day, the screen was CLUTTERED with messages by literary people I’d never heard of (mostly retweeted by Tin House), and no mention of a solar eclipse anywhere.

Books are my favorite thing, and this is not to say you shouldn’t follow tweets by Ron Charles of The Washington Post, Sherman Alexie, Maud Newton, Amy Tan, or TLS, because you should.

But I should also have followed science.


I live in a slow city.

I live in a slow city.

I am so wildly quasi-Luddite (don’t drive, ride a bicycle, don’t have a food processor) that I need at least 250 words just to make an announcement.  I write (sort of) long.

Blogging is almost Luddite by today’s standards.  You plan it while you walk, or while you’re polishing the table.  You may not have time to polish the prose, but you write in sentences and paragraphs.

Perhaps my near-Luddite preferences are because I live in a very slow city.  There is no rush hour traffic.  We don’t stand in long lines at the supermarket.  We ride our bikes and only sail out in the car once a week.

Although I am not organized enough to commit to the sustainability issues of the Slow Movement, I am interested in the talk about  “time poverty.” According to the Slow Movement website, people are so disconnected that they are turning to organic food, Buddhism, and extended families.

We are searching for connection. We want connection to people – ourselves, our family, our community, our friends, – to food, to place (where we live), and to life. We want connection to all that it means to live – we want to live a connected life…

Recognising the disconnection and pace of our life as an unwanted state of affairs is an important first step in re-establishing the connections and slowing the pace. What we all want to know is how do we reconnect? How do we live slow, whilst at the same time meeting our most important responsibilities?

I recently turned to vegetarianism because the chemicals in meat made me sick.   (My husband didn’t notice I hadn’t fed him meat since September until I pointed it out today–now that’s success!)  Although I love my family, my connections to bloggers, book groups, and other online friends are very important.  I’m not looking for an extended family.

Is that connection or disconnection? What do you think?


Twitter is, well, silly.

I am @MsMirabileDictu.  I don’t know why I am @.

I feel like Bridget Jones in Bridget Jones:  Mad About the Boy.

9:45 p.m.  Have got onto Twitter site but do not understand.  Is just incomprehensible streams of gibberish half-conversations with @this and @that.  How is anybody supposed to know what is going on?

I also like:

9:15 p.m.  Cannot figure out how to put up photo.  Is just empty egg-shaped graphic.  Is fine!  Can be photo of self before was conceived.

Spambots follow her, unfollow her, people she knows follow her, unfollow her, strangers follow her, unfollow her, and it is all very, very funny.

Twitter?  What’s it for?

I use it to “follow” (is that another word for “stalk”?) book review publications, writers, bloggers, and a couple of critics.  When the Washington Post posts a new book review–click!  I’m there.

Heavens, I was there every day before I went on Twitter.  The Wash Post and other review publications can confirm that by cookies.

So much for stalking!

I know very few people in “real life” who are on Twitter.  My role model cousin, who tells me about Amish general stores without electricity and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture, where one can order vegetables directly from farmers), thinks Twitter is hugely time-wasting.  She is on Facebook.

I don’t actually know what Facebook is for, either.

I prefer Yahoo Groups, though some of those have become moribund.

And I have already looked at the blogs on my blogroll and discovered that only a couple of you are on Twitter (or at least you don’t list it if you are).

So why or why not are you on Twitter?

Shiny Happy People Holding Hands (on Twitter)

R.E.M. "Shiny Happy People"

R.E.M. “Shiny Happy People”

Meet me in the crowd, people, people
Throw your love around, love me, love me–R.E.M., “Shiny Happy People”

When I check Twitter, an activity I limit to once a day, because otherwise it becomes one giant game of Mother, May I?, in which I jump from link to link to link, I am reminded of  R.E.M.’s  joyous but gently mocking song, “Shiny Happy People.”

In the effervescent “Shiny Happy People” video, Michael Stipe and Kate Pierson (of the B-52s) aerobically wave their arms and over-smile: they’re having fun but there is a hint of irony in their gesturing.  By the time everybody joins the dance at the end, it’s clear that hyperbolic happiness has temporarily won out over facetiousness.  They jump, wave and twirl and, though they know it won’t last, over and over they sing,

Shiny happy people holding hands
Shiny happy people holding hands
Shiny happy people laughing

We want to be those shiny happy people!   On Twitter,  some very shiny happy people (some really do need and get that oxygen) tweet, i.e., wave for attention, in the shiny happy Twitterverse.

I’m not a Twitter person.  I have sent out 11 tweets altogether, none of the shiny happy people variety.  I do so much of the love me, love me here at Mirabile Dictu that no other electronic colloquy is necessary.  I write long, as I told a charming blogger/tweeter friend who writes short.  I like to snap my laptop shut and go outside.  Naturally there are some witty twitterers, but Twitter has not rocked my world.

Although we rather thought everyone was aware that the NSA and other spies scrutinize social media for information (they are particularly interested, I’ve heard, in what Mirabile Dictu is reading now), Dave Eggers’ new novel, The Circle, a satire of social media, has triggered a stream of solemn online confabulation about the dangers of Twitter.  Apparently our brain capacity is so small from Twitter  that we have forgotten that Gary Shtyengart also satirized the dangers of social media in 2010 in his dystopian comedy, Super Sad True Love Story.  In other words, this isn’t new.

Twitter seems relatively harmless, as these things go, because there’s only so much you can say in 140 characters. Being a book nerd, I use Twitter to “stalk/follow”  book review publications, which is not exciting, I assure you.  The TLS conservatively raps out two perfect haiku tweets a day (perhaps they have a Department of the Tweet), while  Ron Charles, editor of the Washington Post Book World, tweets nonstop, doing what it takes to sell his book page (and I hope it’s working).  After I’ve decided The Telegraph tweets too much for me even to click on one link, I get offline.

Although I can’t imagine how they do this, apparently some souls carry on their entire social lives in 140-character tweets.  In Michele Filgate’s poorly written, if heartrending and terrifying, article at Salon, “Dave Eggers Made Me Quit Twitter,” she implies that her day was one long tweet before Dave Eggers’ The Circle inspired her to take a break from social media. And though she stayed away for some absurdly short amount of time like a week, she had made some rules for herself.

No tweeting while walking. No checking the phone on the subway. No TweetDeck. It’s far better to check Twitter on the actual website instead of having it open and taunting me all day long. The biggest thing I’ve realized is that I can’t have social media open while I’m writing. I don’t want to become like Mae, sacrificing real-life friendships for the allure of the screen. I want to be aware of the world around me. I want to write about that world. I want to feel more alive, even if that means being lonelier in the process. It’s a book that connected me with myself again — just as books have always done, and always will do.

Filgate’s vocabulary is disyllabic, her prose social-media-esque,  and her reasoning simple, but this is a tragic statement about how (youngish?) Americans are living their lives today.

Twitter has also made the news because of bomb threats against British women journalists and celebrities.  Mary Beard, the classicist, author, and blogger, is quite breezy about the abuse she has taken. In “Why Tweet?” at her TLS blog,  A Don’s Life, she explains why she won’t be driven off Twitter.

There is nothing inherently the matter with the medium itself; it’s us the users, and the uses to which it is put (and, to some extent, the moderation and reporting mechanisms provided by the company concerned). A few years ago we were hailing Twitter as the catalyst of the “Arab Spring” (the ‘Twitter revolution” we called it, remember?). Now we are slamming it as one of the forces of sexism and misogyny. It is and was, of course, neither.

I, meanwhile, am busy listening to “Shiny Happy People,” and realizing the blog is a better medium for wordy me.

Love & Twitter

Doormat for Love_Girls Love Stories 148_ dropped books

Unnatural librarians!

My cousin stopped by to tell me about a sale. Fifty percent off.  Drone drone drone.

“I’ve got to work.”  That was a lie, but I typed a few words.

She proffered a thermos of fresh Starbucks.  “Want some?”

“Of course.”

Chat chat chat.  Her boyfriend’s going to a training thing this weekend.

On the weekend?  I doubt it.  And now I have to be nice.

She met him at the reference desk.  She meets a lot of men that way.

He needed to know everything about film noir.

They retired to the storage room to check out the Patricia Highsmith.

She’s in love.  Except…  He’s not…  Well, her sister-in-law can tell you about that.

She’s not really spacey.  Not Phi Beta Kappa, but honors. Bored at her  job, and if you don’t want her blabbing about what you check out, you might as well buy the book.  I prefer to own the omnibus edition of the Works of Mary Stewart to hearing at a party that I’m reading Airs Above the Ground.

She hopes to marry this guy.

She is also addicted to Twitter.

“He has sent ten tweets today.  Isn’t that cute?”

He’s such an e-slut.  He gives out his personal email address, and no doubt his Twitter, to the more attractive minimum-wage employees at the mall.  (Ask my cousin’s sister-in-law.)

She was in tears last time I saw them at the grocery store, and I hardly  blame her.  I gave him a cross look, but he paid no attention.

Fortunately she has $500 of Lancome in her bag, so she can hide her feelings.

She offers to give me a makeover.

“I’m beyond help.”

“Just a little lip gloss.”

“I’m allergic.”

Then she showed me his tweets.

She couldn’t believe I don’t have Twitter.  So she signed me up.

I am now a follower of Lydia Davis (I like her translation of Madame Bovary), Jo-Ann Mapson, Sherman Alexie, Natalie Merchant, Ron Charles, Jay McInerney, and Salman Rushdie.  Lydia was saying something profane, which made no sense out of context.  Jo-Ann recommended a book.  Natalie is against fracking (I agree).  Ron sent a link to one of his video reviews.   Jay was talking about food.

I tried to follow Pevear and Volokhonsky, but they don’t have Twitter.

Twitter thinks I should follow Jennifer Lopez and Ellen Degeneres.  Why?

I didn’t send a tweet, because I need 500 words to say nothing.

And I should unsubscribe from Twitter, because it is just one more silly thing.