I’ve decided to start Tweeting again: just one line distilled from each morning’s walk, then recorded on Twitter and in my morning journal pages. This was a practice–just one daily Tweet–I enjoyed when I did it somewhat regularly during January’s “River of Stones,” a discipline requiring close observation and distillation. How can you present something meaningful–something crystalline–in 140 characters?
It’s a subversion of typical Twitter usage, this crafting of literary lines. Twitter is a fast, ephemeral medium: old Tweets are so five minutes ago. Twitter is typically the realm of folks with smartphones who text with lightning-fast thumbs: all the news that’s newer than new. The ultimate in-the-moment medium, Twitter focuses on what is happening Right Now, not on what might make any difference tomorrow or next week or beyond that.
The act of actually crafting a Tweet–of seeing something on one’s walk, savoring it like a sweet, then mulling over and revising it, honing it down to its essence–seems absurd in such a throwaway medium. Why write slowly in a medium that thrives on speed? Why willfully subvert the process by Tweeting in a way that is frankly old school?
For me, the appeal of Twitter doesn’t lie in its rapidity or its reach, with celebrities gathering thousands of followers who hang on every Tweeted word. For me, the appeal of Twitter lies in its enforced brevity: the fact that like a poet you are required to count and consider every character. There is a lot of disposable chitchat on Twitter–that is, after all, what the site is designed to cultivate. But in the hands of a writer, Twitter’s space constraints are invaluable, forcing the long-winded and prosaic among us to jettison every scrap of dead wood.
I am not a poet; I deal exclusively with prose. The danger that nonfiction writers flirt with perpetually is the temptation to over-elaborate, providing an entire blueprint of a house when actually an impressionistic sketch will do. Prose states and poetry implies, and sometimes the declarative nature of prose makes it possible to over-emphasize a point, preaching on about something that could have been stated far more succinctly, and toward more effective ends.
I like the idea of transforming a transitory, superficial medium into something both crafted and contemplative. Well-wrought Tweets won’t slow Twitter a whit, but they speak toward the boldness of brevity and the purity of prose. In this, I have plenty of good models to emulate, such Dave with his Morning Porch observations, Leslee with her 3rdhouse micro-poems, and Teju with his Small Fates. With neighbors like these, I feel I’m in good company: a small band of wordsmiths conspiring to bring depth and awareness to a superficial genre, one word at a time.
Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter what other folks are doing on Twitter since writing has always been more a practice than a product for me. I’m just as interested in what I learned from producing a piece of writing–what was the experience of writing it like, and what did I glean from the process–than I am in what the end result turns out to be.
Whether I’m scribbling a journal entry, publishing a blog post, or tweaking a Tweet, how has my relationship with language changed or evolved in the process? Did I find a chance to use a favorite word or create a startling image? Did I succeed in capturing the kernel of a particular image that can sprout and flower into awareness in my reader’s mind? Did I achieve connection with my audience, a moment of lightning recognition: “Oh, yes, exactly!” If I’ve achieved any of these, I don’t care how or where or in what medium it occurred: the simple experience of awareness, communication, and connection is enough.
Anyone who has seen the movie Bambi might recognize the title of today’s blog-post as being the term the Wise Old Owl uses for springtime infatuation.