SIN OF THE MONTH • BY ABBY BARDI
“You need a platform,” my cousin said. “As an author. You should use Twitter.”
We were having dinner at the Clyde’s in Chevy Chase — who knew there was one? — along with her two daughters, one of whom is an aspiring writer in Hollywood and the other an aspiring college student. All three of them tweet (I’m told this is the correct verb), and they assured me that everyone does it and it’s fun.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “It’s just not how I roll.” I used a colloquial expression, albeit dated, to indicate that I am not just an aging nerd with a phobia of the new technologies.
But two days later, in a fanciful mood, I abruptly opened a Twitter account. Why not, I thought, what have I got to lose besides minutes of my life (since tweets are short)?
The first thing I did was “follow” my three cousins. Two of them rarely tweeted, as it turned out, but the Hollywood Cousin tweets all the time, and her tweets are incredibly smart and funny. It’s clear she will go far in Hollywood, even if restricted to 140 characters.
Next, after reading a few sample tweets by others, I wrote my first tweet. I wanted to include a hashtag, but I wasn’t entirely sure what that was.
The next day, I posted another tweet. My three followers—my cousins—did not respond. I wrote a few more tweets, some containing clumsy attempts at hashtags, then deleted them again.
On the third day, I decided to follow some people to whom I was not related. My first choice was CNN, since it occurred to me it might be interesting to see miniature versions of news headlines, but I immediately had to “unfollow” them. CNN is a massive over-poster! And since endless news headlines are available in numerous other formats, it seemed pointless, even masochistic, to clog my Twitter feed with them.
I then opted to follow Publisher’s Weekly. This was a better choice: although PW, too, overposts, they overpost links that are of interest to authors.
Aside: The term “author,” which has technically applied to me since a major publisher published my novel a decade ago in the increasingly rare “book” format, always makes me laugh. This is because years ago, when my daughter was a student at Takoma Park Elementary, she came home one day very excited and told me there had been an assembly, and she had gotten to meet an Arthur. I think she had confused a visiting writer with the cartoon character named Arthur, a preppily-clad mouse or dog (it’s not clear to me which he is). I managed not to burst out laughing while I tried to correct her pronunciation but later decided I liked her term better, so I think of myself as an Arthur.
Back to Twitter: It turned out that following Publisher’s Weekly actually got me a couple of followers. In a flurry of excitement, I posted two more tweets. My two new followers disappeared: clearly my tweets were not up to their Twitterary standards.
The whole social media platform thing was turning out to be a lot more complicated than I’d anticipated, I thought. A bit flummoxed, I did a Google search and managed to find a “Twitter Guide Book” on Mashable, whatever that is, with advice on how to tweet.
The manual made no sense to me. As it turns out, I probably am an aging nerd with a phobia of the new technologies. All the discussion of retweets, #followfriday, and “building your personal brand” just made me hyperventilate.
I gave up on the manual, deleted a few more of my tweets, and decided to find more people to follow.
And then a magic moment occurred: I fell in love with Twitter. What turned the tide was when I realized I could follow Bollywood icon Shah Rukh Khan (@iamsrk), as well as the most charismatic actress on General Hospital, Nancy Lee Grahn, as they tweeted about their daily lives as celebrities. I also discovered that bestselling author Jennifer Weiner, who once very kindly wrote a “blurb” for my novel, live-tweets the ABC show The Bachelor every Monday night.
Tracking people through their daily lives like a socially acceptable Peeping Tom turns out to be big fun. For example, I now knew when Nancy Lee Grahn was visiting her mother in Skokie, or when Shah Rukh Khan was playing with his kids. So far, SRK’s tweets have made no direct mention of the recent incident in which he allegedly slapped the husband of director Farah Khan at a party, but he made oblique mention of a meeting with “friends” that no doubt referred to their subsequent rapprochement, reported in the Hindustan Times (“Shah Rukh Khan, Shirish Kunder Patch Up”).
For someone with a propensity for Google-stalking and gossip, Twitter turns out to be voyeur gold. I was hooked.
However, on the literary-platform side of the equation, I still could not figure out what to tweet. The problem, which I should have realized sooner, since I had been teaching this concept in English 101 for more than three decades, was audience: I had no idea for whom I was tweeting (having just admitted I am an English teacher, I cannot in good conscience end a sentence with a preposition). I could not imagine who would potentially be interested in my >140-character bleatings, and since no one but my cousins was following me, tweeting was like putting a message in a bottle and then dropping the bottle into the recycling bin: not only would no one read it, but the people at the recycling plant would be annoyed. Bad analogy, but you get the idea.
At that point, I realized what I had to do. It was an idea so simple and so obvious I was amazed I hadn’t thought of it immediately: I had to create a Twitter account for the “Sin of the Month” and start tweeting a sin every day. Because that way, I would know who the audience was: you.
I decided that every day, I will find some kind of sin, i.e., one of life’s minor, or even major, annoyances, and post a tweet about it. Sometimes, because I just finally got a smartphone, I may even post a picture.
Yes, Twitter is technically a sin, that is, one of those annoying aspects of modern life that we would probably all be better off without. But like death and taxes, it appears to be inescapable, as human communication degenerates into quips and all we have time for are a one-liner and a hashtag, broadcast into space.
Follow Abby Bardi on Twitter: @Sinofthemonth.
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