Mira Gonzalez is the author of the acclaimed 2013 poetry collection I Will Never Be Beautiful Enough to Make Us Beautiful Together. Tao Lin is the author of seven books, the most recent being the novel Taipei. Together, they are the author of nearly 40,000 tweets. Next week, small press Short Flight/Long Drive publishes Selected Tweets, which is exactly what it sounds like. The book is a beautiful object—leather-bound, illustrated, and with two “bonus” stories per author. On one side of the book are Mira’s tweets; flip it over, Tao’s.
It is also extremely funny. It can be read the way you might a Twitter feed—something amusing to glance at in pieces when bored or procrastinating. But if you read it straight through, it becomes clear that the work is deceptively complex.
The tweets are divided by the multiple Twitter accounts that Mira and Tao have kept through the years (although currently they each only maintain one), and each account is presented chronologically. The result is of a peeling away—each new account becomes more and more “unedited,” revealing more and more insecurities, neuroses, and vulnerabilities. As a collection, it leaves one with questions about the performance aspect of Twitter, the performative act of tweeting. Each account reveals more, but there are still gaps, things not included, things left out.
The following interview was conducted over a collaborative Google doc throughout the course of several weeks.
When I was in writer school, the teachers seemed to get upset any time you mentioned technology or a certain song. I think they thought it made the work trivial, in that it would become dated, rather than Timeless Literature. It seems like neither of you looks at your work this way, but a book made entirely of tweets is even more extreme, in that it is not just a reference but the form itself. How do you think this book will seem in 10, 20, 100 years? Do you even care?
MIRA GONZALEZ: I think it’s definitely possible that in 10 or 20 years something more ‘advanced’ will come out, and Twitter will be deemed irrelevant the way Myspace was. If that happens, then our book will become something that refers specifically to this time and this generation, which i think would be really cool. I also don’t think that Twitter becoming ‘dated’ as a website takes away from the fact that this book shows how Twitter, and by extension the internet as a whole, is an undeniably valid platform for creative expression. No matter how trivial Twitter might become, the internet is now, and I’m confident it will continue to be, a place for people to display their writing in whatever form that may be. Anyone in your MFA program who is denying that now will probably feel really stupid in 10 years.
That said, I think it’s equally possible that Twitter will remain something that people use 10 or 20 years from now, in which case maybe we will be viewed as some of the first of many people who turn their Twitter into a piece of physical art.
I imagine writing tweets uses a much different part of your brain than writing prose or poetry, but do you see it as an equally capital-I Important art form?
GONZALEZ: Twitter definitely utilizes a different part of the brain for me than, say, poetry or a short story. Twitter is all about getting the most information into the fewest characters. It’s about allowing people to understand the thought you’re trying to convey without surpassing a 140-character attention span, whereas poetry can go on a lot longer than that, can be a lot less literal and can convey a feeling that would never be understood on twitter.
That said, I absolutely view Twitter as an equally valid platform as poetry or prose or fiction. With this book, I hope to show people that there really isn’t any difference in value between poetry and Twitter, the same way you wouldn’t say poetry is more or less valuable than a short story.
TAO LIN: I agree with Mira. Adding to her answer, haiku is another form with strict, limiting rules, and people don’t seem to argue much, that I know of, that haiku isn’t art. Tweets are especially interesting to me because each tweet is timestamped and automatically included in a linear chronology, confined to whatever Twitter account, and there’s interaction with other people.
How do you look at this book, as compared to your other books? What about other books in general?
LIN: I like to the think of the book in three, among other, ways:
1. Fragmented linear narrative. I think of the book as a kind of fragmented, mostly or all chronological narrative with many different sections, like the novel Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison or K: A Biography of Kafka by Ronald Hayman. I think of it as an extreme, slightly alien variation on this type of book. Like in a biography, the dates are recorded, and like in some biographies, the dates act as a suggested structure—years, months, and sometimes days in Selected Tweets—for the book.
2. Short story collection. I like to think of each Twitter account in the book as a short story, and each of the "extras" also as short stories. So, for my side of the book, a short story collection of eight stories; for Mira’s side of the book, five stories. (Or maybe seven stories and a novella and five stories and a novella.)
3. Poetry book. I like to think of Selected Tweets as a poetry collection. There's a certain kind of poetry where each line is a low-level non sequitur to the next line, and I think of this book as a variation on that to some degree. So, I see it as a poetry book as it is now, and I could also see myself removing the dates and editing the book into a poetry collection. But I like it better as it is: Single, at times dense, chronological lines of narrative, description, thoughts, and feelings in a variety of tones and featuring a certain range of content, arranged into sections by month, year, and Twitter account, in a manner that works, to me, both as fiction and as a document of reality that people can reference as nonfiction.
Tao, why the hell do you have so many Twitter accounts? I don’t understand. Mira, you have a lot of accounts, too, but I feel more comfortable with them because you explain what they are for (Mira Feels Desperate, Mira Crying, Mira Gonzalez Binges, etc.).
LIN: I think the earliest second account I made was @tao_lin2, which I made because I wanted to be a different person on Twitter with a different account. The profile info was something like “Not better. Not worse. Not the same. Just different.” I made @tao_linunedited at some point because I wanted to tweet tweets I wouldn’t edit—tweets I wouldn’t, before tweeting it, consider whether to tweet it or not, or if I could explain the feeling or thought or whatever more accurately or concisely, or not. I did that for maybe a few days, then tweeted without a firm plan with that account, the plan changed over time. With other accounts, there were times I didn’t want to tweet certain drug-related things or certain bleak things that would worry my mom or other people without a large enough context of what I’m saying to not feel worried when they read it.
GONZALEZ: At one point Tao hired me as his "personal assistant," which consisted of him paying me $25/hour to make him a bunch of new Twitter accounts. Each account was just his name with a number on the end. I don’t know why Tao couldn’t just make those accounts himself instead of paying me to do it. He told me he made multiple accounts so he could hide from his parents. But then they kept finding the new accounts so he kept having to make more.
Mira, you went through a bad break-up, which you tweeted about and wrote an essay that was (indirectly) about the experience. What was it like, to have messy experiences like this go public on the internet in real time?
GONZALEZ: That time in my life was really hard for me. Probably one of the most difficult times in my life. The messy breakup was kind of just the pinnacle of a really messy time in my life. I was doing a ton of cocaine and taking a ton of Xanax. Not to mention I had developed a crack habit earlier that year and was dating someone who got off on giving me bruises during sex. Needless to say, shit was fucked up. My former good friend attacking me publicly (and privately) was sort of the nail on the coffin of that whole situation.
The term "cyber bullying" feels so cheesy and insane to me, but I’m not sure what else to call it. Until that point, I had only really good experiences online. It was so crazy to me how there was simply no way to escape being attacked like that online. The last time I had been attacked like that was when I was in middle school, when I could simply walk away from the people who were attacking me. You don’t have that option online. I blocked her Twitter, email, and phone number but she still found ways to call me at 3AM. Even if I stopped tweeting or refused to look at her social media presence, she would still reveal things about me publicly that I never wanted people to know.
That whole situation made it abundantly clear to me how abusive the internet can become in the hands of abusive people. I felt so impossibly trapped that I actually left New York and moved back home to Los Angeles, where I stopped doing drugs and stopped dating people who wanted to hit me. It took me a really long time to recover from the emotional distress of being publicly attacked by a close friend in real time and having no way to stop it. I love the internet, as you know, but that situation taught me a really important lesson about the real life repercussions of posting things online.
“That whole situation made it abundantly clear to me how abusive the internet can become in the hands of abusive people.” —Mira Gonzalez
I imagine that you both get an insane amount of notification from Twitter. Do your phones ever overwhelm you? Is Twitter a source of stress in your life?
GONZALEZ: Everything is a source of stress in my life. "Stress management" is just not a skill I’ve honed. Like, when I go to the doctor he basically throws Xanax at me and tells me to shut up. I think Twitter is probably the least stressful and most enjoyable of all my social media though. Gmail is what stresses me out the most. If you’ve ever emailed me you know it takes me at least a week to respond to anything, because instead of just responding to an email when I receive it like a normal person, I look at it then mark it as unread then let it sit in my inbox for days, so I can keep feeling more and more stressed out about it as the days go by, until eventually I convince myself to sit down for five minutes and write a response. At any given time I have like 30 emails in my inbox that require thoughtful responses. It's my personal hell. Twitter is probably less stressful because it’s more immediate. If someone tweets at me, I can’t mark it as unread and respond two weeks later, I have to respond right now. So things don’t build up and drive me insane the way they do on Gmail.
LIN: My phone broke a few days ago and I’m going to not get a new one for a while. Before it broke, I had been trying to keep it on “airport mode” (or whatever it’s called) most of the time because I don’t like repeatedly refreshing things on it which has happened a lot to me before.
Mira, I know your stepdad is the bass player for Black Flag. Who is your dad-dad, and what does he do? I am curious due to tweets like: “My dad said he is gonna have another baby and name it ‘Felcher’ then he said that ‘felcher’ is when you have anal sex and lick the semen out of the butthole”and “my dad held up half a hot dog during dinner and said ‘this is what my penis looks like’”
GONZALEZ: My dad is a computer programmer named Gary. His dad lives in Guadlajara, Mexico (I've only met him twice) and his mom (I call her "grammy") is a tiny Jewish woman who lives in west Los Angeles.
Growing up, he always had a huge crazy beard and a big Jewfro. He looked like a cross between Charles Manson and Beetlejuice.
My mom and dad had my brother and I when they were really young. They divorced before I was 1. My mom and Chuck got married when I was like 3. I've always lived with my mom and chuck. I consider Chuck a father as much as I consider my biological dad a father.
My dad has two kids from other marriages. One is my sister Luna, from his second wife. Luna goes to MIT (needless to say, I'm the problem child). The other is my sister Matilda, from my dad's current wife. She is an infant. You may have seen her on my Instagram.
My dad has an extremely inappropriate and embarrassing sense of humor. The last time I introduced him to someone I was dating, he scared him so badly that the guy I was dating basically wouldn't speak for the rest of the day. Not that my dad was outwardly mean, but he has a way with figuring out how to say the exact thing that will make someone the most uncomfortable. He kept asking questions like, "Are you a Jew?" and "What do you mean you're half-jewish? That doesn't make sense" and "Why do you tuck your shirt into your pants? Does it make you feel more successful?" and "Are you balding or is shaving your head a fashion thing?" Then the conversation somehow devolved into my boyfriend having to explain his irritable bowel syndrome to my dad in detail.
My dad also refers to my publisher, Spencer Madsen, as "Mira's teeny tiny publisher."
My dad and I bond over liking comic books and drinking wine.
What is a tweet that you feel especially proud of?
LIN: Immediately thought things like “none of them” and “none” and (somewhat incoherently) “nothing” then thought of this one, but I’m not sure. I just scrolled through to look for one that I feel especially proud of, and I feel like I can’t find one. Maybe I just don’t know how to feel pride.
GONZALEZ: ‘WHY DO YOU LOVE IT WHEN I CALL YOU BIG POPPA BUT IT MAKES YOU FEEL WEIRD WHEN I CALL YOU DAD?’
Juliet Escoria is the author of Black Cloud, among other things.