Every person -- especially every creative person and particularly those of us driven by words -- is facing a modern day conundrum: what means you, Twitter? Let's get this out of the way. I don't have a Twitter page, nor have I ever tweeted (correction: I had a Twitter page, subscribed to Maureen Dowd and my friend Esther's feeds, and then quickly deleted my account). I have a Facebook page. Actually, I have skeleton of a Facebook page -- last Thursday, late, in a fit of identity panic, I deleted all vaguely personal information such as groups, pages, and particularly invasive photos. My thought -- networking, OK. I can handle that. This is the age we're in. But if I haven't seen you in five years, I don't want you to define me by the fact that I am a fan of Barack Obama, some clever jazz musician I saw once and felt compelled to follow, and the book written by my friend's boss -- whom I've never even met? That internet representation of me, the me it should take time to know and listen to and hear complain and rant and laugh, that's not me. That's not even a well thought-out advertising icon of me.
The general consensus among artists, at least ones I know, seems to be that blogging, Twitter and Facebook -- maybe social networking in general -- is going to be the death of the well-written word. Ask most poets if they are on Facebook, and they scowl. Old school journalists on blogging? Maybe you get an eye roll, a deep sigh, a resigned Iknowiknow I should, but Idontwanna (even as a contributor to Huffington Post and other web sites, I still treat each blog as an article, proofed and reread.). Twitter? Well, that's for Lindsay Lohan. Maybe you'll get them to admit it's been good for Iran. Maybe.
As a writer but also a communications professional, I've been struggling with what to make of social networking ever since my first James Bond-esque espionage journey through Friendster (my page exists out there somewhere, I don't know where, floating around in cyberspace like a lost apparition). To me, when my colleague persuaded me to finally join Facebook, it seemed like yet another version of these virtual high-school reunion substitutes, where everyone indulges their narcissism, people with children are seemingly required to include a profile picture either of their kid and/or with their kid, and nothing much actually happens. I posted a couple photos (where I look good, naturally). I linked to a couple of my articles (god forbid my friends live another day without reading my witty yet incisive interviews or commentary). I had an internal debate on the etiquette of allowing ex-boyfriends into my Web-based life. Once and a while, I told Facebook what I was thinking (example: "Marissa Moss Is heading to the Shenandoah Valley after a night at the Bluegrass Inn," written leaving Nashville on my recent cross-country drive). I tended to write updates of things I'd want to remember, like little moments for a clip reel of my life or notes for a scrapbook.
Then Twitter came around, and I started to get a little scared. You want to know what I'm thinking, all the time? My god.
I've known for a while I couldn't simply dismiss technology. I've always thought it kind of base to say you are above these sorts of things, like the ways I've always considered myself agnostic instead of atheist, because while I may not believe in god, who the hell am I to think I know what the truth is at twenty-something? Same with technology. Anyway, every great writer or artist uses the blood of their times to breed new life, not hack at the corpse of ideas past, memorialized yet rotting away in the graveyard of books or ideas or poems. But this stuff is new. This stuff is different. Right?
Cut to last Thursday. Late night, DC hotel, too much work, too little company, fair amount of wine. I had shifted the focus from my day-to-day responsibility to working on my novel (speaking of rotting away...). I try to practice a lesson I learned in college, the idea of justwriteitalldown and cut later, just get whatever is in your head in the easiest and quickest route possible. After all, I've written my best work this way, and have always idolized and tried to tap into that frame of being that Allen Ginsberg coined as spontaneous mind, as "first thought, best thought," as art as immediate, the blink of the eye and not the sight that comes after. Tried being the operative word.
First thought, best thought. Improvisational jazz, poetry slams and music jams, Ginsberg, Kerouac. First thought, best thought. Holy hell. Is that Twitter?
I started to think about the possibilities that one little line could hold. Could I spontaneously "tweet" poems to the entire world? Could I not only nurture this idea of first thought, best thought, but actually have a record of it? Would Twitter be the secret to unlocking that nasty habit of re-read, re-type, edit, delete, that's kept my writing locked away in that sad virtual manila folder called "work in progress" that sits idly on my computer desktop all day and all night, unopened, unshared?
Would Allen Ginsberg tweet?
The point is, I don't know. The destructive qualities of the Web are apparent and sometimes seemingly endless, but have we really, truly explored its creative qualities? Not to simply tell each other what we're doing, but what we're creating? I think we've all seen this past week, as tweets poured in from Iran, the potential power of this vehicle. We need to at least think, explore, wonder.
Man, there's no boundary line to art. Charlie Parker said that once, and it's true. By ignoring technology, are we willingly caging ourselves in? Again, I don't yet know. But I think we owe it to ourselves to play around a little, to question what works for us and what doesn't. You can't absorb it all and you can't reject it all until you've given it a fair trial by jury. It's a daily battle for me, but feel free to join.