With less premeditation, impulse control and editing than a novel or essay, and more raw emotion, doesn't a Twitter feed get pretty darn close to the accurate written aggregation of one's lived experience? I have a favorite Twitter, and while I discovered it only recently, I've read it just about as far back as it goes. All 7,000-some tweets. OK maybe not quite that far, but close. Not in short spurts either; I sat down and consumed this feed in one dedicated, middle-of-the-night Twitter binge. I laughed harder and harder as I scrolled, falling deeper into the rabbit hole. An image of Dan Ewen (@VaguelyFunnyDan) began to form in my mind as I read his 14 months worth of tweets, not of his appearance, but of his life-who he is, what he loves, what he fears. I found more than Ewen in those condensed chunks of text though, I discovered a bit of myself too. "Yes!" I found myself thinking, how has this man so astutely tapped in to the quintessential aspects of the human experience? How has he relayed them as though they were thoughts I had myself, but better, more eloquently, with greater acumen? Wait, isn't that what authors do? Isn't that what contributes to the success of the very best writers-their ability to perfectly mirror the triumphs and tribulations of existence in permutations of syntax and diction that make us believe we're reading the truth for the very first time? When he's not tweeting, Ewen works as a screenwriter for feature films, arguably a far cry from his life on the Twitter circuit. Screenwriters are supposed to fake human experience (my words, not his). Tweeters tell their stories in very different ways. Ewen's Twitter does not bore with the mundanities of daily life nor does it artfully self-promote. It doesn't boast cat pictures or tiny news-related rants. It's all jokes, because Ewen is a joke man. "When my brain plunks something out that isn't usable [for a screenplay], but could work on the Twitter machine, I'll jump over and give in a whirl," he explains. Not every tweet is a winner in and of itself, but for 140 characters, that's not a lot of wasted time. It's not like, say, reaching the end of a novel only to discover you hated it (which I would argue could still be a rewarding and valid experience). Plus, Twitter makes it easy to skip the boring, in-between stuff and get straight to the meat-the racy bits, the hilarious quips. Failed tweets are generally overlooked simply by the nature of Twitter's platform. Furthermore, isn't that life-not full of winners? Artists are often encouraged to mix less successful pieces into a series to make the extra-brilliant ones really pop.
Twitter might as well be made for Ewen, who says he wants to show both high- and low-brow art have merit. "I didn't know a whole lot about [Twitter]", he explains, of getting his start. "I'd lived for many years imprisoned by a brain that already worked in semi-worthless, 140-character chunks...when I realized that this wasn't just another social networking site, that it was a place where many souls were sharing actual 'material,' I wanted to to jump in there and mix it up." To apply a little Nietzscheanpost-structuralism to Twitter-let's call it "Twitterary theory"-Ewen's Twitter is arguably not the most "autobiographical," but in some ways perhaps it's more autobiographical than those which make a concerted effort to accurately reflect their subjects' lives (consciously or not). Maybe by almost entirely avoiding the subject of the real "self," Ewen gets closer to his lived existence than those who write about themselves exclusively but only offer us, the reader, a series of refractions due to the impossibility of defining the self's lived experience to another in language. (How well do we truly know ourselves? [A nod to David Hume.] Ever tried writing an online dating profile that actually captured your essence?) Ewen, instead, inhabits a character, one I cannot talk about with any real certainty as I've never met Ewen in person. With less premeditation, impulse control and editing than a novel or essay, and more raw emotion, doesn't a Twitter feed get pretty darn close to the accurate written aggregation of one's lived experience? When we peruse Ewen's timeline (TL), it's a multi-layered experience, not merely one shallow laugh on top of another. When Ewen tweets something like, "Do these unresolved issues between me and my late father that I have to grapple with until the day I join him in oblivion make me look fat?" we have to wonder if this is purely humorous or if there's something more, if through Ewen's humor there's a universality to his experience that we can ourselves access, in which we may find comfort. Ewen confirms my suspicions. "I think I've tweeted a few serious things," he says. "Generally I like to wrap things around a joke even if it reflects a genuine feeling."
* * *
I'm not the only diehard Ewen fan out there; he has 18,000 followers which is impressive for someone whose exact source of celebrity is hard to pin down. To fully round out this column, it might make sense to talk about other Twitters and how they respectively reflect the personal narratives of their tweeters, as largely unedited, live-blogged "memoirs," splayed out for some of the world to see, each demanding its own brand of literary analysis. Like Ewen's, each Twitter feed has a sort of narrative in and of itself-some more moving than others. (I'm fairly certain entire novels have been tweeted as well.) This theorizing, and praise of one particular Twittering genius, is all to say: Twitter is one more means of influencing how we will continue to tell-and take in-stories, especially those of our own lives, which is after all what all stories in some way reflect. For Ewen, his goals are simpler and more shortsighted. He's not looking to start a revolution or launch a new school of literary criticism. "My mission is to hopefully make a few folks laugh," he says. "Twitter came along and was kind of a second chance at performing some more lunchroom comedy, only this lunchroom has 175 million people in it." (Since The Protagonist is a literary column, and Twitter is pretty experimental as far as literature is concerned, it's worth mentioning poet Patricia Lockwood [@TriciaLockwood] has a pretty fascinating Twitter as well.)
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