literally

About three months after my ex-boyfriend broke up with me, he came up to me at a party and said, ‘It’s really cool that the Twitter with all the threes and the four follows you. I didn’t realize that. That’s, like, the greatest Twitter account.” I asked if that fact was enough to make him want to get back together. It wasn’t.

The account he was talking about was @333333333433333, and belongs to Darcie Wilder, whose debut novel, literally show me a healthy person, was released by Tyrant this month. My ex-boyfriend was right that Darcie’s account is, like, the greatest Twitter account. Her book is also, like, the greatest book. It’s a novel, but it’s a new kind of novel, possibly a new form altogether. Told in fragments, the book is about a young woman living in New York and how she navigates relationships, bad sex, and the internet. The beating heart of the book is the woman’s relationship with her family, and how she experiences grief following her mother’s death.

I spoke to Darcie over e-mail about why the novel format felt right, how she developed the book’s narrator, and whether she ever thinks about deleting her Twitter account.

The other night I was at a party and someone mentioned that you had a book coming out and they said it was a book of tweets. I immediately got really defensive and was like, “No. It’s actually a novel. It says so right on the cover.” First off, if it was a book of tweets, that’d be fine. But it’s not. There are large chunks of text. There’s an email in the middle of the book. This book does things that Twitter—just because of the limits within the medium—cannot do. Also, I think just by being in book form it’s automatically not a book of tweets. A tweet is a thing on Twitter. This intro is a really long way into getting at: why did you decide to present this book a novel? I think it does change how the reader how consumes the book versus if you called it nonfiction or called it a book of poetry or just left it genre-less.

omg!!! it’s not a book of tweets AT ALL. but some lines have been tweeted before. calling it a book of tweets is disingenuous to both the book and twitter as a platform. twitter is a media company or online platform that’s used for so many different things. it’s read and operated completely differently than how someone processes a book or a novel. but i think it’s indicative to something culturally that i’ve been able to use things i’ve written there on this project, which is a book that i call a novel.

but thoughts and ideas are thoughts and ideas beyond whether they’ve been tweeted, and viewing them any differently is giving the company twitter far too much credit.

it’s similar to watching a video someone shot on their phone versus watching it assembled into a documentary that they shot and edited over the course of years. there’s intention in it, things were thought out, assembled, written over the course of years. that’s why this book isn’t stream-of-consciousness either. just because something lacks punctuation doesn’t mean it’s unedited. it signifies a change in the way we’re writing, and to dumb down those genres because of punctuation or aspects is limiting to me. the same way that this book is a narrative, even if it includes some non-sequiturs.

You calling it a novel made me think a lot about genre and what makes a novel a novel. When I finished your book for the first time I was thinking about how Amy Hempel has a one-sentence short story and it’s a short story because she says it is. Or John D’Agata has a lot of writing that is non-fiction but details are factually incorrect, and it’s nonfiction because he says it is. literally show me a healthy person is not a “conventional literary novel,” but it is a novel, and a very good one. I think—and hope—that it’s an indication that art is changing, that the format of the novel is changing. This isn’t a question, but I would like to hear your thoughts on genre and format and how those things are changing. The world is changing so much, so it makes sense that those things would change, too. If we were in person it wouldn’t sound so demanding that I’m just making a bunch of statements and asking you to respond to them.

thank you! that means a lot to hear. some people don’t agree it’s a novel, which is fine, because just having the conversation seems productive or helpful. ultimately i think genres should be used as tools to discuss the work and not dictate how the work develops, but that’s my process and i’ve always skewed experimental. i’ve always been trying to figure out what i’m doing as i’m doing it and not following a pre-existing structure. others are different, which is probably easier to monetize. with your examples specifically, it makes me think about who the work was made for and why, and how genres develop. wasn’t everything experimental at one point? in the end everyone is always ripping apart or doubting the writer or artist, so it’s almost like, who cares or what’s the point and also a good illustration of the dynamics of writer and reader and who has the authority over a work.

also, this isn’t in the same category as a lot of other novels. it’s not something to grab before you hop on a flight and comfortably breeze through, i think. (although i’ve heard it’s the perfect length to read on a chicago to new york flight) there can be many types of novels. i’ve also been sort of cursed with really loving some aspects of werner herzog and harmony korine, two liars who have really stretched the form and function of both cinema and writing. like, herzog has made documentaries that began with flat-out, obvious mistruths. and harmony korine’s ‘crackup at the race riots’ and collection of zines expanded the format of writing, communicated something more similar to art than literature, and is full of lies.

i very much like the type of writing and cinema that’s between fact and fiction, so whether or not it’s true is kind of besides the point. it’s its own world. it’s not journalism, so who cares. there’s room to say the wrong thing, or be more honest when you’re speaking from a character or an exaggerated version of yourself or events. i also think it might be more sympathetic to people in my life, so they have the option of claiming it’s fiction.

Do you view the narrator of literally show me a healthy person as a fictional character separate from yourself? Based off reading the book and reading other interviews with you, I don’t get the impression that you did “character development,” at least not in the traditional sense, but is the voice a character?

although the book is very autobiographical, i see her as different from me. it’s hard to say, because i’m trapped in my body with this personality so i can’t ever see it from an outsider’s view, can’t ever read my book objectively. and the narrator is very much what it feels like inside my head, although it’s probably more of how i view myself than how other people experience me. but she feels different from me because the book is a book, and it’s its own world, its own thing, something that’s beyond me or anyone in it. if someone were to argue the narrator’s intentions and it was factually incorrect to my lived experience, i think their argument would still be valid because the book isn’t my life, it’s a book with a lot in common with my life. i think i would view the narrator more as myself if it were like, an essay collection or something. but it isn’t.

What was your writing process like for this book?

a lot of shuffling around. i began writing really frantically in 2012, unsure of what i was working towards. i ended up with this archive of writing that people were pretty receptive to, but didn’t go anywhere. eventually spencer madsen asked if i wanted to write a book, and that gave me permission to try something seriously. i’ve always been hesitant at adopting titles like writer, filmmaker, or artist; im always more comfortable just doing something and seeing what happens. so, i credit spencer a lot for pushing me towards this. a lot of people read the first iteration of it (which was previously published in the social malpractice zine ‘humor and the abject,’ and in logue magazine) as notes that would eventually be used to make something “real,” that would inform a conventionally written piece. but that seemed dumb to me. it didn’t seem like there was a real reason to change it, and that the energy would be transferred, dulled, that it would become something it didn’t want to be.

so once i gave myself permission to write that way, i began laying things out in a word processor, finding the structure, the ebbs and flows, the texture. seeing what sentences i liked together. i also had a well of writing that functioned like an archive of things i’d like to be included, some thing made it in, others didn’t. then i’d print it out and read through, mark it up, go back to the word processor. i still have moments when i think of a scene that would have fit really well into the book if i was still writing it. i could have written this my whole life, so i feel like i had to pick a point when it was just done.

I’ve told you this before, but every time I read even just parts of your book it’s a little bit of a different experience. Either certain lines stand out to me more, or they read in a completely different ways. Lines I thought were funny were once sad or vice versa. The book boomerangs between humor and sadness/loneliness and it combines those things. What do you think the relationship is between humor and sadness? Both in your book, but also…in general.

awesome, that’s exactly what i was going for. it’s always interested me that the same thing could either read heartbreaking or hilarious, just so much crossover between humor and sadness. like, the hardest i ever laughed was the first few hours i spent in a hospice waiting room. having absolutely nowhere to go and looking for any type of reprieve, searching for anything to feel any other way. there’s a power in viewing the most painful parts of my life as funny, it’s the only thing i can change about them.

i also really like art that’s funny, but has other layers and meaning besides that. like, humor is just another tone or aspect to something, which is why i’m not as into something funny for the sake of being funny. just because it’s humorous doesn’t mean it can’t be loaded with meaning and other feelings.

What other contemporary artists or writers excite you right now?

Eric Paul from Doomsday Student’s writing. Alan Resnick and Wham City. i can’t wait for Scott McClanahan’s The Sarah Book, Durga Chew-Bose’s Too Much and Not the Mood, and Mira Gonzalez’s next book. I absolutely loved Al Bedell’s I Would Do Anything For Love and Natasha Stagg’s Surveys and everything Larissa Pham, Doreen St. Félix and Melissa Broder do. A few years ago I was really into Sam Pink’s short novels and that will probably stick with me awhile.

I wonder if you could speak more to something I read in another interview with you. You said, “Twitter is writing, but Twitter is also performance.” I get so frustrated when people say that tweets can’t be writing, because that’s…literally what they are. Tweets are writing. Maybe not every tweet is art, but also every book isn’t art. A history textbook isn’t art. So, it’s really obvious to me that Twitter is writing, but I’m very interested in hearing you talk about how Twitter is also performance. I agree (I think). It’s a place where you can cultivate a voice and a persona. Sometimes, though, there’s a sinister side to that, which is more performative than performance. Like, when I see someone tweet “Genius piece by the brilliant [name]” and I know that person hates the person they’re tweeting about. Or when I see a friend who I know is struggling with depression tweet a clever joke about missing therapy or making a bad decision and I’m like, okay that tweet is funny but also please make sure you’re taking care of yourself bc I love you. All of that is performance, but I don’t think in the way you’re talking about. I guess what I’m asking is: how do you think Twitter is performance and in what ways do you perform on Twitter?

those are some good examples of how twitter can be frustrating or annoying, and i think, for me, part of it is i’m not sure there’s been any other time that we’ve been able to speak to everyone we’ve ever met at once. that we, and anyone, can search our fleeting thoughts from six years ago. i definitely don’t think that all twitter is art or good writing, and your comparison to a history textbook is spot on.

my twitter is performance insomuch as it’s read and processed in real time to a variety of people who will be assessing and judging it as a performance whether or not they actively think so. i believe everything is a performance, but there are levels. some of these people will never meet or speak to me. a big part of the performance of twitter is that everyone’s tweets are read one after another in real time. for me, the performance is that there is a lot i don’t tweet, but then certain aspects of myself that i tweet about a lot, usually things that ex-boyfriends told me to never talk about, or dark fears or things that i feel a pressure to keep quiet about. embracing my worst-case scenarios. i don’t tweet about my successes very much because that feels disingenuous or like, i don’t know, i still feel shy about some things, or insecure, or beholden to how i should be. a big part of divorcing that was when i stopped drinking, and realized that that was one of the things i didn’t enjoy so much as just what i felt i had to do, and that i shouldn’t sacrifice my well-being for social bullshit.

there’s also a difference between a performance and irritatingly performative tweets! but sometimes i think i’m just annoyed because i’m tired or dehydrated or need a break from twitter. it’s rarely the person.

Do you think Twitter (and social media in general) will ever gain respect as a medium/genre in the way fiction and poetry and non-fiction have respect?

probably not. i think it does, and will continue to, just evolve into people being “personalities” that people criticize for “not really doing anything” although the labor and thought of maintaining social media accounts, let alone successful or interesting social media accounts, is huge.

i wrote this on my press sheet too, that people say they want something different while absolutely stamping out any possibility for it. the way so much media covers the internet and millennials and art in general flattens out nuance and the possibility for growth. i can’t think of another time where people were more risk-averse, or when redemption was so unpopular.

I made a joke the other day that my LiveJournal that hasn’t been updated in 10 years is art now. I’m sad that MySpace deleted everyone’s page when it rebranded, because I think all those untouched 2003 pages would be like…I don’t know. Art seems like too extreme a word, but they’d be really interesting. Do you ever consider walking away from Twitter—or at least from your current account and starting a new one—and letting @333333333433333 be a project in and of itself?

i think about abandoning twitter all the time. i’m not sure if i could really do it because of how much i rely on it for work and social opportunities, plus just how i’m so used to it. but i can never use twitter how i used to use it, which was so exciting for me. part of that is how the world has changed, but also because my audience is different, and bigger, and just not capable of fostering that type of work anymore. so i’m branching out into different mediums and also going back to mediums i’ve neglected for a bit. but abandoning twitter is just a fantasy, i need that account to keep up my relationships. also, i would love to read your livejournal. i started a project a few years ago that i tabled (because it was too painful) called ‘internet archive’ where i was publishing everything i ever posted online. rereading my livejournals was too painful, way more intense than my xangas. plus myspace deleted everyone’s writing, and i will never forgive them. imagine having being that cruel, to erase people’s lives like that and try to present it as a good thing? myspace should suffer for that.

How has Twitter helped you find your voice? How has it helped your writing? I’m talking both voice-wise and finding-a-community-wise.

the structure of twitter really helped me learn how to edit my thoughts. the immediacy of it, that you literally can not post it if it doesn’t meet the required number of characters. but also the feedback i’d get from it. i’d notice what people were more and less receptive to. also just reading and writing so much every day, logging my thoughts like that and being able to assess which are worth sharing and which are just fucking dumb. or saying something interesting followed by a dumb joke. twitter also helped me find my people, my friends, and my job. i went to college with the video artist sam cooke, who doesn’t have twitter anymore, but he introduced me to a lot of people and was really encouraging of my work. also, if i wrote my book quietly and offline, if nothing in the book had been tweeted – it wouldn’t have been published. i wouldn’t have the audience, i wouldn’t have met my publisher. it wouldn’t exist.

I think that writing within restrictions can be very helpful. Twitter is a medium where the restrictions are pretty obvious—140 characters being the most obvious one. Were there restrictions that you placed on yourself when writing your novel? Or things you knew that you didn’t want to do or didn’t want in the novel?

my restrictions were more tonal and content-based than structural. i cut a lot that didn’t have the same strength or feeling. but the novel includes one-liners, rambling paragraphs, an email, one-word sentences, it’s pretty much a wide structural net as long as it made sense in the wider picture.

How conscious were you of having a loose narrative moving through literally show me a healthy person? There are some lines that “stand alone,” but there is, I think, an emotional through-line throughout the book. Obviously the voice is consistent, but there’s a consistent emotion, as well, and there does seem to be a narrative, even if not in the conventional literary novel sense.

i was writing from this specific time in my life where i was finally able to look back at what has happened to me, but was still very confused and swept up and overwhelmed. so i felt like my feet weren’t on the ground for years at a time, and that’s a main aspect of the book, and in my opinion, the most important part of the narrative. i’ve always been turned off by plot-heavy, structured narrative, and more interested in mini-plot or anti-plot or character-based studies. i’m interested in the threads of a plot that you don’t realize that you’re writing. it’s gross to me to try to shoehorn a thesis in a plot, to make your life into something clean and packaged, that’s not appealing to me. it’s far more interesting to see what arises when you’re telling a story and happen upon, and then lean into that. what your brain keeps on going back to. which is why it’s nice to have something like twitter where you can kind of track what you’re organically interested in, and not what you think an audience would be receptive to.

Did you play around with the order of sentences and sections at all? If so, what was the process like? One part where the order really stood out to me was at the top of page 10. There was a really satisfying rhythm in the first three sections. Also, the last line sort of seems like it has to be the last line. But maybe I only think that because it is.

absolutely. that was basically one year of editing the book, if not more. because the whole book is one long chunk, it was all about figuring out when certain themes and ideas would hit, and how the sentences read one after the other. sometimes this would mean building heavy things up and then having a line that would break the tension, like a non-sequitur or a joke, other times it would be a lot of lighter sentences and then one dark one that would bring things back to this painful place no one can really escape from.

Other than your Twitter and your work for MTV News, are there any other projects you’re working on at the moment?

i’m going back to zines and videos. i’m writing offline and off the cloud. now that the jocks, the preps and the normies have found online we need to go back to the land.

 

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