The very worst tweep

The experience of following me on Twitter, if you’re actually paying attention to the fact that you’re following me on Twitter, is no doubt, pretty unremarkable. I don’t have a huge number of followers, but I easily have far more than I deserve. It’s not that I’m unappreciative. Occasionally I peer in at these amiable-seeming followers and wonder if they’re sufficiently entertained, if they’re talking amongst themselves. And sure enough, they are.

It’s always a little strange to be followed. A little great, a little dreadful. When I was seven, my best friend would teach me bad words at recess, in exchange for which I would promise to take her to some amazing place―a dubious partnership from the start. I learned a lot of bad words that year, but needless to say, unless you count some cattails behind the swing set or a broken corner of asphalt on the basketball court, that girl never ended up anywhere interesting because of me.

To say my Twitter persona is “undeveloped” would be a nice way of putting it. I don’t tweet daily, or even weekly, so it goes without saying that I’m not offering a steady stream of amusement, a theme, or requisite engagement. The few glimpses into my friendships or personal life are so scant they’re hardly worth the price of admission. I’m such a winning combination of introverted and unambitious on social media that it took me almost a year before I didn’t feel like a boundary-crashing lunatic tweeting ‘at’ someone to say “nice article!” Yet when one of those “nice articles” happens to come my way, I’m super grateful. My earnestness probably doesn’t do much to enhance my Twitter desirability, but considering my Twitter spirit animal is already akin to a hibernating hedgehog, I figure there’s little point in adding the qualifier “hard to get”.

I don’t really expect the people I follow to amuse or enlighten me any more consistently than I amuse or enlighten them. It takes a lot to get me to unfollow you, as I harbor the quaint notion that you might feel hurt to have our connection mysteriously severed. And what goes around comes around, I suppose, because I didn’t get unfollowed nearly as much as I should have during my first year on Twitter. In truth this is a fact I attribute solely to the law of averages: if regular tweeting is the best way to attract new followers, it’s also the surest way to repel them.

I am, if nothing else, there. And in that vein, a writer friend recently asked me to ‘attend’ a Twitter party with her, on the topic of Presence. As the party commenced, and the other tweeps introduced themselves with punny bursts of “I’m here”, and “present!”, discussing their struggles for zen, bonding with hashtagged ease, I sat stunned. “Can you take me home?” I texted my friend, who was otherwise occupied. So I did the equivalent of sitting in the corner, nursing a single drink for a bit. “You were crap at that party,” she replied finally, when it was finished. She spoke the truth. But by then, I had fallen asleep.

And yet, to my own surprise, I’ve discovered I like knowing that my followers are, if nothing else, there too: That nice guy who wrote for the Economist and followed me when I had eight followers and appeared no more legitimate than a bot. The Millions, my favorite literary website, which made the magnanimous gesture of actually following me back, (a move that had me flying high, and guiltily so―because who am I fooling?―for weeks). The intimidatingly snarky tweetsters, the literary hopefuls, the progressive educators, the activists―it was strangely nice to see them in my list week after week, their sheer presence announcing (at least to me) that they were totally nonjudgmental of the nothing I was hell bent on delivering.

As it would happen, events in my life took me off Twitter altogether for a couple of months. When I logged back on, I noticed my number of followers had taken the most precipitous fall of my uneventful Twitter career. Gone was the parenting and education writer whose posts I occasionally ‘favorited’ (she seemed so nice!), the cool, mystical tweeting poet with whom I’d once ventured a rare mutually complimentary exchange (didn’t that mean something?!)

I had it coming of course. I am nothing on Twitter if not the worst, and in fact what truly surprised me is that a lot more people were still there than not. Even The Millions, one of my unlikeliest coups in the first place―was still unaccountably there.

I processed this how any logical person would, and concluded that each and every one of the people who had failed to unfollow me were not only lax about curation, they were, well, kind of supportive, were they not? While I’d headed to outer space, they were sitting there waiting, going about their article writing and book promoting, too kindhearted or unconcerned about their Klout score to click unfollow on an account that had ceased to do anything interesting for months, if it ever had done anything interesting in the first place.

Or maybe all those unconditional follows just made me overly sentimental. Twitter is good for some things, but not for taking personally. I’ll never be an avid user, but I won’t be practicing principled avoidance and deleting my account any time soon. Modern day scourge on human interaction or invaluable opportunity for a democratic exchange of ideas, I’m not particularly drawn to either camp. When last I checked, my followers seemed to be having a great time without me, so I slipped them a random but fascinating link on amnesia, and headed for the door. But not before I saw another follower bite the dust. I didn’t mind. I am, after all, the very worst tweep. I have to take what I can get.

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(sometimes it’s nice to be followed)

The Rich Kids of Art Class

My latest  post at Psychology Today  is on wealth disparity, arts education, and creativity:

Little Girl With Art (2)When torn between two preschools for my three-year old son, I chose the one that had beautiful wooden blocks and prominently placed easels. It was slightly more expensive than others we looked at, but doable, and every time he comes home with an ample sheet upon which the teacher has thoughtfully printed his intentions, (gems such as, “me screaming with my mouth open to go outside”), it feels like one of those little parental victories. A few years ago when his older sister was in preschool, we couldn’t have afforded the same.

Everywhere in the university town I live near and work in, parents are scrambling to buy beauty, and with it, creativity. Diversity is sought after too, of course, but mostly in the academic abstract. A wealthy town means there are art, drama, and ‘music together’ classes for toddlers, exhibits with interactive, ‘kid friendly’ features. On most days, my kids would prefer to play in the dirt than interact with these well-intended features, yet there they are, and I’m glad for it. But while the area is as abundant with creative educational opportunities as you’d expect, at many public schools that fall outside the wealthiest enclaves, enrichment and arts programs have been cut. You have to pay to play. Continue reading