This conversation took place live on Twitter on March 24, 2020, hosted by the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute at UNLV, the home of The Believer. Inspired by Sheila Heti’s erstwhile column—and curious about Twitter as a site for literary innovation—we asked two Twitter heroes to talk about how they make art and life on the platform. Kristen Arnett is the New York Times best-selling author of Mostly Dead Things. She’s a queer fiction and essay writer, a columnist for Lit Hub, a self-proclaimed “7-Elesbian,” and most recently a Lambda Literary Award finalist. She is currently a Shearing Fellow at the Black Mountain Institute. Morgan Parker is a poet, essayist, and novelist. She is the author of the poetry collection Magical Negro, most recently a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry. This is an unedited log of the exchange between these two “rowdy and genius” minds. Simultaneous threads are written within stars. — Lille Allen
“I am a top and the only time I am a bottom is for writing.” —Kristen Arnett
BLACK MOUNTAIN INSTITUTE: Welcome to “What Would Twitter Do?,” a conversation with Kristen Arnett and Morgan Parker on their online personas, their writing, and navigating the part-time hellscape part-time virtual pizza party that is Twitter dot com. Kristen and Morgan, over to you!
KRISTEN ARNETT: Thank you so much!!!! I am thrilled to be here with Morgan, though I wish she were here so we could just drink in person.
MORGAN PARKER: KRISTEN I MISS YOU.
KA: I MISS YOU TOO.
MP: Ps. Even though we’re not drunk together I still feel like it’s just us doing Michael Scott-esque improv.
KA: oh CHRIST it’s true.
KA: How are you holding up, how is Shirley the dog?
MP: Honestly she’s great, I was just thinking about how I want to get a little outdoor couch so we can cuddle on the patio. I have been talking to her … probably too much. It’s good there’s a person in the mix at your house.
KA: Sincerely – who could have guessed I would finally get a girlfriend right before I would need to be quarantined???? If I were living alone I would absolutely have scurvy.
What are you eating right now? I heard Tommy Pico (@heyteebs) saw you buying flowers and wine at the grocery store lmao.
MP: Like am I even tweeting right lol.
BMI: (YOU ARE!)
KA: I NEVER am.
MP: It’s true. But I need to restock both tbh. Tommy has been coming over to do his laundry, which is like, an excellent footnote to contemporary literature.
KA: Oh god, I love to hear it!!!! I have been trying to read and write right now and it has been…. really fucking something. Are you able to work on anything? I feel like I spend a majority of my time coming up with twitter jokes (I am not getting paid, twitter please pay me).
TOMMY PICO: It’s true. I do laundry while we get alcohol delivery and talk abt slavery/genocide and all the furniture we want to buy.
KA: You are both the best people on this fucking earth.
MP: I was going to ask about your novel. I’m having spurts of writing mixed in with literal nothing. Research has been a good thing to distract myself with?
KA: Research! That’s something that makes sense to me. Feel like I have spent a lot of time sliding down the Wikipedia rabbit hole. I have been thinking about how I spend my time online–how I write?? Because sometimes it feels like writing?? And then I am like what did I do today?
MP: Yes absolutely. I’m sometimes good at reminding myself that everything is work, even TV most of the time, but the Internet is not always work.
KA: Do you feel like sometimes the internet is work?? Like sometimes when I am trying to think up a joke for the hundredth time that day I realize I am tired and then I am like…. why am I spending a bunch of dumb time on this??
MP: When do you feel like you’re writing? Like when you think, fuck, yes, this is my job and I am doing it.
KA: I have like 63721863789 tabs open right now in different journals for research instead of writing!!!!
MP: YES! And then I get mad.
KA: Okay sometimes I feel like I am writing when I feel like the thing is….. an actual body? Like it feels like a thing bigger than the dumbness of my own head.I have been having trouble with it now being at home every day, because then I am just trapped with me?? What about you?
KA: I have been actually feeling like…. sad lately?? Which I know is not very sagittarius of me to admit, but wow it affects my work because it has made sitting down with my own head feel really wild, because my own head is all I have right now and I am trying to get out of it.
KA: I talked about my feelings online!!!!
MP: I understand that. Sometimes I feel like it’s being exorcised out of me lol, like a bigger stronger person than myself is at work. But I was also thinking earlier, there’s only one person in this house but there are a lot of people in this house…
MP: First of all this is a good example of my whole life:
KA: Oh FUCK. Yes, shit, that makes a lot of sense. I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be making “art” – art??? Is that a word that even means anything – and then trying to even know myself, being trapped with myself, and then trying to joke about it. AHHHHHHHH.
MP: I use the word art ALL THE TIME and I feel like an asshole about it. But it’s real. Am I on the wrong thread btw? Bc it’s real that I’m sort of an elder about technology sometimes.
KA: You are a shining star, we are doing our own thing. I feel like there is a disconnect for me in how I think about talking about work and how I present it? Like how I talk about it for jokes online and how I actually sit inside it all messy and write – is it like that for you?
MA: Soooooometimes. But I’ve also been known to speak in craft-talk language and get nerdy about the process. Sometimes it’s so exciting and sometimes I hate it and how I do it, and probably both of those feelings are online.
KA: Fuck I wish you were here :(((((
MA: And also like, don’t we speak in jokes? I think about jokes a lot. I suspect you don’t feel exactly this way about writing jokes on Twitter, but joking about something is sometimes acknowledging intimacy with it.
KA: You’re right, you’re right–sometimes the acknowledgment is actually the hardest part for me? Like I am trying to separate myself from it, the joke and the feeling, though they are absolutely intertwined.
MA: The other day I said to Tommy Pico (@heyteebs): “god, I miss talking about theory.” And then I hated myself and loved myself in almost equal measure.
KA: Oh fuck I just…. I miss this very much.
MP: Did I miss any questions?! Marijuana is legal!
BMI: No, you’re good. There are audience questions in 2 min. You’ll have enough to worry about soon!
BMI: Thank you, Morgan & Kristen, for your insights and observations and overall wonderful musings. Let’s open it up to questions from those at home! The first one comes from Vivian Lee (@vivianwmlee): What are five cultural things you’re watching/listening/reading/thinking about?
KA: First of all we love Vivian – a DELIGHT. I have been watching Vanderpump Rules?? Also Great British Bake Off. Also Housewives?? But then I have been reading a fuckton – just finished Cathy Park Hong’s new book (which is so fucking great) and also the new Jenny Offill.
MP: WE STAN VIVIAN LEE NATIONAL TREASURE. Wife Swap, Matt Rohrer’s new book from @WavePoetry, Jeopardy, poems by Pat Parker, The Dramatics.
BMI: This next one is THE question, from Gaby (@gabsx2x). How do you approach Twitter? Do you consider your account/persona part of your work as a professional writer, and/or what purpose does this site serve for you the writer and you the person?
KA: To be honest I use Twitter a lot of the time as a place to try out shit?? Like try out jokes, hone writing in a small capacity. My persona is ME but it is not me? If that makes sense? Probably not? Who even knows themselves off of the internet? This is like condensed Kristen.
MP: Makes absolute sense and I think I can both vouch for and relate to. I don’t think about it, elementally, as part of my work as a writer–probably because I had Twitter before I was Writer Morgan Parker–but I realize it basically is whether I like it or not. But when I don’t feel compelled to promote my work or others’, I just tweet whatever.
KA: Morgan Parker forever.
BMI: This next question comes from Nate B. (@yourdailynate), who wants to know: How much of Kristen’s “5 beers no writing 3 trips to 7-11” persona is accurate? Morgan, we definitely need your opinion on this one.
KA: To be fair…….. so much of it is accurate?? I go to the convenience store constantly, I drink a lot, I love cheap shitty alcohol and chips?? Also writing is HARD – I do it, but it is hard for me, I love it & I hate it? I am a top and the only time I am a bottom is for writing.
MP: Like, kinda? Like it is and then she wrote a fucking novel also? She has like, librarian outfit, novelist outfit, drinking buddy outfit, and they’re all jean shorts with Docs.
KA: I watch shows I have already seen a million times on Netflix, I kiss my dog straight in the face, I drink, I eat bullshit. I also just understand that it is hard to be a human on the best of days and I let myself feel…. less than human and absolve myself from it.
MP: Temporary absolution from humanity is yes my lifestyle and yes the name of my prog rock album.
KA: I laughed in my own HOME.
MP: Honestly? And I’m sorry I’ve gotten even worse at texts, but sometimes I turn the phone off for several hours. Baths. Legal Marijuana. Listening to my favorite jazz. Stretching. Sit on the patio with the dog. Most of these things can be done all at once!!!!!
KA: Morgan!!! turn off the phone I love you for this.
BMI: From the one and only Eloisa Amezcua (@Eloisa_Amezcua): How does friendship play a role in your writing life?
KA: I need it so bad. I am a better writer for all the other writers I have in my life?? Morgan, for one, and so many other people who I could not live without – people who talk to me about art and love and work? I can’t separate it, my writing is also my reading is also my talking.
MP: YES my writing is my reading is my talking is my family is my muse! It’s incredible to me that I get to be weirdly passionate about the same ridiculous thing as a bunch of people I actually like, trust, admire, have a good fucking time with. It’s probably why I’m still doing it.
KA: Like sometimes I feel like my brain and heart have maybe broken? And then I read something and it cracks it–opens a tiny hole for the light–and I am like okay, I am actually needy for it, I want it, I love and need writing and mostly other writers.
BMI: From BMI’s City of Asylum Fellow Ahmed Naji (@AhmedNajiTW): What is your strategy when it comes to hate tweets?
MP: Dang, that’s a GENRE?
KA: Oh fuck this is accurate. This is a good question. Generally, I ignore them?? But I also freely acknowledge that it is a privilege to be able to do so? It is not like that for everyone – people are fucking shitty online. I can barely get myself to write much less write a shit tweet to someone
BMI: This one from Becca James (@WreckaFlames) is art: The world is experiencing a pandemic. You manage to get to the grocery store safely. You want to buy ravioli. It will provide comfort in these trying times. There’s only one type left. Which type do you hope it is?
MP: This is a Kristen question. I ignore the whole ravioli bit. It’s the best thing for our friendship.
KA: I love you so much LMAOOOOOOOOOO. I KNOW you want a chef boyardi but I am gonna go frozen raviol??????? I am calling it that in my own head without saying it aloud – RAV- I – OHL.
BMI: This one’s for you, Morgan. Everyone wants to know about your apartment. What’s the newest thing you want to buy for your apartment? Or is there anything you’d want to change? Do you have one simple interior design tip that you could share?
MP: I moved around the furniture in my bedroom just today!!!! Weekly, there’s something I want to change and I change it. The big thing I’d like is a king bed, because book tour spoiled me. I probably can’t actually fit anymore furniture in here, but I will need more bookshelves soon. A tip for my dearest Willie! And everyone: It’s a little woo-woo but, think about what you want to see when you’re staring into space figuring out the right word–make sure your view feels good. Also, Craigslist. This was good advice for me working from home but now it’s good advice for EVERYONE: what would you like to be staring at?
BMI: We’re taking a couple more questions! Then we should all head to bed. Stay tuned for the conversation in an easy-to-read format. Questions from Willie Fitzgerald (@williefitz) for both of you to end the night! Morgan, did writing a novel change your outlook/approach to writing poems at all? Kristen, what poets are you reading lately? And what are you taking from that and bringing into your work?
KA: I love this–Willie is my reader. I have been reading Danez Smith (@Danez_Smif) and Franny Choi (@fannychoir) and Morgan Parker (@morganapple) and Tommy Pico (@heyteebs) and Ada Limón (@adalimon). I have been taking that everything is so much fucking bigger than me – I have been taking that everything I love can be close and beautiful.
MP: Ugh this makes me love poems again and more.
KA: I miss you. I miss you. I wish you were here.
MP: Wahhhhh I know. Our spirits, however, rowdy and genius, hilarious as ever.
MP: Sentences! I always knew I loved sentences in relation to the line, and now I’ve never been so excited to study and craft sentences and think about how they work. It also taught about space/length and time in terms of working on a book or a poem. Stretching out, expanding.
KA: Oh fuck I love this so much. The breadth of a thing??
BMI: Folks, that’s all the time we have for tonight! All your questions were phenomenal and we thank you for the time and space to concentrate on little joys. Give it up for our heroes Kristen Arnett & Morgan Parker. We’re wishing you all a safe night from Las Vegas.
KA: Thank you !!!!! <3
MP: Thank you all so much for joining and indulging and imbibing with us and thanks to BMI for hosting <3333