Craft Tweets

Craft Tweets

What would craft tweets look like?

I’m thinking here of an (admittedly poor) analogy between craft tweets and craft beer…

I created an experimental Twitter account a few weeks ago. Called @the_smudges, this account builds from an idea I first started floating during formal talks I gave in the fall of 2011, when I was on the job market (at some point, I’d like to give a more meaningful, public version of this talk).

The idea behind the talks, and behind @the_smudges, is fairly simple: in the course of our everyday, we leave traces—like smudges on countertops, light switches, and alley walls, or through our generation of digital ephemera. The smudges of everyday life are thus traces of human (and nonhuman) behaviors and entanglements. And we might think about what those smudges mean as we look for and describe them.

From this basic idea I built an argument about tracing and exploring digital smudges in practice, and I drew from one of my ethnographic studies to ground my argument.

I’m fascinated by everydayness. I’ve been practicing my attention to smudges for a few years now. And I envision @the_smudges as a place where, in one carefully crafted post each day, I might practice the craft of writing rich ethnographic observations that meaningfully evoke ordinary affects (Stewart, 2007)—actions, experiences, potentials, trajectories, intensities, and sediments.

I suppose the audience I have in mind are folks similarly interested in ethnographic observation, everydayness, and broader meanings invoked/evoked by smudges, folds, interstices.

These tweets aren’t meant to be anything more than viable, meaningful ethnographic observations. I’m not trying to write poetry.

I am interested in slowing the pace of flow-based media, of working at and through writing carefully, well. In contrast to my normal tweets, these are much more intentional, slow, meditative. I hope.

So that’s all preamble to the primary purpose of this post: exploring the notion of craft tweets.

Yesterday morning, I hiked to the Kentucky River overlook at Raven Run. On the return portion of the loop, I stopped for a few moments, struck by the nearly fluorescent green moss covering a hundred and more stones on either side of the wooded trail.

The lighting conditions were ideal: a slate gray sky, sun not yet overhead, a damp forest floor, and a winter-driven paucity of vegetation.

Here’s the tweet that I wrote for yesterday:

As best as I can recall, here’s the process of writing the tweet:

  • First, keep in mind that I don’t carry my phone into the woods; I started thinking about how to represent in writing this moment of ordinary affect as I stood there on the trail in the morning quiet...
  • I was still about 2 miles from my car. I thought about the moment as I hiked.
  • I thought about elements of experience—sky, colors, sounds?, stones or rocks?, is the light snow important or not?
  • I started drafting, in my head.
  • I traded words for other words—fluorescent? luminescent? incandescent? glowing?
  • As I hiked on, I thought about craft; what if I could workshop this one tweet? How might I slow it down, think it through, iterate?
  • I drafted some more, continued to take in my surroundings, avoided slipping in the mud, dreamed of a private wiki for workshopping craft tweets with other folks.
  • I thought about craft beer, about my colleagues Jenny Rice (say yes to the text) and Jeff Rice (what is the nature of obsession? the relationship to craft?).
  • At the parking lot, I opened the car door, found my phone, typed a draft.
  • I put my phone on the passenger seat.
  • I slapped my muddy shoes on the pavement, put on clean socks and shoes, unrolled my pants, thought.
  • I picked up my phone and changed a word or two. Drove the 15 minutes home.
  • I exchanged the car for my bike. Rode to work. Revised in my head.
  • At my office, I revised again, materially. Eventually hit send. Unsatisfied.
  • I thought of many other things along the way, interwoven with this little task.

All told, my guess is that I took around two hours to compose this tweet. I suppose that’s slow, but my overriding sense was that this writing work should have been much, much slower.

Mostly, I thought of the lower division undergraduate creative writing workshops I attended so many years ago. I thought about how nice it would be to share my draft with peers, to be questioned by them, maybe to get a little defensive even, to work through that defensiveness, to improve.

And then I thought about parking craft tweets for a bit. Using digital workshops. A fermentation process. Add hops (always, always add hops). Think through drafts with others, problematize them, consider pressure points, potential trajectories, affects.

Is this somewhat antithetical to the medium?

Not to me, for Twitter, while certainly carrying some popular genred norms, is nearly as protean as any other genre of written communication and its concomitant constraints.

In other words, this isn’t an argument for what Twitter should be or how others should tweet; just some musing on craft that could apply to any genre. I happen to be thinking about it relative to Twitter because it’s manageable for me.


dawn said...

I've thought about this type of tweeting, too. It makes me think of the differences in types of photography. There are those who will shoot 100 shots in quick succession, and those who are very deliberate and shoot 1 image in that same time (or taking even more time).

There is something about both that can be interesting and engaging. But each requires its own way of thinking, being, and participating.

Brian J. McNely said...

Thanks for your comment, @dawn!

It's a great point, and it occurs to me that mobile photography has heightened the impulse to shoot and publish *now*, that photography too is driving (and caught up in) flow-based media.

I've always appreciated unphotographable for similar musings on slowness and intensities missed.

jonstone said...

Love this idea, Brian. I've had moments--usually with my kids--as I try to extract meaning from the moments that would slip quickly past in mundanity without them. It's interesting to me that everydaynesses rely on words to give them meaning for me and can transform--or, perhaps, reveal--beauty and complexity everywhere. This thought occurred to me while washing my daughter's hair, something I do several times a week without thinking much about it. But just a little extra thought and some words to describe the activity and I was buzzing with how intimate and fatherly and temporary it is. (Romanticizing the everyday is a weakness, perhaps, and I'm writing a dissertation trying to work that problem out.) But, anyway... I like the idea. You might find me tweeting in the future using #the_smudges.

Brian J. McNely said...

Thanks much for these comments, Jon. I've felt the similarly when it comes to those moments with kids.

Your comments put me in mind of two ideas, from very different traditions. First, stoic philosophy—how magical are the things and acts that surround us! We should practice intentional appreciation of them, when we can. And second, zen—wash your bowl.

I actually thought of you the other day, as I'm having a difficult time crafting tweets (and ethnographic observations, more generally) that do justice to rhetorical sound...

Joy S said...

These tweets are great! I've been thinking about the ways the mundane seems to be being reintroduced/remade/reappropriated in design lately, too, particularly in minimalist works and those that evoke mid-century modernism. I’m seeing designers rework the mundane into something attention-getting just by changing the scale. An ampersand is just an ampersand until it gets blown up to poster size, for example, where it then demands something of our attention and enables/creates different symbolic action. Koons does this, of course, with works like his balloon dogs, but I feel like I’m seeing this rescaling more and more in 2D as well. I just saw this set of pieces yesterday--an attempt to rescue the design of the cassette in a world that's going back to vinyl: http://www.crayonfire.co.uk/30440/1068403/work/dont-forget-the-cassette

And the artist's reinterpretation of luggage tags has been popular enough that he's now selling them: http://www.crayonfire.co.uk/30440/1077702/work/flight-tag-prints

I hadn't thought of this kind of crafting in terms of snatches of writing, but moving this kind of writing from ephemeral post-it notes (where I usually do this kind of writing) to twitter is a kind of re-scaling, too. Thanks for this interesting post!

Brian J. McNely said...

Thanks for your comments, Joy! I really appreciate that notion of scale and re-scaling of the everyday!

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