@EmmaBarrie on Fitting a Feeling Into the Limited Space Twitter Gives You

emmabarrieEmma Barrie is a writer living in Los Angeles. She’s contributed to The Hairpin, The Rumpus, Death And Taxes, and more, and she’s made videos and cartoons that you can find on her website. This week I asked Barrie to tell me about three of her favorite tweets, and she and I spoke about problem solving, emoting on Twitter rather than in person, and those places that make you cream cheese your own bagel.

Barrie: That whole “telling women to smile” thing has obviously been a hot topic as of late, and I don’t have any new takes on it other than “stop it!” and “what is a smile?” But one of the things that frustrates me most is that often, my reaction to being told to smile is to actually smile, just out of nervousness or discomfort. Then I usually get in my car and bang my head against the steering wheel because I let some guy tell me how to behave in public. So this stemmed from an absurd idea about how I’m actually a disgusting clown-operated circus robot and you don’t want to know what’s going on behind the scenes because it’s truly haunting. If you only knew what smiling entailed! Did this explanation make the tweet less funny? Please un-read this explanation.

How do you feel generally about explaining tweets or talking about Twitter in person?

While I do occasionally spend a lot of time changing the phrasing of a tweet to try to make it its funniest, I’m generally not very precious about them. It’s more like a safe space for me to see what sticks. It’s a comfortable way to test out writing, jokes, or ideas. I don’t take it too seriously. It does feel silly to talk about in person, because like — this is my craft? There are doctors out there! Though these days, they also all have Twitter. “Just saved a life! LOL.”

I feel like discomfort is a feeling that lends itself to tweeting—are there emotions/states of mind that more commonly lead to you tweeting?

Discomfort definitely lends itself to humor. So does mild depression! I guess that’s a chicken/egg situation. These days I feel like a majority of my tweets are me trying to poke fun at something that people (including myself) take too seriously. For me, taking something seriously is inherently funny. I’m currently in talks with my therapist about how to fix that. I’m not a performer of any kind, so Twitter is also a great place to play out absurd scenarios I wish could happen, or things I wish I could say in public without “causing a scene.” In person it can be hard for me to emote, to be loud or energetic, especially around people I don’t know well. Twitter lets me get excited or angry and use caps lock and exclamations. It’s kind of a sliding-doors version of my personality. Also, any time a coffee shop makes me cream cheese my own bagel I tweet about that. That’s true emotional tweeting. It hits me right at my core when that happens. I think coffee shops should be shut down if they make you cream cheese your own bagel. You heard it here first.

My favorite game is to imagine a bunch of ad executives in suits sitting in a conference room coming up with ideas like “Leggo My Eggo,” or saying things like, “What if we had a sad rabbit who wasn’t allowed to eat his own cereal because it’s for kids?!” It’s hilarious to think about the unimportant things people with “big important jobs” do, but then everything starts to feel so silly and I begin to spiral into an existential crisis because I have no idea what is important or why we do anything. Also, it’s scary to think about what modern day humans are leaving behind for future generations, but “Leggo my Eggo” is ingrained in me, just like WWII was ingrained in my grandfather.

How did you first get into Twitter, and how has it (or how have you) changed since getting it?

Twitter and I just had our five-year anniversary. The traditional gift is wood. Hint hint, Twitter…

I remember when I first got into it I didn’t see it as a joke platform. I just saw people tweeting things like, “on an airplane!” and thought, “This thing will never catch on!” Looking at old tweets is definitely like looking through an old diary. My sense of humor has changed a lot over the past five years. But Twitter is only letting me see the past year right now, so EXCUSE ME TWITTER SUPPORT — PLEASE E-MAIL ME (NOT JOKING). I know there have to be some real treasures from 2010. It was my first year out of college and I was way too confident for my own good. In the past it’s definitely been tempting to delete old tweets because it doesn’t feel like me anymore, or it feels so un-funny. But I try not to do that, and just leave them as markers of specific times in my life when my sensibilities were a little different. I’m just changing and growing like I’m supposed to!

Are there any aspects of your sense of humor that you find difficult to convey on Twitter?

Not really. I’m pretty one-dimensional. Or at least, 140-character-dimensional. I think the cool part about Twitter is that everyone is limited, and it feels like a little puzzle, trying to make a feeling fit into that limited space. But I think there’s always a way to do it. I like problem solving on a very small scale.

One time I heard that the reason I didn’t get a job was because I was “a little standoffish” in the interview, but it was because I had just taken beta blockers for the first time to counter being so nervous. Because I’m an anxious person, interviews tend to bring out the worst in me. But the best thing to do with your failures is make jokes about them! And hope the guy who didn’t give you the job sees the jokes later on! And then calls you and says, “Hey, are you still looking for a job? Because that tweet was hilarious!”

Is there any relationship for you between Twitter and your professional life? Has Twitter affected you professionally, or vice versa?

As a writer I definitely use Twitter like a notebook sometimes. I go back and look at tweets often when writing dialogue, thinking of ways to start scenes, or coming up with ideas for stories and articles. I don’t usually use things verbatim, but I can look at a tweet and remember what I was feeling in a moment, and kind of go off that. I don’t think Twitter has affected me professionally, but I can give you phone numbers of people who didn’t give me jobs, and you can ask them.

Jenny Nelson lives and writes in Brooklyn and works at Funny Or Die.

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