Truly, madly, tweetly: Tanya Gold’s other life online | Social Media
There is a photograph of me, on Twitter, with Jimmy Savile. I put my name into Twitter, searching idly, and there it is. The photo was taken about 10 years ago. We are at his flat in Leeds. He is in an executive chair, expansive, talking rubbish. I am on the sofa, much younger and thinner, with my “interested” face on. I wore my interested face because I knew he had a secret and I hoped he would share it. He didn’t, of course, although I left that ghastly flat fairly certain he hated women. I look at it now and think – at least there isn’t a photograph of me wearing his shoes on Twitter. Which I did. I have no idea why. Perhaps it was boredom.
I have two internet selves that I create personally, sporadically and with a fair amount of despair. I have Facebook, on which I appear 15, and Twitter, on which I am 45, and getting older every moment. Twitter is more ageing than sunlight. Fighting about serious matters with emoticons will do that to you. So will being a social democrat or, to give it the name it goes by these days – the far right.
Until now I have never thought critically about my social media although I am always on it, jabbing away. I hate it and I give it my time, in self-hating solitude to the detriment of everything – ah, addiction! I thought that if I analysed it properly – I mean read it again – I’d learn if it had any value or meaning. Perhaps I have an interesting virtual self?
‘I am alive’ was my first Facebook post
Shame comes quickly to me always and when I go through my ancient Facebook posts it comes very quickly. My most treasured Facebook photograph is of me sitting with a vast model of Jabba the Hutt and preening stupidly. “Me and my boyfriend,” it used to say, before my husband made me take the caption down. I suppose it did tell a truth about my taste in men, but it was jokily done and, I had hoped, oblique. I also posted photographs of men I liked – the actor who played Cecil Colby in the original Dynasty for instance, which I hoped, again, was a unique fetish.
I kept the same photograph as my profile for 15 years. It was taken outside the Priory Hospital in Roehampton, where I was treated for alcoholism, and I fancied I looked like a beautiful vampire which, incidentally, was exactly what I was when I was drinking. Truth told poorly, then, and by mistake. Facebook is a new literary form and a bad one. It’s an intimate diary written for the eyes of others. I’d call it a mess and I don’t care for mess.
I thought I’d posted that photograph because I looked pretty, for a vampire, and I liked the adventure of the day. But now I wonder if I posted it because it was outside the Priory and, therefore, evidence that I had survived.
“I am alive” was my first Facebook post. I thought I was being facetious, but I wasn’t. Ten years later, I was patently no longer the beautiful vampire, so I posted another picture which, I realise now, is also an homage to addiction. I am smoking, furiously, with great joy and longing. I don’t smoke any more. It was a photograph of a relapse. It was truth told poorly and by mistake, again. Who did I think I was speaking to? Everyone and no one, because when you speak to everyone you speak to no one.
This is a new class of intimacy
I don’t like to give it the credit – who thanks a website? – but I am married because of Facebook. I must give it that. I knew my husband at university, but we lost each other. Then I bumped into him 15 years later, entirely by chance, in Leicester Square.
He messaged me on Facebook. I ignored him. He persisted and we got married. Because I proposed to him on Facebook. Or rather I changed my status to engaged without asking him. Thus Facebook colluded in my first serious act of inhumanity to him. He asked me to change it back when he got a notification that I had said we were engaged. (I had told my computer before I told him. This is a new class of intimacy.) I said I couldn’t change it back because people were already congratulating me on my fake engagement. No wonder bullies and fantasists feel more at home on social media than other people. The reach that we find threatening they love. In any case, he sighed deeply – there is no adequate emoticon for sighing – and said yes, we were engaged.
The Smartie Cake is my Caravaggio
I am always having fun on Facebook – public fun for public consumption. This is otherwise known as lies. Since having a child, the Smartie Cake is my Caravaggio. I post real emotion on Facebook sometimes, but I always take the posts down when the storm has passed. They look odd – vulnerable – because they are real and were addressed to the world at large and what if the world at large doesn’t give a damn if you have postnatal depression? I posted that I was high when I broke my ankle. I had taken a lot of laughing gas – so much so that I hit myself in the face, laughing. I was chided and gently manoeuvred back to reality as Facebook likes it. Facebook is a race for perfection and for showing off to people you aren’t really friends with, because you don’t have time for them because you are on Facebook.
When I was younger, I used gnomic phrases to show the contempt I felt for this form. I am disgusted. I am eating. I am sitting down. It was not very good, but Facebook is not exactly a sonnet. It is best used for photographs of dogs – that is a very truism – and gags. It is the village well, but with no people, or buckets. So I share that my husband had got a job as a professional Santa Claus, that I once bought pecan crunch from a group calling itself Pilots for Christ, and a photograph of Pope Benedict captioned: “I am 29% horse.” Everything else is a waste of time.
I rolled in the mud at Glastonbury
I came to social media late because I am afraid of it, because it is reductive. It’s greed, too – hacks are paid by the word so, as Julie Burchill says: “Fuck you is two quid.” Or it used to be. I like books, the older the better. Ink is a drug, too. If something has form, for me, it has value, and I cannot see any form online. It feels infinite and uncontrollable. An online friendship does not feel, to me, like friendship. It feels like an ever-receding touch.
But hacks must have an audience and virtual armies to praise them. I have never managed to marshal a virtual army, possibly because some part of me has never really accepted that other people actually read my work, which has included being a writer in residence at a bus station and rolling around in the mud at Glastonbury while dressed as a fairy. If they say they have, I am always faintly and newly surprised. Or I apologise to them and I suspect that is not the way to establish a brand.
So I created a Twitter image, because it is expected and it is a fair impersonation of who I really am. It is for people who don’t buy newspapers. I love people who buy newspapers. They do not meddle with the space-time continuum, they do not make me feel that there is too much news and nothing feels as anonymous as writing for print, even if a big picture of your head is printed on the page. If Facebook is for lying about being happy, Twitter is for lying about being right. It is exhausting.
I am just as aggressive in life
On Twitter I used to be an impeccable social democrat and second-wave feminist (the economic wave, the best wave), which today feels like being an advocate for the feudal system or having more plague, or rats – or, best of all, more plague rats. I look back at 2012, the year of my first tweet, which was about homelessness (I’m against it) and it reads like notes for an article I never got round to writing. If you think journalism is a trivial form, then try Twitter. It’s more trivial. Serious novelists contemplate it and consider dissolving the form.
But it does have one thing to admire – oblivious innocence. In retrospect everything looks inevitable and so I wrote, on 29 October 2012: “Someone has changed my Wikipedia entry from British to British-Jewish.” Most of my Twitter feed is about antisemitism these days, but those were more innocent times before I became, almost wholly, a shouting Jew. There are fragments from watching Question Time – I ask myself, does Jacob Rees-Mogg really look like a plant? – and speeches at party conferences, which I had forgotten I had seen, only noting at the time that “come together” should be a banned phrase. I still think that. There is also the beginning of a resentment towards Kirstie Allsopp that has threatened to become all-consuming and exists only on Twitter. Perhaps in real life I would like her. No, I know I would! My Twitter self hasn’t changed as much as my Facebook self, because Twitter is not a visual form (if you exclude emoticons, as I do). I am still a social democrat and I am still a second-wave feminist.
My views have not been changed by Twitter, then. I am still sad that the Count von Count puppeteer Jerry Nelson died in August 2012, but I no longer admire Ken Livingstone, as I did in 2012, but I read the things that led me to no longer admire him in newspapers. There was also a feud with a comic who I won’t name – it would make him happy – prompted by the fact that the flyer for his Edinburgh show offered 10% off a “date” with an escort. I wondered why Danger Mouse wasn’t at the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Or the Wombles. I often look at Twitter yearning to write, “moron, moron, moron” at people. It is a truism that people are more aggressive on Twitter, because they can hide behind personas called “cardigan”. I think I am just as aggressive in life.
I’m too old for the form I’m trapped in
In 2013, I now know after reckless scrolling backwards, I believed in Ed Miliband and mocked Katie Hopkins. When she talked about English, meaning white, culture I typed at her – you have a culture? I was always chiding her and later the President of the United States of America, for their punctuation. I was a curmudgeon, too old for the form I was trapped in. I was angry that people from Bangor University had murdered Ming the clam while trying to work out how old he was (507, I think. When he died. He would be 512 now. If he hadn’t died.) 2014, it seems, brought my usual obsession with the World Cup and what I still consider to be my best online joke, written to celebrate the coalition policy of limiting prisoners’ access to books: “Any ideas on how to smuggle books into prisons? Inside drugs maybe?” That’s one to lie beside the photograph of me smiling at Jimmy Savile. My punditry, meanwhile, is appalling, and easily found. “I think Labour could win under 100 seats at the next general election,” I wrote in December 2015. (They won 262.) But I obviously changed my mind because I put a tenner on the Tories to win the most seats and won £65. If I hadn’t boasted about it on Twitter, I’d have forgotten it.
It’s the hill we will die on
2015, you should know, was the year that I was obsessed with Bernie Sanders. In 2016, which was a sad year, I was trolled over mayonnaise and was anguished at the death of Leonard Cohen. I also rejoined the Labour party. I cannot tell you why. It may have been my gift for English irony. In 2017 I reminded my followers that the Queen’s only other job has been as a mechanic and informed them that my son, who was then three, had invented a superhero called Mr Brexit, which we can possibly monetise. I also pondered whether David Davis’s favourite bra size is a DD since “Mine’s a DD” is his personal campaign slogan. None of this is news and none of this has value. I also predicted that England would win the World Cup in 2018. They did not.
It hasn’t been a marvellous online career. I now wish, having relived it, I hadn’t had it. I thought I was poised and faintly mysterious, but in truth I was a shouting Jew with conventional centre-left politics (now called far right) who poses with Jabba the Hutt and Jimmy Savile while smiling. I don’t think I can do better with it (“Fuck you is two quid”) but I might do better away from it with – ah, Luddism! – reality. Do you remember it? Howard Jacobson thinks that social media is the hill we will die on – I tweeted that – and I need to leave. Except I am not really going, as it is not really a place. Even so, one cannot always be shouting “moron” at people in an empty room and if I hadn’t heard of Twitter, I would never have heard of Kirstie Allsopp either.