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One Writer's Attempt To Give Twitter Users A Break From Politics And News


We journalists spend a lot of time on Twitter - a lot. Along the way, we come across a lot of snark, occasional poignancy and, once in a blue moon, utter hilarity, as in a thread of tweets by writer and one-time child actress Quinn Cummings.

QUINN CUMMINGS: Gather round, gentle readers. It is time I tell the story of the worst decision I have ever made in an office.

KELLY: Across 25 tweets, Cummings spins the story of a difficult boss with a wounded ego and a solution actor Brian Dennehy hatched which required a publicity shot of said boss.

CUMMINGS: The door opened. I swear to you, even the phones stopped ringing for a second. Susan inhaled. Who the [expletive], she screamed, gave Brian a picture of my mother?

KELLY: That is right. She managed to give him a picture of her boss's mom. Well, her boss was not happy, as you heard, but on Twitter, people loved the story.

CUMMINGS: It's been retweeted - I just checked - a little under 18,000 times. Somebody tweeted that they had seen "Death Of A Salesman" on Broadway and that this story was almost as dramatic. That tweet was from Lin Manuel-Miranda. It is possible to joy faint, I now know.

KELLY: So Quinn Cummings decided to write more small stories like that one, a departure from her usual work and from the usual thing you come across on social media.

CUMMINGS: I spend a lot of time writing jokes about politics. It's been good for my career. I've ended up doing some ghostwriting. I've written political jokes for other people. This is fantastic. But what I can also do is remind people that life is not just politics. I've started to think of my stories as a chance to be a human again. You can hear about my complaining about the local grocery store, which is a Fellini film, or getting the dog to the vet. I try to make them very ordinary. It's a respite.

KELLY: You might be the first person I've ever interviewed to describe Twitter as a respite from that political craziness we are living through.

CUMMINGS: You know, when everyone else is zigging, you zag. So for the most part, they're funny. But I do write about the fact that my mother was an emotionally manipulative narcissist. You might be staggered at the amount of people who write to me privately and say, I can't tell that story because mine is still alive or I can't write the story because mine died, but my family will yell at me for speaking ill of the dead. But thank you for writing this because you make me feel better.

KELLY: And does it feel as though you're trivializing really important stuff in any way by breaking them down into a series of tweets?

CUMMINGS: That's a really good question. My answer is, if you feel that it trivializes it, feel free to unfollow me.

KELLY: I wasn't suggesting that at all.

CUMMINGS: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. I'm sorry.

KELLY: I'm just thinking about Twitter gets so much criticism for being a place where people just fire off whatever random thought pops into their head. It's a hard place to work through something like your mom dying.

CUMMINGS: That came out more abrupt than I meant for it to. What I'm saying is it is a relatively new art form, medium, whatever it is you want to call it. And people are figuring out what they like there. If what I do makes people uncomfortable, I totally understand. I'm not going to change.

KELLY: Do you write the whole tweet thread out in advance and then break it up into tweets?

CUMMINGS: Yes. I'm very careful about how I construct it. There are certain sentences I want to be by themselves because they're a joke line. If I structure it in a certain way, I'm pacing how you read it.

KELLY: Yeah.

CUMMINGS: It's important to me that I do this right because I have people now supporting this, underwriting it on Patreon.

KELLY: Explain what Patreon is.

CUMMINGS: Patreon is the equivalent of a tip jar. You can reach out to your supporters and say, would you be interested in giving me a dollar a month? And then one dollar is taken off your credit card every month.

KELLY: It's fascinating hearing you describe the effort to figure out a business model here. You're a professional writer. You deserve to get paid for what you write. None of us have figured out how to do that on Twitter.

CUMMINGS: I got a kid in a liberal arts college. And even as a vegetarian, those lentils add up. If I'm not white-knuckling every month, it's a lot easier to write better jokes.

KELLY: Do you eventually, if you're trying to make a living here, have to figure out a way to tell these small stories on a bigger stage?

CUMMINGS: Here's the thing. If I write an essay now and I say, here, I've written it over on Medium, just click over and read it - the odds are low that they will click. If I can figure out in this time of great change how to be adaptive and a little creative, I can wait and see where my opportunities are.

KELLY: Writer Quinn Cummings talking to us about the small stories she shares on her Twitter feed. Thanks so much.

CUMMINGS: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.