Darcie Wilder’s debut novel literally show me a healthy person doesn’t sit well. It’s 97 pages of full-throttle disclosure, complete with semi-obvious booze, cum, and heartbreak details, as well as less-obvious 9/11 jokes and quips about what it feels like to lose a parent. Taken piece by piece, it’s hundreds of bits of hard-to-stomach flash fiction. But as a whole, it’s a gritty, moving portrait of grief and the chaos it kicks off in people’s brains. When I spoke to Wilder on the phone and told her the book physically exhausted me, she said she likes to remind people who are reading it that they “really don’t have to finish it.” But it’s worth it to push through. (I’m saying this as a reader who took a nice, necessary subway nap right after putting it down.)
I’ve followed Wilder’s personal Twitter and her work at MTV News for quite a while, so I’ve seen parts of literally show me a healthy person before — in tweet form. Encountering them again feels like déjà vu in the best way, suddenly getting context for something that was previously just a joke to be retweeted.
Wilder writes in the way people talk on the internet, but moving toward a point, instead of just filling the time and netting likes. literally show me a healthy person opens with a diatribe against Godiva Chocolate spam emails, a stellar paragraph about what it’s like to be alive and turn on your computer every morning. It immediately makes sense when she says “when i use emoticons like <3 and :( instead of emojis it means i mean it more” or “hey what’s up youtubers welcome to my channel and this episode we’ll be throwing out my trash for the first time in three weeks.” Here we are, she’s saying, online again, and it’s not that smart or useful to act like as if it’s so far removed from everything else.
With that in mind, I asked Wilder to tell me about how this book came to be. We also talked about why Twitter is so beautiful and why it’s a total nightmare.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Some of the one-liners in the book are things you’ve tweeted before. Do you think people who follow your Twitter account will have a different experience reading the book?
The two are pretty different forms. There’s some crossover, but the way the book functions is like a piece of art, and Twitter is in spurts. Everyone’s 140-character lines are mixed in with everyone else’s stuff. I think a book is a work of art that communicates something intentional, and the experience of reading it is so different from scrolling on the computer. It’s repurposed with different intention.
The sentence before something informs that one. The way you structure paragraphs is a completely different experience. And Twitter has a lot of baggage and occupies this crazy space in the world — I think it’s a crazy different experience.
How did you decide when to bring pop culture references into the mix? There are a few in the book, but not compared to Twitter’s constant stream of them.
On Twitter, a lot of pop culture references seem like they’re going to be dated. They’re very timely and of a moment, and will expire. So I try to make [references] more timeless, or explain why it’s important in that moment, or just show the significance of them through the lyrics that are relevant, as opposed to using an artist’s career as a punchline. That artist’s career is going to change and fluctuate, and it’s not going to mean the same thing later, and that could not work. It could be really cool, in a way, but it’s hard to base your art around someone else’s persona. I don’t mean “timeless” like using the word “thou” or something. I like a lot of art from the ‘90s, and I feel like a lot of it is timeless in the way the feelings transcend time.
Since most of the book is such short pieces, and there are no chapters, how did you figure out the sequencing?
I played around with chapters, but then it really felt wrong. The book, in a lot of ways, is about a feeling of when you’re either caught off-guard, or you’re asked a question, and then there’s a hesitancy or a feeling of anxiety or just a stunned silence, and then a ramble. Initially, the book name was just a bunch of letters I slammed on a keyboard. I had to change it, because practically, that was unrealistic and unfair of me to make everyone deal with that. The letters ended up being the last line of the book, so very much, it’s just one whole thing.
To break it up, I think, would be against the point of the book, where that’s just all of these things, and you have to deal with it all. [You’re] just assaulted by line after line after line. It’s the way a brain works, where the brain just can’t turn off. I think it needed to be just one thing. And it’s a relatively short book.
There was a lot of shuffling. I started writing this basically in 2012. That’s when it started taking form. It took me a while to give myself the permission to have the structure, which is flash-fiction bits. A lot of the stuff had been written before, but figuring out where it is in a collage, or like a diary film, and figuring out the structure and the texture, was a lot of work. I had to [find] where themes would reoccur, space out stuff, and assemble it less like other pieces I had written, and more like when I used to edit film. I would edit a sequence and put it somewhere and figure out how it was going to read with callbacks to other scenes. There was a lot of shuffling, and then I would notice a hole where I needed a theme to come back, and I would write for that.
What kind of films did you make or hope to make?
I did narrative and documentary, but my heart was in the lyrical, experimental documentaries where I was cataloging a lot of things around me. I would pick a thing, for example one of them was “maps,” and then make something trying to investigate what a map is. But it would be informed by the things around me. It would be taking the scene and seeing where my life fit into it. It was a back-and-forth between what I was supposed to be doing, vs. what the footage I was recording was. It was a lot of reflection, and very personal and autobiographical, but also editorialized. I was definitely presenting things in a specific way. And I liked recording and finding archival stuff that I had tucked away. It was a pretty similar experience [to writing the book] — having an archive of material I had already made, and then stuff I had planned out, and stuff I made in response to those two working together.
Were you starting your Twitter account around the same time you were doing these projects?
Yeah, I guess so. I was in college. I think I started in 2010, but I don’t think I really had a sensibility for it for another few years, until I was out of college and worked on the form and started really interacting with it. A very big difference [between documentary film and social media] is that Twitter and social media are so much the infrastructure of an industry. When you change your Facebook status, it’s very different from making a work of art, even if you sell [that art]. It has a role in something like much wider. Then something that’s just a text document, I think, that’s intrinsically a personal work.
How has Twitter changed for you since then?
Well, first of all [in 2010], I think I didn’t know how to live my life. It’s a different place now. Twitter changes — the temperature of it changes a lot, depending on who’s using it for what. It’s changed so much since the election, and in the past few years. There have been these wide migrations of how people use it. 2010 was the “live-tweet what you’re doing” age, and people were barely even using it for jokes. Now it’s evolved into something very different, and there’s a language about it. There are threads and quote-tweets.
I followed a lot of people for professional reasons, and that changed my timeline for the worse. Not my co-workers, but just people around New York, and then I got a flavor of the Twitter people always talk about. Right now, I’m a little sore about the whole thing, and I just like seeing what my friends are doing, mostly. I think my favorite Twitter account right now is @belatweets2u. She’s just, like, a teenager in Baton Rouge I think, and really vibrant and excited. She’s very funny, and not cynical or jaded.
Weird Twitter and Sad Twitter used to be separate, but now they’re the basic language of the way people generally talk on Twitter.
It’s hard. You can’t call someone out and say someone’s experience isn’t true and they’re not feeling anything, but I think you can tell when someone is either derivative or more hacky than others. And to some extent, everyone is a hack. It’s not a bad thing to be influenced by other people, but there are some things I’m tired of online.
“It’s usually a recipe for disaster to just do something with the intention of getting a specific reaction.”
People who are experimenting with different things and saying things that are true to them will always be good. It’s a different muscle to work from something you’re feeling, vs. what you think will be popular. It’s usually a recipe for disaster to just do something with the intention of getting a specific reaction. It gives me a weird feeling, based on someone speaking from a more true place.
Twitter as a tool is constantly evolving, because the people who made it had no idea how people would use it. Have any of those changes been important to you?
The edit-tweet thing, everyone is always like, “This should have happened!” But it seems antithetical to the idea of having something recorded. The timestamp would mean nothing. I feel like that would be used for evil pretty quickly. Especially with favs and retweets and stuff. That seems like a nightmare. Quote-retweets were really good, because that increased the ability to have a conversation and refer back to things, and it has another visual thing where you could have the caption interacting with the initial tweet, or the picture.
Initially I was so scared of people retweeting themselves, but now I think it’s like, “Whatever, who cares?” I still hate the difference between favs and likes, and I refuse to call them “likes,” because it just changes things so much. Changing the word for it to be something inherently positive is so gross to me, so forced. I liked Twitter because it wasn’t like Facebook or Instagram. I miss the star, the ambiguity of something being a favorite. As for the abuse features, the harassment and fucked-upness of everything is ridiculous. The bots are taking me out of it a lot. I’m just so sick of eggheads and bots and stuff like that.
“deleting tweets is my favorite feature of Twitter.”
So you’re anti-editing — do you ever delete tweets?
Sometimes I’ll tweet with the intention of only having it up for a little bit. If I tweet something and then I feel like it’s not properly communicating my intention and will be misunderstood, I’ll delete it. I think it’s funny to just throw something up there and delete it in a second, or whatever. It’s pretty much my favorite. Deleting tweets is my favorite feature of Twitter. It feels so good to delete.
You mentioned in another interview that Twitter changed your brain. What did you mean by that?
I think Twitter changed the way I think about a lot of things, because of the ideas I’ve learned from Twitter — just, like, the actual content of people’s thoughts. But also, I think it’s restructured the way I sell my thoughts to someone, and try to make them interesting. Turning an observation into a joke, or turning an observation into a sentence other people can think about, has taught me how to communicate with others better.
It has also taught me how to reduce my thoughts. I think I’ve been more declarative with how I think and feel, but that can also feel reductive. I’ve never really had a great attention span, so I’ve been able to work with it better because of Twitter. But I also haven’t worked on it very much because of Twitter. I’ve been able to get away with consuming and absorbing other people’s thoughts. And I’m pretty much always on Twitter. Within the past few weeks, I’ve been more intentional about changing that. I just think the addictive feature of it is so much. There’s always new stuff to read, and rarely are they very amazing or important thoughts, but there’s always something to do. It’s like always being bored, but never having that solitude of boredom that I had as a kid, where you would just be staring out of a subway window, listening to music. I kind of miss that.
literally show me a healthy person will be available April 3rd through Tyrant Books