Jaya Saxena is a Staff Writer at The Toast, and has written about everything from food to feminism to weird history nonsense for The New Yorker, The Daily Dot, Atlas Obscura, Buzzfeed and more. She is the co-creator of the longrunning series Dad Magazine, which is being released as a book this April, and the co-author of the forthcoming The Book of Lost Recipes. This week Saxena talked to me about three of her favorite tweets, plus talking about race online, developing tweets into larger pieces, and Twitter’s teenage energy.
Saxena: There is something endlessly funny to me about Banksy’s unending “am I blowing your mind about capitalism yet?” shtick already being taken by a 90s pop-ska band. And like, capitalism is the devil! But don’t pretend that you’re the first person to think of it, you know? This is generally the type of social commentary I do – the type that can be tied to my teenage musical tastes.
I feel like Twitter can have a very “teen” feel to it a lot of the time. Can you think of other examples of teen stuff besides your old music taste that Twitter brings up for you?
I think there’s a lot about a community like Twitter that can bring latent confidence to your teenage years. The most embarrassing thing you can do as a teen is show enthusiasm for anything, lest it be the wrong thing. So I think once you hit your 20s and 30s you realize that it’s okay to embrace your enthusiasms, and to embrace the enthusiasms you never got a chance to 10 years ago. It’s just nice to see people talking about things they enjoy rather than things they hate.
Are there any kinds of social commentary that you try to avoid on Twitter?
I tend not to do much political or social commentary unless I have really strong, concrete feelings about it, or firsthand experience. Basically, unless I could hold my own in a fight, which is a horrible line of reasoning, but as a woman online you pretty much have to be ready for the assholes to come for you.
I tend to use Twitter a lot for random thoughts that have nowhere else to go. Sometimes I make jokes and gauge whether they’re funny or interesting enough to turn into pieces for The Toast or elsewhere, but mainly it’s a release valve and writing distraction. I’ve always been the type of writer that can go hard for ten minutes and then needs to dick around for another five before going back, so it’s nice to have a place to hang out in the downtime.
Before Twitter, did you have any particular outlet(s) where you put these thoughts that had nowhere else to go? How is Twitter similar to/different from those outlets?
Well in college I had a super embarrassing blog, but mostly I’d either make these jokes to friends or not make them at all. At it’s best, Twitter is a nice outlet for humor experimentation, and unlike other sites or social media outlets, I don’t feel like I have to explain a thought any further. It can just exist on its own. I was a pretty late adopter to Twitter; for a long time I just didn’t see the point, and didn’t want to turn into one of those people that puts every single thing they hear/say on it. I still try to use it judiciously, though I definitely fall into posting about personal frustrations and insecurities.
How do you gauge a tweet to see if it’s right for a bigger piece?
Mostly how many likes it gets or if I get any responses from people whose taste I trust. If people start responding or making their own jokes off if it, it’s reasonable to assume they’d do so in the comments of a post.
Commenting on my experiences with race is something I’ve only done relatively recently, and I tend to get freaked out and back down from it pretty easily. Even reading this now, half of me is like, “Maybe all these women have studied sanskrit and it’s really meaningful for them! Maybe they’ve all actually lived in India and know more about it than I do, as someone with one Indian parent! Who am I to judge what another person does with their body? Oh god men do this too, I didn’t mean to single out women!” But also maybe don’t get a “namaste” tattoo.
Speaking of overthinking—do you draft tweets or spend very much time on them ever?
I never use tweet drafts and sort of don’t understand them! I’ve never felt the urge to tweet but not have anything worthy to tweet. Sometimes I’ll want to make a joke but don’t have the right wording yet, but if that’s the case I’ll just wait until the right wording comes to me. Drafts feel too much like writing to me, and I don’t want Twitter to feel like my job.
Has the community you’ve found on Twitter affected the way you share your experiences with race, either on Twitter or elsewhere online?
Absolutely. Last year, I started a hashtag about the mixed race experience, #biraciallookslike. And I would never have done that if I didn’t already know that there would be an audience for it. In starting to write about my experiences, I’ve had so many people tweet at me or post my pieces like “Omg me too!” It can be a confidence booster, knowing that other people feel the things you write about, that you’re not alone, or that other people experience totally different things even though you share this one thing. It’s almost the same as with tweeting about No Doubt. Like, finally! My people!
Jenny Nelson lives and writes in Brooklyn and works at Funny Or Die.