Sarah Hagi is a Toronto-based writer. She’s contributed to The Hairpin, the Guardian, The Toast, Buzzfeed, National Post, and more. This week Hagi shared some thoughts on three of her favorite tweets she’s written, and she talked to me about yearbook quotes, memes, and how it feels when your tweet goes Tumblr famous without getting attributed to you.
i hate having to explain why i wear a hijab but if everyone must know: voldemort has possessed me and his face lives on the back of my head— Sarah Hagi (@geekylonglegs) January 28, 2015
Hagi: This tweet was the first time I had gone “viral” and it was so weird to watch it blow up the way it did. When I wrote it, I was thinking, how weird is it that Professor Quirrell was living with Voldemort under his turban? What did he do all day? Anyway, I didn’t know it, but it got really popular on Tumblr. People kept telling me they were seeing it all over the place. I thought it had died, but recently it went viral as a teenager’s senior quote! Although it wasn’t attributed to me, I was still kinda like, “aww!”
How were your experiences different watching this tweet go viral on your Twitter vs. on Tumblr vs. as a senior yearbook quote?
When I first had a viral tweet, I thought “hey this is cool!” but then I remember that the vast majority of people don’t actually care about the person behind some stupid joke. I mean, I will RT things that have thousands of retweets and not really give a shit about who tweeted it in the first place, so I guess it’s kind of meaningless. But as a writer, I am a bit of a narcissist and so it feels gratifying to have anything I write resonate with a large group of people. I don’t use Tumblr, but a lot of people were sending me the link like, “hey your tweet is Tumblr famous!”, and it’s the same feeling as when I tweet. The senior yearbook thing did make me feel a little weird but mostly good that something I said meant enough to someone to use that way. My friends were annoyed that the outlets picking it up attributed it to her, but I think it would be kind of petty of me to care. She’s not making money off it, she’s just some kid who saw something on Tumblr or Twitter and thought it was funny and relatable and she used it! My yearbook write up was so embarrassingly bad, that I wish I would have thought of it then.
Does watching a single tweet blow up like this psych you out at all about writing other tweets, or affect your approach to using Twitter?
Yes, it definitely has. I guess I should explain that before I started writing, which I’ve been doing for a year, I had like 60 followers and most of them were people I knew in high school or bots so I didn’t really have an approach to Twitter. Twitter was like this weird void that I didn’t really understand at all. Once I did meet a lot of writers online through Facebook groups and my published work, that’s when Twitter became a tool for me. I feel like a big part of being a new-ish internet writer is having an online presence or a big enough platform to get a following or noticed. Also, all of my writing connections begin online, so it’s really the first impression editors and other writers will get of who I am as a person. My approach is really just being myself, but also being aware that what I’m saying is there for anyone to see. So, when a tweet I really didn’t think would go viral, DOES get popular – it feels strange. Because 1) if it’s really stupid, is that what I want someone who might be employing me see? And 2) I get a surge of followers who think I’ll be maybe a bit more funny than I am and so I’ll feel this pressure to keep up this weird momentum.
This tool could have saved a family a lifetime of heartache pic.twitter.com/Caq3huu3qs — Sarah Hagi (@geekylonglegs) April 30, 2015
So when that “guess my age” app came out, I started using it on a whole bunch of celebrities and then movie characters. The movie Orphan, is one of the funniest movies in the world to me. If you’re not familiar, it’s about this little Eastern-European girl who gets adopted by a nice American family. The mom gets weird vibes from her and *SPOILER ALERT* it turns out she’s NOT a little girl, but a 30 something year old woman! I loved how the app passed a movie twist Turing test and knew she was really some old bitch. Within a few days, it got to the point where all those awful parody accounts kept stealing it, which pissed me right off because they make money off stealing.
Do you usually like tweeting about zeitgeist-y memes or was the “guess my age” app an exception? Are there other favorite memes or trends you especially enjoyed (or still enjoy) contributing to?
The guess my age app was an exception. I’m not really good at the whole meme thing, or the “my face when” kind of tweets. I leave that to really funny people like my good friend @safyhallanfarah who always comes up with the best reaction tweets. Most of mine are really just very on the spot, stupid thoughts but I do love when something funny happens on black Twitter. Most recently, the whole Rachel Dolezal was like just an absolutely magical time to be black on Twitter. Before it got really serious and all the think pieces came out, it was literally all I could tweet about. There were so many jokes to be made, so, so many.
Does the knowledge that someone could repost one of your tweets without attributing it to you ever stop you from tweeting something?
I was really annoyed by the Orphan tweet because it was monetized by those shitty parody accounts. I actually called a whole bunch out and one dude responded to me. His name is Jerry Silvestri and he owns this awful, awful account with a lot of followers. He was a real Grade-A shit head about it, and was pretty much like “yeah I steal tweets but I make money off it so jokes on you bitch!” At first I felt childish for caring about it because it’s “just Twitter”, but as a writer my words are my livelihood. I’m not a very popular user compared to most people I know, so it’s really not always on my mind or anything, but I guess now I know it can happen. I don’t ever want to not tweet something in case someone might steal it because a lot of what I write actually starts off as a Tweet. For example, I tweeted something about French fries that a friend of mine told me to develop into a thesis. And then she hooked me up with her editor to pitch it, and I turned it into an opinion piece for the Guardian, which was a real career milestone.
my pizza is extremely late arguing on the phone with the store to get it for free, i surprised myself by yelling, “YOU THINK THIS IS A GAME”— Sarah Hagi (@geekylonglegs) September 11, 2014
This tweet was a really good memory of mine. I was in the Emirates with my sister and we’d ordered pizza…but it was like 2 hours late and we were so hungry and our hunger had started to manifest itself into aggression. They also were arguing with us because they didn’t want to give it to us for free, and we kept passing the phone back and forth very seriously – which is hilarious because we have the same voice so they probably thought we were one very hungry, crazy lady. In the moment, getting that pizza for free was the most important thing to us and I felt like I had to really be over the top to win (we did end up getting it for free and I don’t regret a thing).
In your experience, how are people’s reactions different when you tweet about a personal memory vs. something more universal or about culture? Do you prefer tweeting about one or the other?
When I Tweet personal stuff, it’s usually people who actually know me who engage and it’s for their entertainment because they know me. But, as I gain more followers, I tweet less and less personal stuff mostly because I just feel very self-conscious and embarrassed! It doesn’t really have anything to do with being guarded but it just makes me feel exposed. So I definitely Tweet more universal stuff, and if it’s cultural it’s usually relatable to a large group of people.
Have any of your more personal tweets surprised you by how well they were received by others?
I’m mostly surprised when anything I tweet gets received at all. The popularity of tweets is so arbitrary, sometimes I will tweet something I think is SO FUNNY and nobody will interact with it and then I’ll ask a friend and they’ll be like, “that was stupid”. Other times, something I didn’t really think about or care much for will get a lot of activity and I’ll be very confused.
Jenny Nelson lives and writes in Brooklyn and works at Funny Or Die.