THE ALICE ORIGIN STORY
I launched a pseudonymous Twitter account. What happened next may intrigue you.
@AliceFromQueens, the burner account that ate my life, was born January 11, 2019. Setting up a burner had been on that week’s to-do list, and as usual I’d pushed it off until Friday with other chores. I printed a return label for a dress I’d left draped over a dead standing lamp since October. I paid estimated quarterly tax on ~$12,000. Finally I opened the Twitter sign-up page.
The short of it is that I’d hit a wall with the novel I’d started writing. It was a political thriller, set in the present, about a young woman whose pseudonymous Twitter account gets her into serious trouble. As in any decent thriller, the novel’s opening chapters stitched the heroine quickly into a tight spot. The second chapter opens with an FBI agent knocking on the door to her apartment. He has questions about a certain pseudonymous Twitter account, whose meme-work prefigured a recent act of spectacular violence. For that critical chapter to work, the reader needs to arrive already interested in the heroine’s secret life online.
The writing of the previous, first chapter—the one establishing her double life—had come easily. Though I’d never dedicated myself to an alt, I’d used burners as needed. And who hasn’t fantasized about losing the baggage of your real identity and becoming someone else? I felt I knew her inside-out and had made her come alive on the page. I started querying agents in my head before I started on the second chapter.
I’m normally an obsessive reviser, tweaking each sentence nine times, with five of them reversions to a previous tweak. This time I made an exception, emailing the chapter at once to my most talented literary friend. I told myself I needed to get it off my hands before I started squeezing prose blackheads visible only to me, and ended with a bloody mess.
That my friend didn’t respond the same day wasn’t the best sign. But maybe he’d gotten busy, even after assuring me he’d have time that weekend. (“Just filed a piece.”)
The next day, when we met in his apartment to discuss the chapter, he said, “Where’s the rest of it?”
“That’s… not what was I hoping for?”
“I can’t say what I think before I know what happens.”
“You’re saying it’s lame, which is fine. I mean I had a feeling.”
“I’m saying I don’t know.”
Look. However young you think I am, I’m old enough to know what that means. When anyone steeped in literature reads a chapter of strong writing, it’s so rare, they jump out of their skin like HOLY CRAP I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS, not (double-checking phone), “Where’s the rest of it?”
I’d done a Dunning-Kruger. I only had confidence in my portrayal of her uninhibited secret life because I’d never actually lived one. Far from it. The Twitter and Instagram accounts under my birth name were studiously bland: retweets, congrats, veg tacos, “city is a carnival” pics, pics of a neighbor’s dog. To cover rent I tutored teenagers from wealthy families, in the employ of their helicopter parents. The boys especially gave indications of deep dives into my online history. Posting anything naughty or controversial, or even irony that could be misconstrued, could get me sacked. And I couldn’t see the upside to letting families who owned Manhattan townhouses know of my commitment to Bernie Sanders.
Write what you know is famously bad advice. Unless you’ve been lucky, or interestingly unlucky, you only know your family, love life, school, and a few jobs. Become the person you want to write about, though: that’s some good shit. That I couldn’t join the FBI for two weeks of research was a major bummer. But nothing stopped me from starting a “research” Twitter pseud.
Weather reports for that January 11th confirm my memory of a clear cold sky. The sun made a big multi-color stink of leaving the sky, like a divorced dad spewing presents on his way out. A down puff warmed my legs up to the thousand-dollar silver lap-warmer Apple markets as an Air. I had no other plans that Friday except to “recover from my week” and binge on stupid Mr Robot.
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