Who will break the news to a new generation of adults?
If you ask someone in the United States of America where they get their news, more often than not they'll answer by giving you the name of a social network. Recently, Pew Research published a report that found that more than half of American adults get their news via social media. As media companies scramble to live up to this new reality, they are turning to the first generation to grow up on the internet. They find people like Darcie Wilder, clever and savvy twenty-somethings who somehow manage to render this new digital environment through evocative and lucid inner-monologue. Who are, almost by chance, discovered, celebrated, and elevated by their peers.
When I first met Darcie Wilder, I was on the roof of my apartment and received a Twitter notification on my phone. It was a mention from Darcie, who had just sent me a selfie from my living room below. I’ve been watching closely ever since. Darcie grew up in NYC, and had a turbulent childhood coping with family in recovery, bullying, and anxiety. I know about this because she’s been tweeting about it for years. Her writing, published mostly on social media, offers an open tour of adult life in a world wracked with anxieties of its own, which despite her personal acuity, somehow illuminates broadly-relatable means of coping, healing, and moving forward.
If you haven’t been hooked by one of her tweets, perhaps you’ve seen her book of Craigslist fan fiction Flagged and Removed or Vice employee parody account. Darcie now produces creative writing on current events for MTVNews’ Twitter and Instagram. Recently, I sat down with her to find out more about her work, her story, and how she manages to make us laugh about how troublingly familiar anxiety in the digital age can be.
I just want to say I think you’re really, really funny. So, first question: do you consider yourself a comedian?
When I was a kid, I just watched stand-up. I feel like I’ve always liked it, so that’s been an influence. Also, a coping thing. Also, I feel like most people on Twitter are trying to be funny. Most of the things I like to do are humor-related, I just get anxiety about the label of ‘comedian’. There’s so much baggage with that. Like, being a girl sucks for comedy. I guess comedy sucks for everyone. I don’t know, I don't like the label of it for me. But people like tweets that are funny, and I like being funny. It’s so hard to keep someone’s attention when you're not being funny. Also, I've subtweeted Upright Citizens Brigade comedians before.
There is a format to Twitter. Being funny can be hard. Like, there are some accounts that tweet about depression and being sad that can also be hard to have in your feed. I was thinking about this earlier, looking at this account that I muted: if you’re living in your feed, you can’t have certain things in it. There should be a place for things that aren’t funny, not everything has to be funny. Like, that sucks if everything has to be funny.
Maybe I have that problem ... Where I have to make everything a joke. I don’t do it all the time. People will think certain things are a joke if you use a specific tone of voice, but it’s not necessarily a joke.
Some people make their problems your problems. It’s hard to watch. There are different sections of Twitter based around that dynamic. Someone I know said, “there’s Sad Twitter, there’s Art Twitter, Sad Girl Twitter, there’s Hoe Twitter, there’s Art Hoe Twitter...” I feel like it sucks to be reduced to one of those sections. I guess that’s just a branding thing.
I totally agree. Once you’re inside of a social network like Twitter, you have all of that horizontal pressure – people getting into smaller and smaller niché bubble things – as well as vertical pressure where Twitter is one big realm, and Facebook is another, and Instagram, and reddit, and Vine and so on and so forth —
Yeah. The way I use Twitter keeps changing. I used to stay further away from the social side of it and viewed Twitter writing more seriously, but now I feel like I’ve reached a balance. I definitely see it as a medium for writing, there are some important tweets but there are also a lot of important tweets, and even more unimportant tweets.
Once, my friend was like, “I wish Twitter didn’t have the reply function.” I was like, “damn, you’re so right" and tried to keep the my number of replies down, feeling it was more ‘pure,‘ or whatever. Now that seems kind of snobbish on my part, and Twitter is one of the primary ways I meet people, so the social component is really important.
Speaking of friendship and Twitter, you said recently “no one came to my birthday party when I had 400 followers.”
How long ago was that?
Around October 2014. I think Mira Gonzalez found me, and then @sosadtoday found me through Mira. Feel like the trinity of Mira, Melissa, and Molly Soda connected me to people that related to me and identified with me, and probably a lot of the attention I get is via their influence. Which I’m really grateful for, and feel lucky to be associated with them.
But I don’t pay close attention to analytics, but within a few months I passed 1,000 followers, and then by July I had just less than 7,000, and by the end of 2015 around 10k. I’ve been tweeting for years, somewhat compulsively. I wasn’t getting any attention, and I also had a really bad Twitter. There was a definite switch when I realized I could be composing my thoughts in a different way, and I started following more of a format and was more thoughtful about how people would be reading it. And I hate birthdays and birthday parties. I get really anxious about them. And I tweeted about no one coming because whenever there’s like, a big insecurity that seems out of my control, owning it in a way, like acknowledging it or making it a joke, is a coping mechanism.
So for birthday parties, I’ll have I’m-going-to be-at-this-bar stuff, but I'm a terrible party planner. No one ever comes to my parties because I don’t plan them very well. I would hate it if someone felt forced to do something, so I always tell people “you don't have to go.” Then no one goes. So it’s a ton of anxiety and I have trouble assert myself and also celebrating myself, so I think from now on I’m going to be really quiet about my birthday.
And now you’re working at MTVNews doing various social media stuff, right?
I was hired for this show called MTV No Chill which remixed original MTV programming and had a social media component. Since then there have been different project but now I’m mostly doing Instagram captions and tweets for MTVNews.
Your writing is always appearing in strange contexts. For example, you wrote an essay about processing the death of Prince that appeared in an Instagram caption. You also wrote one about Joanne the Scammer. One doesn’t think of Instagram as a place for in-depth social commentary and political insight. Of course, there are political memes … but rarely long discussions about political issues. How did that start?
We added bylines a few months ago. The reception is different when there’s someone’s name, and it’s different from Twitter to Instagram. Instagram’s added more features that allow it to be used in this way, and I feel like that happens with apps often. We’re all building on ways to use apps to communicate and do what we need.
People who are active on social media are always trying to see behind the curtain of these big brand accounts. A brand is made up of a bunch of people, and it could be destructive to think of it any other way.
Did you know what to expect out of the job? That you'd be writing longform serious content about current events?
I don't think I’d classify it as “writing longform serious content about current events.” I like referring to them as “Instagram captions” because I think that communicates what they are, but also the broadness of it. We‘re not copy-and-pasting articles into Instagram captions, they could be as short as three emojis. It’s about communicating in a different space, and I feel lucky that it’s fun. And they might be long, but they’re not longform. I think there’s a playfulness and an irreverence to it, and we write in a certain voice.
But no – I didn’t know. I was a secretary before this, so I kept my Twitter anonymous — or semi-anonymous. I didn’t tweet about certain things just in case they found it. Some of the people were cool, but I had to cover my tattoos everyday for a year and a half. It wasn't good for me.
You talk about anxiety and depression a lot in your work. And also ... terrorism.
I don’t know about the terrorism part. I talk about my life and anxiety and depression are a part of my life. But I only really talk about my own experience, I feel just sharing the experience has been the most helpful. It’s a pretty sensitive thing and you have to be careful, and I don't think it’s often helpful to comment on anyone else’s experience, especially trauma.
I was going through a really bad time once, and my brother said something really helpful. He said something like “the worst you’ve ever felt always feels terrible, and whether or not someone has your story, they can relate to feeling the worst they’ve ever felt.” Like, regardless of where the bottom is, we all feel pain.
Is talking about this stuff publicly what the Darcie with 400 followers who was alone on her birthday saw as a career path?
[laughs] I had no idea what my career path would be. Or I guess I had hopes that I’d be doing something like this, but I don't really vocalize my hopes very often because it's a really vulnerable spot. Sometimes it's hard to visualize the future and sometimes I’m more comfortable with it. I realized while I was buying skin care products and thinking I was going to die: I can’t even think that far ahead. The fear of losing everything. Like, I don’t actively think I'm going to die, I just have trouble visualizing the future so that trickles down to how I’m handling my skincare routine.
I went to film school and I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen. Planning stresses me out because then there are expectations. If I have any expectations, or just acknowledge something it’s going to be taken away. That’s part of it dealing with trauma.
My mom used to call me an acquired taste. Everyone either really liked me or hated me. It makes sense that I would do something where you want my annoying-as-hell voice, or you don’t at all.
You also tweet about losing your mom when you were 16 ...
It’s been a few years, and it comes up. But I don’t want to be sad all the time anymore. We lose our parents. Sometimes it happens early, and that sucks.
Sometimes, because of that, I think I’m an intense account to follow. It’s always been like that, but only recently have there been people that are into it. My friend was telling me that he can’t follow me because I'm “so hard on myself,” which I've heard different iterations of.
Some people criticize tweeting about anxiety and depression as if it’s cool. I don't think it’s cool. If you look at people who are anxious, they aren’t having fun. It doesn’t seem fun.
But sometimes I feel criticizing the talk about anxiety and depression is just another kind of grief, that maybe people are mourning how late the conversation is. These issues have always been around but now, mental health is more openly spoken about. It’s unfortunate that it took so long.
Is offering your own inner voice to the internet part of your process?
I mean, it’s all my inner voice. Or it’s all my voice. But I don’t think I'm sad. I think I’m just anxious. I have some depression, yeah, but I’m not like sad. I’m not bummed. I like a lot of things, and people. I don’t have a dreary thing. I’m actually usually manic and freaked out.
What was highschool like for you?
It was really hard. I was really anxious and I didn’t know it was anxiety. I didn’t have a name for it. So there was a lot of self-esteem shit. I have an older brother but he was off doing his own thing so we pretty much raised ourselves.
That must have been tough.
Yeah, it was hard for me to maintain relationships and friends because of anxiety and asserting myself. I feel like it took me until college or maybe even more recently just to feel like I could calm that frame of mind down. It was very difficult. It sucked.
You’ve studied, created, and performed in film. You can act. Did you always want to do that?
I wanted to act when I was a kid. In fifth grade, I was Peter Pan in the school musical and I overheard my math teacher saying she thought I'd be bad at it. I was discouraged. But I played that role, which was a boy’s part after I'd been bullied for wearing “boys clothes.”
You were on an episode of The People's Court? What was that like?
I remember reading the email in bed and thinking “I definitely cannot do this. It's not something I should do.” It didn't seem like an option at all. Then I told someone about it and they encouraged me.
Feel like that's around the time I changed my Twitter to be what I wanted to tweet about instead of what I felt like I was supposed to. But for awhile, I couldn’t watch it because I thought it was too cringe-y.
When you’re putting public commentary about your life out there, sometimes your family is involved in it. So for me, your dad makes a kind of cameo in that episode. I wonder if other people have experiences like that with people they follow? It’s one weird way the internet has changed things.
I feel like that happens with a lot of people. You follow an account for years so people in their lives become cameos, their siblings or their roommate or something. Generally feel like you can tell if there’s a negative portrayal, and I try to stay away from that. Could very much veer into a bullying place.
There are people in our parent’s generation who don't know what the Hell is going on anymore. Having kids who are oversharing or emoting online in public, I mean. Is that true in your life?
I care about my family. But, it’s not really my family’s business what I tweet about. It’s my life. They’re involved in my life so there’s crossover, and it’s a public account, but I don't think family needs to be involved in or aware of every part of someone’s life.
And if someone tells me not to tweet about something, I won’t. There are things that I don’t tweet about, but they have to be, like, acknowledged as something. In the past people have gotten upset because it’s been unspoken or assumed. I don’t really call people out on Twitter, but some things are identifying.
I usually don’t have problems with people tweeting things about me, but sometimes it’s uncomfortable. Some things are off-limits or inappropriate or would make things harder for me, and I think that’s the case with everyone. But I’m not afraid of being the punchline, as long as I’m ok with the joke. So, it’s about personal boundaries and wellness. Like remembering not to use someone’s first name on the timeline who is intentionally anonymous on Twitter.
Did you watch a lot of TV as a kid?
I was never away from the TV.
What were some shows that were really formative for you?
The Simpsons. I would watch an hour or two of The Simpsons every night for years. Most sitcoms. The Nanny. I'm going to be annoyed at all the shows I forget here, but Saturday Night Live and Comedy Central half-hour standups. Mostly comedy, I love sitcoms. Back then for me it was like “whatever’s on is what you watch.” Part of it was about having no control.
You tweet a lot about conspiring to marry people, start a family, kids, or whatever. It seems like a common theme in a lot of your tweets. Are those just jokes?
A lot of it is jokes. A lot of it comes from the anxiety of dating – there’s such a pressure to not talk about that sort of thing. There are these huge elephants-in-the-room that develop over time. It’s like a pressure to be silent, and also we say things like “oh we could get married or whatever” as a joke. So there is all of this unspoken tension, and the pressure to just be cool and not care where things are ending up. Not knowing where something is going is really terrifying. I’ve never imagined a wedding or anything, but I’m really into the idea of having kids.
But also no one wants to date a girl that’s this public on the internet. That’s not anything anyone is super into. They’re always like “don't tweet about this.” The power dynamic is really strange.
People refer to relationships as a place everyone wants to be, and only since things have started working out for me have I realized like ... no. Any of the guys that it didn’t work out with ... I’m so grateful! Part of it is like “everything is as it’s supposed to be” … and also … “what was I thinking?!” ... and ... “oh yeah, if that hadn’t happened, all of these better things wouldn’t have happened.” Right now, I’m in this situation where I’m grateful for everything that hasn’t worked. Also, I’m really bad at dating.
There seems to be this no-one-has-had-to-deal-with-this-before thread running through your life. Do you see yourself as a role-model?
I don’t consider myself a role-model. Sometimes I get nice messages from younger people who might see me in that way, but it’s not intentional. But also feel like everyone, everywhere is an example for someone, and I’m not doing anything bad or dangerous, so I guess I wouldn’t be the worst choice.
It’s so strange to imagine all of these different social structures that have seemed to exist for so long being less and less structurally sound. Is part of what makes sense to make these funny-because-of-how-real-it-is jokes about relationships or imagining marriage or whatever traditional situation how foreign they seem now?
The internet just started, and no one mapped out how we're going to deal with it. I remember in the beginning of Twitter people would overhear someone say something funny and just tweet it immediately. You can't do that now without giving someone credit. That's like ripping someone off. Like, you should cite that person. But then I also feel like maybe these new standards won’t even last. Things change so fast.
Make a prediction. What do you think people are going to start doing more of?
Being more open. I think openness and honesty. Maybe that’s a blanket answer. But I feel like we’re redefining the line between personal and professional life because, for a lot of people, both are public online.
But relevant, given how dominant irony has been in the last decade or so.
Yeah there are phases and whatever. But now that everyone is just shouting onto the internet, feel there is a new understanding that there are a variety of perspectives. Literally someone is going to disagree with anything. There’s no way to always be agreeable, but there’s a way to be respectful. The same way that it’s fucked up to pretend to like people, but it's not fucked up to be polite to someone you don’t necessarily like. In general, I think accountability and honesty will be spreading, but maybe that’s just because I’m getting older.
We all have to be on the internet now. It’s literally your job. It’s literally my job.
Yeah, and I’m completely addicted to my phone and the internet. I broke my phone over Halloween and I felt like I was crawling out of my skin. My brain is like, broken. I think in tweets. I feel like our brains develop around what the apps will let us do, like Twitter’s quote-retweet feature and such. But the way people’s brains are wired is always changing, I feel. Public speeches used to be a more important medium because attention spans were longer and able to process it all. But it’s also scary in that our brains are adapting to software created by a company. The prospect of accountability for that is scary.
There are ways to use social media that are beneficial, which is cool. But you're not necessarily understanding someone's experience, you’re just seeing it. There's a lot of opportunity for projection.