While it’s difficult to point to positive emergences in 2018, Barbara Ehrenreich’s increased Twitter presence is certainly one of them. As the best-selling author of books like Nickel and Dimed and the founder of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, Ehrenreich often tweets about subjects like the various manifestations of American exceptionalism or the failure of welfare “reform,” but on other days, she’ll be demanding that men start acknowledging her as an “old lady.” Almost always, the tweets are long blocks of text, properly capitalized and punctuated, without links — succinct distillations of what Ehrenreich thinks of the Trump administration or, say, her physical therapist’s “advice.”
But Ehrenreich doesn’t wake up every morning with the inspiration to tweet. If she’s not feeling snarky, forget about it. The rainy weekday morning that I spoke to the 76-year-old journalist about her unrivaled Twitter account, though, she was clearly feeling stimulated, as she took to the website with one of her signature witty, weird, politics-adjacent thoughts just 15 minutes after hanging up the phone.
“Strange to say, but as his lower lip sullenly protrudes and the bags under his eyes grow heavier, Michael Cohn is looking sexier every day,” she tweeted in reference to Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Below, Ehrenreich spoke to the Cut about finding her Twitter voice, ignoring her feed, and seeking more “weird people” to follow.
Per your profile, I know you joined Twitter back in October 2011, but I didn’t notice your presence pick up until about a year ago or so. When did you start using the website more, and why?
I had nothing to do with it in 2011 through 2017. It was for our organization, the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, and our administrative person occasionally posted something on my Twitter. But it had just a few hundred followers. Then around Christmas in 2017, my colleagues at the EHRP said, “Barbara why don’t you take over the Twitter account?” And I said, “I’m too idiosyncratic, and I’m not going to always say things you agree with or would represent our organization.” And they said, “That’s fine, do whatever you want to do.” So I asked my son to help me get set up and get my own password, and he said, “Mom I hate to do this, but I’m ruining your life. Do you realize what you’re getting into?” I said, “I can handle it, I’m not going to get addicted.” So that was the beginning. Then I started switching more away from Facebook, partly because of Zuckerberg, and going to Twitter with whatever I wanted to say. It’s not that easy, though. Some days I wake up, snark-free. I just … nothing comes to mind.
How did you find your Twitter voice?
Well, I live alone now, happily. But much of my life, I have lived with someone … a man. I think of tweets as the kind of thing you might say over the breakfast table as you read the paper together. I don’t have anybody to make those comments to, except the kitchen table. So Twitter becomes the substitute.
And you don’t really fight on Twitter, I’ve noticed. That’s admirable!
Yeah, I don’t tend to fight. If somebody says something like, “You’re an ignorant piece of shit,” there’s no answering that. But sometimes I’ll say, “You may be right.”
Your presence tends to stay in the realm of political commentary, but I did see you reference your son in a tweet about the World Cup and Belgian imperialism. Do you try to keep you personal life off Twitter?
Oh wait, should I put out more about my personal life? I guess I tend to do those things on Facebook because I know there are more people there who know my family. I think of Twitter sort of as publishing something — it’s in the real world. No cat pictures.
Wait, do you have a cat?
No. I don’t like cats and I don’t trust them and I don’t trust people who represent themselves as cats.
In that case, don’t go to my Twitter! So if you don’t like to see cat pics, what do you want to see on your feed? Depending on the day or week, there are usually a few news stories that dominate your feed — for example, the Trump administration’s family-separation policy, or if you follow a lot of people in the #Resistance, anything about Russian collusion. What sorts of stories do you feel go ignored on Twitter?
On my feed, I try to mix in stories about poor and working-class people. But I’m not being too smart about following. I look at the feed now and then, but I’m really new to this, so I don’t read a lot of it. I’m more narcissistic — I read my stuff and the responses to it. I know that doesn’t sound right, but time is limited.
So how much time do you spend on Twitter every day?Sometimes up to 45 minutes or an hour.
Oh, so your Twitter relationship is actually healthy! I guess that makes sense if you’re not reading a lot of your feed. Do you happen to have any favorite follows, though?
Not really, that I can think of. Give me suggestions! I’m looking for weird people. I like weird stuff … so weird that I can’t even think of it.