I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
I can count the things I’m genuinely good at on one hand. (I am not fishing for compliments or being bashful; I am adeptly mediocre at most everything else and absolutely proud of that.) One such thing (if I do say so myself) is being needlessly catty while also very online. This talent, which combines my seemingly endless reserve of resentment with an ability to remember minute inconsequential details for decades, has lent itself perfectly to a very online pastime: subtweeting.
Ah, subtweeting. The only good thing about Twitter but also probably the worst thing about Twitter: short, veiled messages — never containing an @ sign, of course — intended for an audience of one but disseminated to thousands or hundreds or perhaps tens. In my many years of using Twitter, I’ve noted a few overarching formulas for subtweets. There’s the Blunt Force, where you simply state your grievance, but don’t tag the person in mind. There’s the Vague Aside, where you say something that is so obviously meant for one person, but it’s completely unclear what it’s about or even what exactly you’re saying. (This one is usually framed as a Totally Random Thought; if people reply to a tweet with only question marks because the referent is completely lost, congrats! You’ve likely composed a Vague Aside.)
And then there’s the Subtle Yet Gnawing Dig, the hardest of the lot. It’s a tweet that is at once deeply personal and bitingly specific, while also framed in such a way that it’s universal; everyone can read it and nod along. Very few people have mastered the Subtle Yet Gnawing Dig. Then, in March 2017, Heidi Montag, star of American classics like The Hills and Celebrity Big Brother, proved what’s possible when she tore the world a new asshole with eight words: “Congratulations to anyone who has written a book.”
The tweet is devastating. It asks — nay, begs — us to participate. Who wrote the book she’s referring to? What is the book about? Has Montag written a book? (The answer, by the way, is yes; she and Spencer Pratt co-authored a book in 2009 called — really — How to Be Famous: Our Guide to Looking the Part, Playing the Press, and Becoming a Tabloid Fixture; she has also said and tweeted multiple times that she is working on a “tell all” memoirlike book project, as well as a piece of fiction, and it’s anyone’s guess how those years-old projects are progressing. Anyway! Moving on!)
So, who was the tweet for? We will never know the specifics — what book Montag was thinking of; who in her “circle of confidantes” successfully submitted a book proposal; how many times she drafted some version of this dispatch, crinkled her nose, tapped the backspace key, and started anew before posting this perfect tweet. We do know that she wishes her warmest congratulations to all those who have written a book. And, you know what, same.
This single tweet is exemplary because of its inaccessible specificity and blatant honesty. It opens its arms and envelopes us in universal pettiness. While it should be read in a catty, passive-aggressive, sarcastic tone, there’s an underlying honesty to it, too. Personally, I have never written a book — and find even the prospect of ginning up a book proposal daunting. Would I write a book? Sure. Have my friends written books? Indeed. Do I believe that even those who have successfully published a work of over 70,000 words can access the primal sentiment at which Montag gets? Absolutely.
It’s true that I could try to contact Montag to figure out the genesis of her perfect thought, but I’d rather not. It’s better to bask in the mystery and graft your own perspectives and interpretations onto it. Why ruin a good thing with proper context?
It’s been two years since this errant thought crossed Montag’s mind, and I haven’t been able to stop repeating that one sentence in my head ad infinitum. I spend many days thinking about how to craft a subtweet as perfectly effortless as Montag cussing out all the people who have “written” so-called “books.” I’ll probably never ascend to that level of subtweeting, and I’ve come to terms with this. At least I can live vicariously through Montag and indulge in the vague, petty disdain we both must share (be it for those who have written books, or just successful people in general).
All this aside, I do hope whomever Montag was targeting with that tweet saw the online message and felt the jagged icicle speared through their heart. I wish them the sincerest of congratulations.