As I mentioned earlier, I've created a Twitter account (@PeterCashwell if you're interested), and after a couple of weeks, I must say I'm finding it an enjoyable way to interact online. Mind you, I've had an interesting few weeks in nearly every area of cyberspace lately.

Interestingly, this period began with a self-imposed hiatus from the web. The first weekend in February was a four-day holiday for my school, so with the new book's manuscript looking more or less complete except for some final editing, I ran off with Kelly to steal a few days for ourselves, reserving a room at DC's fantabulous Hotel Helix. This was an old-school getaway: we parked in Vienna and rode the Metro into town, hauling our luggage through the frosty (and sometimes snowy) streets ourselves, and we had, by mutual agreement, left our laptops at home. We would spend the next two nights in meatspace, interacting with our immediate environment exclusively through non-electronic means. Except for when we were in our hotel room, an environment where we just can't help ourselves and HAVE to have the Food Network on, because, y'know, it's Iron Chef America and the secret ingredient might be eels again and we couldn't live with ourselves if we missed that. And yeah, I watched the Super Bowl. Sue me.

In any case, we were committed to traveling by foot and public transport, and to experiencing things by going and looking right at them. We started with a trip to the National Geographic Society and its new Birds of Paradise exhibit, which was co-sponsored by my good buddies at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Let's just call it spectacular and move on to the next museum, the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, where my non-technological weekend got me into a technological whirlwind. We were there on Sunday afternoon for what turned out to be the final day of the "40 Under 40" exhibit, which featured a wide and wonderful variety of sculptures, crafts, and installations by some of America's most intriguing younger artists. I was delighting in quite a few of them when I came around a corner and was confronted with this:

Between 1 and 0.JPGThe piece above is titled "Between 1 and 0" and is the work of Austin, Texas-based artist Shawn Smith. It's a three-dimensional recreation, rendered in hand-dyed and hand-carved pieces of wood, of a low-resolution internet photo of a campfire. The minute I saw it, I knew two things: first, that Smith shared my belief that there's a human instinct to carve the universe up into small and manageable units, and second, that the book wasn't finished yet. I absolutely had to interview him for Along Those Lines.

As soon as we got home on Monday afternoon, I booted up the laptop, found Smith's website (, and emailed him an interview request. To my surprise, he responded almost immediately, offering to talk with me on Tuesday. And thus, roughly 48 hours after first discovering his work, I was on the phone with him, talking about his work's use of lines and space and digital imaging for nearly an hour. I'm hoping to finish folding his interview into the manuscript tomorrow.

Perhaps it was that high-speed seek-and-find experience that inspired me to set up the Twitter account, but once I'd done it, I quickly discovered one of its main appeals: the opportunity to interact (or at least TRY to interact) with the people you are obsequiously following. I had, of course, hunted up the Twitter accounts of a variety of people I actually know, but Twitter allows you to exercise your inner fan as well. Among the first people I opted to follow were musical favorites like Robyn Hitchcock, They Might Be Giants, and the Mountain Goats, as well as writers like David Quammen, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and John Scalzi and comics creators such as Jill Thompson, Scott McCloud, and Gail Simone. And yes, I opted to follow a few goofy accounts, such as Feminist Hulk, The Late Thag Simmons, and Marco Rubio's Water Bottle.

And then they started talking back.

Not all of them. My first burst of fannish squee!ing came when one of Hitchcock's musical collaborators, violinist Deni Bonet, started following ME, but I was soon delighted to have provoked goofy responses from Scalzi and TMBG's John Flansburg. I felt even happier when I responded to a tweet by John Darnielle (the Mountain Goats' singer/songwriter/leader) that was using Ezra Pound's "In a Station of the Metro" as a template for a McDonald's ad. Apparently my "Was that Ezra Quarter Pounder?" cracked him up, because he claimed he was unable to express his awe at it. And even that was nothing compared to the giddiness I felt when I fired off a response to one of Quammen's tweets and actually entered into a conversation with him. I mean, really, I exchanged a series of comments about the biological theory of recapitulation and our mutual failure to read one of Stephen Jay Gould's books on the subject with one of the world's absolute best science writers. If you'd looked at my face, and then at the face of one of the girls chasing the Beatles through the streets in A Hard Day's Night, I strongly suspect you'd have seen the same expression on both.

And then it was off to Facebook, where I had recently joined a discussion group comprised of regular commenters at Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog at I've been tossing off smartass comments with the various members of the self-proclaimed Golden Horde (a/k/a the Lost Battalion of Platonic Conversationalists, a/k/a the Black Republicans) for some time, but at TNC's blog, most of us are known by the handles we've chosen--"Furious George," "Andy in Texas," and so on, so we know each other only through behavior and sobriquet. On Facebook, however, most of us go by our real names, so there's a certain amount of surprise in discovering who's who. And in my case, the surprising discovery was that one of the other members was named Sutker.

There are not many Sutkers out there, folks. Even the relatively rare name "Cashwell" is attached to about 1500 people in the USA, but there are fewer than 200 Sutkers out there, and the only ones I'd ever met were related to my mother, the former Suzanne Sutker. I opted to send this member a quick note, saying simply, "We've GOT to be related," and after some discussion of family names and migrations, we concluded that yes, we really are. Mom confirms it: she's actually met this cousin, though it was long ago and far away. But here we both were, throwing our ideas out into the same little patch of cyberspace. What are the odds?

And that's been my online life lately. I've connected with people I know. I've connected with people I didn't know but have long wanted to know. I've even connected with people I didn't have any idea I wanted to know.

Whatever else there is to say about living in the future, I'm at least expanding my social circle.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on February 16, 2013 11:06 PM.

You Knew This Already... was the previous entry in this blog.

Portrait of the Artist as a Not-Quite-So-Young Man is the next entry in this blog.

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