Tweeting Island News

Eva Murray. Friday, Apr-02-10

by Eva Murray
April 2010
Originally published in Working Waterfront

The Twitter phenomenon, and the way Twitter 'connects the world' is (according to the little magazine supplement that we find in the Sunday paper) one of the past year's 'Big Things.' That technology, closely aligned with thinking out loud, seems hardly equal to the other major news items these days.

Some Americans have been neglecting the latest in electronics communications innovation. I don't have a Facebook page, hope my same cell phone lasts for years, write lists on the backs of envelopes instead of employing a personal digital assistant, and would probably grow resentful of the stern directives of a GPS unit in my car. I do not tweet.

Perhaps I should.

My reasoning has nothing to do with wishing to tell the world that I am eating a sandwich at any given moment. The advantage to the 'tweet' is its necessary brevity. When people ask me about Matinicus, I usually talk too much.

It is easy to take idle conversation seriously, to assume everybody really wants to talk about electricity or wintertime lobstering or weekly groceries delivered in a four-place Cessna when, in fact, they don't. I begin to give detailed responses to folks who really only mean to make polite passing chatter and haven't any idea what I am talking about. I need to learn to shorten up my commentary.

Therein lies the beauty of the 140-character limit. If those of us who are so often asked about the island endeavored to restrict our replies to 140 characters, it would be impossible to elaborate on the cost of submarine cable or the inner workings of the Public Utilities Commission, the comparative economies of propane versus kerosene, the bait hearings in Augusta or the vagaries of the weather '25 miles to the Hague Line.' We'd have no choice but to keep it simple.

'We don't have a grid tie. You don't know what a grid tie is? Look it up, and yes, I said 60 kilowatts. No, that is not a math error,' (133 characters).

'If bait costs more per unit by weight than lobster maybe they should be serving bait on the cruise ships,' (106 characters).

'If you think all those spruce trees are so valuable you're welcome to them, just come get them,' (95 characters).

Or..."We lug wood, plow snow, cook supper, and keep the lights burning; what do you think we do all winter?' (100 characters).

I'd been to then dump in the snowstorm the day before, and somebody in Second

Read asked me 'What's going on out there on the island, in ten words or less?' I responded 'Another ton of trash hauled across the water,' (45 characters).

One of the local men assures me that I don't need 140 characters to ask, 'What's it to you?' After all, pompous busybodies who think they know how we should be living, while never having tackled an island winter themselves, might not require the most refined of Emily Post manners.

They aren't always summer people, by the way; if anything, the rare birds and wingnuts attracted to this particular ledge tend to be more sympathetic and knowledgeable than the run-of-the-mill mainland know-it-all. When we of the dwindling wintertime social circle brave the gales and assemble around a small bottle of something restorative and a large plate of something indulgent, we do from time to time exchange stories of how we have been heckled, interrogated, and broadsided by the boorish public on the subject of our choice to remain on Matinicus.

Again and again we retell Lana's story of the woman at the arty reception referring to Matinicus loudly as 'a horrible place.' Stories abound of various professionals, repairmen and agents of state regulatory agencies who dare not get stuck here overnight because of 'those boys on that island' (some taxpayer-funded public servants even have the brass to request armed guards). I have repeatedly been skewered by total strangers who, with furrowed brows and wrinkled noses, ask less than gently, why would I live here?

140 characters should be plenty for the likes of them. That would leave a spare 123 characters to discuss something civilized, like rugby.

Have you people ever considered wind power? 'What's it to you?'

Why don't you people pave the airstrip? 'What's it to you?'

Doesn't the state pay to send your kids to high school? 'What's it to you?'

What do you people do all winter? 'What's it to you?'

One of the more bizarre inquiries, and I swear this to be true: Are the Matinicus lobstermen considering returning to the use of sail? 'What's it to you?'

...and that hardest to answer, when asked unkindly, and perhaps also most common: Are things finally calming down out there on that island?

What's it to you?


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Eva Murray first came to Matinicus as the teacher in the island's one-room school. She is a freelance writer, an EMT, runs a small seasonal bakery from her home during the summer, is married to the island's electrician and has raised two children on Matinicus.