If you want to go viral on Twitter, Delia Cabe can show you how – but just be warned, it may involve cats.
Cabe had only been using Twitter for a few months when she had her first taste of social media infamy. It was a photo of her laptop, flanked by her two cats, who were studying the screen – which was her Twitter homepage. It said something along the lines of, “See, even cats love twitter.” Twitter corporate retweeted the simple, fun message and she watched in awe as the number of likes and retweets soared.
“That told me the power of it,” she said.
Since that time, the author and part-time writing professor at Boston’s Emerson College has found fame on the social media platform a few more times – mainly for her political activism prompted by her attempts, as she only half-jokingly refers to them, to “save democracy.”
In May 2018, Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelly remarked in an NPR interview that immigrants are mainly from rural areas and do not possess the skills necessary to assimilate to modern society. That did not sit well with Cabe – who proudly boasts her Filipino-Puerto Rican heritage. So, she took to Twitter, as she often does when outraged by today’s political maneuvering.
“Let’s start a #DearJohnKelly hashtag. If your ancestors came from a poor rural area either in the US or other countries and DID integrate well, tweet it with this hashtag. Their lives deserve to be honored. Give them a voice,” she tweeted.
And Twitter did what it does best. The Dear John Kelly hashtag took off, with hundreds of people tweeting beautiful stories of their ancestors, not just successfully assimilating into the US, but doing remarkable things to make society as a whole better. Website TheHill.com wrote an article about the movement and it grew even stronger.
“That was very gratifying. I knew it touched a nerve because we all have those stories,” Cabe said. “Even if you feel helpless or without a voice, Twitter helps you put yourself out there, to say something or to add to the conversation. That’s one of the things I enjoy about it.”
She started a blog, Girls Sent Away, to explore her experience of being sent to boarding school as the young child of a single mother in the 1960’s. Aside from the warm embrace received from her online community for the blog itself, she again found herself in a position to give others a voice using social media.
This time it was against the Trump administration’s policy of separating families seeking asylum at the nation’s southern border.
“In the service of what we were all talking about, I felt it important to step up and say that this is a horrible thing to do to a child,” she said, voice strong but breaking ever-so-slightly. “You can call it summer camp, you can call it boarding school, but it’s a terrible thing for a child. So, as a person who has experienced it, as a person of color, I wanted to personalize it.”
While Cabe isn’t afraid to flex her “political activist” muscle on Twitter, don’t for a second think that her feed is filled with the vitriol and hate we see too often throughout social media. “I try to be civil. I ask myself, would my students want to see me behaving like some angry, cranky person? I don’t want to be that,” she said.
And she isn’t.
On Twitter, Facebook and Instagram you’re as likely to see posts about cats, her beloved Boston Red Sox, flowers, books and cocktails as you are to see politically-charged ones. And while she doesn’t actively censor what she posts to social media, she does keep some things private – updates on her reproductive cycle and last visit to say, the gynecologist, for instance. “That gives me the ooohies,” she said shuddering and giggling simultaneously.
Cabe started using Twitter in October 2008 as a way to connect with writers and network. “It felt like a comfortable way to communicate with people and I felt like I could start conversations with people I could not normally meet,” she said.
She found a few freelance opportunities through Twitter and more importantly, met her literary agent through the platform. When she announced her book, Storied Bars of New York: Where Literary Luminaries Go to Drink, was slated for publication by Countryman Press, her social media followers responded like the proud family we had become.
“That was really exciting! I got all kinds of congratulations and people were very excited for me,” she said, adding that she also experienced a first for a non-fiction writer – lots of offers to assist with research. Of course, that may have been due to the subject of the book, too.
While she has found that writing community on social media, Cabe acknowledged that there is some truth behind the “echo-chamber” reputation Twitter’s earned. But that’s okay.
“Yes, I’m followed by a lot of like-minded people and I follow a lot of like-minded people, but the drawing out, the conversations we have, the ability to engage in discussion, it just feels better,” she said. “I don’t feel like I’m throwing things out into the ether.”
There’s comfort in groups. Cabe celebrated President Barak Obama’s first (and second) election win(s), his first inauguration, the Boston Red Sox making the playoffs and the Miracle on the Hudson with her Twitter tribe. She found comfort on the night of the 2016 Presidential election and during the Sox’s defeat at the hands of the Houston Astros during the 2017 American League Division Series.
“You’re fretting with people, it helps,” she said.
As much as she loves social media, and as helpful as it’s been for her career, Cabe also works very hard to seek out “distractions” that take her completely offline. They include gardening, learning to swim (read about her experience doing just that in this piece just published by Experience Magazine by Northeastern University), reading absorbing books and watching baseball.
“It’s so hard to look away because I’m terrified that our democracy is going to die if I’m not watching,” she said. “I feel like I need to be vigilant these days,” she added.
She’s only half joking.
While online, she finds solace in mainly uplifting posts like those from Jesuit Priest James Martin, SJ. “I’m not a religious person, but he finds wisdom in things.” And, as an avid gardener, she appreciates the Sunday #FlowerReport, in which people post photos of flowers, started by Alyssa Harad. “It’s just so nice on Sundays to see that happen,” she said. McSweeny’s and the New Yorker are also staples in her feed.
Cabe hopes that Twitter continues to grow into a place to encourage and enact change. She’s seen it already in the presence of students from Parkland High School. She also believes that Twitter has the power to give voice to the voiceless – something that she herself has done on more than one occasion. But as important as those “higher” purposes are, she also hopes it remains a fun place where pictures of cats staring at a laptop screen and someone’s tweet about the amazing muffin they had for breakfast add as much to the conversation as the politically-charged ones do.
This profile is a part of The Light and Love Project, an effort to highlight women who make the sometimes very dark place of social media a little bit brighter.
Harness Magazine is publishing the first four profiles from The Light and Love Project. For background on each woman profiled, along with articles about the good things people are doing with social media and more, visit www.lightandloveproject.com and please follow us on Twitter (@LightAndLovePjt) and Instagram (@lightandloveproject).
Author: Joy Frank-Collins
Author Bio: Joy Frank-Collins is a freelance writer who got her start as a reporter for a daily newspaper in southeastern Ohio. Her work ranges from sports to travel to special interest features. She’s most recently been published in Pittsburgh Magazine, WOW (the airline) Magazine, The Marietta Times, on multiple sports blogs. In 2018, she contributed long-form features to two baseball books. After 20+ years living in Marietta, Ohio, Joy is excited to relocate with her husband and two sons to the Columbus area in late summer 2018. She enthusiastically chronicles her travels, beverages and cat on social media.
Link to social media or website: joyfrank-collins.com | Twitter @joyfc | Instagram @joyfc