Susan Orlean is a lauded staff writer for the New Yorker, an award-winning author of several books, including “The Library Book” and “The Orchid Thief,” and has received Nieman and Guggenheim fellowships. Meryl Streep was nominated for an Academy Award for portraying Orlean in the movie “Adaptation.”
But the work that had her name trending on Twitter recently was a little different. Orlean got drunk, met a newborn foal and fired up the social-media platform. And the ensuing tweets — in which she bemoaned the state of the world, threw shade at her cat for not snuggling and recounted an epic quest for candy only to wind up with sugarcoated fennel seeds — proved utterly delightful.
The A.V. Club dubbed the tweets a “choice read,” and Vogue called them “the pandemic comic relief we needed right now.” Comedian Craig Cackowski performed a dramatic reading.
After waiting for the presumable hangover to reside, the Washington Post asked Orlean about what might be one of the most joyous evenings Twitter has ever seen.
Q: I’d love to hear a little bit about your day leading up to the tweet thread.
A: My neighbor invited us over to come and see the baby their mare just had. My day until then had been pretty ordinary. I was working. I was gardening. I was doing country things. I hadn’t eaten a lot, which is a significant fact to note.
We went over and saw this amazing little foal, my neighbor said, “As long as you’re here, why don’t you come on and we’ll have a drink?” … We sat out in their courtyard and had a couple of glasses of rosé. I guess it was more than a couple glasses. It was just a very friendly visit. And when it ended, I realized — it actually just sneaked up on me — and I realized I was really tipsy.
… So we headed home, and I confided in my husband that I was extremely drunk. I ate a taco and went to bed. I was lying in bed, and you know the evil of having your phone sitting right next to you. We all know what that leads to.
Q: Where was your cat?
A: He was in the other room! I was just annoyed that he wasn’t keeping me company. I was in bed. Everyone else in my household was watching a movie together. So I was somewhat annoyed to have been abandoned in my state of inebriation. Normally, my cat gets into bed with me. He’s very reliable. And I thought, well, of all the times for him to not be hanging out with me, this is when I would really like his company.
A: They’re actually very popular in India. The way I first came to know them, and the reason I have them, is sometimes in Indian restaurants, they give them to you as a little sweet after your meal. … I had been in an Indian grocery store many years ago, and I had seen them and thought they looked very pretty — and I thought they were kind of tasty. I got them, so we have a whole bunch of them here. Nobody else eats them, except for me.
Q: When did you realize your Twitter thread was becoming a viral sensation? Did you realize that night, or was that a next-morning revelation?
A: At some point, my husband came in and said he had gotten a few texts from friends saying they thought that my Twitter account had been hacked. And I said, “It hasn’t been hacked!” I was incensed at the thought that someone thought it was hacked.
Then he said, “Are you sure you want to be tweeting in your condition?” I said, “Yes, yes, it’s fine. Everything’s fine.” But I was just sort of tweeting, and I wasn’t looking to see if anyone was responding. I was just typing, stream-of-consciousness, without giving a great deal of thought to if anyone was reading it. To me, it was late at night, even though it wasn’t late. I had gone to bed at 8:30 because I was hammered.
Q: It was everywhere on Twitter, and it was all joy. What do you think people were connecting with?
A: For one thing, I’m a pretty cheerful drunk. So I guess my babbling and even my expletive-laden declarations were still not nasty. It was just babbling. So I suppose if you think about it, not that I would point to this as my finest writing, but there was an amount of authenticity that I think probably delighted people. This has been such a miserable, grim year … My guess is that people were just reaching the end of their ropes and feeling like everything was just grim, and Twitter can really reflect that.
Q: Perhaps it’s too early to know, but where do you think this thread will fit into the canon of your work? I feel like it will be studied.
A: I’ve always tried to be pretty authentic, both in my writing as well as my social-media presence. … I’ve not been afraid of exposing my ups and downs as I’m writing or my insecurities. I’ve always felt really comfortable doing that. And while I will say that the rest of my writing will be done while sober, I don’t think this is wildly out of character. … I’ve always tried to be very true to my emotions, and my emotions that particular night were a bit sloppy drunk. That’s why I’m not mortified.