“I always wanted that Disney Channel Californian skateboarding childhood,” says Darcie Wilder, “but I never got it.” I’m sitting with the writer and social-media star in an East Village dive, B-Side, talking about Princess Diaries star Erik von Detten’s tween-friendly Nineties filmography. Wilder’s new novel, literally show me a healthy person, is distinctly anti-Disney. Wry reflections on life in New York and in the blogosphere echo throughout the narrative of a young girl losing her mother to cancer, dealing with an emotionally distant father, and forging ahead through cycles of abuse, neglect, and substance dependency.
Written between 2012 and 2015, literally show me a healthy person is a peek into the interior monologue of a young adult, based on Wilder’s life. Born in New York, she bounced between her family home in Washington Heights, her grandmother’s place in Hell’s Kitchen, and her uncle’s in Stuytown. Wilder’s parents, both criminal defense lawyers, fought brutally (at one point in the novel, Wilder describes a tense, knife-drawn showdown) and eventually divorced. There are gloomy depictions of run-down New York neighborhoods, self-involved, boundary-crossing men, and the alcohol-fueled abuse she endured from her mother. Wilder maintains it’s not fully autobiographical: “A lot of the things in the book are true to me, but it’s not a reported thing.” Instead, names are changed and hyperbole draws laughs even as it illustrates pain.
When I tell her literally show me a healthy person reminds me of confessional poetry — intensely personal, meandering in thought — Wilder’s quick to disagree. “I just get kind of annoyed that poetry becomes this catchall for writing because the requirements for a poem are essentially nonexistent,” she says. “I feel like other forms and types and genres of writing can be stunted or never develop because anything that doesn’t fit into a predefined genre is a ‘poem,’ and so it’s kind of like, ‘Ugh! Let it live!’ ”
Instead, she sees literally show me a healthy person as a novel meant to express herself and connect with others. “It’s very much as if I was being accused of something in general, and this is me confessing every terrible thing I’ve ever done or has happened to me.”
Wilder has slowly built a following as the morbidly funny @333333333433333 on Twitter (currently boasting over 70K followers), where she helped introduce the world to the phenomenon of “millennial pink.” At MTV News, Wilder’s current place of work, her dry brand of observational humor is put to use on the outlet’s social-media accounts. Her first day on the job, BuzzFeed tweeted the MTV account a facetious question. Forgoing internet niceties, she simply responded, “@BuzzFeed it’s my first day.” She claims it “might be my favorite tweet I’ve ever tweeted for work.”
Wilder’s web writing also informs her book: Emails, blog posts, and tweets are repurposed into a new rhythm, documenting moments of emotional resonance the way another novel might render rising and falling action. There is no linear logic to the events she details. (The most conventional section of literally show me a healthy person, spanning four pages, is a frank email from her mother explaining what living with cancer is like.) Rather, a traditional narrative arc is contorted into an emotional spiral. Wilder, or her character, ricochets between that aloof father, friends who party too hard, and embarrassing social interactions. She can be brutally honest about her failings, but she’s deliberately vague about certain specifics, dropping us into a world populated with dates, with fellow psychedelic adventurers, but omitting the connective tissue between them. Still, while we might not know their names, we know the type.
Meanwhile, the urgency of internet parlance — lowercase, unpunctuated, frequently contradictory — is what makes Wilder’s book so affecting. Lines like “u can be over him and still want to ruin his life. multitudes” and “GEOFF I THINK IM IN A BETTER PLACE THAN WHEN WE DATED OK, IM DOING REAL GOOD NOW” ring painfully true, while inviting readers to laugh at Wilder’s bouts of self-loathing. Her brand of humor is built on a kind of paradox: impulsively honest, but necessarily self-aware. There is something inescapably performative about vocalizing extreme emotions — discomfort, hate, sorrow — while knowing you have an audience to communicate them to, especially in the real-time archive of the Twitterverse.
Wilder is always after a facsimile of intimacy and seems attuned to the failings of language. See: her impossible-to-pronounce Twitter handle (as she explains in an email, “depending on the situation i like drawing it out really slowly and repeating, ‘three three three three three three three three three four three three three three three’ as necessary, sometimes i’ll explain it’s just nine 3s, a 4, and five 3s, and sometimes i’ll just say it’s a lot of threes and a four”) or the keyboard smash that was almost the name of her novel. “Originally it was supposed to be called this random string of letters, and then Tyrant [Books] was like, ‘Dude, you can’t do that,’ ” she explains. But the title had a purpose. “That communicated the feeling of being stunned, very overwhelmed, having a rush of adrenaline, but not being able to articulate something. A lot of the book is about trying to communicate that feeling.”
Wilder’s emotional narrative eventually shifts toward attempts to heal. She describes a conversation with a friend and a scene from rehab, but it’s all tinged with a morbidity. “feeling refreshed after dreaming i was murdered,” she notes, before lamenting setting the smoke alarm off while trying to cleanse spirits from her grandmother’s deathbed. As always, the disparate scenes work together to illustrate the complications of getting better. Sometimes words aren’t enough, though. The last line of her novel ends with that would-be title: “note to self: khdjysbfshfsjtstjsjts.”
literally show me a healthy person
By Darcie Wilder