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Confessions of a corpse flower: Mysterious Twitter star @CorpzFlowrLois comes completely clean

Confessions of a corpse flower: Mysterious Twitter star @CorpzFlowrLois comes completely clean

The world of celebrity Twitter has always intrigued me: Miley Cyrus's meltdown and account deactivation, Lindsay Lohan's tale of getting punched by a waitress, Johnny Weir's dreams of skating with nipple tassels — there's so much gold to be found on the social networking site.

And so when I learned that CultureMap would be taking a keen interest in the media frenzy surrounding a smelly flower named Lois, I couldn't help but wonder: "Why does this rising star not have a Twitter account of its own?"

Obviously the Houston Museum of Natural Science has its own Twitter page, but there was no voice for the flower itself.

"I should make a fake Twitter account for Lois!" I exclaimed during our daily morning editorial meeting on July 12. What was meant as a sarcastic side comment (fitting with the majority of my contributions to these conferences) surprisingly sparked the interest of my managing editor, Chris Baldwin.

Together with my fellow editors, we launched an initiative to tweet for Lois — with the ghost tweeter to remain veiled in secrecy.

I began with a few tawdry tweets — commenting on stereotypes of flowers enjoying being talked to, expressing an inexplicable distaste for Splenda. I was shocked when I saw the flower's followers rocket to 100 in one work day.

From there it went viral. As the fans grew, so did Lois' sass.

It spilt poison about a past relationship with horticulturist Zac Stayton, celebrated its dual-gender anatomy and fired a fictional assistant. By the end of the second day, the Houston Chronicle and Houston Press had published stories probing the mysterious @CorpzFlowrLois. On Wednesday morning, National Public Radio's coast-to-coast broadcast included a mention of the corpse flower's popularity at HMNS — and the accompanying Twitter craze.

Lois was a star. Soon the entire CultureMap team — particularly associate editor Sarah Rufca and columnist Caroline Gallay — became absorbed along with me in composing acutely caustic neologisms in the voice of the blossom.

Combined with constant real-time coverage of actual flower news, the office was overflowing with Lois fever.

We had no idea that once we gave the diva a podium, it would try to milk the account for all the publicity it could get. The flower kept us cranking out tweets for two solid weeks, punctuated by a live Twitter conversation with fans on a Saturday morning. In the process, Houston learned what happens when flowers stop acting polite — and start being real.


A lark turns into an obsession

If you're also a master of social networking deception, then you know that living the lives of two creatures begins to take its toll. I found myself waking up in the middle of the night to scribble down tweet inspirations, gritting my teeth on the train to work as I composed the perfect 140 characters, and allowing my relationships crumble — all in the quest to make Lois a twitterlebrity.

I knew I'd hit rock bottom while I was at a friend's going-away party. I secluded myself and my phone to a chair and when I wasn't immersed in tweeting Lois, I was talking about tweeting Lois, until one friend turned to me and said, grimacing, "Why are you even here?"

Had I and my fellow CultureMappers created a monster? With the prolonged (and ultimately feigned) blooming, inspiration would sometimes run dry — but our egos didn't. For the sake of increased followers, we channeled our flavor of urgent sass into an attitude that had never before been ascribed to a plant.

It was not until this Friday that I decided to come out of the corpse flower closet. CultureMap made a phone call to HMNS, and within five minutes, we had a joint party-tweetup on the books for the following night. (The actual reveal took place on KTRK Channel 13 in its 10 p.m. Saturday night newscast). 

My entrance to the midnight event at the museum necessitated a higher level of orchestration, including hiring actor Philip Hays to impersonate paparazzi and enlisting CultureMap veganista Joel Luks to portray the thankless role of Lois' assistant, Diego.

The hordes of followers who filled the museum's plaza to the brim burst with joy when I made my debut and Zac introduced me. As I made my descent into the crowd, bright-eyed girls swarmed around me, asking for autographs with purple Sharpies.

The flurry of camera flashes and "Can I touch you"s was certainly a peak in my still-early career as a celebrity ghost tweeter.

Walking home from the after-party at Monarch (across the street in Hotel ZaZa), I experienced flashbacks of forgotten childhood memories at the museum. For a handful of years, my birthday party would perennially consist of watching an IMAX (Antarctica was my favorite), followed by cupcakes in the shadow of the sundial. And I first learned about robots and geodesic domes at the HMNS summer camps.

Years later, I rediscovered the museum as a reason to get dressed up and sip sangria at the Mixers and Elixirs events.

The impact of @CorpzFlowrLois suddenly became clear. What had begun as a media parody ultimately connected a community of newfound botany enthusiasts, sparking interest in one of the city's cultural treasures.

Sure, it was a little thrilling to experience the fan frenzy formerly elicited only by a Jonas brother, but once the Stink-O-Meter completely drops and the tweets come to a standstill, I can take comfort in having leveraged an unprecedented level of snark into raising awareness of a Houston institution.

News_Steven Thomson_Lois_July 2010
Who was that mysterious man near Lois on Saturday night? Michelle Watson for
News_Steven Thomson_Zac Stayton_July 2010
CultureMap's Steven Thomson waves to the crowd after HMNS horticulturist Zac Stayton introduced him as the voice of @CorpzFlowrLois. Michelle Watson for
News_Steve Thomson_Museum of Natural Science staff
Steven meets his new friends, the "Team Lois" staff at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Michelle Watson for
News_Lois_corpse flower_072310_crowd
@CorpzFlowrLois isn't taking all the credit for the crowds, but ... Courtesy of Houston Museum of Natural Science
News_Lindsay Lohan_alcohol_ankle bracelet_monitor
.....Steven was taken with the possibilities of Twitter even before Lindsay Lohan used it to tell the world about being punched in the face by a waitress.
News_Lois_Pop Up Party_crowd shot_ July 2010
A crowd gathered past midnight Sunday to find out the identity of @CorpzFlowrLois Michelle Watson for
News_Zac Stayton_corpse flower_July 10
Zac didn't know who @CorpzFlowrLois was until Saturday. But he/she sure knew a lot about Zac. Courtesy of Hortzac
Corpse flower
OK, corpse flower Lois never actually looked this good — but @CorpzFlowrLois always did.
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