Things I Know to Be True: The Phone Rule

I am, without a doubt, a talking on the phone master.

And I’m not talking about my ability to press buttons, something I learned how to do when I was four and my mother spent the afternoon training me how to place a call. (Once again, I am sorry, random people in D.C. who I accidentally called and promptly hung up on in a panic.)

I mean that I am very good at clamping a slowly warming phone between my shoulder and ear and talking for eons.

I’ve tried explaining this before to my mother, who looked at me as if I was touched in the head, but I’ve always felt like when you talk on the phone, you enter this other place. The only sense you get to share with the other person is hearing. So much could be going on that you’re not aware of, but it doesn’t matter because it isn’t part of the shared interaction.

You don’t have to worry about looking as professional as possible when doing work. In fact, I usually call people while I’m lying down in my bed. And if you’re telling or listening to something difficult from a friend, you don’t have to worry about body language or facial expressions–all that exists is the words. And then, there’s the tremendously fun aspect of trying to describe something so that the other person can imagine what it would be like to experience it.

Perhaps it’s because I love reading and writing so much, where you don’t get anything more than the author’s descriptions and explanations the same way you only hear the other person’a words on the other end of the line. I love the freedom of interpretation and the way you have to be both careful and creative with your word choice. It’s like improv writing, if you will.

And maybe it’s because that other place feels safer and people often let their guard down more, particularly if it’s nighttime and you’re both tired. I love the way that the phone strips away those barriers. No one can see you fidget, turn red, or tear up. It’s okay to be visibly emotional, because the other person can’t tell. Just say it.

I suppose that I’m only thinking of this now because I just spent over an hour on the phone with George and another hour before dinner with my aunt. But it’s true. The other place is close to the top of the list of The Things Eleanor Knows to be True About Her World, right under “vulnerability is the key to happiness” and above “you will always feel weirdly calm after sobbing.”

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The Little Orange and Gold Book and the First Law of Idea-dynamics

Lately, I’ve developed the habit of writing down anything that I find interesting. There’s so much that I am desperate to remember, to work into other narratives, to repeat to others, or maybe to even stick up here on my blog. There are so many beautiful things being said by the people that surround me and in books that I don’t want to lose. The power of language and thought is astounding, and the nature and creation of ideas never fails to amaze me.

So I’ve been carrying around a little gold and orange notebook that I was given by a friend in eighth grade. The gold designs are raised a little bit from the cover, and I love running my fingers over them absentmindedly in class. It’s got a magnetic flap that keeps it closed, which makes a very satisfying clapping noise, and the paper has thin brown-ish grey-ish lines just the right space apart.

Because it’s rather old, it’s got some interesting artifacts inside. There are random sentences–often later used in short stories–from the summer I spent in France, notes on meetings and a few packing lists from over the years, and some protein counts and food logs from this summer, but I’ve used a paperclip to push all of that to the side. It’s got a new and very important job now.

I’ve furiously scribbled things down when I’m talking with people on the phone, written down things people sent in texts, or carefully copied things out of books, but mostly it’s just full of snippets of conversations.

Today, I was speaking to my father on the phone about my recent obsession with mortality (which has made me unable to sleep, but more on that later). The moment that he said, “Everyone has to come to peace with mortality in their own way. We all imagine it differently,” I scrambled to get a pen. I knew that whatever he said next would be worth recording.

Here’s a quote from the conversation:

“I am a collection of atoms that changes continually. The collection is called me and has a self-consciousness that is me. At some point, the atoms will reintegrate with the world. I imagine my atoms becoming grass. Part of the living force in the world is aligned in me right now.”

Last night, George quoted Camus in a text message and then sent me this Dorothy Sayers quote today when I asked permission to quote her:

“A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought.”

But I am convinced that both George and Dorothy Sayers are wrong. Original thought comes from listening to others, whether it be by hearing or reading, writing those things down, and mulling over what they’ve said, until you come to new, independent, and perhaps ingenious conclusions. Energy can neither be created or destroyed: it can only be transformed from one state to another, and the same holds true for ideas.

And that, my friends, is why I’m writing things down.