well well well if it isn’t me with some sad boring ass shit yet again!
here i am in your inbox:
here are some thoughts i wrote about TALKING on the PHONE and FRIENDSHIP and just general *gestures broadly* lonely winter blues. wild that i’m dropping this on a sunny 55º day but what can you do ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
there are no media recs because honestly (a) does anyone care and (b) just writing this took me awhile (i recently wrote this long read on 2018’s Book Club (absolutely utilizing a parenthetical inside a parenthetical to say: lol) and also a SCREENPLAY thank you very much) because my brain is a little FRIED but still clings to an idea that i must publicly show productivity on a regular basis lest people think i’m a fraud but that’s for me and my therapist to talk about!!! anyway i DIGRESS. if you want me to recommend music or movies or television or articles or books to you, like, i’m happy to. you know where to find me.
sorry to bother you
It is the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday and I am pacing in an empty conference room as I talk on the phone with an old friend, and by old I don’t mean longtime, I mean just that: old. I like her for myriad reasons, among which are that she is bluntly opinionated and she calls everyone “honey” (“baby,” by virtue of comparable youth, mixes its way in, too) and uses words like “delicious” to describe things and experiences and people but never food.
She is having a shitty day and says just that, offering an explanation that begins with the words “I’m sorry” but isn’t an apology; she is simply too old to care enough to offer a faux-cheerful “I’m well! How are you!!!” anymore. I say I always seem to call at the wrong time, when dinner is almost ready or family is visiting or closets are being cleaned, my voice the opposite of her gravelly decisiveness: high and uncertain and apologetic. She insists on staying on the line anyway and she animatedly tells me the details of the disaster I have caught her in the middle of and soon I’m not so nervous after all and we are laughing about the misadventure we had the last time we saw each other and when we hang up I feel a strange sort of emptiness I can’t explain. Like a balloon that had steadily filled during those scant five delightful minutes, I can feel myself suddenly deflating. I just want to float in that carefree conversation a little bit longer. I just want that warmth to burn a little bit more and not leave me so fast. I just want to keep on pretending that I am not in a sad, empty conference room, fluorescent lit and situated high enough above the West Side Highway that traffic below looks not so much real as it does a game, cars small as Hot Wheels, pretending that I am not right back where I was.
When I was young, I could talk on the phone for hours. Late at night, I would climb up into the small square storage space that sat high in my bedroom wall, cordless landline in hand, and dial my best friend’s number. For the rest of the night, we would talk about everything and nothing until battery began to beep out its death or my mother yelled “What could you be laughing about!? It’s 2 a.m.! People are SLEEPING!” Whichever came first.
I don’t know when I started to wince at the sound of my own disembodied voice, so strange, obnoxious, and grating to my ears. I don’t know when I began to silently beg “don’t pick up, don’t pick up, don’t pick up” as soon as the number I had spent the past twenty minutes working myself up to call began to ring. I don’t know when I felt the intense need to follow up every opening hello immediately with the word sorry.
I am trying to be better.
It’s a Wednesday afternoon and I am thinking about another friend, the one who always either misses your call entirely and never calls you back or picks up immediately and keeps you on the line for what feels like hours and sometimes actually is. I like these conversations best, like hearing the way she segues, the shifting gears never making themselves known as we coast from current events to why you should stay away from heroin (aside from the obvious reasons, you’ll gain a lot of weight when you finally quit) to ancient Greek philosophy. Sometimes getting a word in is a challenge, but I don’t mind. I imagine myself a sponge, perfectly content to sit and absorb and absorb and absorb to the point of excess. Elaine May once said of Mike Nichols’ films: “I have no idea where they’re gonna go and then when they get there, I go, ‘Oh, well, yeah of course.’” I never know where these meandering calls will take me, and when they finally reach their end, I am exhausted. I am happy, but it doesn’t take long for an inexplicable wistfulness to fill my chest with a dull sort of achy tightness.
It’s not a good feeling but it’s not a bad one either, and at any rate, it certainly is one I miss having. I miss it so much that I don’t realize I miss it until I’m already in the middle of missing it, a small snippet of conversation re-entering my brain at random, on the subway or in a meeting or lying in bed. It has been many months since I have sat with my iPhone pressed tightly to my cheek, jotting down some remark I will want to save for inevitable future bad days, needing to pee yet not daring to even want to end the conversation just yet. It has been some time since the last one of these marathons, and I can’t shake this feeling that lately life is just an Instagram Story on autoplay, flicking from frame to frame and never staying long enough on the good ones.
The thing about phones is that few of us — particularly those of us who belong to a certain generation — are rarely without them anymore. I got my first cell phone at 13, a blue Nokia 6100 barely bigger than the palm of my child size hand. It was for emergencies only, and I had to share it with my two younger sisters. We were not, under any circumstances, allowed to text, lest we wanted to incur the wrath of our father, who would sternly remind us ad nauseum that texting wasn’t in our plan, and our paltry babysitting funds would cover any charges we racked up. It was yet another shared object the three of us would fight viciously over; we couldn’t agree on what case to buy from the accessory stand in the mall, whose activity was demanding enough to get custody for the day, even whose room it would stay in at night.
As the shared Nokia became a hot pink Razr of my own, then an enV3, and finally version after version of iPhones, its ubiquitous presence has stretched to its limit but I’m not sure if it’s doing me any good.
Because the other thing about phones is that few of us — particularly those of us who belong to a certain generation — rarely use them to actually make calls anymore. Gradually, then suddenly, the phone became not a lifeline to other people’s voices, but a lifeline to breaking news and group texts, a constant source of likes, comments, shares, and retweets. It became a toy, a sleek glass and aluminum portal to instant gratification, external validation, and existential dread in equal endless measure, all of which I can access whenever I want to. Sometimes even when I don’t.
I read something once that said there’s no greater comfort for humans than the sound of our own mother’s voice, that it raises our serotonin levels or something. I don’t know, I’m paraphrasing here. The gist of it, though, was specific on the fact that another person’s voice held a seemingly cosmic and almost unfathomable yet actually very scientifically provable ability to make us feel better. The joke, of course, is that when I feel like I am floundering, or when I feel a little bit lonely and a little bit sad — even just a little bit bored — and I know I need the voice of someone else to fill up some space but I am not entirely sure why, one of the last ones I want to hear belongs to my mother. When we are on the same line for longer than five minutes, all I can seem to hear is exhaustion and disappointment, both mine and hers, and though there are times still I go to the proverbial hardware store looking for orange juice, more and more, it has become easier for me to just avoid doing it at all.
You should always pick up the phone when you’re thinking about someone, this I know to be true. But it’s so easy to avoid it, so easy to talk myself out of sitting with the awkward silences I know will dissipate with time and the on-the-spot vulnerability from which there is no place to hide. It’s easy to spiral into the trappings of my own mind, to calculate the frequency with which I contact people with a careful but cool precision, to develop and follow arbitrary rules in an effort to mitigate any risk that the people I love will find me clingy and desperate, a pushy annoyance, and suddenly stop loving me back. It’s much easier to sit and marinate in a loneliness of my own making. And so I let things go unsaid, left to loop endlessly in the liminal space of what ifs.
It’s a Thursday night and my aunt calls me and she sounds drunk — I think she is drunk — and it’s cold and misty out but I’m out walking around anyway. It’s that time of year when I feel a broad but shallow sort of sadness and I don’t know why. I walk for blocks after work in search of some imprecise sense of warmth or maybe just a temporary cure for my boredom, keeping company with my music and wondering how so many things could be going right and I could still feel so stagnant and wrong. The winter has not been as cold as last but it sure feels a lot more muted and grey.
My aunt says she misses me, says she misses the little girl who would call her crying into her smuggled cell phone, asking her to pick her up on the street corner every time my dad got mad at me and threw me out of the house. I do my best to laugh and say I miss her too and try to push out of my mind that I do not miss that little girl at all. And I can’t help but zone out a little as she talks, my vague sadness now given a reason to turn into actual sadness. I listen to her tell stories and recount memories that she tries to make sound funny but really are not as I watch apartment lights flick on in buildings I walk by, admire the built-in bookshelves in one living room, practically hear the dinner party chatter as it forms in another, imagine the body heat of strangers sitting tight together as I pass by packed bars. It is often too easy for me to envision these people’s lives — who they are, what they do, how they came to find themselves in this West Village townhouse — as well as my own — who would I be if I lived there? Still me or someone different? The joy in dreaming up a fictionalized version of reality is fun until it isn’t, until it just leaves me feeling empty and longing in the cold air, uncertain that these things I have in my dream life will ever be achievable in my real one. For a week after we talk I keep a bottle of wine in my refrigerator but refuse to open it.
And I don’t really know if there’s a point to any of this other than to say that saying hello first is hard for me but I hate goodbyes even more so if I ring you up sometime, or even if I don’t, please just know that I am very sorry to bother you.
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okay that's it that's the end thanks bye