Telephone #52essays2017 no. 10

Unpacking ought to make me happy, particularly seeing the books, my old friends, but instead it fills me with dread and makes me wonder yet again if a match wouldn’t be a great boon to the endeavor that is my life. It’s tempting to get a dumpster and just trash everything and maybe set it on fire for good measure, since 2017 is turning out to be as much of a dumpster fire of a year as the last one was. But I can’t really countenance throwing away books, much less setting them on fire, so I’ll settle for unpacking them bit by bit and putting them back on the shelf.

I own a four volume set of George Orwell’s journalism, letters, and essays. Once upon a time, back when I had oceans of time in graduate school, I read the first half of one volume. The flap of that book has been marking my place halfway through for over a decade now, though, and I perhaps ought to give up on the idea that I’m ever going to read any more of it, but I won’t. After all, I have the day off today and my son is in daycare. Perhaps I’ll read some more today.

I’ve written already to my seventeen year old self, but it’s my twenty-seven year old self I think of more these days. She was a mess, but she didn’t realize how lucky she was: in a writing graduate program with very few requirements, earning enough money as a teaching assistant to live quite nicely, nothing to do with large swaths of time but read and write. I’d kill for that existence now, or so I think. Perhaps it would leave me just as depressed and paralyzed now as it did then.

I have spent half a lifetime being treated for depression and anxiety, sometimes successfully, sometimes less so. Lately it’s been less so, which is part of why this week’s essay is so late and so scattered. I can’t wrap my head around much of anything, much less write it down.

My study is impassable at the moment due to boxes of books and boxes and piles of… other things. A bag of assorted cords and cables. A battery charger, A toy truck, An ancient lockbox. I’m not sure what else. It’s of course classic writerly denial to believe one can’t work because one’s study isn’t clear, but I cling to denial as hard as the next would be writer, and so the clutter is distressing me. I’m working on it: this morning I unpacked four or five boxes of books (discovering the Orwell in the process), but there are yet more, plus, of course, the toy truck and the lockbox and the battery charger and the assorted cords and cables, none of which have a home.

There’s also my old telephone, which I should just pitch and will once I can get myself to throw out with it the things that people wrote on it over the years. It’s a basic off white phone from AT&T, and its model number was 700, so my friend wrote on it in Sharpie “700 Club Member Complimentary Phone.” That started a trend, and soon other people were writing things on it, some swapping in the word phone for another in a line from a book or song (“The phone was forced to lie flat and bare as the palm of his hand,” “I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, got my phone and I was free,” Telephone Planet, Singin’ in the Telephone), others just making phone references (“ALL CALL BRAK!”). I had to go get the phone to remember all those — there are more, but some have worn off over the years, and the whole thing is dingy.

There. I did it. I put it in the trash can. This essay will be the memorial to my first telephone, which I got in high school and used up until I gave up on landlines all together when I moved back to Iowa six years ago.

I had other phones in there, because eventually I wanted cordless phones. I had a purple one I was quite fond of for a time, and later a svelte black one. But I always kept the 700 Club phone around, it being important to have a phone that wasn’t cordless in case your cordless phone died.

I used to spend many hours on the phone talking with friends, and now I never do in part because now I don’t have those swaths of time anymore and in part because now I rather hate the phone. But I’m nostalgic for the days when I didn’t.