Michelle Junot’s Notes From My Phone by Tyler Mendelsohn

Most of the time, people aren’t in public when they write notes into their phone. It tends to be a private act—a place to work out exactly the right way to phrase an email, a place to work through one’s thoughts when lying in bed. Reading Michelle Junot’s Notes From My Phone—literally, notes from Junot’s phone—feels like getting as close as possible to the author’s inner world.

The book begins with a note from November 23rd, 2014: “The notes section of my phone may be my most-telling memoir.”

This raises a number of interesting questions. For one, what is memoir? Is memoir only something that’s written and crafted to be viewed by others, or can it be something else? Can looking through our phone activity tell us something about our internal state? We tend to think of our phone use as the shallow part of our day—“I should get off my phone, be more present”—but the reality is that we live a large part of our lives there, and it could have significant things to tell us about ourselves.

What it tells us about Junot is that she, like many people in their twenties (or of any age), is struggling to make sense of the world. Junot is Christian and often processes her emotions by talking to God; if, like me, you don’t connect with religion, you might struggle a bit with these parts, but ultimately the pain, the questions, and the desire for hope all feel universal. Which—to answer my earlier question—is one thing memoir hopes to do: get at the universal through personal specifics.

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“A plane fell out of the sky and still the world went on,” says Junot in Notes From My Phone. “A day later, my hometown was on lockdown for a bomb threat and a suspicious device in the park where I learned to run… And a plane. There was a plane that fell from the sky and another one that just disappeared. It disappeared with questions and loved ones, and we buried those people with conspiracy theories and opinions and Facebook statuses that ultimately did nothing for anyone.”

There are powerful sentiments in this book, which become more compelling as you move through it chronologically. Often, memoirs can be about coming-of-age as remembered by the author later in life—but in this case, Junot wrote these things as she was growing up. The way the book builds on itself is the way Junot’s worldview expanded.

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This building-on-itself works for humor, too. Junot’s jokes work best when you’re in on an inside joke the author has with herself. For instance, there’s a whole ordeal with a mouse that Junot can’t get out of her house. Junot writes tons of notes about the mouse. Sometimes, for a couple of notes, she’ll forget about him, and then he’ll pop back up again. She brings over her friend’s cat to try to get rid of him, to no avail. One night, she lights candles and puts on music—but then worries she’s having a weird romantic night with the mouse. The mouse becomes a character. In the last note about him, Junot simply says, “Caught the mouse! Dropping him off in the woods and going to work.” After having read about the dramatic—and surprisingly intimate—ordeal with the mouse, the absurdity of this matter-of-fact ending is surprising and funny.

There are a lot of moments that catch you off guard in this book—but overall the thing that catches you most is Junot’s willingness to be vulnerable. She talks candidly about this in the introduction; the ideas she presents are ultimately simple—that vulnerability is a risk, but necessary—and it feels especially useful in our current times. In fact, reading this book as a whole feels especially useful in this moment, when allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and to connect with each other seems so crucial.

On December 6th at 7PM, Junot will come to Bird in Hand, the Ivy Bookshop’s new book café, to read from Notes From My Phone. It’ll be weird to see Junot read notes from her phone, from a book. And it’ll be interesting to see another layer of radical vulnerability when she’s reading something that wasn’t originally meant for an audience, out loud to an audience.

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The Writers Among Us is a series in which we explore local authors’ work. You can find books by these writers—and a variety of books by many other local writers —at The Ivy Bookshop. Check out The Ivy’s Event Calendar  for authors readings throughout the year.  

Tyler Mendelsohn is a Baltimore writer and a member of The Ivy Bookshop’s team. Tyler has an MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts from The University of Baltimore. You can find more of Tyler’s work here: http://www.whatweekly.com/author/tyler-mendelsohn/

Read more about Michelle Junot at her website: https://michellejunot.com.