Michelle Junot is the author of and the floor is always lava. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.
In Notes From My Phone*, Junot opens up her phone and her life to you. This collection of essays, to-do lists, vignettes, reminders and dreams mixes heart-felt memoir with the everyday marginalia that makes up a twenty-something’s life and day planner. The everyday is placed side-by-side with the universal, and in doing so, transcends to be more than the sum of its parts. If, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” then Notes From My Phone*, celebrates life in all its tedious and troubling beauty.
It’s tempting to write off Notes From My Phone* as a gimmicky attempt at memoir without fully plunging into the self-indulgence of writing about oneself. The contents of this book started as notes that Michelle Junot left to herself on her phone. At the urging of Mason Jar Press, they were shaped into a collection of memoir fragments that construct a twentysomething woman’s quarter-life crisis, among other things.
Even that is tempting to write off. Who cares about a twentysomething woman’s quarter-life crisis, you might ask. All of our favorite celebrities are dying and Donald Trump is filling the government with Nazis. Enough with this Thought Catalog “elegy for my twenties” bullshit, the past few months have taken too much from us.
I’m getting really specific here because I had those thoughts when I started this book, and I’m glad I ignored them. As it turns out, Notes From My Phone* is quietly profound.
For one thing, it’s not all lists and reminders to buy contact solution. Themes do emerge from repetition; heartbreak, self-doubt, rejection, attempts to regain confidence as a response to heartbreak, and a mouse in Michelle’s apartment whose appearances get funnier as Michelle gets more exasperated. As someone who once found a mouse sleeping in his damn bed a few apartments ago, she won my sympathies.
“The power just went out. How is this my life?” Michelle wonders at one point during the mouse’s unwelcome tenancy in her apartment. “I’m in the dark with a mouse who may be agitated by the smell of peppermint.”
Earlier, she’d been ruminating on whether it was better to be aware of the mouse’s presence, or ignorant of it. “I am not one for confrontation,” she writes. “I do not like speaking about hard things or the lump that forms in my throat when tears find my eyes. I don’t like the way that men’s faces change when my eyes tear.”
Later, she writes that the mouse “taught me how I deal with fear: I let it consume me. I let the what-ifs rule who I am. I err on the side of seizing a false sense of control over my life.” By this point, the mouse’s original, comedic role in this book has shifted into a mechanism for introspection.
Religion has a similar function in Notes From My Phone*. Michelle is a Christian, and a lot of talking to God happens in this book. In a way, that’s kind of a bold move, to announce one’s religious beliefs beyond the context of ultimately rejecting them, or as part of a grander redemptive arc.
“Lord, I’m tired, and I’m awake again,” she writes, complaining of insomnia. “I want to take comfort in you, rest in the fact that you have a plan for me. Rest in your grace and deep love for me. Rest in the fact that those feelings and desires and misunderstood heartache will go away soon. But how will it go away if I don’t let go of it?”
“I just wish I understood what was of you and what wasn’t,” she says later, while grieving the end of a relationship. “I’m scared of your comfort, and I’m scared what following you might actually mean,” she says in a prayer, of sorts. “How do I learn to trust you when my own heart gets in the way?”
Clearly, Michelle’s relationship with God is complex and frustrated. When she prays for advice about how to move on from a dissolved relationship, or what it means to be an adult when the hallmarks of adulthood (career, house, kids) seem impossible to reach, one wonders if she’s using prayer as a vessel for talking to herself.
Michelle wonders that herself sometimes. “I like to think I put my trust in God,” she says, “but really, I’m functionally trusting myself/and then I screw up/and then I’m shocked by it/because I have this unrealistic view of my own heart.”
The frank, confessional tone of passages like those — and the book’s sparse interior layout — makes the reader feel almost voyeuristic by the end. It’s like finding your outwardly stable older sister’s journal and discovering her hidden frailties; this book genuinely doesn’t read like something that was meant for other people to see. In that sense, it’s unlike any memoir I’ve ever read before. Both in structure and execution, Notes From My Phone* resists the urge to show off, and therein lies its strength.