What My iPhone Notes Say About Me
They say if you want to get to know someone - read their diary. Well although I love writing here (maybe this is my diary?) I struggle to keep a journal, and I’m not the only one.
In Feel Free Zadie Smith writes:
“I have some mental block when it comes to diaries and journals. The same childish questions get to me. Who is it for? What is this voice? Who am I trying to kid, myself?... When it comes to life writing, the real, honest, diaristic, warts-and-all kind, the only thing I have to show for myself—is my Yahoo! email account, opened circa 1996 and still going. In there (though I would rather die than read it all over) is probably the closest thing to an honest account of my life, at least in writing. That’s me, for good and bad, with all the kind deeds and dirty lies and domestic squabbles and bookish friendships and online fashion purchases... If my children want to know what I was like in the daily sense, not as a writer, not as a more-or-less presentable person, but simply the foolish human being behind it all, they’d be wise to look there.”
Whilst my hotmail account is still going strong - if you want to get a good look at what is important to me, or what I was reflecting on at a certain moment in time - read my phone notes (spoiler - early 2018 was dominated by pages and pages of Alain de Botton quotes). I love the unfinished nature of it - it somehow seems less definitive than a diary, and perhaps more honest? Miscellaneous shopping lists, draft text messages, promising recipes, goal setting and eftpos passwords. Less-than interesting alone, together they paint a picture. So we asked some particularly brave people to share their screenshots and interpretation of what it all means.
PLUS big ol s/o to longtime reader Jess J for inspiring this post - we love ya x
My notes form a revealing stream of consciousness that jumps from subject to subject, often in the same note in a bizarre almost-list, which would seem horribly random to anyone reading, except that I know they are (usually) around a vague theme and can generally remember where I was and what I was doing when I wrote them.
One thing that I really value notes for is as an on-the-go and discrete tool for figuring out or documenting how I’m feeling. As an enneagram 7, I often struggle to identify my feelings and when I’m not in the mood for verbal processing with a friend (or don’t have one to chat to), quickly whipping down my thoughts in a note is how I can help figure it out or document it. And because there’s nothing to figure out or document when I’m feeling fine, these notes can make me seem like some kind of psycho-emotional being - if someone were to find my phone and read these, it would be a real insight into my process of rationalising and feeling. They are moments frozen in time, and even if a few days later I’m feeling entirely differently about those same things, the note can transport right back into those feelings of that moment.
My notes make one last thing blindingly clear - I am food OBSESSED. Food brings me SUCH JOY and I frequently note down great food experiences or recipes from people or cookbooks to recreate at some point. And, as I’ve been travelling the last few months, these foodie-notes are particularly varied and international and FUN. Memories that involve eating are such powerful ones for me, that I only need to remember the Berlin sandwich, to remember the feelings and location and flavour and joy.
I got a new phone recently, and in that short time the only things that have found their way into my iPhone notes are seemingly mundane - shopping lists, to do lists, movies to watch. But there are two notes that made me smile - the first one just reads “you are a dick head” - honestly I have no idea of the context of that but I adore it.
The second one I wrote about my boyfriend, in one of those eureka “oh my god I love you” moments. Before I met him I had just come out of a period of time where I had lost myself and missed myself and just really lost the plot a bit. When I met him and we fell in love it was like waking up from a really long sleep. I love the way he loves me, and for the first time in a really really long time I feel like myself again. I think that’s what love should do to you; both loving and being loved; it should make you, you.
‘This girl contains multitudes’ hahaha. I am a prolific notes user - I have written entire essays on the thing and my folder is full of everything from half-thought-out lyric ideas to a note that simply says ‘blister’. Podcast quotes fill a large chunk of my notes, hastily typed out normally while I’m pulled over on the side of the road. This one was from a podcast on suffering, which I really love as it touches on how pain, community, and a deep joy for life are non-exclusive and can co-exist hand in hand. I also went searching for one of my oldest notes, and turned up with this set-list from 2014, which I actually found a bit sad, remembering a time of my life where singing (and and apparently using a capo lol) was so important to me.
But overall, I think I love the miscellaneous note the most - my flat eftpos password and strengthsfinder results nestled in between a book recommendation and a shopping list – that really is a great snapshot of my life.
While I’m slowly realising I’m not actually bad with details – I do really struggle with the mundanity of practical tasks, and basically have a mental block for life admin, hence the need for the eftpos password reminder. The shopping list is ingredients for a dinner party, where I almost definitely would have invited too many people over, discussed a personality test of some kind and tried to dive into the lives of everyone there. That would sum it up, moving fast from thing to thing and many different facets to my life, all a bit unfinished - but the common thread of it all is community and searching for deeper meaning and connection.
Well I never got round to writing about this until now, but it has probably been the most pressing question on my mind for the last two years. I realised that because I've been a workaholic and completely burnt out for most of my twenties, it has resulted in resentment and very little sense of connection with anyone or anything. So to tackle this I started cutting back on my workload and all my other commitments and things I'm involved with. I started spending more time alone to chill and more time trying to be connected with other people away from work.
But the real underlying problem then became unbearably clear and almost intolerable to face up to. The only thing that gave me a sense of value in the world is my status and the things I can achieve. My entire identity revolved around how I wanted to make people perceive me and that I was strong on my own. This was the dark driving force behind my burnout. I needed to accept I was empty and try to break the cycle.
I chose to sit in the emptiness until I fill it with life not more toxic identity. Fill it with connection to myself and other humans. This has been my greatest and most challenging project yet - to sit in my emptiness and not escape through some other temporary means. I'm still sitting in it but it gets a little less empty everyday.
I guess these notes sort of sum up the last year for me. I think I’ve understood weakness in a whole new way but I wouldn’t change a thing because I see people differently now too, the tough times have given me deeper compassion.
Also those were quotes about Princess Di - I liked that she wore sloppy shirts and hippo jerseys. It gave me hope that I can still be a glamour queen when I grow up.
I am either the most organised, disorganised person, or the least organised, organised person I know. I have this knack for always really knowing what I want/need to get done – AND YET I also have an amazing knack for not doing anything about it! I have these lists at the forefront of my mind constantly, full of ideas that are almost bursting out of me so much I can’t concentrate, but I just can’t bring them into reality. Something really scares me. I think about something for maybe 6 months before I move on it, because I need to have it perfected in my head before I can even try. A perfectionistic creative is a form of torture. I physically need to be creating but I stunt myself with a need for perfection.
These two lists were written six months apart but so much of the same stuff resurfaces! The crazy thing is I would have spent the six months thinking “I really need to make some art for the walls/sell my clothes/etc”, because as soon as I went to write these down, there they were, at the front of my mind.
I wrote the second list with my husband at 12.04 in the morning on a Monday. He’s pretty much exactly the same as me and we dream SO much but more often than not stay held put by the suffocating hands of perfectionism. We made the list in a hope to stop talking about things and start doing them – I even made a star chart from this that we stuck to the fridge. By the end of the first week we had already done eight of them and by today, almost six months later, we have still done eight of them. The list on the fridge became a bit of a torturer, a mirror to our inadequacies, a literal measure for people to come round and say “you guys haven’t done any more since I last came over!”.
But over time we’ve come to laugh at it, and sitting with the iPhone note now I feel like nothing sums us up more. We did the things that were important (the mould is all gone, don’t worry) but I didn’t quite get to making the damn art for the walls, and it’s now been a year since the first note. But I no longer look at the blank walls and the barely ticked off lists as complete failures, but an indication that I need to push more into these feelings and start working with my old friend perfectionism. Then maybe one day the list on the fridge will be framed on the wall of our pizzeria.