How To Dial A Rotary Phone

In an effort to fail at my promise to watch less TV, I spent this weekend watching episode after episode of Dallas.  The first season, 1978.  What a soap opera, what campiness, what bizarre safari shirts J.R. Ewing wore.

But a funny thing happened on my way to veg out.  What started out as mindless relaxation and nostalgia turned into one hell of a memory trigger.

Many of the how-to books we writers stock up on list exercises to help us recall the past:  listen to music from that era, examine old photos, read archived newspapers, describe the kitchen in your childhood home.  I grew up in houses where the TV was, literally, always on.  At home, I read my Nancy Drews under the drone of a loud TV.  I now realize I loved the library not only for it’s books, but for it’s silence.  TV programming even controlled our eating/sleeping habits:  lunch between The Young and The Restless and As The World Turns; supper following Walter Cronkite; bedtime after Dallas on a Friday night.

As lowbrow and un-artist-like as it sounds, TV is often one of my best writing prompts.  This weekend, spending time with Sue Ellen and Digger Barnes and Miss Ellie turned into some unexpectedly fine research.  Oh, those 1970’s bell-bottoms and polyester suits.  The T-topped Corvettes and bright yellow patio furniture.  Women, soft and feminine, in their slacks and blouses, so removed frm today’s hard-bodies and breast implants.  Remember when you had to look up numbers and dial phones (how slow and deliberate this act was)?

What are some of your favorite writing prompts?

20 thoughts on “How To Dial A Rotary Phone

    1. Teri

      Mama said there’d be days like these ….

      (But what I really think is that your being revealed as a writer at work has thrown a wrench into your heretofore fine tuned system. You’ll be fine.)

      1. Averil Dean

        Yes it has. And every time I want to say how fucking depressed I am, I have to button it or my mother will call. I mean, I love her but sometimes I just want to vent and not worry about her worrying.

        I keep coming back to read your post today, Teri. That last paragraph has such personality, it really sings.

      2. Laura Maylene

        Oh, Averil. In a way I know how you feel — for my own good, I have to avoid all the dark/angsty/depressed crap I’d like to post on my own blog. Too bad you can’t write some blog posts in code or something. Or actually, maybe you already do — I wouldn’t underestimate you (or be surprised if I’m missing even more layers in your writing).

  1. macdougalstreetbaby

    I haven’t used writing prompts in quite a while, surely not since Stephen King’s On Writing. I’m not much of a tv watcher but I listen to NPR religiously. Tomorrow I’m going to keep my ears open for a one liner that will get me started.

    I really miss those rotary dials.

    1. Teri

      MSB, listening to the scraping sound of a rotary phone dial makes me ridiculously happy.

      And I loved your post today. I’m still thinking about it.

  2. Lyra

    We have that phone up at our camp. And the ring! It’s loud enough to hear from the lake and people know to let it ring until someone has time to run up from the dock and answer it.

    I’ve never done writing prompts, but I’ve had so much fun (imagine that, says the girl who’s been working for a ridiculous amount of time on one project) with the constraints of contests. Then again, when the constraints involve the number of words it’s so easy to get the story down, but so hard to cut it to size. I’m a work in progress. I need to find an abridged version of myself…

    1. Teri

      “an abridged version of myself” That will be winding it’s way around my head all day …

      On cutting the story down: The first piece I ever published started as 30 pages, but I wanted to submit it to a contest that had a 20 page limit. That was some hard cutting. I was shocked when it won, and even more shocked that they wanted to cut 4 more pages! When I look at it now it is so much better at half the size.

  3. Oma

    My mother worked at the “phone company” her entire life. Started out as an operator at 15, lied about her age, and when she retired almost 40 years later she was in marketing, a supervisor no less. We always got whatever was coming out first. Private lines-anyone remember when you shared a line with a neighbor and your ring was two longs or two shorts and you listened before you answered? I remember one person we shared a line with would pick up to listen to your conversations or tell you to “get off the line, I need to use it.” And Princess phones? We had them before anyone. In fact there are two out in the garage on top of the fridge. My mother never throws anything out. She is a packrat. Not like hoarders on tv, but she has clothes from the 70’s in her closet. Not hippie stuff, office wear. Lots of polyester and wool. And she won’t let me get rid of it.

    1. Teri

      Thanks for those images, Oma. I remember being so excited about Princess phones. So sleek. So modern. My grandmother has been gone for 15 years — pre-cell phones — and I can’t imagine what she’d think of today’s technology.

    2. Laura Maylene

      The fact that a person saved her clothes from the 70s — and they weren’t hippie clothes — hurts my chest. My mother had all these outrageous outfits from the 60s and 70s that I’d look at when I was a really little kid, and then we got rid of almost all of them….right before I was old enough to enjoy them.

    1. Teri

      No strenuous dialing required. Well said. It has me thinking that our tech-heavy lives have eliminated much of the heavy lifting.

  4. Catherine

    Fabulous! I love those 70s and 80s shows – all that slow action and huge cars and jolty fights. Everything, even the serious stuff, somehow seems comic. All those shiny faces and flat chests!

    1. Teri

      I’m so glad I’m not the only one Cat! And I couldn’t figure it out at first, looking at the women, why they looked so different. It’s the boobs. And much natural bra-less-ness. Ah, the 70’s…

  5. lisahgolden

    Lately, the old standards music get the wheels turning.

    We had a rotary phone up until last year when I sold it on ebay. It was a hoot teaching the kids to use it.

  6. Laura Maylene

    I absolutely adore that old phone video! I’m of an age where some of my friends have never even used a rotary phone. My grandmother had a one and I loved using it. Now, I believe, if you put a child/teen in front of a rotary phone, they would not even know how to dial it.

    Hey, if TV gets the writing juices flowing, then have at it! I do much better with quiet, quiet, quiet. I can write in a semi-noisy cafe, but I think if there was a TV blaring nearby, I’d be utterly useless (and pissed off, probably, until I dropped the writing and went to watch the TV).

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