Disconnected Driving

Since Georgia became a hands-free state in 2018, I have been a criminal on the loose.  If my phone is in the car, it is like a magnet made of kryptonite that draws my attention from the pavement without my permission.  First I tried putting it face down on the floorboard of the passenger seat.  Then I tried putting it on the floorboard in the back seat.  Then I tried putting it in the trunk of the car, but getting out to retrieve it at red lights became too embarrassing to sustain.

Yesterday I left it at home, though I knew I would be gone most of the afternoon.  What if my husband thought of something he needed at the hardware store and could not reach me?  What if my best friend sent me a picture of her cat doing something funny?  What if I needed to look up a zip code for some reason?  What if there was a tornado in the area and I did not receive the warning?  It’s amazing how many reasons an addict can think of not to stop.

The afternoon was as lovely as any I can remember.  Every time I reached for the phone that was not there, I noticed something else: the pattern the wind was making in the treetops, the spotted dog with its head out the window in the car ahead of me, the first clutch of daffodils on the side of the road.  Above all, I noticed the unclenched thoughts I was having because I was not thinking about the phone.  Its absence freed me like its presence never did.  Now all I have to figure out is how free I want to be.

The Pleasures of Dining Alone

‘Solo Texter’ (photo credit: Ant Rosetsky)
I still remember the first time a solo diner sat down next to me at a restaurant talking on her cell phone. She ordered her meal, ate it, paid her check, and left the restaurant still taking to her invisible companion. That sort of thing does not happen as often now as it did ten years ago (nice restaurants forbid the talking-out-loud part), but it’s rare to see a solo diner who is not reading or tapping something on a cell phone. The temptation to do it myself is huge. The only reason to resist is because I miss so much when I am looking at a small screen instead of my dining companions.

I don’t mean the ones who are sitting with me. I mean the ones at other tables, like the man two tables away who orders a second Bloody Mary to go with his ice cream sundae. I admire his style. I also recognize him as a fellow out-of-towner, free for this one evening to create his small pleasures where he can. Then there are the two moms sitting in a booth across from me with their three young children. The server is so great with the kids that the moms stand up to hug her when they pay their bill.

Outside the plate glass window a small group of smokers has gathered, banished to the balcony with their drinks and cigarettes. This creates camaraderie between them that is absent in the dining room. One man is in a wheelchair. Another man leans down to light his cigarette. They make me miss the days when I was on the other side of the glass, enjoying the community that can develop between those who—for one reason or another—are asked to meet outside.

These are but a few of the pleasures of eating alone without a cell phone. Eavesdropping is another one, but I won’t go into that or you’ll become too careful about what you say when a solo diner is eating at the table next to you without a cell phone. The point is, there are so many stories happening around us all the time. The ones on our small screens—the ones we choose–are largely curated. But it’s the ones we don’t choose—animated by the people all around us—that bring us home to where we really are.

Please Step Away from the Screen, Ma’am

This is my first blog post ever. I came within an inch of accepting a regular gig a few years back before my better angel leaned down and said, “Sweetheart, why would you cause anyone to spend one more second in front of a computer screen? Go outside and think about it.” So I did, and before I got fifteen feet out my back door I saw a monarch caterpillar eating a perfect half-circle from a milkweed leaf. You can see one of these caterpillars on a computer screen, but you cannot give it a pat on the head with a blade of grass so that it ripples its stripes right in front of you. Nor can you breathe the same air, which smells of sun-warmed dirt and wild chives. Breathing the same air is important, since there is no new air in the world. We have been swapping it around for ages, like a heartbeat passed between us.

Under the influence of both the angel and the caterpillar, I decided to try writing a short unblog on this new website. My sole mission will be to try and persuade you to step away from your screen long enough to take a breath. If you would like to try it right now, turn away from this screen and fill your lungs with air. Hold your breath for three heartbeats at the top. Then let it out with a whoosh. Wait at the bottom for three heartbeats before taking your next breath. Repeat this at least two more times. How many places in your body can you feel your heart beating? How astounding is it that this happens even when you are not paying attention? Okay, you can go back to your screen now. See you next time.