by | May 4, 2023 | Lisa Black, The Writer's Life | 6 comments

By Lisa Black

I forgot my phone the other night.

                Perhaps that should be written as: The other night, I left the house and forgot my phone!!!

                After a busy day of cleaning and laundry and other tedious day-off tasks, I rushed out of the house to play a concert with the local community college orchestra. I play the violin—terribly, so I play very quietly and try not to screw up.

a conductor live in the moment

I hit a traffic jam, and we had been told to be ready to play the dress rehearsal at 6 PM sharp. If you’ve ever played in any musical group you know that no one on earth can give you the evil eye like a conductor. No one. The general of an opposing army across a battlefield, the IRS agent auditing your sketchy deductions, the mother-in-law when you let out a belch that rattled the light fixtures at her sit-down dinner. No one. So even though my conductor is an adorable little always-slightly-flustered new mom, when that traffic slowed up I reached for my phone to find an alternate route.

And remembered how I left it on my desk, charging until the very last minute.  

                Now, I’m not a tween who can’t go ten seconds without TikTok. I’m an adult who remembers having one phone in the house and no answering machine. If you called someone and they didn’t answer, you called back later. If you called someone and they were already talking to someone else, you got a busy signal, and called back later. If you were away from the house and had an accident, you found a pay phone, for which you always kept a quarter in your purse. And believe it or not, we survived.

And I like cell phones. I like the security of knowing a family member can get hold of me at any time. I also have a job that occasionally needs to ask people to come in even when they’re not ‘on call.’ I like knowing that if it was my fender bender in that traffic jam, I could call the police, ambulance, spouse, tow truck and anyone else necessary with a touch of my thumb.

I’m also an efficiency nut. I love the ability to answer emails while I’m standing in line at the post office, or to research a topic while waiting for a flight to deplane. Without that I’d have to make conversation with other human beings or, almost worse, waste time.

cell phone user live in the moment

But I had no choice. I’d spend the next four hours honing my observation skills—important for a writer—and maybe pick up a few things to use in a book. Efficiency, always.

I got through the concert without causing major embarrassment to myself or my fellow musicians, and sat in the auditorium to listen to the other ensembles, a small string group and a large chorale and soloists. Selections ranged from a 400 year old opera to an incandescent rendition of “Northern Lights” by Ola Gjeilo.

You can forget the difference between live music and recorded, until you’re there. And though I like pop music as much as the next person, sometimes you need the more classical stuff, with notes that rise and fall and melodies and countermelodies and harmonies that make your mind race trying to follow it all across those lilting clouds of sound.

live for the moment with a brain vacation

Try it. If you’re not into music, find some other way to get that tingly feeling of being completely present, just for a few minutes. Play a game with a small child and don’t let yourself think of all the work you should be doing. Cook some complicated dish entirely for yourself. Find some running water—a beach, a fountain—and watch the wave patterns. Go listen to live music, even if it’s your kid’s sixth grade band recital, and really listen.

Your brain will feel as if it took a vacation.

What about you, readers? What do you do to unplug?

Don’t Miss a Thing!



  1. Karna Small Bodman

    First – I am SO impressed that my fellow Rogue has such musical talent (besides writing great novels). And I completely agree about getting that special “feeling” when hearing particularly beautiful music! As for losing your cell phone – I’m sure all of us have “been there…” and sense that somehow there’s an appendage missing. It’s fun to watch some of the old movies where the heroine is in jeopardy, but nowhere hear a pay phone to call for help. How times have changed. Thanks, Lisa, for a great post.

  2. Alex Kava

    I’m with Karna…very impressive! And violin is not an easy instrument. Our phones have become such a security tool that it is difficult to be without. I just got an Apple Watch, so if I leave my phone behind, I can still make a call or send a text. I got it for all the health tracking benefits, but it can also detect if you fall down. Or if you’re buried alive. Seriously, there was a woman last November, whose husband tried to kill her and didn’t realize he hadn’t succeeded when he buried her in the woods. She was able to call 911 using her Apple Watch. I know, I know, you’re talking about unplugging, and my mind is still calculating how to escape a shallow grave. LOL! Lisa, did you learn to play violin to tune out your forensic world? Or have you playing since you were a child?

  3. Lisa Black

    Here’s the thing–when I say I’m terrible, I am NOT being modest. I really am. I played the clarinet from the 4th grade until well after I was married and was never better than average. I only took up the violin about 6 years ago. I can play the notes, slowly, and only if you’re not too concerned about getting them in tune.

    Now, we have GOT to use the buried alive and calling for help with an Apple watch in a book!!

    I did find, when researching for a presentation about using digital devices at crime scenes, two true cases where suspects should have been under great exertion but their Fitbit/pacemaker data showed their heartbeat stayed at a normal pace. In one case the man burnt down his house for the insurance, so hadn’t been frantically trying to save his belongings and put out the fire like he said he had been and instead had been calmly watching from a distance.

  4. Jenny Milchman

    Life before call waiting. I remember it well. I was an extremely late adopter of cell phones, and though I feel the benefits you name, I also hate the damn things. When I write a new book, I do so in a shed in my back meadow, and leave the cell phone in the house. No calls, no email. It can be truly blissful. Thanks for this musical look at the experience!

  5. Christine L Goff

    I grew up in the world of party lines. And, being the only child on the mountain, I was the youngest resident sharing. There were five households on the same line. I found it boring to listen in, but I know one of our neighbors loved to eavesdrop. Securing time to call my friends to arrange playdates was problematic. I usually had to coerce someone into terminating their call. It was a wonderful day when we got our own line. My teenage daughter got her first cellphone the same day I got mine. That said, I’ve been known to turn around and drive home to fetch the phone if it’s ever forgotten. Great piece.

  6. Tracy Clark

    I gasped when you said you left your house without your phone, Lisa. Things turned out pretty cool after that, though. Relaxing without the device. Looking up, engaging with people, the world around you. Soaking it all in being present. I can see the upside. Maybe I’ll give it a go — WAIT! Where’s my phone!! Gah!!