My Cell Phone and I Need to Start Seeing Other People


My mother doesn’t have a cell phone. Okay, that’s not true: she technically has a smart phone, but she never turns it on. I used to urge her to use it more, to become better at texting and using the internet on it, or even just making calls, but she never puts time into it. Whenever any of the rest of our family is on their phone—searching for a word’s definition, checking the weather, reading up on the news, figuring out where in the world we saw that actor before—she says, “I just don’t understand why people are so interested in their phones.”

I do understand, but I wish I didn’t.

Lately, I have stopped urging her to use her phone. It’s not that I’ve given up on her—she’s sharp enough to learn it if she wants to. It’s that I am grappling with my own phone use. About a year ago, I uninstalled the Twitter and Facebook apps, although I still sometimes check Facebook on my phone via the internet. Failure #1. I stopped all sound alerts so that when a text or email comes, I don’t get a bing and check my phone to read it, but still I find myself constantly looking at my phone. Failure #2. I have some sort of screen time information source on my phone that a few months ago I somehow turned on (it must have popped up and asked if I wanted to use it, like so many other things that pop up). It measures my daily phone usage and sends me a total at the end of every week. I average two hours a day on my phone. TWO HOURS. Failure #3.

This number frightened me enough that I tried to cut back on that amount of time, but some weeks the average has gone up to over two hours a day. What number failure am I on now? Four? I should stop counting.

Don’t get me wrong: there are things I love about my phone. It keeps me better connected to my family because I can call more easily when out on a walk or traveling. I like that I can text someone when I have a quick question versus making a call. But my phone scares me a little, and this is why: my brain and its focus have been changing the last few years. I am way more prone to interrupt a train of thought or conversation or task to look at my phone, feeling a need to check it. Why? What am I checking for? Do I think I’m going to get some text that is so urgent I need to interrupt what I’m doing? Is Gayle King really going to text me?

Last Sunday I did not turn on my phone at all. I could feel myself wanting to, sensing that pull to check texts and whatever else, but I refused. It felt strange all day to not have it on, and what bothered me most was that it felt strange when in fact ten years ago I barely looked at my phone and twenty years ago I did not have one. I have decided to try and do this—keep it off—as much as possible, especially on weekends. I want to get used to life without the constant pull to let myself get distracted.

In the meantime, I think I’ll sit down and talk with my mom on the back porch and look out at the garden transforming into summer and not think about taking a picture with my phone and posting it on Instagram and not check my texts for one from Gayle King. She can call my home line if she really wants to reach me, which I am absolutely sure she will.

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Photo by Juja Han from

My Voice Is Small, and I Dare to Speak


I’ve been thinking a lot about endings in stories and poems. As a writer, I often get stuck just before the ending because it has to be just right. You can have a not-so-great beginning and win over a reader by the end; but if you wow the reader at the start and then write a disappointing ending, the reader’s experience is ruined. They feel gypped! They wasted their time!

For me, poems should end with what I call “a lift.” This is not in any poetry textbook—it’s my own term for it. I want poems to take a slight turn at the end, to surprise me, even in a small and subtle way, to not end where I expect them to. 

This poem does that in its quiet way.

This gem is by my sister, Romy Lanier Cawood. Anyone who has read my early blogs (or who knows me) is familiar with the story of how, when Romy and I were little, our father (a writer) gave us blank “books” to write in made out of little pieces of paper stapled together. Thus, we became “authors” at a very early age—authors of stick figures and misspelled sentences, at first, but we both grew up writing stories and poems.

Here is her poem:


I send this prayer to you, Mighty Heaven,
to you and all your angels, leaning in sorrow over this Earth.

This Earth, for which I dare to speak, small that I am, and
to tell you that in spite of the
opal rain you cast upon us
and the innocence you plant in our souls,
Mighty Heaven, I do not know what other stardust you

Without bitterness, but with great hope, I ask
for your mercy,
and mercy again.
Without bitterness, without care for the upset of some
reasoned justice, perfect and calm,
I ask for your mercy, more perhaps than
you had foreseen to bestow, as the
thunder of your music arrives a faint
echo in our dream.

Mighty Heaven, my voice is small, and I dare to speak
for this Earth
to ask you
to lean farther
to hear it.

Copyright © 2019, Romy Lanier Cawood, printed here with permission

Thank you, Romy, for allowing me to share this beauty as the last and fifth poem for my National Poetry Month celebration. You can learn more about Romy here. A big thank you to Robert McCready for partnering with me again this year. You can listen to Robert recite Romy’s poem here.

And thank you to all my readers, especially those who do not love poetry, for riding on this journey with me. My hope is that you found something you loved along the way.

In May, I’ll return to your regularly scheduled program. . .

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Photo of the sky by Wil Stewart from

How I Spent My Day, Two Years After. . .


You’ve probably heard the writing advice: show, don’t tell. It sounds easier than it is sometimes. I would like to just write, “I’m sad! I hurt! Love is so so so hard!” and have you get exactly how I feel.

Alas, it does not work that way. A skilled writer knows this. Thus, I introduce you to Barbara Costas-Biggs.

She and I know each other primarily via social media—ye olde Twitter and the Facebook—but she lives in my home state, and if I drive to where I grew up, I travel right through her city. I always think of her when I do now. She and I went to the same MFA program, at different times, and I know her, too, from the poetry I have read of hers. I give you a Barbara poem as the fourth installment of my National Poetry Month celebration.

How I Spent My Day, Two Years After My Father’s Death
for Tom Rogowski

Morning, February, a bit brighter every
day. One boy, Cheerios, an argument
about sugar. The other, a poached egg. 
Toast. Sleep-stumbling the house in my bathrobe,
searching for matching socks, dump laundry
baskets for clean shirts, the right pants
for each child. Brew coffee. 

There is a picture of my father hanging
in my dining room. Montana, a window in a barn.
Stalk of wheat in his mouth. It is a recreation
of a photo taken 45 years ago. Save
for the wheat. 45 years ago it was a Marlboro. 

Load the dishwasher to save the trouble
of doing it in the evening. I wonder
why I don’t usually do this, but I know
why. I’m never this meticulous, this
focused in the almost-dark of almost-spring
mornings, or any mornings at all.

There is a picture of my father on my
living room bookshelf. It’s a selfie he sent.
He’s half-in, half-out of the frame. Napa, my brother’s
courtyard. My mother, my brother, his girlfriend
waving. Tomato plants vine up the fence,
they have glasses of wine, fresh bruschetta. 

Pull a hot bath. I’m at my mother’s house.
She is with my brother in Texas. I have
wine. I have words rattling in the back
of my head. My small dog curls on the bathmat,
settles in for as long as I might take. 

There is a picture of my father with my niece. 
My father at my brother’s wedding. A portrait
of my parents on a wedding anniversary. Caption:
“Still crazy after 39 years.” A photo of my mother
and father on her dresser, at my uncle’s wedding. I’ve always
teased her that she had Marilyn Quayle hair. 

Start supper, wine-stumbling in the kitchen
playlist stuck on “America”:
Alexa, play “America”
again (empty and aching but I don’t know why)
and I’ll end the day the same way it started:
dumping the baskets, this time for pajamas.
Wondering what was out that Montana barn window.

Thank you, Barbara Costas-Biggs, for sharing your poem with me and with us for National Poetry Month.

Every week this month—National Poetry Month—I am offering up a poem in hopes that those who already love poetry will discover a new poet, and in hopes that those who don’t normally read poetry find poems that are accessible and that speak to them, too. My friend, Robert McCready, is reciting each poem, so have a listen here to Barbara’s work. Next week I will wrap up the celebration by featuring a poem by Romy Lanier Cawood (yes, we are related).

To learn more about Barbara Costas-Biggs, click here. To read another favorite Barbara poem of mine, click here.

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Photo of barn by Zachary Sinclair from