Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Eating Alone

I was on a date once this fall---it was a dinner date---and my date told me that M.F.K. Fisher had written something about eating alone. She told me she'd just been reading what she'd written, M.F.K. Fisher, not my date, and that maybe I had some thoughts about eating alone.  At the moment, naturally, I only had thoughts about eating her, sorry, eating with her, and how much better that felt than eating alone.  I'd spent the entire summer eating alone, and so I had plenty of ideas about that, but at the moment, no, finally, I was not eating alone. 

Something happens when you look at your lunch and your lunch looks more like a calendar than a lunch.  It's not something entirely terrible, but it is something.  I mean, I love cooking for myself, and I'd gotten used to making fairly elaborate meals to eat by my lonesome, but there was a sorrowful feeling when I looked at my lunch and realized that, by my calendar, I'd eaten my last sixty lunches alone.  It wasn't terrible, just joyless.  Cooking and eating had become a private, meditative affair, a kind of salve, you know, something I could do to be in the presence of something other than myself.

I suppose that's the thing about food, about eating food, that its emotional world isn't one dimensional, that food doesn't only sustain our bodies, but that it gives us an opportunity to feel joy, or an opportunity to think about our lives.  When you sit down and eat alone, you eat quietly.  I mean, there isn't anyone to talk to but yourself, and for most of us that means saying nothing.  It means sitting quietly and thinking.  With so many empty lunches ahead of me, I thought that it was strange to put so much effort into cooking for no one but myself.  I would go out at night, and sometimes I'd bump into people I knew, and they'd ask me what I'd been up to, and I'd have no answer for them at all.  It was like I hadn't been doing anything at all, which was totally untrue, I'd been pickling vegetables all summer long, and I'd been plowing through Hitchcock's entire filmography, and I'd been playing my ukulele and singing, and these things were all very satisfying in my solitude, but when the questions came around, no, I couldn't talk.  I hadn't been talking to anybody.  I was out of the habit of talking.  I was in the habit of thinking.  When all you do is think your private thoughts, you tend to forget what they are.  Maybe there is some joy, maybe there is some happiness.  There might be a lot of things, but when there is no one around to share them with, they just sort of disappear.  My pickles and my thoughts were disappearing before me. 

This isn't what M.F.K. Fisher wrote about eating alone.  She wrote about people who put aside time for themselves, who put aside time to eat alone. These people would sit for hours with an avocado salad or danish and coffee, and they would enjoy these simple things inordinately slowly, and they'd cherish the momentary solitude that dining alone gave them.  But when you flip the coin over, and you are surrounded by solitude, you don't take your time with your food to draw out its joy.  You just eat and move onto the next thing.  For me, last summer, it was usually the dishes.  When you do a lot of cooking to fill your time, you end up with a lot of dishes, and I had plenty of time to do them. 



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I still don't feel I've come anywhere close to perfecting "blog comment writing," but am practicing. Being born in 1973 insures I still must have one foot definetely in the analog world. Chef Simms and I are still in a frantic about the actuality of (us) himself rather not being able to produce fine pizza pies. There was a cute girl from our hometown that did it sometimes, as well as our hero, Jono, but unfortunately Simms was busy tugging away at the newest 50 dollar video game perhaps, and failed to notice the masters in action. I often eat alone: I have a hot-plate burner on the floor next to a toaster oven, mini-fridge, and coffee maker. Boiling water is awful, the hot plates fade away quickly too. Sometimes I live off noodles, esp. the Barilla brand. Sadly everything is very expensive in California and I drink a lot of beer, so the noodles it is. There was this dude known as "the bagel man," @ southern Illinois university. No meat, cucumbers, sprouts, cream cheese - that kind of shit, toasted --- the result was the ultimate food for very drunk college kids. This may replace my noodles someday, but I usually choose to stop short of the supermarket, and step into the liquor store.