In My Solitude


A pair of mourning doves were fucking outside my kitchen window the other day. At the very least, they were giving it the old college try. The male fluttered his well-groomed wings from time to time to maintain an awkward balance on top of the female. She locked her small black eyes on mine for a moment, but they were so expressionless, her attitude regarding the experience seemed very much open to interpretation. I broke away from her gaze. It was awkward and anyway I was cleaning a chef’s knife which required my full attention— a trip to the emergency room is a horrifying thought at the best of times. During a pandemic, it’s unthinkable.

Resignation. That was the look. Not ecstasy, not annoyance, just an avian impression of stoic practicality.  

“Lucky bitch,” I thought as I carefully placed the knife on the rack to dry.

This morning on my way home from the market, an Irish Setter placed its cold, wet nose on my forearm as I knelt down to tie my shoes. Its owner apologized and I said “No problem” as clearly as possible through the hot mask that was pulling at my ears. What I really wanted to say was “Thank you. That’s the first time I’ve been touched by another living thing in nearly two months.” I sighed into my face covering, picked up my bags of groceries that now felt 30 pounds heavier, made it back home, stripped down, and took a hot soapy shower where I sat in the tub with the water spraying over me and sudsed and scrubbed until I felt immaculate enough to safely hold my head in clean hands.

Sheltering in place alone isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but I don’t expect it’s meant to be. I often think it would be lovely to share the burden of waiting out the plague with another human. Someone I could cook for and while away the days curled up in bed with to watch British Whodunits. Someone who would tell me to stop touching my face and cajole me into putting on pants. Or to take them off, depending on my mood. Someone I could then shut away in a cupboard until I felt lonely again. I have the feeling my therapist would tell me that’s not how healthy relationships work and I would tell him I agreed, but really I’d think it would be marvelous.

How lovely, I often wonder, would it be to have a cat? It might be nice to have a sweet, furry creature purring in my ear or kneading my chest in the morning with its paws in order to get me out of bed and give it food. I could almost forgive a clawed up couch and the ammonia whiffiness of the cat box if it meant having a warm-blooded animal respond to my touch.

But at the moment all I’ve got are two houseplants and if there’s one thing I’ve learned during this whole nightmare is that a Pepperomia Frost doesn’t hug you back. I do the best I can with my adopted flora. I’ve even named them. The problem is that I can barely remember what I’ve called them from one week to the next. Currently, they are called “Hannah” and “Her Sister”. I think they’re good names. Hannah is the Pepperomia. She’s dependable and gives me very little trouble. Her Sister is probably Holly, the Dianne Wiest character, because she’s kind of a mess and is all over the place. I have no idea what species she is– she’s just viney and prone to drama, as much as vegetation can be. She’s currently got one of her tendrils on my Joan Didion. My therapist says it’s fine that I can’t remember their names for very long and suggests that a non-strong attachment to one’s houseplants is probably a good thing and that gives me comfort.

Cooking in isolation does pass the time, but I find little joy in it. Over the weeks, I’ve made runny lemon curd, indifferent buttermilk fried chicken, and so many meatballs that I quickly tire of them and attack them as they simmer away in the pot until I have a lumpy, beefy sauce. But I do cook every day. I find it helps. I very much doubt I’ll jump on the sourdough yeast starter bandwagon. I’ve never been much of a bandwagon jumper on-er. The only bandwagon I’ve ever enjoyed is a film starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. Or, as I prefer calling people by their real names, Frederick Austerlitz and Tula Ellice Finklea, which reminds me of two things I have discovered about my self during this social exile:

1. I fall into Wikipedia rabbit holes a lot
2. Isolation exacerbates my tendency to ramble and take off on tangents.

Reading is a challenge. As is watching full length movies. I set out to tackle François Truffaut’s La Nuit Américaine last week because I was filled with self-horror for never having seen it. After twenty minutes, my eyes glazed over and nobody was home, so to speak. My friend Shannon gave me a book she thought I’d love, which I do. But I read maybe ten pages at a time. I’ll pick it up again today and go for twenty. The shortening of my attention span is aggravating. I find it difficult to hold a sustained thought for very long, which is one of the reasons I haven’t posted on this here blog earlier this month.

Music is a mixed blessing. I naturally lean towards sad songs in the best of times, so I thought I’d try to counter that by only playing happy songs and then I realized I couldn’t think of any off the top of my head and wondered what my therapist would have to say about that. I pulled up Nina Simone on Spotify last week and let her rip as I was doing housework because her voice always has a positive effect on me no matter what particular mood she happens to be in. I was scrubbing my kitchen floor to her version of Kurt Weill & Bertolt Brecht’s “Pirate Jenny” and noted how satisfying it was to be performing the same domestic drudgery as the heroine of the song. Other tunes followed as I tidied my way through until she started in with Duke Ellington’s “In My Solitude”, which stopped me dead in my tracks:

“I sit in my chair
I’m filled with despair
There’s no one could be so sad
With gloom everywhere
I sit and I stare
I know that I’ll soon go mad”

It was an unfortunate choice of music and I found myself marooned in the middle of my kitchen floor still wet with watered-down bleach, wondering how soon until I, like Miss Simone herself, went mad. My feet were damp and if I ran into the living room to turn off the music, I’d ruin the rug. I just stood there until the song was over, motionless and feeling like an idiot. “Well, if I’m going to go off the deep end,” I thought, “I’m going to do it in a spotless kitchen.”

I somehow doubt I will go mad. I’m quite used to my solitude because I’ve had years and years of practice being alone. I enjoy my own company and, as a third child who grew up with much older siblings, I know very well how to entertain myself.

I generally like being alone. But when the choice to go out into the world and press the flesh, so to speak, is no longer a viable, responsible possibility, that aloneness can feel grim.

But I know I’m not alone. Physically alone, yes, but not socially. I know I’m lucky to have family to call every week who are healthy, and friends to Zoom and FaceTime with to shoot the breeze and share a cocktail or two.

I’m also lucky to have a roof over my head, food on my table, and enough resources to get through this year that seems to stretch on forever. Next year is another story entirely, but I’ve decided to cherry-pick from my mother’s trusty 12 Step Program and take this thing one day at a time.

And though I probably don’t say it enough, I count myself very luck to have you, too, dear readers.

Thank you for letting me wander all over the place with this post. I hope it finds you healthy and as well as can be under the circumstances. I wish I could give a sustained, uncomfortable-because-it-lasts-for-more-than-three-seconds hug to each and every one of you. And if I happen to see you in person after this nightmare is over, I want to apologize in advance for being uncharacteristically touchy-feely, but like I mentioned earlier, if you’ve ever resorted to hugging your houseplants, you’ll understand. And forgive.

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About Michael Procopio

I write about food and am very fond of Edward Gorey. And gin.
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43 Responses to In My Solitude

  1. Great post for our present situation. At least I have 4 cats, Amazon (however, next day gratification is no longer a given), 2 pounds of yeast (I always buy in bulk) and a work-at-home husband. Things aren’t too bad, but I would be so happy if I could remember what day of the week it is.

    Thanks for your insite…
    Robin (Food Wishes)

    • I think it’s important to take stock in what we’re grateful for. Especially these days when almost everything is terrible.

      Thank you for commenting, Robin and, by the way, it’s Wednesday. I think.

  2. Paul says:

    As a divorced man in his 40s living at home alone, my dog helps greatly. It’s nice to have something to care for, something to love and something to love you back. I still have my days, but know it could be worse.

    • Good god, if only I had a dog! Especially one who could clean up after herself in my 1-br apartment. And perhaps made decent coffee. That would be heaven.

      • PHYLLIS BALA says:

        OK, Michael–it’s time for you to look into adopting a multi-talented doggie, especially one who can be trained by you to make coffee just exactly the way you want it! Some dogs are simply geniuses on 4 leggs waiting for a really needy someone to please and love all day long.
        I’ll bet your imagination, creativity & sense of humor is about to go on overdrive, once you discover your own well hidden genius for training such a loving, attentive creature who may even be capable of practicing aloof-ness when you need it.
        Bury your wiki-rabbit holes and turn your attention to more interesting & amusing stories and adventures by looking into the world of Cesar Milan at doubleyoudoubleyoudoubleyoudotcesarsway.com
        Your Miss Hannah is quite a beautiful lady! Sending you lottsa hugs.

        • Dear Phyllis,

          You tell me to bury my wiki-rabbit holes and then immediately suggest I look up César Millán. Although to be fair, you pointed me to a specific website, but I just CANNOT give up my wiki-addiction.

          I’d love to have a dog someday. Perhaps when I am ultimately evicted from my apartment, which is strictly No pets.

          And thanks for the hugs.

  3. Cody S. says:

    I really like this glimpse into your life. I am one of the “lucky” ones who gets to work from home during this time, but I can really feel what you wrote. I feel like everything I do is under my own microscope because I have so much more time and no need to multitask. I didn’t realize that having more time than responsibilities would send me into such a tailspin!

    • Well I’m glad somebody enjoys glimpsing into my life (such as it is right now), Cody.

      I think we’re all under our own microscopes and the eyestrain is something awful.

      Be well and thank you,

      Michael

  4. Squirrl says:

    Thank you for sharing this. Wish I could throw you a hug.

  5. Caroline says:

    So sorry you have to be alone during this horrible time. Please get that cat. *hugs*

  6. D S says:

    Well articulated..
    For that glimpse into your mind, here’s one into mine.
    I feel like sometimes I would like the world to go away and stop demanding my attention. I loved to wish that I was alone at home and I could just lay in bed, eat whenever I want and bathe whenever I want. But thanks to circumstances where I’ve been in a different country with no close acquaintances for almost 6 months now, I feel I’ve have had enough of ‘alone time’. I find that I am a better person with company. In my mind I have standards that I do not live up to when I am alone. I kept telling myself I should eat better, do something productive (other than work) but it just didnt’t happen unless someone was around.
    Somehow, this period of isolation and working from home is freeing up my mind to do some things just for myself – like keeping to a routine, self care, cooking often. I also got into a habit of calling my parents every other day – something I’ve wanted to do but struggled with for years 🙂

    Cheers!

    • D S says:

      PS: in my experience, houseplants actually do need a lot of attention – so an attachment to them is not entirely unwarranted! I don’t know about naming them though.. ¶:

      • Oh dear. Six months in foreign parts with no close acquaintances? That is rough indeed.

        I basically spent the past couple of years taking a life break and was very much looking forward to re-entering the world when *poof!* the world went away.

        I find cooking everyday to be a fine thing to do, but the hardest thing in the universe for me seems to be keeping on a schedule. Please let me know how you manage it.

        Cheers,

        Michael

  7. Holly Hughes says:

    I’ve always identified with Dianne Wiest’s Holly. As you say, kind of a mess and all over the place. I’m quarantined with 3 family members and a dog and I can only say that that presents its own challenges. But I’m glad to see you posting again! As someone who primarily thinks of herself as a writer, I’m mortified to find how empty the well is right now. You (as always) inspire me.

    • Funny, Holly’s the sister I identify with most, too. Although I’ve got a bit of Lee in me as well (but *that* is a conversation best had over a cocktail).

      I’m trying to post once every month now. You’re right about the well being empty. It’s almost as if some gigantic seismic shift has dramatically lowered the water table, creativity-wise. And energy-wise.

      And I am always surprised (yet delighted) to hear that I might inspire anyone! But I’ll take that compliment and treasure it. Thank you.

  8. SARA J DAVIS says:

    Nina Simone. She’s like a life line sometimes. Other times, she’s the anchor. I’m thrilled that my downstairs neighbor moved out because now I can blast Nina Simone’s Feelin Good.
    And sing along very very badly.
    I used to put in my ear buds and sign along badly and then the neighbor mentioned it.
    An Awkward Moment I will be remembering in the nursing home phase of my life.
    They say this too shall pass. But it’s hard to see when you are stuck in midst of the coronangst.

    • Sara,

      You have just summed up Miss Simone superbly.

      I’m always rather cautious about singing in my apartment because the walls are so thin. However, the shower in my bathroom seems to be a safe space to let loose.

      Yours, too, in coronangst,

      Michael

  9. MaggieToo says:

    I couldn’t help but notice that this post contained not a single reference to that book I was so sure you were diligently completing during all this alone-time, and that your dear readers have been patiently awaiting.

    No judgments, though. That new boxed set of Faulkner that I optimistically bought back in March hasn’t yet had its spine cracked, either.

    • I had to put the book a way for mental health purposes for a while, but I’m ready to approach it now. It’s nice to know people would like to read it. Thank you.

      I have never read any Faulkner, but I did make a pilgrimage to his house in Oxford, Mississippi this Autumn with my friend Jeff and told the woman on duty there how disappointed I was because I thought I’d been promised a tour of William Shatner’s home. She didn’t find that amusing, but she did titter when I tripped up the stairs immediately afterward.

  10. carole says:

    Would it help if we adopt a pup and name it after you? My bf is laid off. He’s a chef and when I get home at 4:45pm (thank you gods that i’m still working 30 hrs/wk) he greets me with an appetizer. then another 3 courses. I’m going to gain 72 lbs before this is over, and I come from ‘sturdy woman’ stock already. He wants a puppy so much (our 9 yr old cat is going to hate us). If we do get one, how about Micky?

    • I don’t think I’ve ever had anything adorable named after me before, Carole. It seems like an awful lot of pressure. Perhaps your boyfriend could name an appetizer in my honor instead? That way, when you finally tire of me, you just ask him to stop making Tripes à la Procope and be done with it. It’s much easier than getting rid of a dog.

  11. Gayle Leslie says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. Learning how other people are coping (or not) is a good thing. It sounds to me you are doing very well. I thought that when you, nonchalantly, commented that you were perfectly okay with shutting away your dreamed of companion in the cupboard. Desperation hasn’t set in. Thank you for sharing. ❤️❤️

    p.s. Hannah is gorgeous…you, obviously, treat her well.

    • Dearest, loyal reader Gayle Leslie,

      I’m glad you enjoyed reading this because positive interactions with my readers are something to live for this days. Thank you.

      And I can’t say that I *am* doing very well, but I am trying, which is all any of us can do at the moment. But desperation has definitely NOT set in. But how perfect would a cupboard boyfriend be?

      P.S. Hannah is more or less the Garbo of houseplants. Perhaps that’s her next name change?

  12. Nikki T says:

    I couldn’t agree more, Michael. Some days, I am up for a barefoot kitchen karaoke dance party. Most other days, I drift from project to project, hoping to shake off a potentially debilitating case of ennui.
    Meanwhile, (Sideshow) Bob the fern is getting more conversation than usual.
    Many hugs (when permitted).

    Nikki

    • Nikki,

      DO you drift from finished project to finished project? I drift, too, but often my tasks are left for a later completion.

      Her sister gets sung to a lot because she resides on top of my toilet tank next to the shower. Hannah is in my bedroom and doing well, so she must thrive on snoring. And I think I have a clear picture in mind of what (Sideshow) Bob must look like. No! Do not tell me. Leave my fantasy intact.

  13. Anne says:

    Thanks, Michael. It’s not fun now. Will it be less fun in the future as the economy comes to a crashing halt? Reality bites…hard. For a little divertissement, try watching the 90th birthday tribute to Steven Sondheim on YouTube. No One Is Alone.

  14. Jan Morrison says:

    As I write this I am struggling with murderous rage. Why? Because my step-son won’t use a lemon if it was cut and put back in the fridge – he is unbelievably fastidious when it comes to the food we buy. I found a perfectly good red pepper in the compost bucket. But when it comes to the bed we’ve offered him and the sheets and duvet and duvet cover – not so fussy. Too tired to put them on the bed – rather sleep on the blanket with the naked duvet wrapped around him. He isn’t thirteen either. He’s 27. Normally I could shake this off – he’ll be gone in a few days (or I will be) and it really doesn’t matter – but I have no spare kindness left. Not a fucking particle of it. Some Buddhist I turned out to be. I always knew I’d be the type to murder out of irritation.
    On the other hand, I adore his dad and he is a good hugger. I usually don’t sleep with him though, cuz I like sleeping and he is a grand snorer – he’d win the gold if it was an event. But the step-son is sleeping in the spare room, so when I most need my sleep it is not there. We all cook up a storm. I’ve learned to cook aggressively – I’m savage with the poor vegetables. My dog gets lots of walks and I did see a bunny today and I’m nearly finished my novel revision. Now I’m going to go meditate. One day I’ll find this funny.
    I adore you. I’m sending you lots of hugs and wish you could put me in your closet.

    • Okay, maybe living alone isn’t so bad, after all. If I were in your situation, my days and nights would be so filled with revenge plotting I would never get anything done.

      P.S. I just cleaned and tidied my closet last week, so there’s plenty of room for you when you’re ready.

      xom

  15. Nick says:

    I have a rabbit (and she is free to wander about my home) and I agree, it is a grand comfort when she burrows into my side to beg for treats and pets. However, houseplants aren’t so foreign as you imagine. They have the ability to listen with their roots, they can feel the presence of the world around their bodies. They share information with each other. It probably is quite a projection that plants would have an attachment to us, but they are complex living beings and some plants do get lusher when stroked, so take your comfort from your plants where you can.

    • Foreign? Are you claiming my houseplants are foreign? They are flag-waving, gun-toting American houseplants.

      Okay no they’re not. They’re rather bookish and tend to recoil from jingoism. I’ve raised them well.

      But I am afraid to stroke them because at this point of sheltering in place, I fear I might enjoy it a little too much.

  16. connie wills says:

    Right now I would love to hug you, I would love to hug anyone (not usually a hugger). I’m starved for human contact. I ‘ve been thinking about a cat but have the same reservations (really don’t want to have a litter box) I did have a friend who had a cat that used the toilet, she didn’t flush though-the cat not my friend. I have plants but I can’t really name them, I barely remember to water them. I went down the youtube rabbit hole about living in a van for a whole afternoon-decided to keep my apartment. My mother always said that this too shall pass but right now obviously not fast enough.

    • Definitely not fast enough, Connie.

      Perhaps you could name your houseplants after literary characters who died young? Like Beth March in Little Women or Helen from Jane Eyre?

      And I will take an IOU for the hug when the time comes, which bears repeating is not soon enough.

  17. Anabel says:

    Much love and virtual hugs coming your way, Michael! This too shall pass. And we’ll get through it … together. And every other corny saying in the book. Just know you have many people out here in the world who think you’re an extraordinary writer and cook!

    • Thank you, Anabel.

      I am willing to suspend my disbelief for the duration and cling to any corny saying that provides comfort.

      And I thank you for considering me an extraordinary writer. I sometimes nail the cooking thing, too. But lordy not lately!

  18. Thrasso Petras says:

    If your kitchen didn’t have a deep end, I would be shocked. And you know how much it takes to shock me.

    Meanwhile, Thurber called and he’s a little jealous regarding some of your phrasing. Alas.

    And, I’m adding Nina to my serenading the neighbours list-of-songs-to-play.

    Look darling, we’re down, but not out. I know this because tomorrow is the first day of the season to which every one looks forward, all year. Lower the blinds, whip out your KitchenAid, and get ready to turn some of your me time towards bakings wot require a caffeinated chaser.

    Sending Northern Love. T

    • Darling Fellow,

      My kitchen floor does slope a little, so technically it does have a deep end.

      If you can find the recording of Nina Simone stopping her song to complain about her gas bill (it exists somewhere, but I cannot locate it), blare that out your window as loudly as you can.

      And I am sending you Coffee Cake Wishes from San Francisco for the entire month of May.

      Be well, my friend. Love, M.

  19. julie garagliano says:

    As a person who lives alone, your words resonated with me 100%. It is lonely, food is getting boring, even making cookies and giving them to my landlords has lost its appeal. Like you, my attention span for reading is about ten minutes, which is ridiculous because reading is what I love to do most of all! I can go for a walk and try to enjoy the good weather but even that is making me cranky. But, in the end, being healthy is worth it and this isolation will end and at least there is no one in the house with me that is in danger of being stabbed in the eye with a fork.

    Hang in there. We will survive.

    • Julie,

      I 100% identify with everything you just wrote. The reading thing is one of the most frustrating aspects of this whole thing and I wish Icould get my head around it.

  20. Naomi D. says:

    Well, I was baking today, and while waiting on the cobbler, checked your site. Wonderful! An entry! I almost forgot I was baking (a little darker but not burnt). I am fortunate to have a fellow, currently lying on the sofa in the next room reading. Everyone probably hates us, because we’re loving this. We have a cat too, who came off the street about eight months ago to live inside, after approximately ten years huddling against the house next door, doing her best to avoid fighting the other cats. (I think the sushi tuna from my beau influence her decision.) She races through the house, leans on one or the other or both of us if we’re close enough – back pushed against one, feet against the other. She prefers outdoors for her “business” but we can’t figure out where. I wish you were around here, and cooking. I promise treats would be left on your doorstep, as we and our neighbors all do with each other. You can smell the cleaning product on the covering but once out, the scents are wonderful as long as the gift lasts. Come here! We’ll sneak you into the empty house across the street!

  21. Carrie says:

    Hi Michael!

    I do so love your posts and i’m beyond delighted that you’re going to try and go for it once a month…!!

    i’m the one who followed everyone’s suggestion and adopted a homeless cat during confinement. he’s a gorgeous miniature panther and i… being somewhat experienced with animals… thought he’d be perfect. and now that he eats every day and has a roof over his head, i can tell he doesn’t see it that way. i guess he’s been on his own long enough that he’s not cuddly and i LOVE hugs!! i have spent years being emotionally abused because i love hugs so much. but… *sigh* he’s not there. i know relationships can change over time, and i’m hopeful with this guy, because we’re ‘in it” for his whole life. i find myself saying “maybe some day” because he’s such a handsome boy, just like when i was married!

    i would love to give you a hug in exchange for the delight you’ve given me. i wish you the best with your ambition… and i’ll look forward to it!

    Carrie

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