Table for One, Please: My Name Is LEGION”
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree Burn.
My guides are at it again, reminding me of things I used to do but put aside. Like dining alone.
It’s not that I’ve been avoiding it. I just haven’t thought much about it or bothered to get out that often. Life’s been busy, you know? Plus, I’ve had the girls with me so much in the past year, doing the mother-thing with them and not a lot of the me-thing.
I woke up this morning thinking about a habit I fell into a decade ago and later fell out of because I just didn’t have the time for it. Every Tuesday like clockwork, I planned a cozy meal alone in a busy little soup and sandwich place near my job. Traffic wasn’t so bad then, and it took about five minutes to get there and five to get back. That left 50 minutes of my lunch hour to sit alone with my thoughts and write, write, write on my novel.
Getting lost in the universe of my characters, whole legions populating my brain, I would sit amid the bustle, the smell of hot soup and hotter bread, the soft music in the background drowned out by the din of chatter. I kept a pen and notebook on the table beside me and wrote bits of dialogue or whole chapters, all while sitting, mulling, eating. That’s how I wrote most of A Man Called Regret.
I woke up this morning missing those days.
The idea of walking into a restaurant alone is daunting for most people, especially for women. But it’s extremely empowering, too. I got used to it while traveling on business so often. Otherwise, I would have spent all my nights alone in my room watching TV and waiting for room service—which was not always a bad thing either. When my kids were little and I didn’t have much time at home for self-indulgence, my favorite thing to do on business trips was to forgo room service and slip down to the luxury hotel’s restaurant, enjoy a lavish meal alone while I plotted my next chapter, a glass of nice wine, and then saunter back to my room for some serious writing interrupted only by a much-desired and very quiet bath. The rocket scientists I traveled with preferred watching football in sports bars— my next favorite thing right behind slitting my wrists—and thought my solitary nights were boring. The truth was, I was so busy at home with diapers and housework in the evenings that having some time alone to pamper myself was a luxury. The hardest part was convincing them to go on to their sports bars because I’d be okay by myself for the evening, really. Little did they know, I was rubbing my hands together in anticipation before the revolving doors of the hotel hit them in the butts on their way out.
But it’s hard to dine alone. Mostly because the wait staff won’t leave me alone. There’s the initial look of pity, like I got stood up or something, from both the servers and the other diners. Then confusion and curiosity over what I’m doing, what I’m writing, and the inevitable, “Are you writing a book or something?” And then they want me to hear their own story and write the book they have running around in their heads when I have hundreds of my own books running around in my head and begging to be turned loose.
Then there are the restaurants that seat a woman alone by the loud kitchen (no!) or by the elbow-you-in-the-ear-as-I walk-by bathrooms (no!) or in a corner (yes!—quiet corners are good for writing!). The worst, of course, are the ones who want to put me at their “stag table” with other “lonely” diners. I always get stuck with the extremely talkative woman who wants to complain about having to eat alone and how glad she is to have a dining partner. Funny, but she never offers to pick up my tab.
Dining alone got started for me at that little soup and sandwich shop, one that’s no longer under the same management and hasn’t had a similar menu in years. Meaning, I no longer go there. But years ago, a friend of mine would meet me there every Tuesday for lunch. It was Pasta Primavera day every Tuesday (“No broccoli, please.”) and she and I would talk about work, about men, about ideas, about our plans for the future, about everything. We no longer worked in the same office, so our Tuesdays at lunch were a weekly highlight of laughter and dark secrets, with a little gossip thrown in. Then one Tuesday, she called the restaurant to say she’d been called into a meeting with the General and couldn’t join me. So instead, I sat and wrote. When she moved to Washington the next year, I decided not to let “Pasta Primavera Tuesday” fade away.
So I went alone. I sat alone. I wrote. I enjoyed every minute, except for the first few times that I had to assure the staff I was okay and didn’t really need them to feel sorry for me. I was there alone by choice. Because of the food and the atmosphere. I already had company—the legions in my head.
So my guides are telling me to get out more—Kamala, Alva, Thomas, even little Mady. Not necessarily with anyone other than my characters, but out in the world. Because it’s too easy to eat over my keyboard when the girls aren’t with me. Because it’s too easy to isolate myself when I’m busy. I need to remember to interact with the world around me outside of the office.