If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be in solitary confinement and imprisoned without human contact, just ask a robber, murderer, or freelance writer.
Solitary confinement, colloquially referred to as the “hole,” “lockdown,” or in my case, “home office” can be a torture like no other and lead to such severe behavior as withdrawal, paranoia and uncontrollable snacking.
Tommy Silverstein, who has been in solitary confinement for the past 29 years, longer than anyone else in the federal prison system, describes solitary existence as “a slow, constant peeling of the skin.” Additionally, he reportedly suffers a terrible addiction to Pringles.
Unlike Tommy, I am not held against my will, but I do work in constant isolation and experience a similar lack of human contact and sensory deprivation that has caused me to become disturbed, agitated, and acutely aware of my neighbor’s bathroom habits.
For instance, through my bird’s eye view from my office, I know that Mrs. Sanchez routinely rises at six-thirty to retrieve the newspaper. Within fifteen minutes she has poured herself a cup of coffee and headed to her outpost. By half past seven she has sipped, skimmed, and flushed.
Mr. Sanchez has his own routine, which unfortunately includes every Saturday blowing his leaves out of his yard and onto mine. His sunflowers have grown so tall they impede my view into his kitchen and I often fantasize about how I might lean over the fence and rip them out the same way Mrs. Sanchez leans over the sink to remove her dentures.
One day, while wadding rough drafts into baseballs and hurling them at my voodoo doll named Señor Sanchez (representing every agent who has ever rejected me) I screamed, “Damn it, Sanchez, what’s wrong with me?”
Señor Sanchez replied, “Señora Lisa, why don’t you . . . ouch! . . . socialize with . . . ouch! . . . real people? ”
Pausing to give my arm a rest, I nodded in agreement. Through a mouthful of Pringles, I mumbled, “I’ll try, Señor Sanchez,” and offered him a chip.
I invited to lunch everyone that ever visited my house—the garbage collector, the meter reader and the UPS guy. The garbage man, Leo, didn’t mind that I served only Pringles. He seemed grateful to be there and even left with my garbage.
The UPS guy, Bill, didn’t seem as appreciative. He dressed in plain brown and didn’t bring a hostess gift.
“Couldn’t you at least deliver me flowers?” I asked Bill.
“That’s the FTD guy,” he answered, shoveling Pringles into his mouth. He rushed off claiming he had another package to deliver. Whatever.
I’d had more ambitious plans for my meter reader, Frank, thinking we might develop a relationship around editing each other’s work but he insisted that reading gas meters didn’t translate to poetry metres. I remained stubbornly optimistic until I said “iambic pentameter,” and he said, “I’m sorry to hear that.”
At that point I gave up on the lunch invitation, deciding instead to focus on the upside of isolation—heightened creativity. I’ve done some of my best work confined to my office like a caged animal, with nothing but Señor Sanchez and Pringles for company.
I hope to one day complete my life’s work, a collection of essays on the relationship between writing and voodoo-ism, titled, “Writing Beyond Reality” and die a martyr to my keyboard, despite years of nagging loneliness and an obscured view into the Sanchez home.
Eventually, Leo, Bill or Frank will discover me dead, slumped over my desk, hugging my manuscript to my chest.
“We should have visited more often,” they’ll lament. Leo, trying to be helpful, will toss my work into the garbage. Bill will deliver me Pringles. And Frank will write my eulogy in iambic pentameter. They’ll bury me with my “weird looking doll.”
“Right, Señor Sanchez?”
“Sí, Señora. Chip?”