how we used to wait
for letters to arrive.
But what’s stranger still
is how something so small
can keep you alive.” --Arcade Fire
“Your whole life is a class on waiting.” Andrea Durham
“Why do you let me stay here,
all by myself?
Why don’t you come and play here?
I’m just sitting on the shelf.”—She and Him
“To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life. So is to trust that something will happen to us that are far beyond our imaginings. So, too, is giving up control over our future…The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present in the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our imagination, fantasy, or prediction. That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world that is preoccupied with control.”—Henri J. Nouwen
My life coach pal Andrea Durham is teaching a class at church and the theme last week was “Waiting.” I’d come into class telling her that I was feeling pretty lost, so the idea of an hour and a half of meditating on/discussing waiting was part annoyance, part relief.
At the moment, I’m waiting to hear back from my teaching program of choice. I’m not even sure what I want the answer to be. Part of me wants to be certified to teach, but part of me just wants to get a fulfilling-enough job and get on with my life a lot sooner. Even if I get and accept a yes, there are so many up-in-the-air matters, like how to pay for it, how to keep the household running with no time to play housewife, how to keep my writing self from getting swallowed up, etc.
Even without big questions like that, so much of writing life is about waiting—waiting for the nebulous ideas in your head to coalesce into a poem, giving the poem a little time to sit before editing, waiting to hear back about gigs, journals, manuscripts. At least once a week, I say to myself, “Boy, they call this submitting for a reason.”
But according to that waiting class, it doesn’t have to be such a helpless thing. Waiting can be a way to practice faith, to trust the better parts of you to know what they’re doing, and also to give yourself space to grow. I like to think of myself that way, like a poem getting a little breather before it goes into editing and out into the world. It even makes me feel kind of okay about my first and second full-length manuscripts (and third and fourth, etc, I guess…) getting rejected so that my first book would have time to be a better thing.
My tendency when anxious about waiting is to pile on more projects to wait and worry for, and that sure does get a lot done, but I like thinking about waiting as a way to make space. (As anyone who reads this blog knows, I do have space issues.) It’s kind of a relief to let my control-freak self be dreamy, distracted, and dawdly—it’s kind of a relief to just let myself be lost.
What are your favorite non-projecty ways to wait? I like doodling, fantasizing, indulging in magical thinking (Yes, I recently gave myself a Tarot reading, and apparently victory is assured.), making playlists, and engaging in the Zen futility of sweeping up cat hair.
Here's one of the best things to do while waiting: type your childhood address (es) into The Wilderness Downtown and see what happens.
It'll be something like this: