Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Waiting, Eternity, and The Work in Progress

by Julia Buckley

Right now I am awaiting my agent’s thoughts on my manuscript revisions—a nervewracking time for any author—and I got to thinking today about the notion of waiting itself.

There’s a reason that Samuel Beckett used the present participle in his title Waiting for Godot; waiting itself is an existential experience. No matter what one is waiting for—a ride, a letter, a ringing bell—one is always caught in the center between hope and despair. In addition, the wait is an entirely separate entity from what precedes it and whatever might end it. The wait, in many cases, is misery.

Don’t believe me? I’ll show you my youngest son in the month before Christmas. As he sees it, Christmas and its attendant joys are always, always too far away—until they are suddenly there and gone, which brings him brief happiness, then depression. This, then, is the human condition.

My students, when we read Godot, share their own painful experiences of waiting: waiting for the phone call from that special someone; waiting for Christmas break, spring break, graduation; waiting for a report card; waiting for age eighteen, then age twenty-one, then waiting to officially “feel adult.” (Good luck with that one).

George Santayana famously wrote, “There is no cure for birth or death save to enjoy the interval,” and I suppose the challenge is in fact to try to enjoy whatever wait we are currently enduring. The advantage of waiting is that one can lean toward hope, even embrace it, because in that temporary state we can own whatever future our imagination can conceive.

So here’s to waiting: not a misery, but a little moment of the eternal, in which everything is, and everything is not.

(photo by: me, in an existential mood).


Jess Lourey said...

Your posts are always so beautifully written, Julia. Your students are lucky to have so intelligent and articulate a woman.

I am a terrible waiter, so I amp up my "doing" to forget about the waiting. I think of it as taking out an insurance policy against the depression of rejection. This one might not go the way I want, but here's the next one...

Julia Buckley said...

That makes sense. Action during waiting can make us feel we're not waiting. :)

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

As always, a beautiful and thoughtful post, Julia. You are such a poet.

Like most folks, I'm horrible at waiting. My neurotic personality blossoms into full-blown insanity if I have to wait too long for something important, especially if waiting to hear something potentially negative - like recent layoffs or health test results.

Considering the above, you'd think I'd have chosen a different path than writing, since writing professionally is fraught with periods of waiting.

Wishing you great news about your manuscript.

Alan Orloff said...

It's the lack of control that's the worst. You've written a manuscript, or you've had a job interview, or you've given your car keys to your sixteen-year-old who's twenty minutes late in returning at 11:30 at night, and there's nothing you can do about it, but stew in your own juices, letting hope and despair duke it out.

Here's to hope winning out.

G.M. Malliet said...

She'll love the manuscript, never fear.

Lovely post.

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks, Sue-Ann, Alan and GM. It's interesting to think about, isn't it?

Sue-Ann, you're right--I know a lot of people who are waiting to know if their financial future is sound; I suppose we're waiting collectively as a nation, too, to see if this economy can be saved.

And Alan, you've frightened me with the 16-year-old driver thing. My son is 14 and not the most responsible person in the world. The thought of waiting for him to come home is not one that I savor.

Alan Orloff said...

Well, Julia, you could do what I do. Chain him to the house. Oh, not literally chain him. I use a very long retractable nylon leash, and he has free run of the yard.

Keith Raffel said...

Waiting is the plight of us writers. I wrote the first draft of my upcoming book in ten weeks. Then I sent it off to my agent. Then to get comments from others. It was ten months before it was final. All in all, I probably was writing for 14 weeks and waiting for comments and such for 28.

Julia Buckley said...

I'll consider that, Alan. :)

Keith, I think 28 might be the minimum these days--but you're right. The waiting exceeds the actual writing by a long shot.

AS Meredith said...

Alan Orloff directed me over to your post and it came at an apropos time. Thanks for the patient thoughts!

I have a mss out with about five agents and it's been months (four to be exact). At what point do you give up?

Thanks and look forward to reading more of your posts.

Anonymous said...

It might be time to send a friendly, gentle message reminding at least 2 of them that you're waiting for a response.

Julia Buckley said...

I don't think you ever give up, ASM. But the waiting is exquisite torture--and yes, I do think that Anonymous is right, and that after about two months a polite e-mail is absolutely allowable. Checking the status of one's manuscript is a-okay after this amount of time, and I think agents understand (especially backlogged agents) that it is a fair request.