I’m not the world’s most patient person. This is an understatement, because to tell you how impatient I am would take too long. But I was forced to spend the last fortnight in a paroxysm of waiting. It made me think about what I could learn from it, because I write a blog, so I go around trying to turn trite nothings into even triter truisms so I can beat the Internet with them until it is bloody and battered and begging for a nice cup of tea and a sit down.
Only one of the things I was waiting for was important. It was a thing of worry, and waiting for news on that score has been about as pleasurable as an audio clip of a Kardashian discussing economic reform.
But because it’s easier to worry about the small stuff than anything which really matters, particularly something out of my control, I resorted to bashing the calm out of the rest of life instead.
You Can Worry While You Wait…
First on my hitlist for senseless wait worry was the blog. I’d been notified that one of my blog posts was about to be Freshly Pressed, but not when. I thought it’d be within a few days, but then it took 8 days to appear, by which time I had convinced myself that they’d forgotten about me and I should really just slink back into Maudlinsville and stay put and wait for the apocalypse to come like the good Irishwoman I am.
Then I decided that I couldn’t wait much longer to hear back from agents and publishers, because I will be old one day (if I make it that far). I therefore felt I should ramp up my novel submissions to a degree which would normally be lampooned on this blog.
It could have been disastrous. The equivalent of mass-mailing a form letter saying ‘I dare you to not publish me! Go on, I dare ya!’ Fortunately, before it was too late, I was pressed freshly, and the resulting Inbox explosions kept me out of trouble.
…Or You Can Be Productive
Then it occurred to me that the very process of waiting might be like a fire under one’s arse. If it were a chemical reaction, waiting would be the catalyst. Because nothing will make a person try harder, and think bigger, than the hard-core impotence of waiting.
In my period of enforced standby, I got through jobs which only rarely get done, and rarer still get done properly, including window cleaning; Inbox clearing; a copy edit on a novel which involved searching for the words ‘had’ and ‘been’ in order to drag it out of the colloquial Irish distant past into a more legible and immediate present; and sewing a ribbon back onto a dressing-gown on the very day it came off. (I know. Unprecedented.)
I also did accounts, an underwear inventory, and my eyebrows. I was a seething freight train of productivity. And all because I was forced to wait, and I couldn’t sit with myself.
The funny thing is that I can’t find a word for productive, positive waiting. All the synonyms have negative connotations. Idle. Loiter. Delay; lurk; procrastinate; dawdle.
I would now like to change that, by honouring Productive Waiting with tales of some of the world’s most successful waiters, and I don’t mean people who know who’s having the scallops.
1. The Princess: Kate Middleton
I’d give her her proper title, but to be fair, only the Telegraph or the Times calls her Duchess. She waited so hard, the kindness-free tabloids called her ‘Waity Katy’ back in the mid-noughties. And what did she do with her time? She learned how to be the most inoffensive royal ever, that’s what. Now she’s the perfect diplomat, role model, wife and mother, even managing (on the surface, anyway) to deal with the hideous pressure of the press and public expectations. Now that’s what I call essential prep.
2. The Politician: Barack Obama
So you spend 6 years fighting to be President when you’re already President, and only 12-18 months doing any actual Presidenting. Regardless of what your politics might be, you can’t deny most US Presidents are only able to do their job in the 3rd year of their 2nd term, when rivals are too busy eyeing up the shiny new prize to bother with the old.
Obama’s memoir The Audacity of Hope (a dreadful title which sounds like a manual for an Irish night out) hints at his patience, but he does seem to be an able waiter, productively getting all of his ducks in a row before… actually, I don’t want to finish this with a gun metaphor, but you know what I mean.
3. The Writer: Donal Ryan
Irish author Donal Ryan is a master of waitery. He was rejected 47 times before he eventually discovered he would be published by the first publisher he ever submitted his manuscript to. Moreover, his second book was famously published before his first, because nobody picked up on The Thing About December until The Spinning Heart took the world by storm: so he spent his waiting time on the first book writing another book which won ALL the prizes. I have a soft spot for this talented man because he’s from just the other side of the lake from me, but he’s also funnier than stand-up when he’s speaking – seriously, go see him if you can.
4. The Country: Ireland
I’m calling this one anticipative pessimism. Ireland’s used to waiting around for stuff. We hang around, chilling our exposed arses off in northerly winds, looking enviously at the Mediterraneans with their healthy glows and diets and the Germans with their mechanised public services and the Americans with their rich paranoid borders, knowing that eventually, if we doff our caps enough, and keep making butter, drugs, airplane mechanics and – um – “Culture”, we’ll be all right.
And we are, generally. One minute we’re the naughty child: the next, we’re the kid everyone hates because other mothers say ‘why can’t you be more like Johnny?’ Neither is desirable, granted. But each is only a phase. What goes around comes around, and we’re going nowhere. And it’s raining again anyway, so what’s the point?
In conclusion, achievement can be the upside of waiting. For a writer in particular, it can mean the difference between getting published, and annoying industry professionals with stuff which just isn’t ready. Does it make us like waiting any better? No, of course not. Waiting sucks. But we may as well do something during it, if we can’t do anything about it.