There is so much waiting these days that I feel like I’m constantly trying to cross a street with unending traffic. There will be a break in it, eventually, but the cars are so close to each other that I can’t even see what’s on the other side.
During the month of November, my family waited for responses to my oldest daughter’s college applications (and we keep waiting as they trickle in). We waited for a family member to be well enough for surgery, then waited again while she recovered. We waited for news on new homes, on travel plans, on the progression of disease in someone we love. We waited for a flight, and another. We waited on work projects and proposals and to see if our oven was, indeed, broken. On so many of these things, there is still no resolution. So, we keep waiting.
Most of all, I’m waiting as my delightful, warm and excited new literary agent (Sharon Bowers, of Miller Bowers Griffin Literary Agency) holds onto a copy of my finally, finally finished book proposal and manuscript until the time is right to submit it to publishers. Before she agreed to represent me, I spent October waiting and waiting for a very talented but incredibly slow editor to send me her suggestions for changes to both those documents. As I waited for the editor and now wait for the agent, I am also waiting, staring at the sent mail in my inbox and the list of submitted essays on Submittable to get responses from the magazines in which I would love to publish. I’m just waiting waiting waiting, waiting waiting waiting, my muscles sore from waiting.
I am someone who is happier busy than lazy, who finds it very easy to go from idle to sad. Busy means needed. Busy means useful. But I’m also waiting for the clients of my web design business to send me the things I need to complete their sites, and waiting for winter break for my children’s school, and waiting to wrap the Hannukah gifts, and poised waiting over things that aren’t mine to wait for like the end of each school day, which doesn’t mean anything when my children come home, plug in headphones, shake snacks into their mouths and plunge into homework. I sit on a stool in my kitchen and wait. If I wait long enough, they’ll stop coming home at the end of the day entirely, because their days will end somewhere in a university, far away.
When Sharon told me not to publish anything on the topic of my book for a while, waiting to let publishers be hungry for the story and to save the attention of editors for when I’ll want that attention on the book itself, I could not stand to wait. The internet will forget about me, I thought, and pulled out long-ago-essays and ideas-left-to-idle and a pile of digital post-it notes with snatches of stories on them. I started plunking and plonking away, trying to find the urgency in these stories that I feel for the book that lies in wait. It’s hard. Some of these stories need so much more research, reading, thinking, eggs I need to sit on while their plot lines hatch. Oh, no: more waiting.
For now, I’ll share an essay that falls safely into the category of “unrelated to my book” that was published with P.S. I Love You this week. In it, I wrote about a family for who I babysit through all of my adolescence, a complicated trio of people steeped in ill health and deep sadness I didn’t recognize fully until I was an adult. The mother, terrified about her own mortality, filled her son’s drawers with clothes he wouldn’t fit for years:
The next time I babysat, I looked through the catalogs on the coffee table after Eli was in bed. We didn’t get catalogs at my house, unless I counted the Sunday newspaper circulars. I pulled the pile onto the couch next to me and sat, cross-legged, paging through them. Sure enough, the Lands’ End catalog was full of turned-down corners, pages with items circled and a strange set of symbols inked-in next to some of the items on each page. Did an asterisk mean yes? A question mark must have meant “maybe,” but what about items that were circled?
There were sturdy khaki pants on one page, with a note next to them. “Belt?” Carol had written in perfect script. I imagined Eli at 10, pulling on the pants and finding a belt already threaded through the loops by his long-dead mother. Would it make him feel better, or worse?
If you need me, I’ll be here, poised, waiting.