Five Things Worth Waiting For

I’m not a particularly patient person, but some things are definitely worth the wait.

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5. Family Festivities

I was exhausted heading into these past holidays, and I couldn’t wait for the shopping to end and the day to finally arrive, while at the same time I worried that something would happen at the 11th hour to trip up our family’s Christmas Eve dinner plans. I planned the menu, ordered the meat, went shopping for groceries. Unpacked the Christmas china and linens. Got out the candlesticks. Set the table. Finally the time arrived. The shrimp cocktail and artichoke tapenade hors d’oeuvres had been devoured, the prime rib had been grilled to perfection (thanks to my husband), and the other dishes–curry-coconut squash soup, baked yams, and roasted asparagus–were hot and tasty. Oh, and the platter of homemade Christmas cookies and Yule log was on display. My back ached from being on my feet for days, and I was no longer hungry after sniffing the aromas all afternoon, but my husband and three sons were gathered together around the table, and all the work, and worry, and waiting, was blessedly worthwhile.

4. The End of Acclaimed Novels

Donna Tartt was all over the literary news last year with her novel, The Goldfinch, but I decided to read her previous book, The Secret History, first. It’s been a slow go for me, partly because life and death have interfered with my reading goals and partly because there’s a lot of detail in this 522-page book. I’m not convinced all those details were necessary and in fact I am convinced the book could have been a lot shorter without losing anything significant. But the story’s structure was intriguing: a young man is killed by his friends and you know from the very beginning whodunit, but you keep reading to discover the unexpected aftermaths. And some of the narrator’s commentary, like the fact that it’s “dangerous to ignore the existence of the irrational,” or the notion of “preoccupied air which shadows are said to possess” make it worth the slog.

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3. Tropical Nirvana

Aloha! Our tropical trip was planned long ago. Before my book launch. Before we bought and remodeled a new house. Before the holidays. Before my mother passed away. Our day of departure took forever to get here, it seemed, in part because I was planning to bring my dog with me, and the hoops one needs to jump through to bring a pet to Hawaii are remarkably tough (and spendy). But finally, after a half hour getting to the airport, two hours at the departure airport to get the dog checked in and whatnot, six hours of flying into strong headwinds, another half hour or so at the arrival airport to retrieve the dog from the cargo hold, and another hour of driving to our final destination, we arrived. A long travel day for me, even longer for poor Lani who didn’t understand what in the world was going on. But then she found paradise.

2. New Ventures

SoulStretch: Gentle Yoga and Writing is a new yoga/writing practice I’ve developed with yoga instructor extraordinaire Heather Christensen. We spent a year mulling over the idea, developing a program, finding venues, and working out other details, and we finally went live with the plan on Friday, January 2. We already have over 60 Facebook Likes and several participants registered for the first class, which is promising to be phenomenal. I confess I was becoming impatient as the planning plodded along, but it’s going to pay off and make a difference in my life, and hopefully in the lives of the participants, too.

1. Telling Your Story

I had the pleasure of dining with some of my favorite writer friends recently, and you can guess what we talked about. Specifically, we talked about patience in writing. I had been in a writing group with these friends a few years ago, when all the group members, myself included, were working on memoir. It took two years to get one of the essays I wrote published (42 Heavy-Metal Bands, 2,000 Fans, My Son, and Me), which felt like a terminally long time. But that, indeed, was fast in the world of writing. One of these friends has been working on a full-length memoir for twelve years.

Finding patience, for the writing and for the publication, is a common writerly challenge. In fact, it’s the rare writer (unless he or she is a celebrity) who gets work published quickly. There are a lot of good reasons for this, but for memoirists in particular, one reason it’s good to be patient is that time grants perspective. If you write about an experience that’s fresh in your mind, your words will likely be full of raw emotion, but they will lack the wisdom of how that experience shapes your future…not just your future experiences, or even your future behaviors, but your future self. The person you will become in the future depends on what happens to you today, but you can’t see it when the experience is still fresh, and writing about it prematurely can lead to superficial narrative.

The reason I’m thinking about the importance of waiting to tell your story is that my mother passed away last month. It’s been a horribly difficult time for me, as I find myself dealing with the loss of someone so dear to me while at the same time transitioning to a new phase of my life. Many well-meaning people have asked me (a teacher of therapeutic writing workshops) if I’m planning to write about all this. The simple answer is: probably yes. But definitely not yet.

Writing about raw emotions can be cathartic. It allows you to get your thoughts out of your head and down on the page, which can sometimes help you move on through the day. It can also be enlightening, helping you become aware of things about yourself, or other people, that you hadn’t noticed before. Like the passing of time, the act of writing frequently grants a slight shift in perspective that aids, or is sometimes even necessary for, healing. But just as certain medical procedures can’t be done when the physical body is still in crisis, certain emotionally therapeutic procedures are best deferred until the primary trauma has passed and you’ve had time to grieve.

In addition, the writing goal and genre can, and should, dictate the amount of time you wait to tell your story. If you’re only writing for your own benefit, less time may be required, but if you’re writing to publish, meaning you’re writing to connect with an audience, more time often brings a better product. Also, whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction may very well impact your timing. Generally, I find that nonfiction–if the goal is to publish–requires even more time, to be sure you peel back the layers to get to the truth that’s most important to you.

I don’t know what my goal will be when the time comes to write about Mom. I will probably write for myself first, but I will also want the world to get to know her at some point and in some way, even if through one or more fictional characters. All I know right now is that telling that part of my life story will be worth the wait, no matter how long it might take.

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