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Posts Tagged ‘waiting’

You’re Stuck, Amy

My friend gave me a Tarot reading Friday night, during a writer party in which we mocked the Self Esteem game and had a dramatic reading of The Houseplants of Gor. I like Tarot readings because I think, at their best, they can help me clarify my thinking and pull back to see the big picture.

My central card: The Wheel of Fortune

My central card: The Wheel of Fortune

After looking at a few of my cards, my friend said, “It seems like you’re kind of stuck right now.” She explained why in the language of the cards, but I don’t remember that part because instead I was thinking, “Yes, that’s true. I’m totally stuck. Huh.” Which is also why I like Tarot readings, because once in a while they slap you with things you already know but are halfway ignoring.

But yes, I have been stuck. That’s why I look at rental listings when I need to be cheered up, because I know that if I fail to unstick myself any other way, I can move someplace else and the upheaval that will cause has a high chance of unsticking me. It almost doesn’t matter where I move because it’s not about location, it’s about shaking things up enough that they start flowing again. And therefore, looking at rental listings is supremely comforting, in spite of the fact that I’ve already moved twice in the last year and a half and the last thing I really want to do is pack all my stuff up AGAIN.

Just sitting there and thinking about how stuck I’ve been feeling made me feel less stuck than before. It’s funny how that works.

One of the other themes of my reading was uncertainty. Which was another moment of, “Oh yeah, there is a lot of uncertainty in my life right now, and I wonder how I’m doing with that.”

My novel’s out to agents, and there’s not much for me to do there but wait. In the meantime, I haven’t figured out what my next novel is going to be yet. I don’t know what I’m going to do when my lease is up, and I don’t know how much my rent is going to increase. I don’t know where I’m going to travel next year, what events I’m going to attend, and February has become this strange nexus point of so many possibilities that I wonder if anything at all is going to happen then (if not, I have friends who are on board for hate-watching Shades of Grey, which is already pretty excellent). When it comes down to it, I don’t really know in which direction I am heading.

It’s all relative, though, this kind of uncertainty. I expect I’ll be writing, and I expect a certain little dog will continue to add to my happiness. I expect there’ll be people around who I care about. Perhaps most importantly, I’m not waiting for doom to fall down onto my head like an anvil, which makes life so much better and the uncertainty so much more manageable.

My reading concluded with this thought: Trust yourself and pick your battles. Which, yeah, is decent advice, although sometimes hard to implement.

I think the “You are stuck” part was the best though. Because soon after I’d heard that, I had the brilliant idea of switching strategies. Instead of throwing myself repeatedly at my problems, tangling my limbs and collecting bruises and generally exhausting myself, what if I chilled out a little and focused on what I did have instead of what I didn’t? That’s not to say I haven’t been trying to do this the entire time I’ve been stuck, but I guess I was finally ready.

In the end, I needed to hear someone tell me I was stuck so I could realize that being not stuck was also an option.

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Gather ye rose-buds while ye may;
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.
~Robert Herrick

Regular readers of this blog know that I often espouse a carpe diem philosophy. I talk about seizing the day, doing what you want to do, following your dreams and sculpting them into reality. But how does time fit into the equation of this free spirit paradise?

I wish I believed that we could decide to follow our dreams today, and that tomorrow those dreams would be a reality. Or that we could decide to change ourselves today and be completely different people tomorrow. Or even that we could make absolute statements about what an hour of any given experience might be worth. But so often, that is not the way that the world works.

Let’s say I decide I want to be a fine pianist, maybe even an exceptional one. Whether or not we subscribe to the popular notion of 10,000 hours of practice to master a new skill, I don’t think any of us would argue that it would take time, energy, and commitment to learn to play the piano. First we have to learn the fundamentals: how to read music, how to feel and count rhythm, mastering new vocabulary, how to move our fingers on the keys, etc. Then we have to learn ever more complicated pieces, build up muscle memory and finger dexterity, and discover the difference between rote playing and artistic playing. It takes years to become a very fine pianist, and even more to become exceptional. So how do we reconcile these years of effort with seizing the day?

I think the answer is that we have to find pleasure in the daily tasks. While we might not enjoy drilling scales, we might find satisfaction in mastering them. And as a reward, we may allow ourselves to practice Schubert, whom we absolutely adore playing. The idea behind living life to its fullest is not that every day has to be a potpourri of incident and excitement (the people who want this are probably not going to be found practicing piano ten hours a day). It’s that you are spending at least a portion of every day on activities in which you are invested (you know, in between taking a shower and playing Angry Birds).

Time is not the absolute it sometimes appears to be, and some things cannot be rushed through. Forgiveness takes time. Building a relationship takes time. Figuring out what we want takes time. Getting to know ourselves takes time. Becoming skilled takes time. Making change takes time. Sometimes a long time. And we face judgment for not accomplishing these sorts of difficult tasks fast enough. But which is more valuable–doing something right or saving time? Saving time is not always the answer.

Since my mother died, I’ve had people tell me that they’re sure I’d give anything for even just another hour of her company. On the surface, this sounds like a no-brainer, especially since I was very close to my mom. But even this statement ends up being superficial. My mom spent her last week mostly unconscious and obviously in horrible pain and discomfort. Would I give anything for another hour in that week? No; in fact, I’d give a lot to avoid another hour in that week. It follows that the quality of the time is as important as the quantity. There are moments I had with my mom that I wouldn’t trade for days with her.

Our society tends to teach us to value more time, save time, and avoid wasting time. But sometimes less time is more. Some tasks cannot be rushed through. Sometimes seizing the day means slowing down and doing what is needed. Should we put off our dreams indefinitely? I don’t think so, but we also shouldn’t expect them to come true without investing time and effort into them.

In what dream are you putting your time?

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Last night I asked my husband what I should write about next for the blog. “If you don’t tell me what to write,” I said, “I’m going to talk about teeth.” He looked horrified and gave me a few topic suggestions. And here I am writing about teeth anyway.

I’ve been trying really hard not to whine about my dental problems too much, which is hard, because I feel this pressing need to whine. Seven months and counting, and right this minute I have a not insignificant toothache from the same tooth that’s been causing the problems all along. I’ve been through two root canals, an onlay, two permanent crowns, and three or four temporary crowns for this one tooth, not to mention gum surgery, several courses of antibiotics and steroids, and countess bite adjustments. It still hurts. And now a new filling on the opposite side of my mouth has decided to act up and hate on anything cold. Eating has become an interesting exercise since I now have two bum teeth on opposite sides of my mouth.

I can question the competence of my dentists all I want, but ultimately they just really really want to save this tooth. They care about saving the tooth more than they care about the pain it is causing me or the subsequent deterioration of my quality of life. My tooth is, after all, irreplaceable; no prosthesis will be as good as the real thing.

It occurs to me as I obsess about my mouth that this is a more universal problem. How do we decide when it’s time to let go of something? I think it’s probably about time for an extraction of my tooth, but without 100% support from the dental establishment, I have hesitated for several months now. I’m kicking myself because maybe all this pain could have ended last December. But how do I decide when it’s time to give up on the tooth?

How do we decide when to give up on anything? What is it that tips us over the edge into deciding a marriage just isn’t going to work? What motivates us to change careers? What is the key information we need to make the call that a business relationship isn’t working out or a person is just never going to treat us respectfully? How do we make the call that “enough is enough” and that something has got to change?

I have a lot of trouble letting go. My stubbornness is an extremely useful trait in many ways, but it can occasionally be inconvenient. What kills me the most is that so often, we’ll never know for sure. We won’t know what would have happened if we’d made a different choice. Maybe if I’d stuck with that relationship for another month or two, that extra time would have made the difference. That’s the insidious whisper that plays inside my head. Maybe if I try one more dental treatment, I’ll get to keep my original tooth. Maybe if I can persevere at a task for a while longer, it will become more rewarding. Maybe maybe maybe.

Or maybe it’s time to make a hard decision and extract that broken molar from its roots, rip the band aid off the skin, take a stand and say, “This is where I draw the line.” There’s giving up and then there’s embracing change; the line between the two is murky but important, because one feels like defeat while the other one can be liberating. A sad and bracing liberation, to be sure, but I’ll take it over straightforward defeat any day.

So tell me: how do YOU make such decisions? When is giving up the right thing to do?

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I don’t like knowing my limits. In fact, I prefer the opposite: I like believing that I have very few limits, and making this belief as true as possible through sheer force of will. And when I discover that I have limits that won’t budge through will power alone, I try to create a work-around or at the very least find a more positive way to frame it for myself. 

I’m thinking about this right now because it turns out I’ve been fighting off a bacterial infection in my tooth for the past two and a half months. Fighting and losing, I might add. In spite of this, January was one of my more productive months in recent memory. In addition to writing ten essays for this website, I completed almost a third of my new novel-in-progress and wrote two new short stories. At the same time, I was thinking, “This is great, I’m so excited by what I’m doing, but why can’t I do more? Why am I so tired?” Only now do I have the understanding as to why these accomplishments exhausted me quite as much as they did.

So now it’s time for me to focus on taking care of myself, which is requiring a little bit of juggling over in Priority Central. The problem is, I believe that taking care of myself is a high priority, but sometimes it gets lost in the shuffle of other, flashier, more exciting priorities. When confronted with the choice between starting a new project and sitting around resting, I’d rather start the project. Plus I have this built-in Protestant work ethic that starts screaming at the slightest sign of the dread vice Sloth. And we won’t go into a certain pervasive stubborn streak in my nature.

Which is why I’m only stopped in my tracks now, when my tooth aches to the point where I might not mind ripping it out with my own fingers. I can’t keep working at my normal pace because I am physically incapacitated enough that I cannot concentrate. Here it is: I’ve reached my limit.

This week I’m forcing myself to take it easy. I don’t have specific word count goals or project goals. I’m trying to suppress my frustration at being delayed on all of this work that I’m so excited about doing. After all, I’m pretty lucky to be so enthusiastic about my work in the first place, and the excitement will keep. (Hear that, excitement? You are so going to stick around.) I’m going to watch some cheesy movies and TV shows, and I’m going to sleep as much as possible around my schedule of medicines. And I’m going in for more dental work, which is why I’m going to need all this recovery time in the first place.

This is life. I want it to be smooth, but it’s not. It’s bumpy, and it gets in the way of itself all the time. I don’t even get to bank up this being-good-to-myself time because I might need more of it later, depending on what this tooth has to say for itself. I want to stay up late every night and drink every minute in and live my dreams right this second, all the time. I want to be larger than life, but I’m not, at least not as often as I’d like. Sometimes I can’t do much of anything but sit here and wait to feel better and let numerous more knowledgeable people poke at my tooth. That is a limit, yes indeed.

But better to pack as much as possible within those pesky limits than miss out on being alive at all.

Anyone else run into an inconvenient limit lately? Feel free to commiserate below.

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On Waiting, Part II

“Life is largely a matter of expectation.” –Horace

Today’s entry is the sundae and the cherry all in one because I get to talk about the things that I love so much that I’m happy to wait for them.  My husband tells me that I live in the future a lot, and I suppose I do, partly because I’m a bit of a worrier and a bit of a planner, and partly because I love looking forward to things.  So here is my list of *six* (yes, I couldn’t quite limit myself to five) things I wait for with sincere pleasure.

6. Food: Enjoying the aromas filling the house as dinner stews in the crockpot or cookies bake in the oven is part of the fun.  And I was looking forward to our anniversary dinner at Chez TJ for several weeks before the fact.  My sweet tooth doesn’t help matters either.  Does this make me a foodie?

5. Friends: I look forward to seeing people or hearing from people so much.  When I make plans with you for next week, you can bet that it makes me smile whenever I think about it.  Getting a long e-mail or, heaven forbid, a real physical letter, is good in the same way.  Granted, there’s not as much waiting involved, but I still get a frisson of anticipation when my eye scans down the page or I see a promising sender in my inbox (I save the exciting e-mails for last).  This also includes looking forward to seeing my dog (I’ll be driving home and get excited about this, which goes to show how extremely dorky I can be) and wondering when my husband will get home from work.

4. New Book Releases (and movie, album, theater, etc.): Sometimes this crosses the borders into painful (GRRM, I’m looking at you), but in general I enjoy looking forward to the release date of a book I want to devour.   Here are the books I’m currently waiting for with baited breath: Monsters of Men, by Patrick Ness; Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins; Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis (I’m waiting for the second half to come out before reading any of it); Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold; and many, many more.

3. Holiday/Special Occasion: It has been known to happen that I will create a special occasion in order to look forward to it.  I love all birthdays, and particularly my birthday, for this reason.  The wedding anniversary is a good new occasion in my life, and I also celebrate the anniversary of when I met my husband, which is in October.  My favorite holiday by far, however, is Christmas, and I’ll make a confession: I’m already getting excited about Christmas right now, and it’s only August.  So apparently I get about five months a year of wonderful anticipatory glow from a one-day holiday.  How awesome is that?

2. Completion of a project: Who doesn’t love the twin feeling of satisfaction and relief when you type “The End” at the end of the novel you’ve been working on for the past x months?  Sometimes it’s only the fact that I know how pleased I’m going to be at the end that keeps me going during the murky middle.  Short stories are great because you get to experience this thrill of completion more often.  The same sort of thing happens after a concert or a run of shows or a big project at work.  Of course, the anticipation of completion can be better than the actual finishing, which tends to be bittersweet, but I’ll take whatever I can get.

1. Travel: I love to travel; it is one of my enduring hobbies.  People who know me well but don’t often see me will ask me where I’ve been in the last year because it’s a question almost guaranteed to act as a conversation starter with me.  I structure my life around travel instead of the other way around, and now that I’m traveling to attend various conventions, conferences, and workshops, this has only gotten worse.  When I’m feeling particularly down or stressed, I plan a trip – it doesn’t matter if the trip won’t happen for six months or even more because just looking forward to it will begin to make me feel better.  The closer the trip gets, the more excited I get.  So for instance, I’m traveling to the UK in a little over a week, and I’m internally bouncing just thinking about it.  The difficulty of waiting just adds to the general aura of excitement.

Well, writing this post has put me in a fantastic mood.  Here’s your personal invitation to add to it by telling me about things you like anticipating.

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On Waiting, Part I

I hate waiting.  After teaching piano to children as young as age four for seven years, I can no longer characterize myself as a wholly impatient person, at least not with a straight face, but man, do I hate to wait.  Yesterday, I was thinking about how much time I spend waiting in the course of daily routine life: I wait for the light to turn green, I wait for the clerk to ring up my purchase, I wait for the check at the restaurant, I wait for people to get back to me via E-mail or text or phone.  I wait for the water to boil, I wait for the mail to arrive, I wait for lunch, I wait for my nail polish to dry.

Yes, this is what I spend my time thinking about.  So I decided I would compile a list of the top five things I hate waiting for.

5. Scheduling: My old business depended on the skillful juggling of twenty to thirty families’ schedules with my own.  I am very good at scheduling, but what used to drive me up the wall was my inability to get a timely response and then the whole process of going back and forth, complete with peoples’ schedules spontaneously rearranging themselves overnight, thus wrecking my grand plan.  Email, phone, or in person, they all have their unique and horrible pitfalls of waiting for someone to respond.  (In person, you say?  Yes, because inevitably people can’t commit to anything in person.  They have to get back to you, presumably after checking with all family members.)  Waiting a week or more for someone to say, “No, we can’t come then because of xyz activity” is maximally frustrating, since presumably they knew that they couldn’t do it for the entire week and therefore I’ve been waiting for no good reason.  This dislike of scheduling and the waiting inherent to it has now extended into my regular life as well, which is why I rarely schedule group events.

4. Results: When I used to audition on a semi-regular basis, I hated waiting for the cast list, solo list, or whatever list to be posted.  Now I hate waiting for responses to my short story submissions.  I just want to know and get it over with, and in the meantime, I tie myself into myriad complex mental knots.

3. Drama: I like things resolved now.  As in, right this very minute.  If I have an interpersonal conflict of some type going on and it’s impossible to quietly smooth over (which is generally my first choice), I want to face it and resolve it as quickly as possible.  Cooling down and talking about it in the morning?  Not so much, because I won’t relax until I feel a resolution, meaning I won’t sleep well.  Having someone initiate drama over e-mail?  That means for every exchange, I have to wait, and the tension builds higher and higher between e-mails.

2. Healing: Whenever I get sick or injured, I convince myself that I’ll never feel better again.  Waiting to heal is particularly difficult because I feel so physically lousy the whole time, it affects all aspects of my life to varying degrees.  Right now I’ve been waiting for my knees to heal for a year and a half, and I messed up my back about a month ago and I’m waiting for it to heal too.  Really, what I’m waiting for is the resumed ability to do things I want to do but can’t.  Of course, if I don’t wait long enough, then I re-injure myself or relapse into the illness and it takes even longer to heal.

1. Loved Ones and Terminal Illness: This is the worst kind of waiting I can think of.  Watching a loved one suffer in horrible pain and waiting for them to die tears everyone involved into tiny jagged pieces.

Feeling impatient along with me yet?  Let’s talk about a few strategies for coping with some of these things (except the last one, which requires a more in-depth discussion).  Setting deadlines can be helpful when dealing with other people.  Distracting yourself is also big up there, whether that be with a fun activity or by working on the next story or audition piece.  Focusing on what you are capable of when injured or sick can help although I’ve found it mostly works in the very short term.  I’ve found being aware of the changes for the better (oh look, now I can walk FOUR blocks with no knee pain, or I can stand at a convention party for THREE hours instead of twenty minutes) to be more cheering.  Scheduling a particular time to talk about a big looming issue means at least you have some idea of the time frame of resolution.

One of the strategies I like the best is to think about the stuff in life that does make me happy.  So never fear, because tomorrow I plan to write the perfect antidote to this post– the top five things I love waiting for.  Yes, they do exist!  But you’ll have to wait to hear about them.

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