Laura Catherine Brown

Is the waiting the hardest part?


Whether I’m standing on a subway platform marking time for a train to arrive, or waiting for the editor of a major publishing house to respond to my novel sent by my agent over three weeks ago, I become trapped in a postponement of my life. In this dualistic place of waiting-versus-fulfillment, where my continuity relies on an external event over which I have no control, even my breath is on hold, or so it seems. Take the subway for instance, which is nowhere in sight. As I repeatedly lean over the platform edge hoping to detect the glimmer of headlights twinkling in the dark cavern of the tunnel, my agitation intensifies. My heart pounds, I break out in a sweat with a throbbing in my skull and, when there’s no sign of a train, I step back, disgusted with the state of public transportation. If I want to experience that effect again, I can just lean over the platform edge again. Unfailingly, better than drugs. Inherent in the action of peering into the tunnel lies a subtle belief that it will cause the train to appear. When no train appears, I have failed. In this way, I become the cause of my own suffering.

Take the stressful hiatus between the estimated time my novel arrived in the editor’s inbox, and now, three weeks later. For the first week and a half, I burned sweet grass and honored the four directions every morning before I wrote. This was preferable to fretting about imagined rejection or gloating about imagined acceptance. Perhaps I was sending good vibes, calling on the universe to bring me what I want, aligning the stars to my wishes. But inevitably, the morning arrived when I forgot to enact the ritual, after which I simply neglected it. I undermined my own efforts! Now the editor will never decide to acquire my novel!

I should check my email. Perhaps there’s news in my inbox even if, half an hour ago, there was nothing. So what if I already checked my email several thousand times this morning? Like leaning over the subway platform--oh fluttering heart, dry mouth, racing blood, empower me!--nothing has arrived but a recognition of my own failure to make the world conform to my desire. Not only that but I’m holding my breath. I check the spam folder, too, you never know. Except I do know, so why then am I disappointed by offers of enlargement supplements, cheap Viagra and miracle youth cream?

The waiting, Tom Petty says, is the hardest part. But is it? Does every sentence I write seem trivial, superficial and clumsy because I’m waiting for a rejection? Would an acceptance from the editor make my words shimmer? Why can’t it happen right now? or now? or now? And the present is lost, sucked away by my preoccupation. Waiting is all about context. No different than simply being. Nothing is happening. Standing on a subway platform, breathing. Sitting at a computer, breathing. Anxiety and frustration ebb and flow, receding, returning. Step out of the context, I tell myself. Step away from the waiting. Hope is a brazen activity. I must attend to my life. I must compose one sentence to prepare for the next. But the waiting yanks me back out. And so it goes. On and on and on.