In this issue, Allison Davis reframes the idea of waiting at a time when the days are long and the weeks are slow, in A New Way to Wait.
In November, while waiting for a text from my Panny-bae that would never come, I made a same-day appointment with the tarot card reader I call in times of duress and uncertainty.
2020 was a stress test on my patience. I no longer had it in me to wait 48 hours to sit with any sort of not-knowing—i.e. will he text back, is this over, why are men—so I got on the phone with Shaman Redwood (yes) and appraised him of the situation: “ghosting…Scorpio…knots in my stomach…4 am wake-up…”
His answer: “You know, I don’t think it’s about this guy (is it ever?). You’re bored and stagnant and looking for anything that feels like a shift, like movement, like progress, like redefinition.”
“Things will change soon. By April,” he said. “Just make it until April.”
I couldn’t believe this man was asking me to wait for another period of time, for another thing to happen that was meant to bring some sort of relief. Life was already a pile-up of waiting periods: waiting for test results, for depression fogs to lift, for an impulse buy to arrive in the mail, for a vaccine, for a competent government, for the other shoe to drop.
But sure. I’d now add “waiting for April,” to the list.
Luckily, I’m a problem solver. If I had to wait for all of these things, I knew I needed to recontextualize the idea of “waiting,” and figure out how to transform it from a state of paralysis to one that felt like I was moving forward in any way at all.
I considered some options: distraction (Netflix, weed, microdosing shrooms?) or radical acceptance (too advanced) or extreme productivity (lol). Ultimately, I decided to categorize my “wait for its”—first by size (a big wait: Covid eradication versus a small wait: oven timer going off for my brownies) and then by tolerability (tolerable: a biweekly paycheck versus intolerable: where the fuck are you, April). My plan: focus solely on the small, tolerable wait-for-its—trying to recreate the feeling of opening stocking stuffers on Christmas Eve to manage the antsiness of waiting for Christmas morning.
What did putting that into practice look like? Well, a light bulb had been flickering in my bathroom for a few weeks, and while I could have preemptively taken care of it, instead, I waited. This waiting felt ok. Exciting, even.
Whenever I was brushing my teeth or plucking my eyebrows, I’d monitor the flick flick flick, and wait for the bulb to sing its final, high pitch frequency (do everyone’s lightbulbs do this?) before expiring.
Then I’d have actions! I’d hop up, try to remember where I’d put the extra light bulbs, locate them, grab a stool, wonder if the three legs on the stool were sturdy enough to hold me up, or if I’d fall and then my corpse would be doing the waiting until someone found me. I’d decide to risk it, climb the stool, unscrew, screw-in, and then, I’d have done something. I’d feel great.
By filling my big waiting period with lots of micro-waits (a reservation for Yurt dining in two weeks, an afternoon walk with a friend, a new triad of Search Party episodes to drop), I felt occupied, for a time, and often forgot about the distance between my present and whatever was to come in April.
That only worked for so long. During the taint time between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I had nothing to do but roll around on my floor, like I was suspended in amniotic fluid. I didn’t have the twin pillars of Waiting for the Work Day to Begin and Waiting for the Work Day To End to provide those mini-waits. The universe was holding its breath. There was just so little to do. I took 90-minute baths.
The only distractions I could come up with were the truly chaotic ones, like sending a picture of my boobs to an ex. On one hand, once the semi-nude went out, it would create a mini-wait (great, the kind we like) but on the other, was it a tolerable wait? Or would I fully decompose into a skeleton before his response arrived?
I took the gamble. I angled my phone and accomplished a better than average picture, drafted a pithy message, and…never sent it. I held off a night on sending. Then another day. Then another night. Then a couple more.
I feared any sort of action that would turn this type of wait (holding off on doing anything, therefore maintaining control) into the sort where I’d be passive, angsty, anticipating something I wasn’t sure would come. I had robbed myself of the feeling that I could make something happen. Now, I was just a girl, lying on the floor, wasting a good nude, going absolutely crazy trying to figure out what I’d been waiting for anyway, in a big existential, stare-into-the-void sort of way. It was crushing. Was it April yet?
What even is April, Shaman Redwood??
It was the third day of holding my phone, contemplating the nude, when a text from a pal interrupted my obsessive “should I send it now,” train of thought.
He let me know he’d gotten the first dose of the vaccine, and was feeling optimistic, for the first time in a while, that maybe soon we could all talk face-to-face in enclosed spaces, with poor ventilation. A true dream.
“But,” he said, “I feel like I’m waiting to be truly hopeful, I feel like instead, I’m waiting for something bad around the corner.” In trying to reassure him, I finally found a way to transform the waiting period into something soothing.
It wasn’t about creating shorter waiting cycles within larger ones, but about choosing what to focus on anticipating, to select what you’re waiting for, because there are so many things, certain and uncertain. Why focus on waiting for the bad thing, when for the first time in a while, there’s a good thing, verifiably, waiting for us around the bend?
After 10 months of idly, agonizingly waiting for some unknown, I’ve figured it out. Waiting mixed with a hint of optimism creates anticipation, which is something I can tolerate for as long as I need to—well, at least until April.