Let’s talk a little about delayed gratification. For one thing, it’s pretty much the most relevant concept to a writer’s life out side of hard work and inspiration. For another thing, my older sister just gave birth to her second child, and there’s all KINDS of delayed gratification there: the nine months she carried him, of course. But also the fact that she and her family live in London, and so I won’t get to meet this new small potato until November. (Which is actually much sooner than it could have been.)
I often hear people say that the modern world is set up to provide us with instant gratification (or at least the expectation of it). But I don’t know. Don’t you think that in some sense, our light-speed world just makes our desires seem farther away? Every wait seems longer, every distance between two points greater. Because we’re used to having things handed to us in ~1 second, and sometimes with a cupcake.
(Note: it is at this point in writing that I began very badly to want a cupcake.)
I am getting really good at waiting. (For example, I was promised cream puffs later this evening for dessert, which would be good enough to overcome my cupcake craving, except they won’t be here for hours.) And I am trying to get better. When a good friend asked me, a few days ago, what lesson I felt I had to learn over and over again, with deepening truth, I said: patience.
But it’s hard. I was recently offered a residency that, emotionally, I very much need. Working full-time* has been difficult for me as a writer, because it takes my brain so much (and for so long) outside my art, and a month to really back dive in and take myself seriously again sounds like a delirious gift. However, the offer didn’t quite pass the smell test: it cost too much, it was without the fellowship I’d applied for, and a few different people counseled me to wait for better. So I am. With great reluctance (but also a certain sort of relief) I turned down the offer, and I am applying for more residencies at more places with more hope of a really good situation presenting itself.
This may mean waiting longer. Just like getting a piece of writing right takes longer than just getting one done. (I notice I’m using a lot of italics today. Not sure what that’s about. It is a day of emphasis, I guess.) So it goes.
Speaking of a really good piece of writing:
At the end of Chekhov’s play Uncle Vanya, the characters Sonya and Vanya have endured great disappointment. Just when they expected some sort of reward for their lifetime of toil, that reward was taken from them and given to people perhaps less deserving. In her final monologue, Sonya tells Vanya:
“What can we do? We must live out our lives. [A pause] Yes, we shall live, Uncle Vanya. We shall live all through the endless procession of days ahead of us, and through the long evenings. We shall bear patiently the burdens that fate imposes on us. We shall work without rest for others, both now and when we are old. And when our final hour comes, we shall meet it humbly, and there beyond the grave, we shall say that we have known suffering and tears, that our life was bitter. And God will pity us. Ah, then, dear, dear Uncle, we shall enter on a bright and beautiful life. We shall rejoice and look back upon our grief here. A tender smile — and — we shall rest. I have faith, Uncle, fervent, passionate faith. We shall rest. We shall rest. We shall hear the angels. We shall see heaven shining like a jewel. We shall see evil and all our pain disappear in the great pity that shall enfold the world. Our life will be as peaceful and gentle and sweet as a caress. I have faith; I have faith. [Wiping away her tears] My poor, poor Uncle Vanya, you are crying! [Weeping] You have never known what it is to be happy, but wait, Uncle Vanya, wait! We shall rest. We shall rest. We shall rest.”
I think about this speech often. In college, several of my friends performed in a production of Uncle Vanya, and I remember how tragic this monologue struck me as being.
And well, it is. Sonya’s faith is so bereft.
But still, I’ve come to view her patience as rather heroic. I don’t mean that people should settle for nothingness, or expect to be ground down by disappointment. Rather, I think we will all be ground down at certain points – ground down smooth, with no point of purchase. And the heroic thing, the human thing, is to hold on in those times. In a hollow room, to find the echo.
(And let me update you: I just remembered that we have mango pineapple popsicles in the fridge. So sometimes patience and fortitude can be dramatically rewarded.)
Two final points:
1. Welcome to the world, Brioche.
2. Hey, this is my 100th post on this website. Hey.
*i.e. working full time at a job other than writing fiction.