Monday, February 25, 2013

The silent frenzy of waiting: How three months can drain away.



No, I’m not talking about waiting for agents. Waiting for agents is a little like waiting for Godot (the point of the play was that you should get on with your life because no one can give you enlightenment). No, I’m talking about the waiting for things you know will get a response, job applications, scholarships, college applications. The waiting for something that will change your life.  

When I was in high school, I applied to four universities (I had a back up whose deadline was after the reply time for all four). Each had its own special slice of awesome, and I wanted to go to each for a particular reason. I would have filled out the standard requested seven, but who am I kidding, application fees were a lot of money then (like how could I have realized that application fees were just the start), and I didn’t have that many places I was willing to live in since I was from a town of 850 people total.

So my mom and I toured the Oregon and Washington coast in search of the perfect college. I didn’t need much, I just wanted a place with a rigorous physics department and a kick ass creative writing department (nothing much really). We got to University of Washington, and I pretty much fell in love. We saw a couple of liberal arts colleges, but it was pretty obvious that only the big colleges had physics departments, so no liberal arts college for me.

We got home, and I applied to the University of Washington, hot to trot to start my new life as the sophisticated physics student from Washington. The other three colleges were actually second and third choices. I applied to the University of Arizona because they had a big Lunar Program. I applied to the University of California Santa Barbara on a whim because my academic advisor said Sally Ride taught physics there. I applied to UC Irvine because they told me it was rural.

But those other three were just backups in the same way that you sometimes carry back up clothes in your car just in case something happens and you need to change for no reason. Which is to say, they weren’t well researched, or well vetted.

From January till March I checked the mail every single day. I trusted no one to open that mail box but me. What if my mom opened the mailbox and somehow lost the acceptance letter between the mailbox and the house (it was a long driveway, it could happen). Or worse, what if the acceptance letter could sense my lack of dedication to the University of Washington by letting my mom pick up the letter? What if it turned itself into a rejection letter at my lack of commitment?

Needless to say, I fretted a lot about that letter. I had written a good application. I had done everything I could. I had good grades, a good essay (first and last for that), and above all, I was a highly motivated (read: obsessive) student willing to work hard for the greatness of physics. I skipped hanging out with my friends to be the one to check the mail. I opted to do extra chores. I started a novel I didn’t finish. I sent my first short story to collect my first rejection letter. I took it as a sign that I probably wouldn’t make it as a writer, but that didn’t matter. I was going to make it as a physicist. I was going to chase down that dream.

Still I waited. I waited. I waited.

I didn’t do much but wait. I’d check the mail, and even then, even knowing that tomorrow’s mail wouldn’t be there for a whole 24 hours, I waited.

And then the letter came. I opened the mailbox, and there it was, hiding with all the bills. I knew the moment I saw it. I knew. It was a small envelope, and acceptance letters came with a ton of propaganda. Maybe it was an acceptance letter saying my real propaganda packet would be on its way soon, but they couldn’t bear to wait another second to tell me yes. I took two steps with that hopeful lie curled around my knotting stomach.

By the time I was halfway up the driveway, I knew the voice for a pathetic liar. I’d never heard of anyone getting speedy acceptance letter. It wasn’t looking good. So, knowing my fate for that of a walking college corpse, I hid in my room and opened the letter.

“We regret…”

I didn’t read the rest of the letter for an hour. No one regrets accepting you into their college. It was the dreaded rejection. And I’d spent my time waiting for it, pining away and dreaming of a new life.

I’d wasted three months of my life waiting for something that turned out to be a rejection.

If you write, I think you know the moral of this story. Get on with your life, and especially your writing. Waiting is wasting. I wish it were easier to write through the anxiety of maybe.  

I’m going to be better about waiting. You? Or are you one of those people for whom inner grace has already propelled you to the calm steely-eyed missile man NASA wants?

14 comments:

  1. Ooh that's tough. If I've ever waited for anything, I've always made sure I have a back up - and I've never waited for a college place, because I never applied. In writing terms it means I have my submission package ready to send out again straight away.

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    1. Yes, I've found the submission package to be of great comfort. There it is in it's tidy envelope just waiting to carry our hopes off to the next maybe.

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  2. I just forwarded this post to a friend of mine who is stuck playing the waiting game... and I'm going to re-read it now for inspiration to get on with things I keep putting off because I'm waiting for something in particular.

    Great post, friend.

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    1. Ah, thanks. I think we all find ourselves waiting. I'm technically waiting right now, but that's a story for another day.

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  3. Great post, Rena. "Waiting is wasting." I like that. I am also working on getting better at that. (But I'm not there yet.)

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    1. Yeah, I try so hard not to be in that place again. It's like my brain fritzes out once I'm in the waiting pattern.

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  4. I'm battling with the same thing. I'm trying to write while waiting for agents to get back to me, but it's hard.

    Just as I get into the groove, I get a rejection and it screws things up again. :-/

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    1. Yes, what I hate about rejection letters is the reading them and wondering "If I'd done this differently, could it have been a better book? Would they like me if I'd..." And then looking at your current manuscript and wondering "Am I making the same mistakes with this?"


      It's so hard, but chin up.

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  5. Great post. I am very controlling and hate it when I have to wait for someone else to decide my fate for me. I guess that's why I've been self-employed for 25 years.

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    1. Oh, me too. I hate not being the person in charge. It's why I don't like traveling by airplane. if they'd just let me fly it, I wouldn't mind at all.

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  6. Great story. It's funny how many times in life everything stops for waiting. I had a somewhat similar experience when I tried out for Teach For America... when I didn't get in, I went to grad school instead, got my teaching masters and became an urban teacher on my own. There's always more than one way to foil a, "we regret."

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    1. EXACTLY! There are so many ways around "we regret."

      I actually entertained a plan to get in by transferring from another college, but once I got where I was going, it was pretty obvious that was where I needed to be.

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  7. First and last....I ought to smack you! You write awesome posts, which are basically essays. Waiting (okay, obsessing) is hard. But a long time ago, I decided that God opens the doors I need to go through, so rejection has less sting for me. When I look back on my life, I can see the path that got me from point A to B were all in my best interest.

    Wow physics. You math nerds make so jealous. I can NOT, no matter how much I study, wrap my brain around math. You should take a bow, just for that!!

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    1. I meant academic essays. In the sciences I had to take four classes with a writing requirement, and I didn't so much as proof read those essays. They were abysmal. For inspiration, I might have to dig one up if I can find it. They are BAD!

      And I know what you mean, if I'd gone to my first choice, I would have such a different life. I don't know if it would have been better, but I like the people in my life too much to risk it. And I meant them at my "second choice."

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