I think the value of waiting is in its eternity, and I don’t mean that hyperbolically. If the present is the portion of time most like eternity, then how we spend that time is crucial, even preparatory. Blank time forces us to deal with our essential existences, and that can be scary. Some
French Irish guy wrote a play about that, but I’m not going to mention it until the end.
Anyone who’s played a video game on any sort of disc has waited. Even this time doesn’t have to be wasted. Once, I was playing Half Life 2 with a friend, and we were waiting for the next stretch of one of the hovercraft levels to load. There was nothing to do but wait. We stared at the word LOADING and watched the ellipsis’s animated stoppage. In an uncharacteristic moment of inspiration, I hacked the blank time.
“Looks like we’ve encountered my old Chinese friend again, Loa Ding.”
Lame? Yes, but that hasn’t stopped me from using it again and again, in every applicable context.
Friend: “Looks like we’ll have to wait fifteen minutes to get a table.”
Me: “I guess we’ve encountered my old Chinese friend again, Loa—“
Friend: “Nathan, this isn’t a video game. And you really shouldn’t make Asian jokes in a P.F. Chang’s.”
In an effort to court the worst parts of waiting, I’ve developed a taste for elevator music, smooth jazz to be specific. There used to be a radio station that broadcast in Chicagoland, 95.5 WNUA. It pioneered the smooth jazz format, creating imitators the nation across. I used to tune in to 95.5 and accompany the blank time of driving with the silky sounds of saxes. Sadly, at 9:55 am on 22 May 2009, the station switched its format and began playing Spanish pop music. I don’t care how many times they play it, Daddy Yankee’s ‘Gasolina’ can’t soothe like a lazily improvised clarinet can.
Now, I like smooth jazz ironically, but smooth jazz is also a warning. Fall under its spell and you will’ve lulled yourself into accepting inactivity. Many people sleep or take drugs to do this, but smooth jazz can do the trick just as well. Subdued inactivity is very nearly lifeless. To enjoy waiting is to be active. To wit, I was just reading a G.K. Chesterton essay the other day called ‘On Running After One’s Hat’. He’s a man who knows how to wait:
Did you ever hear a small boy complain of having to hang about a railway station and wait for a train? No; for to him to be inside a railway station is to be inside a cavern of wonder and a palace of poetical pleasures. Because to him the red light and the green light on the signal are like a new sun and a new moon. Because to him when the wooden arm of the signal falls down suddenly, it is as if a great king had thrown down his staff as a signal and started a shrieking tournament of trains. I myself am of little boys' habit in this matter. They also serve who only stand and wait for the two fifteen. Their meditations may be full of rich and fruitful things.
You can be in this same spirit at airports, bus stops and queues of all sorts. Waiting’s only boring if you let it be.
When enjoying blank time in public spaces, you may find yourself laughing, singing or talking to yourself. I was doing the penultilatter walking the south bank of the Thames the other day. (No, I wasn’t dancing: the penultilatter is not a Victorian version of the Robot. I should’ve just said ‘second’ here in reference to singing, but I pride myself on having coined penultilatter and antepenultilatter to describe the next to last and next to next to last in a list. It’s actually wordier and more confusing than just saying ‘second’ or restating the item, singing in this case, but this is my blog. I’m going to use made-up words from time to time.) As I said, I was ‘doing the penultilatter’ on the south bank of the Thames the other day, pleasantly working through the first verse of ‘Jerusalem’ when I saw a round man with an ear piercing. He was wearing a mesh top, carrying a messenger bag and talking to himself. “He’s a crazy,” thought I. Then I realized I was probably freaking people out myself, singing an English national hymn in an American accent and pushing quickly past all other pedestrians on the path. Rather than stop singing, I made a mental note of how extraordinary it is to enjoy blank time. Too few do.
But waiting is not always an event. Sometimes, it’s a season. Time spent in the desert can tax even the most patient and imaginative. At worst, waiting can push people into existential despair as in Waiting for Godot. (I regret that I couldn’t write this post without mentioning it, but it’s got waiting in the title!) As memories fade along with hopes for the future, the present becomes increasingly bleak. It’s hard to hear anything above the sound of your thoughts which are not, at this point, cheering you.
It’s a wonder to discover there are created things outside yourself. Some of these things are visible. Some are invisible. And people kind of fall into both those categories.
So as you wander in the desert or simply wait for your laundry to dry, enjoy. But know yours is not the only story. Compositions have some instruments resting while others play. And even though you may not have the score, you can still enjoy the harmony.