“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” ~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
No projects this spring, he said. I repeat: No projects. Luke knows how I get, all madness when small things—are they weeds or baby perennials?—poke green out of garden soil.
But, but, but, I protested, I want to build a border for my flower-friends—a little wall made of stacked stones. That, he said with an I-mean-it-this-time tone, is precisely the sort of money-sucking ordeal I’m talking about. So I took no for an answer—sort of.
Thus began an endeavor of digging rocks out of creek beds, the woods, ditches flanking our country road. It is slow-going—some stones stubbornly refuse to yield to my spade, which I now carry in the car. And I can only fill my sack about halfway before it’s too heavy to lift, or even drag. When I get home, I immediately fit my prize booty into the puzzle that is what I have come to call The Wall of Patience.
A few weeks back, a neighbor had two tons of purchased decorative stones delivered—bam!—and unceremoniously dumped onto the front lawn, ready for use. Now that’s what I’m talking about. Yet here I am, with roughened hands but perhaps slightly toned triceps, in landscaping purgatory. I don’t think many of us moderns are particularly adept at waiting, but, result-driven to the core, I’m awful.
You likely know what I’m going to say next. Stone by stone, I have learned to regard with exaggerated affection my hard-won rocks, most of them moss-covered and each one slightly different from the next in scope and shape. I’ve become a collector, an aficionado. My eyes survey the low points street-side, especially after a good rain, which I have discovered instantly washes rocks downhill—who knew?
Perhaps The Wall of Patience will be done by summer’s end. Summer 2020, that is. Until then, manicures are futile.
I have been asked to wait in my writing life as well. I’ve had the benefit of a literary agent for my two middle grade reader novels—she’s shopping my books around. But so far, no publisher has taken me on. We’ve been at this, more or less, for four years.
This January, with the happy bustle of the holidays behind me, I got all angsty-antsy about dreams running dry. I saw La La Land (a time or two) and wondered if I was to be a phoenix rising from the ashes or, for the rest of my days, an eighties cover band keyboardist.
Not to be dramatic, of course.
Still, I had approached a crossroads. I could do two things: eat more ice cream, or begin writing something else.
When you’re stuck, the answer is always begin writing something else.
So I started scribbling what consumed my thoughts: the heartache of not yet. Along the way, I uncovered some nuggets—mossy stones freed from mud. Ultimately, I unpacked the idea that wanting something—and working toward it—is a pretty good way to live.
I churned out three chapters and a book proposal. Invoking déjà vu—I started querying literary agents, this time ones who specialize in nonfiction. Pretty quickly, I got a bite—from a respectably sized fish. We started talking. The morning I got a call offering me representation, I pulled out the tiara I’d tucked into a drawer in my writing desk and checked my look in the mirror. Not bad.
Still, finding an agent, as I well know, is not the same as securing a book deal. Not yet.
After she and I polish things up, my new agent will start peddling my proposal to publishing houses. Obsessive phone checking for news from New York will commence—the very picture of patience, don’t you think?