By Catherine DiMercurio
I don’t have a record player but periodically I think of getting one and it seems every time I do, it’s after I heard a Tom Petty song. I recently listened to a snippet of an interview with him in which he was talking about the process by which he wrote “The Waiting.” You know that one. The waiting is the hardest part. Every day you get one more yard. You take it on faith, you take it to the heart.
He was talking about how a bit of the melody came to him and he played it over and over again for weeks, and then the chorus, same thing. He just played the same thing over and over. The snippet cut off after he talked about somebody knocking on the other side of the wall telling him not to play it anymore but presumably the rest of the song came to him this way, in pieces, over time.
I wish I could speed up processes sometimes, creative processes, learning processes, healing processes. It’s like I’m always waiting for my ability to catch up with my creative energy. My results don’t often match the vision I had in my head and I’m chasing the kind of book I want to write or piece of pottery I want to create. Or, the life I’m trying to build.
I look around at the things that seem to come easily for people and long for something like that for myself. I feel wildly impatient with my slow pace in nearly all things. Sometimes I feel as though I have the mentality of a perfectionist but not the talent, or results, to show for it. I am not meticulous. I am a messy learner with almost no eye for detail. I am full of earnest trying but am frequently wanting something more to show for the effort than what I was actually able to produce. I wake up too early and agonize over glazes I applied too thickly despite my best efforts in pottery class or fret over stories I’ve been submitting for years that keep getting rejected. I wonder, when is it going to all come together, and, what have I missed?
And then, things come together a little bit, all at once. Last year, I did get two pieces of writing accepted at literary journals and they finally were published this past week, within twenty-four hours of one another. And the glazes I’d been so worried about turned out fine, and I threw well that night at pottery class. I enjoyed it thoroughly, that moment where things coalesced in a brief way, knowing that such moments never promises anything. Any future success in either art form will be just as hard-earned and the waiting in getting there will continue to be the hardest part.
I look at all my impatience and I wonder where it’s all coming from and why it percolates everywhere for me. For all my striving toward self-acceptance, this feels out of place. When I step back, I can see that it isn’t there all the time, but it comes back to me, maybe when I’m feeling low about other things. I am trying to pause and consider why it matters so much that I learn faster, glaze better sooner, write and publish more now, etc. I think a lot comes down to validation.
If I’m producing “good” work in a visible way it’s proof, right? I mean, that’s how external validation works. We believe that if others can see something of our “goodness” or “value” then maybe it’s easier for us to believe in ourselves. Alternatively, it simply is enjoyable to feel seen, to have someone else confirm what we’ve been cultivating in ourselves, i.e., a sense of our own worth. For so long, I thought the goal was to not need external validation, that there was something wrong with wanting it. So, I worked diligently on trying to find where this need arose from in my past, how it came to be that I felt unable to sense my own worth. I work at rebuilding my sense of self in the same way that I create, revise, and re-create art in the mediums I’m working in now: clay and words. I’m continually learning how to be me in the same way, with the same habits of working and trying and reshaping and revising. I hum the same bars over and over for weeks. Still, I’m coming to understand that it doesn’t all have to be internal. We must feel safe and good and loved within our own skin, but it also feels good to have someone tell us good things. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying that.
Many people struggle with feelings of not being “enough” or “good enough,” and all for different reasons. I’ve dug into my own reasons, determined to understand them better, because I have found that the only way for me to cultivate healthy self-perspectives and habits is to use precise and loving language in my internal thought processes, language that responds specifically to the lessons and events of my life that wired my brain for self-criticism and an extreme response to anything that feels like rejection.
I am impatient with all this, but I think one of the reasons it takes so long to recover yourself from various types of wounds is that you often can’t face it all at once. It’s too much. It was too much for me to heal in a smooth and linear way and all at once from a twenty-year marriage ending in the storm brought on by my then-husband’s alcoholism and infidelity. Some wounds feel as though they change us at our core, forever, and after bearing the initial brunt of that pain, we begin to understand that the only way to survive it is to take breaks from it. We turn away, we look to others for help. Then we go back to it when we’re strong enough and rested enough.
What I need is to believe that I have time. That I can keep conquering what I need to, that I can keep writing and learning, that there’s no need to rush. But we live in an urgent world that is always proving that nothing is promised, certainly not how much time any of us have left. But I need to believe that I have time, anyway. That my own pace for healing and nurturing my sense of self, for building my writing self into who she is becoming, for learning all I can in an artform as elusive and slippery as wet clay, is all sufficient. I need to believe that because whenever I try to rush things, something is sacrificed. Whenever I grow too impatient, I wind up falling into a dark place and my energy is then focused on pulling myself out of that instead of all the other things I’d rather be doing.
In a way, that’s my own version of blind faith: that I have time, that we all do. To keep creating the person I want to be, the life I want to have. My pace is neither fast nor slow, just mine, is what I tell myself. The waiting for it all to come together will always be the hardest part, because that’s where all the living is, in the waiting. The moments when things coalesce are fleeting, and the rest is creative energy at work. There is so much beauty and art in the waiting, even if it is the hardest part sometimes.