Good things come to those who wait is not an aphorism I have much time for. I’m not at all sure why random items of a positive leaning should find their way to someone palely loitering rather than the person who is actively searching. My suspicion is that those who wait are inclined to consider whatever turns up to break the monotony a “good thing” regardless of it’s intrinsic value. Years of touring have meant hours of hanging around for venues to open, sound engineers to show up, meals to come, and the quality of the eventual arrival bore no relationship to the length of time spent on standby.
In my youth I basically used to rush from one thing to another at the last minute. As a result I never had to wait for anything unless someone else was late. These days I try and save my brinksmanship for less absolute, unforgiving and simple challenges than being on time. I’d much rather keep on everyone’s good side, arrive early and have a chance to breathe before I’m officially required to do anything, or if possible get ahead of the game with a little pre-emptive preparation. When I do have to wait for things, trains, appointments, I find I quite enjoy the experience. I always have a yarn to learn, a book of new tales I can dive in to, a show to plan or list to write. Even when I don’t have these things to hand I find there is a freedom in waiting. For a change one has nothing else to do… Nothing else one should be doing… Total liberty to do no other thing. Even if the train is late I find this state can persist: worrying, fretting, pacing will not make it come any sooner. Nothing we do will make any difference, we will be exactly the same amount of late so we may as well continue to enjoy the peace of absent expectation and not be wound up when we do finally get where we are going. Relax. All decisions, all control are out of our hands until after whatever we are awaiting has caught up to us.
What has this got to do with folk tales I hear you ask? Of course I came to this attitude through encountering folk tale characters who have to bide their time for one thing or another. Often it is a trap that the protagonist has set and they are sitting tight until the antagonist or love interest ambles unwittingly in to it. In other stories it can be be a bearer of great knowledge, a marvellous creature or some similar wonder that our principal has to kick their heels for.
In the written story, since there is no activity to report between the arrival at the point of pausing and the re-comencement of action on the appearance of the awaited being, it tends to pass as quickly as a full stop and a space. Sometimes maybe a paragraph gap.
When I am telling a tale I try to get inside it. It is my job after all to make my audience, you as it might be, feel the events of the tale as if they are real. In attempting to get to the emotional content, the essence of those un-detailed lingerings, I had to imagine myself in to a much different world. People knew how to wait in the old days. No mobile phone; no iPod; no book even. No clock ticking. No radio playing from a nearby shop; no adverts or announcements to break the silence… Only the world continuing to turn around them.
I sometimes see if I can make an audience join the leading player in their anticipation, explore how long modern people, kids especially, can maintain attention when nothing is happening. It is not long. Nowadays we get fretful if we are forced to hang around five minutes for a bus. And maybe that is part of the problem, it’s possible modern waits are too short!
Waiting for someone in pre-industrial times could take hours or even days, long enough to make a fire; darn a sock; sew a button; watch the birds; Whittle a stick; climb a tree; sew the button again; have a conversation with the sock… Some of these might sound a bit like “doing things”, but they are not your primary activity: what you are “doing” is waiting, these other things are just time fillers, there is no obligation to do them at all and… they all become much easier.
Hidden between the words “ … sat down to wait.” and the beginning of the next sentence is a lost art: Don’t worry about the thing that is coming, good or otherwise, enjoy the wait.
…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.
The Travelling Talesman www.thetravellingtalesman.co.uk