Idled story characters at the beach in Finland
Some time ago, a boss was comparing me with my coworker as the three of us met in the boss’s office. Specifically, this boss was reacting to a complaint my coworker made about a work problem that the boss had not taken care of.
At the time, I thought that maybe my coworker had the right idea. That it was better to be the squeaky wheel. That even my boss, who was quite the squeaky wheel herself, would find me lacking in the gumption department. In fact, this particular boss had an energy for squeakiness that I found admirable, though wearing. She was a tiny spitfire of a woman with glinting eyes who had an admirable grasp of office politics and hidden powers of influence.
She could also be quite scary when things weren’t going her way.
“You need to be more like Susan,” the boss said to my coworker. “She does her research, presents me with the issue, then waits, patiently.” She smiled at me and my coworker slumped back in her chair, scolded. I know she meant this as a compliment. She was saying that in due time the issue would be dispatched, but trying to get things done faster, on one’s particular schedule, punctuated with much nagging, simply doesn’t help one’s case. She even may have suggested that she herself would be better off with a bit more of my patience.
I don’t know.
One of my best friends from high school signed my yearbook “To the calmest person I know.” I learned what this meant years later, long after we’d lost touch and then met for lunch near our workplaces. By then, she was a scary thin chain smoker, a not much recovered drug addict. She was quivering as if her body was a dragonfly wing, barely settled, as if even the most innocuous comment would send her flitting away. A calm personality might have saved her from some of her troubles, and when she looked at me, perhaps she saw in me what she lacked.
I don’t know. Here’s how impatience lives in this writer, who appears to be all patient and calm on the exterior.
There are all of the little stories huddled inside of me, bored children demanding their next adventure. “What are we doing next?” they whine, these unborn characters from tales I have yet to tell.
“Hush,” I say. “Be patient.”
“Why?” They chorus.
“Any number of reasons. Isn’t it obvious?” (The dog is impatiently barking for attention, the sink is full of dirty dishes, and I’m getting over a recurrent bug, and, by the way, I have a day job? etc.).
And so they settle down, my little unborn story children and other story people who have been paused, mid-story, sometimes for several years.
Their patience with me will be rewarded at some point down the line, I say, just like my boss said, years back. But that was more for her own benefit, right? And my friend who wished she was someone other than who she was? They were both reflecting on what they saw as their own failings, dreaming in my character a strength they wished they possessed.
I don’t know.
I may be far too patient for my own good, writing-wise. Too accommodating to the demands of the real world.
I’m secretly hoping that a squeaky wheel amongst those hibernating story characters might stand up for all of us and make a fuss that it isn’t right for them to be lying about, un-imagined. Un-realized.
Maybe they will organize and spill themselves out of there and onto the page, an unstoppable force that no amount of real life or so-called patience can deny.