Wednesday, May 5, 2010


What do you do while you're waiting?

When I worked as an editor at a publishing company in Washington, DC, where my most horrible day was a tie between the great hot cocoa spill of 1998 (all over the wall! and my wheat-colored pants!) and the day I had to confront my never-happy boss about his visualizing of a set of certain ladies of limited wardrobe on his computer screen (which faced the door), we had to do some research on the Internet (remember when we used to capitalize that, it was like a formality, but now that we know it well we don't bother anymore, like a family friend who you just call by their first name even though they're much older than you).

So, the internet. We had it. And I would use the Internet to search for important information on the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)'s website and the Civil Register, which if you don't know what it is, consider yourself blessed. Our first foray into having the Internet meant it was installed at a few central computer stations (which we also used to use Pagemaker, which I have an unnatural love for, to do layout for our publications). And when you had your query in mind, you would go out to the central computers, type in your query, and wait.

This was in the days when squirrels still powered the Internet, in a run-run-freeze kind of motion, and you'd bring along some other task (proofreading, copyediting, paper research) that you could do while you were waiting for the magic genie to return the answer to your question. Oh, they were fun times.

I'm not a good waiter (though I have been a damn fine waitress, South Street Seaport, two summers when I observed all the other waiters and waitresses drink themselves into a haze, and developed an aversion to all food that was grilled, fried, dipped, trimmed, cut, or otherwise prepared). So when I'm faced with having to wait for something, I try to think of another task to do while I'm waiting. As it happens, I have about fourteenkajillion projects that I'd like to get done, so even if one doesn't come down the pipe, I'll think of something else to do while I'm waiting for thing A to happen.

Right now, for example, I'm waiting for three main things. 1. further instructions from a new web gig, in the form of a training so I can actually start said new gig, 2. a chapter from an editing client which I edited yesterday, but may still have some points to clarify, and 3. another file from the same person that I'm going to do some wordsmithing on.

I click obsessively between the actual task at hand (reworking the inventory of places I'll pitch a set of stories also in progress), this blog entry, and my email, while waiting for the espresso to sputter and the rice to finish cooking. In the meantime, I'm trying to think of what to do with the six (small) cooked eggplants I have in the fridge and listening to the same song on Itunes an unwise number of times (Unwritten, Natasha Bedingford, and yes, it is a placer culpbable (guilty pleasure).

Then there's the issue of waiting for people who arrive late. I bring articles to read, or books, and small notebooks and pens with me, or reorganize information written on scraps of paper while sitting on the steps of the café literario in Parque Bustamante, or take pictures while I'm waiting in Plaza Italia. I've also been known to tweet about waiting, which should reduce my number of followers more than it does. What's up with all the followers lately? Twitter, you mystify me.

But what I really wish I could do is just sit. Just sit and wait for the page to load (thankfully not as much of an issue any more), be peaceful about the work that is taking forever to trickle down to me, sit and absorb what's going on around me instead of looking for more things to put my ever-darting mind to.

So, loyal blog followers and random clickers and others who've stumbled upon (but not stumbledupon) this post. Tell me, do.

What do you do while you're waiting?


Abby said...

Great post! I just kind of wrote about this, well, really just reposted some Ben Folds lyrics about waiting. In class I have a lot of waiting to do (while students take tests, or write something, or converse among themselves) and I usually plan other classes (or sometimes think of activities for the same class on the spot) or secretly play solitaire on my iPod. When I'm waiting for people to show up I listen to podcasts on my iPod if I'm outside my house or if I'm at home waiting for someone I watch an episode of TV online. Oh, and I love that Unwritten is your guilty pleasure!

Annje said...

I hate waiting. I am so impatient,so restless, so antsy. I try to fill waiting time with other things I need to do, but even if they are necessary I feel like I am biding time, waiting to do whatever it is I really want to be finishing at that moment. I am an absolute joy as a mother and wife because when I ask you to do something, I mean NOW not 30 seconds from now. I am sure I will become wildly successful at the waiting game in Chile.

byw I am a horrible waitress/wait-person/server. I do not have the disposition.

Despite all of this, I am lovely, I swear

Sharon said...

Cooked eggplant? No problem! Mix them with hummus! Though you need to prepare the hummus first, which could be a hassle...

Do a stew with tomato sauce and onions! That's a pretty common lunch at my house. It's delicious!

JoAnna said...

It's so hard for me to just wait because I'm one of those impatient Americans who thinks she shouldn't even sleep because it's a waste of time. I have a true appreciation for people who do wait, though. They seem to be more at peace, just taking in the things around them instead of stuck on how frustrated they feel by doing nothing.

Margaret said...

Nope, not a good waiter (although once a decent-enough waitress--except for that twice-spilled vegetable juice down the back bit--but that was partially his fault anyway).
I have always carried reading material with me at all times, pocket-sized sudoku in more recent years (mi placer culpable, although I justify it my claiming I'm warding off alzheimers), and I must admit that Blackberry-inspired multi-tasking is ever so satisfying!

Ivy said...

Hi Eileen
I found you from Anja's site, where you did a guest blog on Santiago dogs. I am in Chile, with a few days after a whirlwind press trip. I am waiting to um, relax. I've been herded on to one bus after another to visit wineries etc, and now I have this free time. Alone. In a country where I don't speak the language. And I guess I'm waiting to feel unwound. Want to have lunch while i'm here?

Eileen said...

Hi Ivy,

I sent you an email to your contact email on your blog and it got bounced back with an out-of-office comment. If you post another comment with a different email (which of course I won't publish, and I only published this one so you'd see I'd read it and answered, I feel like we're having a conversation over loudspeaker), I'll send that again, or if you can access your professional email, you'll see that I've sent you one.

Hope you're doing well!


Anonymous said...

Yeah, I hate waiting too. I try to have a book on me at all times. All times, I tell you!

Anonymous said...

I used to think that Chile really tested the limits of my waiting abilities. And then I moved to Argentina, where you have to queue up at 5am so you can practice your waiting skills 'til about 10ish, if you're lucky.

I get envious looks while I'm waiting. I bring my ipod, readings, and, most importantly, snacks. I think I spend most of my wait eating.

Come to think of it, maybe those looks that I'm getting aren't "envious" per se since it's weird to see someone eat anything but an alfajor and maaaybe a bag of chips in public if you feel like pushing the boundaries of social decorum.

I also dance around and mutter the words under my breath.

So, um, probably not no so much with the envious part. But I'm entertained and they probably are too.