Dec 7

I've had waiting on my mind lately, possibly because in every aspect of my life I'm having to wait for something.  Part of that is the curse of my particular career choices; nothing on earth is slower than the academic world, except, possibly, the mainstream publishing world.  The maddening thing, of course, is the follow-up; it's not enough to politely ask for an update once, or twice, or four or five times (and it is always you who must ask, my friends.  It is not the responsibility of the responder to get back to you without a lot of gently applied pressure.  Apparently.).  No, you must repeatedly plague the offending responder like the over-clingy cat you are, desperate for a bowl of milk.  (A bowl which was promised six months ago, of course.)  This used to be a problem we would encounter once in a while, but the issue seems now to have become ubiquitous.  Consider:

1.  My university-issued laptop needs repair.  It has needed repair since the beginning of the semester, when I was assured (with no small amount of sheepish resignation) that it "might take a couple of weeks."  I'm a reasonable guy.  I can get along for a couple of weeks.

December 6, 2007.  The laptop?  "About to be repaired.  Any moment.  The part's in, I've got a call in to my guy, Taiwan shipped it, it's in transit, the second it gets here I'll get it right out to you."  "Can you call me when it does?"  (I have asked this question each and every time I have been back to inquire about the laptop during the semester, always without having had a call to my office updating me on the situation, probably eight to ten times now.)  The answer, as ever:  "Sure.  That's what we're here for."  Odd, and I thought it was to fix my goddamned laptop.

2.  I've been waiting to hear when an essay of mine will be appearing in a book collection which was intended to be published in 2006.  Mid-2006.  The proofs were in the publisher's hands in early 2006.  I'm a patient guy.  There's no huge rush.


December 6, 2007.  The book?  "Should be any second.  I feel good about it.  I appreciate your patience, I've got a call in to the editor, it's going to press any day, the second it gets here I'll get it right out to you."  "Can you E-mail me?"  (I have asked this question each and every time I have E-mailed to inquire about the book during the semester, always without having had an E-mail updating me on the situation, probably three or four times now.)  The answer, as ever:  "Sure.  I'll do whatever you need me to do."  Other than publish the book, apparently.

3.  My band is in need of a new player, as the old one has semi-retired from playing out (marriage will do that to you, he says).   I ask a replacement about it two weeks ago.  "Wow, I'm definitely interested.  Give me a couple of days to think it over."  I'm a reasonable guy.  We can afford to wait a couple of days.



December 6, 2007.  The replacement player?  "Sorry I haven't gotten back to you.  Been crazy busy.  I'm kind of overwhelmed, I'm not sure what to say, I might be able to, I'm not sure, give me until the end of the month and I should have the time to make a decision [sic]."  Can you call me when you decide?"  "Of course…I'd definitely do that."  Odd, I thought he was "definitely" interested in playing. 

The common thread in all of these situations, of course, is that unspoken resentment on the part of the person I'm talking to, as if I should be fully aware that time is a fluid thing which is only measured by our perceptions of it.  Deadlines are suggestions, not guarantees.  And I'm even somewhat sympathetic to this view philosophically–really, what is a few days or weeks or months or years in the grand scheme of things?  

Actually, a whole hell of a lot.  All that waiting time adds up, and it only goes one way.  How fluid are deadlines for submitting grades?  Or times for showing up at a club to play a set?  Or appearing at court, or going to a play or a concert, or being home in time for the birth of your child?  Answer: not at all.  We just don't think of those things in the same way, and we don't expect those events to wait for us to catch up.  Yet somehow, we have decided that it's fine to accept a fluid timescale from  people who owe us things, even if the delay is, say, months or years…as it commonly is with tech support guys, publishers, and musicians.  Now I agree that we are a culture driven by instant gratification in a lot of ways, that we may perhaps demand speed and efficiency at the cost of our own humanity, that we probably post with too much dexterity to our own incestuous sheets.  Perhaps we are dominated by the clock in so many ways that we look for places to play fast and loose with the firm deadline, to in some small way hold off the relentless passage of time.  All this may be true.

But honestly, I just want my laptop fixed, my book published, and my replacement player at rehearsal.  And this time I'm using my goddamned stopwatch.

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