On the cover of Waiting: An Anthology of Essays, sculptor Alex Pina’s androgynous human figure seated at the edge of a diving board looks down at its seriously elongated legs. The image elegantly symbolizes the experience of waiting—a state Cora Siré describes as “a mixture of inertia and antsiness.” Waiting is a universal phenomenon, and in this impressive collection editors Rona Altrows and Julie Sedivy curate a variety of nuanced and distilled personal essays from 32 writers exploring the liminal experiences of people waiting for results, news, change, release or understanding.
Altrows and Sedivy are attentive and intelligent in their careful orchestration of the human experience of waiting into six parts: “Burgeoning,” “Scope,” “Moment,” “Soul,” “Irretrievable” and “Guts.” Time is elastic in these explorations: The reader moves from charged moments in waiting rooms to the generational and geographical swaths of time and history; from pregnancy to deathbed vigils.
In the opening “Burgeoning” section, Susan Olding tracks her varied work as a young waiter; as she serves customers she waits for understanding of her life’s purpose, questioning, “When do you give up on the idea that your only purpose in life is to satisfy other people’s desires? When do you stop to consider the meaning of your own?” Banff author Steven Ross Smith recalibrates the profound influence of his youthful encounters with Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and the music of John Cage and Steve Reich—a meditation on the philosophical and aesthetic examination of indeterminacy, time and being.
In “Scope,” writers grapple with experiences that cannot easily be understood. Elizabeth Haynes explores her experience of toxic delirium precipitated by a medical emergency—a burst abdominal aneurysm—in which she floated between levels of consciousness. Editor Sedivy, in “Beyond the Horizon,” returns to the former Czechoslovakia—a pilgrimage that offers compassionate understanding of her father’s exile from his country of birth, his uneasy transplantation in Montreal and his eventual repatriation: “It was only by visiting his country after his death that I came to know who my father had been, how, once restored to his native soil, his full self stretched out into the eloquent, courageous, humane leader that his Czech compatriots knew him to be.”
From Kelly S. Thompson’s essay on anticipating the departure date of her husband’s military deployment—“Waiting for the waiting was exhausting”—to pieces by well-known authors Alice Major and Aritha van Herk, this is a satisfying anthology full of the serious pleasure of reading carefully edited prose.
—Jannie Edwards is a poet, teacher and editor in Edmonton.