Friday, March 30, 2012

Waiting at the window

There was a point during my schooling that my teachers actually cared about making us more worldly. Instead of lobbing names of places, dates and facts at us, we were introduced to brand new information less about memorization and recitation come test-time and more about becoming a better-informed human being.

During that brief spark of ingenuity, one of my teachers showed the class a few Edward Hopper prints.

Hotel Window by Edward Hopper
One painting of the bunch we were shown did not resonate with me much at the time. It was a terribly sad image of a woman waiting patiently and expectantly at the Hotel Window, dressed in a lavish red dress, fur-lined coat with a hat and stockings. Since the image is static, it becomes clear to the viewer that this woman will be waiting for an indeterminate period of time - for however long the painting exists, she will still sit on her perch looking through the window.

A few years down the road, I was able to put myself in this woman's place. No longer did I look at Hopper objectively as an artist we studied in elementary school. Once I found a place in myself that connected with Ms. Waiting (as I will now call her), I could never go back. Because I'm often waiting too.

Ask my friends and they'll say I'm ridiculous for arriving so early to events. I'm quick to start pounding on everyone's door asking if they're prepared to leave when we still have 30 minutes before a play starts.

I still don't know the origin of this hyperactive obsession with being on-time. So I decided to look back at my past just a little bit to try and understand if this really is just an inane problem of my late teens and early 20s, or perhaps if it has some rhyme or reason.

Let me tell you now, I never settled on any rhymes or reasons - at least as far as a solution is concerned.

Perhaps you could blame genetics. I come from a family of prompt arrivers. If my grandma is two minutes late when coming to see me, she apologizes profusely for the same length of time that she had me waiting. My dad always leaves for the airport nearly three hours early. Promptness is a neuroses that's in my blood.

And they say that the early bird catches the worm, so I've never felt at a disadvantage for always being reliably on-time. But they never said anything about waiting.

In so many ways our lives are governed by the whims of others - by their best interests and if or how those meld with our own. That's the real trouble of being someone like me - the early bird, or what have you.

Growing up in a family of early birds, I never understood the concept of running late. When I did it was because my mom was working late or had some legitimate excuse for doing so. But foreign to me was the idea that anyone could choose to be inexpedient and arrive either "just in the nick of time" or slightly late.

My first encounter with this situation came when I started going to Disneyland with my friends on a regular basis. As in love as I was with the Disneyland Resort and my own luxury of going there practically weekly, waiting on friends to go on our D-Land adventures was the most exasperating experience.

We'd plan out a grand day at the parks, expecting to wake up early and get there in time to beat out the mid-morning crowds. We'd settle on a time for pick-up and drop-off. We'd decide whose parents were doing either trip.

When it was my dad and me, we tried to arrive early or on-time as best we could. When the tables turned, I didn't feel the same was returned. Some days I felt like Ms. Waiting, sitting at the window staring out (with a cat by my side, just to mix things up a little), waiting forever for someone who I could only hope would arrive within the hour.

After a while of being prepared 15 minutes early and waiting for my friends who notoriously arrived 20-30 minutes late, I realized that I seemed to be in the minority as someone who generally arrived early for events.

It has become ever more clear at college, where I will even arrive at classes 15 minutes before the start time simply because I enjoy being early and hate the anxiety of trying to arrive some place on time on a tight schedule. My peers, on the other hand, are happy to get to class just before they might be counted as tardy or absent.

I've really never come up with a solution to this problem or a hypothesis as to why I'm so far from the norm in being so neurotic about arriving places on time.

Even with analysis of what drives this feeling in me, I arrive at only one logical reason: I've been raised this way.

As a kid, my dad would always drive me to school with about 20 minutes of waiting time factored in before I walked through the schoolhouse gates. We'd sit in the car listening to Radio Disney or reading from a book, knowing that nothing would get in the way of us making a perfectly timed entrance.

But as far as I know, most people aren't raised by a parent who is willing to sit in the car with them while they munch on a banana and talk about Molly the American Girl. It's this weird kinship with my father - and maybe also with my grandma who can be a bit German train-esque when it comes to time efficiency - that has preordained me to be a child of no leisure, but rather hurried tension.

There's really no cure, though, as far as I can tell. They say you can choose to reduce your own anxiety - to teach yourself to be calm and not worry about doing something incorrectly - in my case, arriving late somewhere. But psychoanalytical fixes have never been my strong suit.

So I will leave it at that.

If you ever have a class with me, see a show with me, travel with me or anything else with me where timeliness might ever be an issue - be prepared to be annoyed and overwhelmed by how much time is spent casually waiting for something to happen. Because in my humble opinion, being early is far superior to making others wait for you. Take a little subliminal message from Edward Hopper and don't make the woman wait at the window.

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