The other day, I picked up the second volume of Marcel Proust’s, In search of lost time. It is probably my third attempt to read Within a Budding Grove. My previous forays were failures because I didn’t have the time, or couldn’t feel connected to the volume somehow, or, or…. well, something always seemed to get in the way. I didn’t have this problem about ten years ago when I read Swann’s Way, the first volume in the magnum opus. In fact, I was so enamoured with the volume, I couldn’t put it down, couldn’t detach from it at all. I lived and breathed it.
So, years after my initial failed attempts at reading volume two, I decided it was about time I return to Proust, to À la recherche du temps perdu, to patience.
Patience means slowing down and waiting. It means letting the words of a novel or poem sink into your consciousness. It’s a process of immersion, of allowing the story to direct you where it wants to go, where it wants to take you. And in this day and age, part of that process means letting go – of the cellphone, the TV, the dog barking in the distance — of all the distractions that keep us from engaging with the words on the page, and with our thoughts. Immersing ourselves in a book means observing how its words wash over us, how the reading process unfolds over time, for as long as it takes for us to feel immersed.
And that process requires patience.
Like reading, our writing too, requires patience. We must be patient with ourselves as we work out the tangles of our manuscripts and writing projects, especially against the backdrop of our very busy lives. The late Louise De Salvo wrote about the importance of taking our time, of having patience with ourselves as writers in her book, The Art of Slow Writing. De Salvo pointed out that many writers have taken years to produce works of art, and that time gives us distance and perspective on our work.
I was saddened to read about Dr. De Salvo’s passing this October 31st, but perhaps it’s no accident that I reference her work while writing here about patience. And perhaps it’s also no accident that, as a reader, the book I’ve chosen to return to, and the book that requires me to have patience, is Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu.
As I proceed through the remainder of November and my journey to recapture lost reading (if not lost time), I’ll reflect on the importance of patience, both as a reader and as a writer. I wonder if you will too?