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A Study in Patience

It’s cold out now, and dark. The countdown begins to the winter solstice. Even though that is the shortest, darkest day of the year, once it happens, the days grow incrementally longer and I know we’re on our way back to sunlight and warmth.


This time of year I find myself restless and irritable (more than usual). I’m not as active outside and find myself on the couch earlier and earlier, covered in blankets, annoyed and sleepy. But we have a wood-burning stove and this is a delight. As I built a fire last night, I was forced to sit in front of it for several minutes to feed it and breathe life into it. I couldn't walk away because I knew if I turned my back on it, it would die. I got to thinking that so much of building a fire is waiting and watching and having patience, the patience needed to make something nice.

Just a loaf of a cat roasting his beans by the fire. Credit: Anna O'Brien

This struck me as noteworthy. I am also learning guitar this winter (last winter it was knitting). This, too, is requiring an abundance of patience as I practice with sore fingertips and buzzing, out of tune chords. And these chord progressions, let me tell you. I am convinced it will take years to develop muscle memory for these things. It's humbling. And frustrating. Mostly frustrating.

Most evenings, I’m convinced I’ll never get there, with “there” meaning “good.” I'll even take "mediocre." But occasionally, I’ll have a moment when my thoughts drift and my fingers are free and something clicks. The movement from G to C just sort of happens and it's a little bit magical. And then I realize what’s happened and hyperfocus once again. I freeze up and things sound wonky. But it’s there. I've glimpsed it. I just need the patience to bring it forward more easily and routinely.

(I love this illustration from a zine posted by Austin Kleon about all it really takes to form a band: 3 chords.)


So, it’s a season of patience and I'm realizing how active practicing patience really is. It is a strange sort of work.

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