Going Through No-Man’s Land

It’s almost 11 a.m. on deadline day and while I’ve sat with the laptop for two hours I haven’t a clue what to write. The one idea I had just isn’t flowing, and my creative bank feels like a dry no man’s land. My eyes wander to the outdoors. Maybe if I can’t write I should garden. Planting flowers, shaping beds and moving the idea of a charming back yard forward entices more than writing. It’s a beautiful Sunday and one of those rare days between spring and summer when it’s not quite hot yet, the breezy wind surprising with each ripple under the bright blue sky, sun and shade playing hide and seek. Apparently Mother Nature struggles with deadlines, too. Long past her usual weather change, she lingers still in the middle, a foot in each season.

I feel the time crunch for writing pressing in on me, but I have nothing to give. I grab my bowl of Grape-Nuts and head outside for a late breakfast. Surely there’s no harm in delaying just a moment. I take a couple bites, enjoying the view of blooming flowers and the sprouting vegetable garden. Spotting a plant that needs more sun, I move it just a bit, and then a little further back until it’s where it needs to be. I spy an empty pot I had forgotten, perfect for our fig tree, and roll it into place, heave-ho-ing a little more here and there. I arrange and shift, tinker and turn, finding another this and that, my smile widening until my dirt-smudged face and hands and beading sweat suddenly call me back to reality. Somehow my "just a moment" slipped by over an hour ago. My grin drops and I force myself back indoors, determined this time to write. I must. And after a nap, laughing with a friend, savoring a handful of petit éclairs, another hour outside in the park, and time petting our cat, Milo…I finally do.

Ideas and deadlines, living and laugh lines… there’s definitely a connection. Had I been as organized and ahead of the game as my little Napoleonic-self can be, I would have missed it. Sometimes, no matter how determined we are and how well we plan, life just won’t go the way we think it should. Too often the ideas won’t come but the deadlines will. The job doesn’t come but the bills still do. Solutions lounge while problems loom, and relationships flounder while social needs bloom. And when we want something the most, it seems we just don’t get it, stuck in the middle somewhere between our needs now and our "not yet." Sometimes we get there by our own doing, sometimes not. Either way nets the same wondering: how long do we wait, and what do we do, in the midst of no man’s land?

Sue Monk Kidd writes about this concept of middle places in her book When the Heart Waits*, and causes me to remember that this, too, is life. Not life at its worst can’t-wait-until-this-is-done drudgery, but a life as full of opportunity and possibility for pleasure and joy and fulfillment now as at any other starting or arriving points along the way. The reality is that most of life is lived in this middle ground between hopes and dreams, starts and finishes. If we check out in frustration or boredom in the between places, thinking only of how wonderful it will one day be when we finally get through it, then we miss out on life in the here and now, the present life we live moment to moment that the middle waiting places make possible.

So what do we do while we wait for that idea or relationship, solution or job? We live. We garden. We talk and nap, eat éclairs and work, both on our deadlines and, probably more importantly, our laugh lines. Before we know it, the idea will come, the door will open and the solution will suddenly be solvable. Sometimes that middle ground of waiting, when paired with a healthy dose of living, is just the fertile ground needed to get us to our best life here and now, and to the "one day" soon enough.

*When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions by Sue Monk Kidd, first published in San Francisco by Harper & Row, 1990.

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