Are We There Yet?

“All good things arrive unto them that wait–and don’t die in the meantime.”

– Mark Twain in letter to Orion and Jane Clemens, 1889

I wish I had learned things earlier in life that required patience. As a kid I looked for the quick fix. Instant gratification. Not just as a child, but till I was like 27. Or 29. I lived as Veruca Salt. Maybe 36.

“I want the works

I want the whole works

Presents and prizes and sweets and surprises

Of all shapes and sizes

And now

Don’t care how

I want it now

Don’t care how

I want it now”


Some how I survived. I think it is miraculous. Really. Now, a few years later, I have learned the lessons of gardening. That things take time. And care. Are often fraught with failure and messiness. I am sure part of that is age. Part, because I have actually done more gardening. Either way, I wish I had more patience when I was younger. Or just last week when….

I brought that to my students. It was a gift I could share with them, just as I did the world of language and the magical spaces of literature. As a teacher, I have learned that progress is good. I have learned it is easy to miss the progress we make because are are busy looking for the next bit of progress. And then the next. And the next.

The process of progress is a better story than the final score on a quiz or essay. Within the story of progress there are people, places, moments of wonder and disbelief. A good reading of that story is a far more informative description of “what one is knowing” than what one knows. The evaluation is the end of the story. No, it is just another beginning. And these stories take some time to tell, and to hear, to see and to appreciate. I don’t have time. I don’t have time. I don’t have time. I can’t fix that story. But I can assure you, the only thing we have is this time.

Gardening is a cycle of time. Seasonal. Annual. It moves between time and through it. Each unique and each endless; each tied closely to the last. The great circle of life.

These days I work with faculty. I see them hurried to figure things out. To fix things they believe are broken. To do things they feel a need to do. All too often they are nervous. Worried. Technology is fast like a new toaster oven. If it comes from a computer, it should be efficient and correct. There seems to be a belief that whatever needs to happen, can happen fast. I tell them a different story.

I often tell them I can fix it for you now, or we can learn it together over some amount of time. I remind them that me doing it for them will only put them in the same position next time it happens. I tell them that these digital tools are very complex and that the art of teaching is far more complex. It takes time. I remind them that it is ok to let students know they are learning it too.

I appreciate the need to do things “right” or “on time.” I know faculty want to be seen as knowledgeable and capable. I do too. And the class starts next week. Or We just changed the LMS over the summer and I need to learn the new one, fast! I don’t have time to learn it! I don’t have time! Yes, I know that story.

Part of the circle of life is not knowing. Part of failure is success.

There is little in this small patch of dirt worth getting anxious about. Turn the soil. Give things space. Water the sprouts carefully. Prune when necessary. Let insects in, but pay attention. Share what is grown.

So I suppose I wish I had known that I could just breathe (like my yoga teachers always say) and open my eyes and move forward. Without anxiety. Without so much stress. Without hoping it will be fixed instantly. I have more time! I have more time! I have time!

“Yes” you are saying. Hal Ashby. I know right. Did you know that there is a movie coming out titled Hal. Here is the trailer.

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10 Responses to Are We There Yet?

  1. Daya Mudra says:

    ” Turn the soil. Give things space.” Yes! We don;t stand over plants and shout, “GROW! I’m hungry, grow!”

    • Todd Conaway says:

      Well, there have been moments in my short gardening career where I sure asked tomatoes to ripen more quickly…

  2. spani3l says:

    Great post. I’ll feel free to take this sentence with me: “Within the story of progress there are people, places, moments of wonder and disbelief.” Perfect.
    “fix it” vs “learn it” is the formula of what we do in the writing center with both students and staff as well. Reminds me of that Exupery – piece that goes some like this: if you want to build a boat, don’t gather men to hand out tools, a construction plan and shout orders, but teach them a yearning for the sea.

    • Todd Conaway says:

      And he would know right! He loved an adventurous life as a pilot 🙂 I am always in need of some inspiration. Usually, it is right in front of me, I just fail to notice…

  3. I wish we could slow down time, drive a hearse over a cliff, and banjo our way out as the credits roll.

    • Todd Conaway says:

      I was super lucky to be able to use the play/novella in my English classes. I taught students who often had troubles with authority/parents. So the books addressed those ideas in a very accessible way.

  4. Laura Gibbs says:

    Oh my gosh, Todd, this is SO TRUE. One of the lessons I am learning together with my students is how to balance the “hurry up” nature of Internet technology with the time and patience required for real learning. The gardening metaphor is such a good one because it gets at the growth idea (growth mindset is something that really clicks with my students), while also reminding us that growth does not happen overnight. There is a lovely quote by Emerson; do you know this one? Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience. I made a meme for that one to share with students:
    Anyway, I am guessing if we swapped classes for a day, your students would feel right at home in my “let’s grow some stories!” world, and vice versa. I know your name from cyberspace and our paths have crossed here and there, and I am glad we are now getting a chance for a more sustained connection thanks to the Writing Club!
    And now I am thinking I really need to watch Harold and Maude… I listen to Cat Stevens (a lot…), and I always think of that movie when I hear the theme song, but it has been so long since I watched the actual film!
    If you want to sing out, sing out……………. 🙂

  5. Todd Conaway says:

    Nice! His songs wander around my playlists frequently as well.

    The movie is classic, no doubt. But the short book based on the play/move is beautiful.

    Different ways of experiencing some wonderful wisdom 🙂

  6. Marie Hulme says:

    Beautiful and instructive post, Todd! Lovely lesson – we have time! So simple yet somehow (and sometimes) so elusive for us. Thank you for sharing this thoughtful story and I look forward to reading more of your work during our #CCCWrite journey together! Marie