43: “Nine Tenths of Alchemy” (Patrick Rothfuss)

                “It was just as Mandrag said: Nine tenths of alchemy was chemistry. And nine tenths of chemistry was waiting.” -Patrick Rothfuss, The Slow Regard of Silent Things

                Slow Regard follows Auri, a young woman who is beautifully lost and found while also, perhaps, being the strangest, silliest, and most interesting magician I’ve ever met in a book. (And I tend to read the kind of books where you meet them). Auri tries to help the world back into its own patterns: creatures lost away from the woods want to find trees again, and children frightened at night want to be reminded of joy and wonder. Auri doesn’t stop there. Leaves can be lost, and little stone figurines: by looking at them carefully, listening to them intently, she tries to help them home. At one point she tries to find a place for a big brass gear she found in some rubble. She isn’t trying to repair the machine it came from: she’s finding where the gear belongs. Only she can’t seem to find it: she tries place after place, but can’t quite see what the gear needs. She keeps trying. Reflecting on this in her final essay, my student Allison wrote: “Auri knows time is not an issue. The gear will find its place, but in time.”
                In time. What a beautiful line.
                I get frustrated with the speed of things. I get worried that my book’s not growing quickly enough, or that the day’s going by at a run and I’m behind in grading and washing dishes. I get frustrated when I’m with a friend, and we’ve chatted, but not really connected yet–not deeply, and I haven’t seen them in so long, and I only have so long to talk with them now. I get impatient when I’ve read fifty pages, but I think I should’ve finished sixty.
                In time, in time…
                When I was younger I would always ask how long. When I went skiing, I would ask how long each ski run would take. (It drove my dad crazy). When we designed a backpacking trip, I asked how long: how long would we be gone, how long would we have to hike each day. I saw time as a commodity, a currency: so much of it for all of that, and I wanted to make a good purchase. Some people recommend that perspective: they say we get 1440 new minutes to spend each day, like golden coins, and we should spend them wisely. And okay. I see that. But also, no. I like Auri’s way.
                In time, in time.
                At Amherst, Professor Ferguson once quoted his meditation instructor: “If you’re doing the most important thing in the world, it doesn’t matter how long it takes.” You don’t shout at a seed to grow more quickly: you give it earth, you give it water. And you wait. You don’t walk toward the hanging mountains by beating your feet against how long–or if you do, you’ll end up sore footed. You walk to the mountains by walking: by seeing how the peaks caress the sky: by being part of it, within it. That doesn’t mean we can’t work, but perhaps it means that, when we’re working (or playing, or hiking, or growing), we can trust the speed of things. We can let the moment go. This, here, is worth the time. This–this moment, this connection, this thought, this work, this heart, this life–is growing. And if it’s growing in the way it can, it doesn’t matter how long it takes.
                It’s just as Mandrag said: nine tenths of nine tenths of magic is waiting.

3 thoughts on “43: “Nine Tenths of Alchemy” (Patrick Rothfuss)

  1. Hello.
    could you help me figuring this out please? I need to know what exactly this phrase mean? It is stated by Auri in this novella: nine tenths of chemistry was waiting.” I can’t find the relation to previous or next sentences and I’m not a native reader.
    Thanks in advance

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    1. Hello! The phrase “nine tenths of” something means “most of it.” So if “nine tenths of being a good student is curiosity,” than curiosity is most of what it takes to be a good student. So Rothfuss is saying that most of alchemy (the magical study of how different substances work) is just chemistry, and most of chemistry is just waiting. I guess he means waiting for the chemical reactions to happen, and so on. Hope that helps!

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