If there is one movie I loathe with a passion, it’s “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” This is not a moving tribute to the joyous rewards of the profession of teaching (don’t forget, he goes into forced retirement at the end of the film). Instead, it’s a frightening reminder to anyone working a “day job” and trying to do their art “on the side” that time is an enemy, not an ally. Years slip through your fingers like beads of water flowing from a gushing tap. By the time you have the sense to cup your hands and take a drink, most of it has disappeared down the drain.
There’s the famous story that T.S. Eliot used to work in a bank before emerging as a literary powerhouse. I used to picture him slaving away behind a teller’s window or a desk, composing snatches of poetry in his head while filling out paperwork. At the time, I had no idea that he actually enjoyed it (and considered it quite relaxing). But having a “day job” you enjoy is just as dangerous as having one you despise. I think that’s part of the familiar narrative of “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” You get so caught up in one thing that you don’t even notice you’re neglecting the other. As much as we try to deceive ourselves that we can “have it all,” the reality is that life is finite and difficult decisions must be made.
It’s especially easy to be lured into artistic complacency when you are trying to earn a living. I’ve finally figured out that there is no “tomorrow.” I’m ALWAYS going to be too busy, too tired, or too stressed out. In the end, the only solution is to write despite my fatigue and steal whatever minutes I can, even if it’s at 1 A.M. in the morning on a school night.
I came across a quote from one of my favorite professors, Rodney Morales. It took him six years to finish his novel, and in an interview, he cited career as part of the reason: “I don’t think you can be a good teacher, writing all the time.” This makes sense, but at the same time, I’d like to argue that I can’t be a good teacher if I’m unhappy or depressed either. There is something wonderfully uplifting about working on something you love–something that is just for you and no one else.
I don’t want to spend six years on this novel. I was actually disappointed that I didn’t finish it in a year, which was my personal deadline for the project. But now it’s mid-January and much to my chagrin, I haven’t written anything new since early December. The only thing I can do is keep stealing moments of happiness, where and when I can get it. The tap is still running, but at least I’m trying to drink it down as fast as I can.
Appropriate Keane song of the day: “She Has No Time”