I recently breakfasted with a friend and consummate professional, recently contracted to join a TV writing staff after an uncomfortably extended “dry spell.” Concerning transitioning back to the regimentation of a full-time job and assigned writing after creating his own schedule and writing whatever he wanted, my friend confided,
“I feel like I’ve surrendered my soul.”
Sure, the regular routine will eventually reprogram him to the rigors and responsibilities of “laboring in the fields” and he will likely come to enjoy being “back in the saddle”, but during that bridging interval of adjustment, there was this glimpsing revelation of the downside to the work experience non-working writers ostensibly covet and regret is no longer available.
Another writer, though steadily employed, revealed similar reservations, not between the conditions of working and not working but between working for Amazon where creative freedom is liberatingly permissible versus working for traditional networks where it isn’t.
Two resonating examples , among others, of what I don’t miss about the job I no longer have – the enforced regimentation and the withheld inaginatorial license that draws writers to the profession in the first place.
So why, after thirteen years of retirement, does it still feel bad to be, as they solemnly label it, “out of the business”? More tangibly, and oddly inexplicably, why do I continue to mourn the loss of an opportunity I would almost certainly turn down if it were offered?
Let’s start with the inevitable (and enduring) loss of status. Whose sudden deprivation, I imagine, shocks the system in every line of endeavor.
Say, you’re a school crossing guard, which, with respect to my school crossing guard readers though it is no surprise to them, is hardly a high-status operation. Then, for some reason, justifiable or otherwise, it’s over. There goes your “Stop” paddle. There goes your reflective vest. You’re walking home carrying your folding chair, the people you pass going, “What happened to your paddle?” or “You seem to have lost your reflective vest.”
That’s got to feel terrible, doesn’t it? Miniscule symbols of authority as they were, you do not even have them anymore. You’re just a guy walking home carrying a chair.
Dipping back into show biz for an example, a screenwriter friend was given the opportunity to direct his self-written feature film. After three days, the studio executives determine he is not up to the task and, while they do not summarily fire him, the next morning when he exits his trailer he discovers that the bicycle issued to convey him to the set has been confiscated. A day later they, quoting my friend, “took away the damn trailer.”
One need not be hypersensitive to go, “Ouch!”
The reclaimed “Stop” paddle? The repossessed trailer? It’s like that Daffy Duck cartoon where a hand holding a giant eraser enters the frame and furiously rubs out his beak. That humiliating incursion says it all, reflected in Daffy’s forlorn eyes as he stares helplessly into the camera, desperately communicating, “What’s next?”
No question. You sorely miss the pampering perks of the position, the obedient deference of the people around you. And, of course, there’s the regular paycheck. Last but in no way least, is the deprived opportunity to work at the top of your game, the exhilarating challenge of delivering “gold” on an everyday basis.
For me, however, what cut deepest was the way it went down.
With a gun to your head, or a simple “Think fast!” you will admit you would not want to do that job anymore. Because you’re older, and when you are older the hours and requisite pressures are admittedly more toll-taking. There is also the matter of “I’ve done it”, offering the diminishing pleasure of, “And now I’ve done it some more.”
The thing is, you want to go out on your own terms.
Which brings me predictably, if your brain works as mine does, to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
You know the scene. The Kid, finishing a card game, rakes in his winnings before departing. His surly adversary, accusing him of cheating, insists,
(RE: THE MONEY ON THE TABLE) “That stays – you go.”
Butch Cassidy arrives on the scene and, instinctively intuiting the volatile predicament, encourages Sundance to peacefully leave.
But, having been accused of cheating, Sundance’s feelings have been seriously injured. As a result, though he has no problem with leaving, he insists on doing so only if his card-playing adversary asks him to stick around.
With a changing business targeting younger audiences, the downwardly configured boundaries of comedy, the accumulating years and a nest egg that should hopefully carry me and my loved ones comfortably to the “Finish Line”, I might have, not long after it happened, decided to “hang it up” myself.
Or maybe not.
I just know I'd have been more disposed to the idea of going,
If they had only told me to stick around.