Welcome to my first guest post!! This is from TJ Dawe, a successful Vancouver based writer/performer/director who’s toured solo shows at more than eighty comedy and theatre festivals in the last decade and a bit. He’s got six published plays, a humour book, and his directing credits include The One Man Star Wars Trilogy, which played Off-Broadway in New York for five months. He also blogs, tweets, podcasts, and has stuff on youtube. This post originally appeared on a great blog geared at helping live performers called Gigsmacked.
The Shawshank Redemption flopped in the theatres. Later people started renting it, talking about it, buying the DVD. Now it’s ranked number one on the internet movie database’s user poll of every movie ever made, surpassing the next contender (The Godfather) by almost 100, 000 votes. Why has everyone become passionate about this flop? Here’s my take: because it’s an analogy for being stuck in a day job.
I don’t know anyone who’s spent time in prison for a murder they didn’t commit, but the vast majority of my artist friends toil in soul killing day jobs to make ends meet. How do you muster the energy to create after getting home from an exhausting day doing something you hate?
In the two decades of his incarceration Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) builds a library, teaches prisoners to read, and digs an escape tunnel – outside of the accounting work he does for the warden and guards. I grew up with the notion that artists work in the throes of divine inspiration. That can definitely happen. But Robertson Davies (Fifth Business, What’s Bred in the Bone) started each new novel by writing a series of notes, outlining the story, the characters, and everything he’d need to research. This took three years. In the meantime he edited and wrote for a newspaper, helped raise three daughters, and later, taught and administrated a graduate college. Philip Glass (Soundtrack for The Hours, Kundun) drove a cab and repaired appliances, working on his compositions every morning. Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club, Choke) repaired diesel trucks and went to a novel writing workshop one evening a week.
Spending a little time each day on a project gets your mind working on it no matter what else you’re doing. In spare moments a problem might unlock itself. Maybe something you see or a random utterance from an overheard conversation will make a light bulb click. Can you find an hour a day for your art? Half an hour? It might not sound like much, but it adds up if you keep at it. Don’t have the time? How much time do you spend on Facebook?
When Dufresne escapes, the other prisoners don’t have a clue. He hadn’t shared his plan with even his closest friends. A lot of people talk about how they’re working on a screenplay, or how their band is gonna be huge. Be careful of this. If someone’s genuinely making their career happen, great. But talking about all the things you’re going to do can be a substitute for doing the actual work.
Dufresne’s tunneling takes nineteen years. The long slow climb isn’t as sexy as overnight success. We don’t see it much in biopics.
But doing something each day can give focus and purpose to your entire existence. Any day job is more endurable when there’s even a possible exit into something better somewhere down the line. And those nineteen years are going to pass anyway. If there’s an injection of passion in your every day, your life will be better whether you make it or not. And you just might wind up on a beach in Mexico, sharing margaritas with Morgan Freeman.
Would you like to guest post on The Quarterlife Quest? Got advice, thoughts or just general ramblings that you think my readers might enjoy? Send me a note!