I Made the Career Change to Full-time Creativity

Excerpt from my book about making a career change to full-time creativity.

"What makes you an authority?"

Einstein: “The punishment fate has given me for my hatred of authority is making me one.”

Atchity: Authority comes from describing the clear pattern things reveal in retrospect.

Once upon a time I resigned my position as tenured professor of comparative literature at Occidental College in Los Angeles to pursue a new full-time career as free-lance writer, independent producer, and literary manager. I exchanged a thirty-year "comfort horizon" (how much of the future you can envision as being covered by income-generating contracts presently in hand) for one that has ranged from a mere 24 hours to nine months at the very best--normally hovering precariously between 45 and 90 days. When people told me that my mid-life career change was insane, I reminded them (and myself) of Salvador Dali's taunt:
"The only difference between myself and a madman is that I am not mad." Regardless of how that struck my interrogator, it made me feel better.

My decision to resign from my tenured position became final in the middle of a December snowstorm in Montreal, where I was taking a leave of absence from Occidental College to supervise the production of the Shades of Love series of romantic comedies, which I had conceived and was producing, for Lorimar and Astral-Bellevue-Pathe. The decision followed on the heels of an event that brought the familiar sensation that everything happens for a reason: I was scheduled to play the Aextra part of a professor in Mort Ransen's
Sincerely, Violet, but had been delayed by a snowstorm. By the time I finally arrived on the set the scene had already been shot. I decided right then and there that I simply wasn’t meant to play a professor even in fiction--that it was high time to resign my tenure. My extra appearance was rescheduled for the next day: I ended up playing a graphologist.

Although the incident in Montreal provoked immediate action, the decision had been a long time in the making, first conceived 12 years earlier while I was serving as Fulbright Professor at the University of Bologna. On Valentine's Day of that year, I received a telegram from the Occidental Dean of the Faculty informing me that I'd been granted tenure. My immediate reaction to this news surprised me: I became depressed.

That depression continued for at least a year, compounded by a difficulty in finding colleagues who could relate to such a bizarre reaction to what everyone else considered good news. I should have been ecstatic.

I finally figured it out for myself: I felt trapped, suffocated. My oldest recurrent nightmare as a child was of being suffocated by an enormous blanket not of my own weaving. Yes, the box I now found myself in was a comfortable one; but it was still a box—a golden cage. As much as I loved teaching, as much as I had succeeded at it, I was having trouble with the thought that for the next 39 years I'd be able to predict my schedule 12 months in advance. I felt that my life was spinning out of control, coming to an end, and that without knowing how, I had prematurely become a zombie.

I knew I had to escape.

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1 comment:

  1. Wow, this is what I'm doing! The only difference is that I've been teaching, writing, researching for 12 years as an adjunct. Maybe I wouldn't have had the strength to leave if I had tenure like you. I've just started; quit one month ago. Enrolled in a writing seminar. Always wanted to write creatively and found academic writing stifling and torturous, even though I had success at it. It's nice to read this. I have deep fears that I will never be able to make it work. I live in a small college town about 60 miles from a large city.