People want to know how I’m spending my days since quitting my job. They must picture me in the green armchair that swivels to take in the lake, a book on my lap, a cup of tea at my elbow. They imagine me running, biking, hiking, or skiing miles and miles, every day. They think I must be cooking up a storm; playing the piano; writing, writing, writing. I must be so well versed in current affairs I could be a newsreader for the evening news.
The truth is, I’m doing all of those things, but not convincingly, and not with measurable success. I’m not doing any of it well. I’m terrible at relaxing and hopeless at justifying leisure time. I’m incapable of dedicating all my hours to activity because time out-of-doors should be a reward for accomplishing something important and serious, at a desk. I knew when I quit I would miss the affirmation and reputation I had in my job, but it would also be liberating and exciting, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it?
The other night, I went to a quintet performance entitled The Judgement of Paris. It billed itself as a “chamber of musical” and was an unusual and compelling fusion. The five musicians played contemporary pieces that were their own compositions as well as major works of Ravel and Debussy, each piece interspersed with anecdotes about the lives of the two French composers. It was a novel and absorbing way to introduce me to music I didn’t know and a period in history I hadn’t spent much time thinking about. Some of the pieces left me cold; others transported me. What moved me most was the talent and versatility of the performers themselves, gliding confidently between different instruments, speaking their lines, striking their poses and playing their different parts.
Here’s what I’m doing. I’m writing roughly 1000 words a day, six days a week, towards what I’m calling The Project. I’ve described The Project in detail to few enough people that if or when it fails—if or when I fail—I won’t have to explain that to everyone. I’ll just find a new project. I thought I would enjoy this kind of writing and the freedom to focus on it absolutely, but instead it feels like a job that I’m not particularly good at. What if, at the end of the time I’ve given myself, I have nothing at all to show for it, other than a fresh and humbling awareness of my own limitations? How self-indulgent. How cliché.
To top it off, I’m being offered work. This is real, well-paid work related to the field I thrived in for 14 years. This is the kind of work I could sink myself into and have the satisfaction of ushering it from unfinished to finished in measurable pieces. And get paid for it. Paid.
I’ve turned down the work. At least, I’ve turned down the work I’ve been offered so far. I’d like the money, but I don’t need it, not at this very moment. And if I take the work, I will use it to avoid The Project and all the ways in which it is scaring and mocking me, testing me to see whether I can keep at it.
Where does the time go? That’s what I want to know. It’s been three and a half months since I quit and the days dash by. I can pluck them up in a sheaf and thumb through them in thirty seconds. They’re racing down a steep hill. I can’t catch them.
I can’t tell if it will help or harm to spend more of this fleeting time with music, if it’s inspiring or utterly dispiriting. I do love the conviviality of instruments being played together, even if that’s artifice, skin-deep. Last week, listening to the performers on stage, watching their faces, so satisfied and smug, I thought: what I wouldn’t give to be able to make music with others, to strum or strike or trumpet a melody that is just one part of a whole. It’s so solitary, what I’m doing now, what I’m trying to do. I’m a bumbler and pretender with no one to tell me I’m off-key, too loud or too soft, that I should start over or play something else altogether.
FWIW: I’m back at school, taking a course requiring me to write a weekly blog, sometimes about the works we’re reading in class, sometimes about new encounters or experiences, particularly those that involve other art forms. If these posts seem different from those in the past, this is why.