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Defying the 9 to 5: The Struggle to be a Creative Man

Photo by Bossanostra
By Omar Hassan

Its Wednesday, that’s laundry day in my house. After two loads of washing and drying, I succumb to three hours of laborious ironing before setting the dinner table for my three younger siblings and my mother. Following four years at college, about a year in grad school and hours of toiling painstakingly for unpaid work experience, I would have never imagined that my days would be spent attending to my family’s domestic needs.

After dinner, I relegate the washing up duties to the young ones and attend to my usual round of e-mails before sitting down to edit my current screenplay. I send this off to a development producer at 4 am and by the next afternoon; I have an enthusiastic meeting, where I am told to change nearly everything that I had agonized over the night before. The vicious circle continues.

By Sunday, I am brunching with the cream of my graduating class, biting my tongue as they share their tales of office stationery and regale themselves with tidbits about number crunching and how they all intend to move to the Cayman Islands once they are fully-fledged chartered accountants. I nod apprehensively, in an attempt to shield myself from the prying questions that are soon to follow.

“You working yet?” a girl, who we’ll call Snoopy, asks as she fiddles with her finely pressed blouse. I shrug, “Yeah, sort of.” She waits silently, preparing to react. “I write now,” I say cautiously. “What does that mean?” asks another. “Like books?” interjects Snoopy. “Not exactly,” I answer hesitantly.

My eyes dot about the room, a waiter is walking towards us with a tray full of drinks. Maybe I could trip him? That would end this inquisition surely.

Alas, I do not have the heart and instead, I make a joke about how I am still tied to my outdated student lifestyle after all of these years. “Aren’t you a lady of leisure?” jokes Snoopy’s boyfriend, they both chuckle.

After a quiet hour spent staring at my cell phone and my shoes, I am relieved to make my exit. Back home, I am required to assist with ‘urgent’ chores such as light bulb changing and window washing. When I try to work my way out of them, my mother reminds me that I am living under her roof rent free, whilet the rest of my friends are busy slogging their lives away in tall, beige colored office space.

This last comment aggravates me. I throw a hissy fit that even my 12-year-old brother wouldn’t dare pull, before slamming the door shut to my room. I search the small distance around me. Is there anything that I can smash to help me feel like more of man in this moment? Damn these walls, if only they weren’t made of concrete, maybe I would have the courage to punch at one of them.

Photo of Omar Kholief
Photo of Omar Hassan

I’m at my laptop now, applying for graduate trainee schemes. Staples are fun. Scanning too. What is financial consulting? Strategic planning solutions anyone? Is there a quick route to becoming a financial analyst? I’ve had enough of this downtrodden life. Bring on the power lunches, the Armani suits and soft-top car.

Half way through the application process, I find myself stumped. My degree in screenwriting has not prepared me for this. I’m browsing through YouTube now, laughing at a sad soul crying over Britney spears. I laugh and I laugh until eventually I find my eyes have started to water because I feel as sad as the boy in the video.

To evade these thoughts, I strap on my trainers and head for a jog around the block, only to find myself at the corner shop half an hour later, bunching my change together for a pack of cigarettes. Once relieved, I head back home and search the Sunday paper for any job that doesn’t bear the word ‘dull’ in the description section.

Unfortunately for me, such professions do not exist and instead I am thumbing through the glossy pages of the travel portion. I follow this with a mad hunting session on all of the discount travel airlines’ respective websites. Soon, I am banging my head against my desk when I come to the realization that I won’t be going on vacation this year, or the next or probably anytime in the foreseeable future.

Ali, the middle brother barges in enthusiastically. He has a new song he’s learned to play on guitar and he wants to show me. I shake my head before pointing to the door, but his pleading eyes get the best of me this time. He starts to strum slowly. He stumbles, but it doesn’t shake him. He is determined to get to the end. The glimmer in his eyes, the excitement in his face–makes me bleed. I start to pity his innocence and before long I start doubting myself. Why am I here? Why had I decided to make this sacrifice?

Ali tells me that when he grows up, he thinks he will want to try for a career in music. I start to dissuade him by alluding to our father’s imminent disapproval. Suddenly, I stop. I had turned into Snoopy–a dream-crushing hypocrite. Retracting my comment doesn’t make me feel any better, nor does it stop me from spending restless hours tumbling around in my bed that night. I sit and pray that things could be different. Even if there isn’t a God, perhaps my positive thinking could yield some positive results.

A few days later, I catch word that a short play of mine has won a competition and will be presented at one of the best theatres in the country. A week after that, more positive news comes in the form of praise from a magazine editor. This is accompanied by encouraging feedback from a producer, a mentor and a course tutor. My best friend informs me that I should start thinking about an agent soon. The sky is blue, the rain has stopped and I feel alive again.

That night, when my brother tells me that he has ditched the music club to play basketball, I feel devastated. My unwavering pleas for him to reconsider fall on deaf ears. Months go past, but he still seems happy with his decision. Still, every so often, I catch him in his room, toying with his guitar–never giving up on the thing that he loves most. As for me, everyday is still a struggle. I am comfortable in the knowledge that the road ahead will be paved with much more strain and worry, but I have decided that I will be ready to face up to the challenges as they come. Instead of waiting for pain and rejection, I am hoping for success. In the meantime, I’m going to try my best to feel content with what I have. In the end, something makes me think that Snoopy and her little posse might not be the best judges of my happiness after all.

 
  • DK

    Omar, I can relate to everything. Those suckers can keep their cubicles, we’ve still got our brains.

  • OK

    Thanks DK, let’s keep on fighting!

  • Stillman

    Hey man, I really feel you on this one. As an aspiring writer living in New York, I see finance guys every day who are dumber than I am making six-figures and it can be incredibly frustrating, especially when American culture reifies that kind of lifestyle. But a while back I realized that being in accord with oneself, doing the work that brings you satisfaction and meaning, is the only path open to a courageous person who hears the calling. It’s harder, yes, but worth it if you can keep working and keep the faith.

    Besides, there’s nothing better than being an artist.

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  • http://www.unknownscreenwriter.com Screenwriting

    Great stuff. Keep it up!

  • mh

    Apart from the message you make that I can understand (I’ve not had these problems in such a form, I’m about to finish school and after this trying to become cinematographer… so those time are going to make very soon) :
    The writing style of this article was really good, I mean it. :)

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