Monday, May 31, 2010

"Have Fun"

About fifteen years ago, I first saw a movie called Mr. Holland's Opus not knowing exactly what to expect. I knew Richard Dreyfuss was in it, and I always liked him since JAWS and Close Encounter of the Third Kind. But I hadn't really seen him in movies since then and I heard he was kind of a jerk and alcoholic in real-life... but I digress. I watched the movie because it was supposed to be about a composer who ended up dedicating his life to teaching.

I was stunned by the film. Sure, it was a bit melodramatic and it's definitely heartstring-tugging -- people might have resented the movie for manipulating their emotions, blah blah. But I found it very uplifting, sad, bittersweet, and inspirational. What can I say? I was a sap.


That was early 1996. I can't believe it has been almost 15 years since I saw the movie. A lot has changed! That very same year, I decided to take another job that I hoped would offer me better opportunities and experiences, and it did. Two years later, I decided to try my hands on writing, but I need to learn the craft and improve on my English first. In 2001, I started writing my first novel. Now I think back on it, I realize Mr. Holland had a profound effect on me even if I didn't realize it.

I just watched it again (on Netflix Instant Watch) and found myself still affected by it, after so many years.

Drefuss was almost 50, then, and he played Holland from age 30 to 60, and did a marvelous job that got him his second Oscar nomination (unfortunately, he didn't win; Nicholas Cage did for Leaving Las Vegas -- I think Dreyfuss was robbed). Mr. Holland is a musician and composer who has BIG dreams. But life throws him a curveball and he becomes a music teacher instead. It's supposed to be a short gig, to make some money, so he can go off and write his music in the summer. But his wife's unexpected pregnancy sidetracks his plans. On top of it, he doesn't realize how demanding teaching will be, how much he'd grow to love the profession, and how much it will change his life.

I can certainly see how this man's life, however fictional, touches me because I can relate to it. I have big dreams, too, and sometimes it seems like life is so distracting that these dreams may never come true. And then there are temptations that come along. Complacency follows. Self-pity, perhaps? This journey and these dreams are never going to be a straight line. And at the end, maybe our biggest achievements aren't all that success and fame and fortune we acquire, but the people we connect with, touch and inspire.

There's one scene in the movie:  a redheaded teenage girl, Gertrude, wants to play the clarinet well because she so wants to be good at something, anything, to make her overachieving family proud. She's practiced for three years and she can't play worth a damn, and she's about to give up when Mr. Holland played Louie Louie for her and said, "These guys can't sing, and it's the same three chords over and over and over again, but somehow we love this song. Why?"

Gertrude says, "Because it's fun?"

And that, Mr. Holland says, is the key. We can learn to play all the notes, we can study until our brains are fried, but we won't be great musicians if we don't learn how to have fun. Music is supposed to be fun. With that inspiration, Gertrude learns to relax and have fun and she realizes she can, indeed, play the clarinet.

Little does Mr. Holland know that by inspiring Gertrude, he's become a better teacher, and he's inspired as well.

The scene strikes me as genuine, touching and also right on pitch.

Have fun.

Much of why I've been struggling with my WIP lately is that I've forgotten to have fun. I stress over questions such as "is it any good?" or "am I a good writer?" or "what if this sucks?"  I've become Gertrude, stressing over every note she played and whether she was hitting the right note or following the beat. She so wanted to be perfect and good at it that she forgot the most important thing about music (or anything else in life): follow your heart and have fun with it. I, too, have forgotten to have fun with my writing.  I remember I used to have lots of fun. I was writing up a storm in 2002 because it was so much fun -- I could see the end of the tunnel and the story and the characters and the emotions simply poured out of me. I was elated when it was over and I couldn't wait to get back to it, because while it was a LOT OF WORK, it was also fun. I loved it. Toward the end, I wasn't even thinking if I was any good, if that thing was going to be published, or if people were going to read and like it. I was simply having a ball writing it.

In the past couple of years, I've become paralyzed by my own ambition (this book is 10 times more ambitious than my last), and I forgot to have fun. There were times when inspiration did strike and I, for a brief moment, just let go and regained my ability to have fun, and things were pouring out like oil in the Gulf. It was everywhere. It was sticking. And I was having fun. But then, the fear set in again, the weight of my ambition weighed down again, and I lost that fun again. Like Gertrude, I began to dread doing it. I avoided it sometimes. Or when I was doing it, I stressed over every word and every sentence, trying to make them perfect and I frustrated myself for failing to do it right. Unlike Gertrude, I wasn't going to give up, but I wasn't having fun either. I couldn't let go.

Watching Mr. Holland's Opus again sets me on the right track. Like 15 years ago, it inspires me all over again, reminding me that my dreams are real, and they are attainable if I put my mind to it (because I have already achieved what I set out to do before, time and again. I know I could do it). Most important, I remember to have fun.  If I didn't, not a world of success and fame and fortune are worth it. Because I'm going to be miserable doing it.

Love what you do and do what you love. Yes.  But, also remember:

HAVE FUN!

2 comments:

Joe Iriarte said...

Hey thanks for this--your post is a useful reminder.

I haven't seen Mr. Holland's Opus and I don't think I will any time soon. Movies about teachers (my day job) always push the wrong buttons in me and this one sounds like it would strike especially close to home. But maybe someday I'll be in a position where I think I can enjoy it on my own terms.

Ray Wong said...

LOL. my teacher friend actually thought it was good. But I know what you mean. I can't watch movies with computers or technologies because they always frustrate me with their silliness.