On this day full of Oscar noise, I’m beginning a sabbatical from film reviewing, except for what I post here.

I’m stepping down from my work at Image‘s Good Letters blog, from my (brand new) job at Reel Spirituality, and from all other review-related assignments outside of my day job at SPU. I do so out of necessity, and feel nothing but gratitude toward those who have encouraged me there.

This will be the first time I’ve lived without film-review deadlines since, well… about 1997. Wow.

Why? Well, if you’re interested, this is necessary for several reasons…

1.) I have a novel to finish.

And as much as I enjoy participating in the film-criticism community, review assignments are constantly interrupting my work as a storyteller.

I’ve known since I was six that I was born to write stories, and it’s time to make that Job #1.

2.) Neither film criticism or fiction writing provide an income.

Oh, it does for a few, but they make it their full-time work, traveling the globe, writing about movies and celebrities in ways that I would find soul-killing.

So far, the costs of my writing life equal the rewards. I live in a time and place where substantial criticism, interpretation, and teaching about film are valued by very few. People say they appreciate it, but few will consider paying for it. I’m grateful that I’ve found paying work and good support from Christianity Today, Image, Paste, Fuller’s Reel Spirituality, and other places over the years. But now I need time to pursue the next chapter of my work life toward something that will help me make ends meet.

Writing, I find, is a joy and an adventure. But it’s not much of a job. In fact, you need another job in able to afford to do it.

3) I believe I’m being called to something new, something related to teaching.

The last several years of speaking and teaching at conferences and workshops have shown me that I have a passion for teaching. And this comes as no surprise. It was, after all, my original plan. It came as a complete surprise to me when the writing that I did for fun led to invitations, opportunities, and “careers” in both criticism and fiction-writing. That “surprise” has lasted more than a decade.

I have hoped for several years now that teaching opportunities might grow naturally from writing. I love to teach creative writing, and I love to teach students the rewards of “looking closely” at movies, literature, music, and other forms of art. And many have told me, over the years, that my achievements in publishing would inevitably lead to a teaching job.

But that hasn’t happened. Others have given a contrary opinion: No matter how much I publish, nobody will give me serious consideration as a teacher until I have another degree, and so far they’re right.

So I suspect that I have years of work ahead of me before teaching becomes a likely possibility. And that’s okay. I look forward to learning more and becoming a better writer along the way.

4.) It gives me an excuse to avoid talking about the Oscars and the “fast food” that so many American moviegoers take seriously.

Yeah, sure, I’ve posted my 2012 movie list. But I would never claim those are the “best” movies. They’re just the 2012 movies that moved, inspired, and challenged me the most.

In my experience, nothing disrupts meaningful conversation about art like a competition that is

  • driven by money and celebrity,
  • voted on by people who see only a small fraction of the impressive art produced around the world in a given year,
  • based on “likes” and “dislikes” rather than an informed critical assessment about art, history, excellence, beauty, and truth.

Showbiz talk and awards shows are as eloquent in helping us understand art as Miss America pageants are at helping us understand true beauty and virtue. All of you who love Moonrise Kingdom and The Master and The Loneliest Planet and Holy Motors like I do… keep in mind that Oscar nominations don’t change anything at all regarding the excellent artistry of those films. Don’t let the hype and the meaningless babble interfere with your own personal experience of a film. Just remember all of the great films that didn’t win (Ever heard of Citizen Kane? Raiders of the Lost Ark? The New World wasn’t even nominated.)… but that remain bright in our memories today. Remember all of the winners that proved forgettable. I’m going to enjoy distancing myself from the circus.

So, those are a few of the reasons behind this decision.

In the meantime, I will continue to work full-time in marketing at Seattle Pacific University, and as a contributing editor for Response, supporting an institution that I love, and enjoying an inspiring community of thinkers. I’m grateful for those at SPU who have on occasion been supportive of my work as a writer… especially those in the English Department and the team that produces Image.

It’s hard to face a sabbatical from this work that I love so much.

But for what it’s worth, I will continue blogging here, at Looking Closer, about movies and other subjects as time allows. It’s volunteer work, pretty much, but it is tremendously rewarding in the relationships and conversations it inspires.

I’ve enjoyed my time on the road less traveled, but I have promises to keep, responsibilities to fulfill.

If any of you have ideas or suggestions about the road ahead for me, send me an email at joverstreet@gmail.com.

But Anne and I would be even more grateful for your prayers as we seek to do whatever would please our Maker most. I feel like the Little Drummer Boy, sometimes: We bring only a few small gifts, but we want to “play our best” for him. Ask God to bring us guidance, opportunities, wisdom, and patience.


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