I’m writing this post as I do many – with free thought and on a cusp. Enjoy!
I watched a movie today called Paterson (2016), written and directed by Jim Jarmusch and it sparked a train of thought I’ve been dismantling for a while. The idea that the mundane in life can be fruitful – that not everyone is made for the grandiose and limitless. Some are enriched by the regularities of everyday life. It is a thought that has seeped into my perspective of the corporate vs creative discussion: mainly the idea that they are mutually exclusive concepts that can not be bridged.
Anyway just to provide a brief synopsis of the movie: Paterson is a regular man for all intents and purposes. He is a bus driver who lives a mundane existence from start to finish. The encounters he has are monotonous, to say the least, but considering his routine lifestyle they come across interesting. He works a regular 9 – 5, walks his dog afterward, goes to the bar for a beer and then back home to his wife Laura who is his polar opposite. Laura is the spontaneous eccentric, a painter, baker, mystery cook, gardener, and musician, depending on the day. Her income is sporadic and she wants to master one of her crafts and become famous. When extrapolating their characterisations I realised that I was dealing with a dichotomy – two different personalities housed in this tiny home in this quiet town where nothing really happened. Almost like a Jekyll and Hyde, except for me, Paterson and Laura represented one person – me, and most other millennials seeking this abstract concept of fulfillment.
The concept of the film relies upon Paterson being this ordinary guy with a penchant for poetry. The things that happen to and around him, considering the context are quite extraordinary. The town he lives in is also called Paterson coincidentally. He meets a girl (who happens to be a twin) who writes non-rhyming poems just like him; he has a peculiar similarity to Petrarch – the man who mastered the sonnet and happened to have a partner called Laura who he wrote poems to just like Paterson. Paterson writes his poems in a secret notebook which just so happens to get ripped up by his dog one night before he gets the chance to photocopy the pages upon his wife’s request. He is later given a plain notebook by a Japanese man who is also a poet and is visiting the town for a famous poet. Funnily enough, the bar that Paterson frequents is owned by a man who is always raving about the famous people who came from their town. Throughout watching, I began picking up concepts: poetry, mundanity, chance, secrecy, and fame. In some ways, Paterson was extraordinary, or at least had the potential to be. The themes I picked out all coalesced into this affliction I have with existence and what I have decided to call the glory paradox.
Technology has undoubtedly changed the way we view each other and ourselves – for better and for worse. Commendable behaviours are popularised and modelled so that the mass populace can follow suit; eat 5 fruits & veg a day, mind the gap, be kind to one another. Survival techniques and what not. On the other hand, scrutiny is magnified and encouraged to a detriment – we overanalyse, misjudge and ultimately mutilate in the process. Not just physically but mentally and emotionally and not just ourselves but those around us. We ruin the simplistic with our effervescent curiosity.
The bone I have to pick is the promotion of ourselves that comes with being visible on the internet. Word of mouth and recommendation from other people is still very much a thing but on much of social media, it really is just us narrating our thoughts (sometimes to a fault). We use these platforms to shamelessly promote and clarify using our own words on our own terms. We share our art, our voices, our vices, our feelings and I always gaze on thinking, wow, we are our own little celebrities. The playing field of communication has been levelled and we’re in this age of worldwide discussion from our bedrooms.
From a poet’s perspective, this is art: the marketplace of ideas being shared amongst the like and unlike. From the business mind, this is a money-making machine: millions of people use this website every day, how can we make money from it? These are purist ideals. Some have bridged the gap and fed off both.
My question is: where do I fit on the scale?
I find solace in writing so Twitter is my platform of choice. I like to read and disseminate information – that is of interest to me – quickly. I don’t apologise for my threads in the moment though in hindsight I often cringe and occasionally delete them. I’m very particular with what I consume so sometimes I follow and then unfollow later – not because of anything personal but simply because I am either no longer being edified, no longer interested in the tweets or misjudged the personality of the tweeter. I’m yet to block or be blocked but we’ll see. Most of the people I know day-to-day or are closest to me don’t actively use Twitter and/or don’t know I use Twitter so I’m a pretty free tweeter (it’s not like I state names anyway.) My use of Twitter has ironically been more of a learning experience for myself than a social one.
Early on in my Twitter career, I tweeted cheesy quotes and song lyrics before migrating to the socio-politics of black womanhood. I believe that came with age and changing academic and social setting but nonetheless, such discussions taught me about myself: they gave voice to my inferiority complex of being a dark-skinned black woman and spoke truth into my misguided perception of humility and visibility. It was like a mirror was being held to my face, albeit cracked.
I always thought I would live a quiet, guarded life, not expressing my vulnerabilities. I think that came from not wanting to be seen as the ‘angry, black woman’ though I convinced myself otherwise. I never felt the need to explain anything growing up – whether it be my feelings or decisions. It was all intrinsic to me. But as I grew older and burdens grew heavier I found solace in sharing my disposition with family, friends and occasionally Twitter. For a long time, I thought telling people about yourself was self-glorification, regardless of the form it came in. It came under pride which was a deadly sin in mythology and almost every religious text. Funnily enough, I was never the most devoutly religious person yet this was a concept I held close to my heart – being ‘humble’ I mean. Not talking about yourself. Maybe I felt I didn’t have much to say or offer. Nonetheless, it’s where my love for listening began. I became (and still am) the friend who listens.
Maybe because I feared talking too much would expose my secrets so I never spoke much. Instead I listened to music, to audiobooks, to conversations, to friends, to strangers, to sounds, anything. My hearing isn’t even that great due to years of blasting my headphones – which I can’t live without – to the highest volume. I thought listening to the voices of others would help me find my own but in reality, it cancelled my inner psyche. My impressionability meant I was displacing what other people said to me as gospel. It was like plagiarising other people’s thoughts. I didn’t know where I stood so I huddled with those who seemed most like me – in age, background, class, race. And even with them, I’d find conflict. It was through contrast in opinion and experience that I shaped and listened to myself but I didn’t want it to be that way. I didn’t want the context of others to be the template on which I built myself. I wanted my own shameless narrative. I never realised that my experience had to come from somewhere because I did not exist alone in a vacuum. A lot of what I was and how I was treated was determined by the world. Such conclusion meant I had to see the vitality of beauty in the struggle and the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Going back to the film Paterson, there is a scene where a rapper is in a launderette, spitting bars. Now in my mind, rap is poetry in a disenfranchised form. Because of the demographic it appeals to and is made by, it is discounted as a lesser genre when I and many others can argue that its prowess is equivalent to a William Shakespeare or Audre Lorde and every other great literary oligarch. Anyway, in this brief scene, this rapper talks about wanting to perfect his rhymes and ‘make it.’ His flamboyant image indicates he wants to be a star and again I look within myself and deliberate: do I want to be famous?
The answer is almost always no. I’m not sure if that’s my inferiority speaking but I don’t think I was made for worldwide consumption. I am not a snack and I can be quite bitter. I can only be withstood in doses otherwise I give most people indigestion which I am okay with. Being a face that is out there will never be my forte. But I do wish to share something with the people of the world and that is my writing… in any way I can.
For years and years, when people have asked me what I want to be in life, I have said I do not know. Being a Jacqueline of all trades meant I could’ve really dabbled in any profession. At around 7, I wanted to be a doctor, at 10, I was going down a mathematic route and at 14, I U-turned and became an English Literature fanatic. Literature was not a phase. It was a fact of life that has stuck with me throughout my childhood – my dad didn’t let my siblings and I watch much TV so I found myself in books: from Jacqueline Wilson to Malorie Blackman to Anne Cassidy – my younger years were shaped by fictional stories that drew parallels to my identities. Those were the days authors were unassuming *yes this is direct shade to JK Rowling* and you could really immerse yourself in the character using your imagination, even if that wasn’t the author’s intention.
I think about writing in all its forms quite often: plays, scripts, books, poems. I think about ghostwriting. How there are people who have shared words and never received the public accolade. I think of pseudonymous aliases from the English Bronte sisters to America’s secret singer H.E.R.
Must we receive aesthetic praise for what we write?
If I share it without showing my face is it still beautiful?
Is posthumous glory reverent?
The answers are tied up somewhere I am trying to reach and unlace. Because I know for a fact that I want to write in this lifetime. Written word is a realm in which I will always be fulfilled whether it lines my pockets or not. I don’t believe that makes me any more earnest than the person who gets to paid to write. My issue is how important the idea of recognition is to me. Authors, just like all creatives deserve credit. I doubt I could ever give my work away for someone else to claim, but I would happily share my writing anonymously if need be.
Fame are not must-haves for me, neither is the concept of celebrity: they are afterthoughts I’d rather let be. Personally, even if it brings me no income or recognition I will still write for it is the writing that sets me free.