Two nights ago, I watched a film called "Paterson" about a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey, who is named Paterson. He walks to work, doesn't own a cell phone, and tolerates his wife's dog. This is just to say - he sounds like every boring small-town husband in a movie.
Except he writes poems daily in a secret notebook, approaches his job with gratitude and sincerity, kisses Laura, his wife, sweetly in the early morning light, and listens to her sleepily explain her dreams - having twins, one for each of them, Paterson riding a silver elephant in ancient Persia, becoming a country singer with an aesthetic of only black and white, and being the cupcake queen of their town with her own bakery. Also, he's played by Adam Driver, so of course every minute expression on his face and his peculiar mannerisms are unendingly charming and interesting.
He always says thank you, even to the dog, Marvin, when he sits on command. He never complains, and doesn't understand the concept of savory dinner pies. And for all his ignorance of smartphones and 2-day Amazon Prime shipping, Paterson notices everything about the world around him. Every day, he steals moments - sitting in his bus before starting it up for the day, while eating lunch by his favorite waterfall in town - to write the most heartfelt poetry. He's suspiciously neutral about all the funny particularities of daily life involving himself and other people, and yet of a few things, he seems very certain.
He's a reluctant artist. Laura is a bursting sun of creativity to rival his decidedly quiet way, begs him on numerous times to show his work to the world, but Paterson is content for his poetry to just exist, regardless if it's viewed by the masses. It is as much a part of him as his hands or his lungs, he doesn't create it for fame, he doesn't wait for time to clear itself away. Through and through, he is a poet. If there wasn't a title for someone who wrote poetry, he would still do it. He writes poetry like he eats and sleeps.
This film is deeply committed to the quietest moments of life, and the introspection and creativity that is born from them. In the first few minutes of the film, Paterson is sitting in his kitchen with a bowl of plain Cheerios, and he absently inspects a box of matches. Except it isn't absent at all - in fact, he writes a love poem about them later that same morning. He begins every day the same, and yet this particular time, he noticed the matches. Routines aren't mundane if only we take the time to observe things beyond ourselves.
It's an incredible movie, and there's a million things I loved about it. (The connection between the protagonist, his town name, and one of his favorite books by his favorite poet, also called Paterson.) But one of the most significant aspects of this film was what it reminded me about being a poet.
I'm a fresh graduate. When college ended, I didn't feel relief, it wasn't an earth-shattering moment where the strings were cut loose and I felt the weight lift off of me. In fact, it's been a daily battle with post-college anxiety, pressure to find a good job, move out of my mom's house, and get on with my life. I can admit that a lot of that is self-imposed.
But all I really want time for is creativity. I want to spend leisure time doing puzzles, reading all the books I've neglected over the years in favor of 20-page journal articles and textbook chapters. I want to develop my film photography by hand again, but mostly, I want to write. I love to write poetry. My degree is in creative writing. But honestly, no time in the past year has been so uninspiring as these last final quarters of my college education. I've been in a slump for months.
The pressure to be productively creative is heavy. I know it's coming from my own expectations. Again. Watching "Paterson" was perhaps the gentle reminder I needed. It was actually difficult to sit down and watch it to begin with. I felt guilty for not utilizing the time to complete some job applications, or do laundry or clean my bathroom. I had to remember that I am allowed to sit down and watch a movie and simply enjoy it just because. So I forced myself to relax, and turned it on. And I ended up learning some really important lessons.
First, notice things. Paterson sees everything. He's never in a rush to move to the next thing, and he can hardly be called distracted. He's very in-tune with the present, and takes moments as they come.
Second, there are things to be learned from Imagism, even if it isn't my preferred style of poetry. It prioritizes succinct and tangible descriptions in favor of long drabbles. In other words, simplify.
Third, there's so much beauty in the mundane. Paterson smiles throughout his day and he listens to the bus riders have conversations, laughs at the antics of an ex-relationship at the bar, and finds reverence and inspiration from a few lines of a young girl's poem. Things like this, the seemingly normal and boring parts of life, are perfect materials for writing.
And finally, build a routine, and make safe spaces to fail at creating. Paterson cherishes two places in particular to write: The waterfalls in town, and his desk in the basement. These are spaces where he can be unbothered and free from judgement. That's crucial for any creating, especially when that negativity can come from myself.
Ultimately, "Paterson" was a reminder to not force anything. Art is best when it comes as you need it. But I also am beginning to feel a peace with what does get written on a page, regardless of its professional quality. It's okay to create for myself, and there's inspiration everywhere if I'll look for it.
And after the film? I figured if I can gather my strength for my nightly skin routine, I could invest some time to submit a couple of job applications as well. Apparently, it's exactly like they say it is - a balance.