My long journey to Paterson

I meant to sit down and write about many other movies. “Moonlight”, for instance, made me experience stomach pangs unlike any I had felt in a while and that, indeed, I had forgotten. I was there with the characters during the long, tension-filled, concluding scene, feeling their fear, hesitation, shame, resolve to go through with what they must. It tired me but, in the end, left me feeling good. I meant to sit down and write some notes about “Nocturnal Animals” and what it had to say about art, being immersed – like many others, certainly – in a world of ambition and long-forgotten passions and, then, about the catharsis that can only come from art or creation. Which brings me to Paterson, the only movie that made me sit down and write. This unlikely movie that in such a tame, invisible way absorbed me. No pangs, no analysis. I simply understood.

I consider myself a Jim Jarmusch fan though I rarely like, read, watch, or hear everything one artist produces. No artist can consistently produce only masterpieces. For me, Jarmusch’s is “Only Lovers Left Alive”. Yet, I have a certain faith in the authenticity of what he has to say and, by that, I mean that what he produces comes from him, his thoughts and desires and, most importantly, is made for his own [viewing] pleasure. His desire, clear in “Only Lovers Left Alive” is a not necessarily perfect but perfectly functioning partnership, entailing as much freedom as it is burdened by true caring. Paterson’s life is so ordinary and his wife so extraordinary that, immediately, the entire movie takes on an air that is as real as it is unreal. A sort of mundane fairy tale. A bit monotonous in content, yes, but it is told emphatically. Repetitive to the impatient adult eye, but to the sensitive one, a world full of infinite details.

The patterns of the curtains in the house revealing circles varying in size are a visual representation of the movie itself. Paterson’s daily walk to work is never quite the same because Jarmusch frames it a bit differently each time. Each day so similar in so many ways to the previous one, yet never the same. No waking position, no crossing of the tunnel, no conversation is the same. Because Paterson is a poet. The time Paterson checks every morning differs only by a minute or even seconds, but it differs. I think of the lines by T.S. Eliot “in a minute there is time / For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.” Who among us thinks about a minute if not poets? A minute and its infinite possibilities. In this sense, Paterson, the town, and Paterson, the man, are minutes of sorts. They are, indeed, minute in the grand scheme of things. To many they may seem insignificant but not to the poet. Rainer Maria Rilke has written some lines in his “Letters to a Young Poet” which have stayed with from the very moment I read them, many years ago. Like any human, like the young poet pleading for Rilke’s advice, I sometime suffer from the condition of being beaten down by daily life. I have even made sudden, gigantic, geographical leaps to give myself a shot of newness, fresh outlook, inspiration and what have you, confident that the problem was the previous place always running out of things to offer me. Had I watched Paterson a few years ago, I would have identified more with his complaining colleague (though not with his resignation in life). Perhaps not outwardly, but inside, I had been complaining and blaming. “If your daily life seems poor,” writes Rilke, “do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.” I had read it and loved it and conveniently not fully understood it. Yet, I expected the young poet to promptly follow Rilke’s advice lest he find himself never able to write his coveted love poem and, the worst of all fates, never able to love. Yes, because the poverty of daily life is simply a reflection of your own soul. This is the truth, fortunately and unfortunately. I have blamed entire continents, landscapes, people, life for anything that I thought forcefully made me absorb misery while not providing me with enough pleasure. Yet, it is partly understandable to be angry with the external world. No man is an island, and shouldn’t be. But “Paterson” reminded me of – and confirmed – something that has been brewing in my mind for several years now. And, while I felt it to be true, I was also fearful to acknowledge it, terrified that this new realization might make me regret all previous decisions, all my life thus far. As I find myself in the beginnings of my third voluntary geographical relocation, I finally, wholly understand what Rilke, T.S. Eliot, and the rest have been screaming at me: nothing is ever recurring. Nothing the same. Life on earth cannot be monotonous, repetitive, boring because it only happens once.

For some, this realization may take time, wars, relocation, among many other things. As it did for Colonel Aureliano Buendia in Marquez’ "100 Years of Solitude": “He had had to start 32 wars and had had to violate all his pacts with death and wallow like a hog in the dung heap of glory in order to discover the privileges of simplicity almost forty years late”. As it did for me. Some, like Paterson, who lack greed (in its many manifestations!), skip the path to “glory” altogether, have a sense of inherent appreciation for life. Some people’s ambition is not to call themselves poets but to become poets.

I breathe a sigh of relief as I write this. For a moment, the world had me a bit fooled. It had made me unsatisfied so it could charge me for my satisfaction, which it would never deliver. It warned me not to miss the forest for the trees when the trees are the forest.

I remember reading an article on the subject of astrology once. It was a rather soft plea to readers to be less judgmental, to be open to observation and to consider all the signs and symbols in our lives. The author refers to Vladimir Nabokov, a man not unlike Paterson in his real, perfectly-functioning partnership with his wife, Vera, famous for his love of “routine” and similarly non-scandalous life other the one in his books. Nabokov had written a short story involving a man giving him a lighter when Nabokov was a child and the same man lighting his cigarette with a match, 20 years later, in a place far removed from where Nabokov met him as a child. The man did not recognize Nabokov and the two did not exchange any words. The author of the article had never understood the point of this story because he, like most of us, expected a conclusion, or what we sometimes like to call “meaning”. Only later did the author understand. The story was simply about awareness of life’s, nature’s, art’s signs and symbols. That is all we have. There is no goal. There are no other answers. Life is one’s own interpretation of it. That interpretation takes concentration, daily, hourly, minutely. To be bored with life is to be bored with yourself. And the only reason it is important to understand this is that a person who cannot somehow be a poet in his own life may also be unable to love. Which is what Rilke was trying to get across to his young poet with his advice, instead of sending him how-to tips on writing a love poem. Love your daily life. Don’t be bored. Look at Paterson!

Read "How to be perfect" from Ron Padgett, the poet behind the poems in "Paterson".