Most movies about writers end with the kind of victory movies have conditioned us to expect: publication and awards…the writer we watched grow getting everything in life many believe comes to writers when they finally decide to publish. (As though it were that easy.)
Paterson is not that movie — and because of that, I loved it.
Paterson has been out long enough that it’s not spoiling it if I say, “It’s about a guy who drives a bus in Paterson, New Jersey. He has his daily routine — and some of that routine is writing poetry in a notebook. Not much more happens than that.”
So many movies with that start would end up like this: Paterson finds a mentor…maybe a street-wise poet who drags Paterson to a poetry slam. Paterson takes his knocks, but rises up to become the ruler of the scene, being praised as the best when he crushes a rival poet in act three. (Because there must always be a rival poet, right?) Maybe it ends with him heading off to drive a bus in New York City, with the unwritten finale that he will take the Big Apple by storm as well.
If the movie does well: Paterson II!
Instead, it’s about a guy with a day job who writes when he can.
There is a little twist in Paterson, and I won’t spoil that for you. But it’s to ruin nothing to say the movie ends with a daily routine: Paterson getting up to go to work.
It might sound boring to many, even with the little twist that leads to what could be a forced scene were it not all so beautifully handled. The whole movie is like a weird dream, this thing that could easily slip from melancholy to depressing…but never does. Looking at some reviews, many people found it too slow a movie for their tastes. To each their own: that’s one of the things I loved most about it.
In Paterson (the movie and the character of the same name), there is a realistic hope: not of riches and fame, but that the daily routine fuels the protagonist’s love of writing. It’s a reminder that we are not alone, going to work and doing the things we love doing in our spare time. Maybe nothing more ever happens, other than the routine of work and writing.
But if you claim to love writing that much, is that so bad, doing the thing you love doing at least a little bit every day?
Sure, for many (myself included), the big dream is doing the thing we love full time. With that, though, come certain conditions: others having a say in what you write; fans demanding you appease them, or else they will rush to change (dot) org and start a petition to have you do what they want; critics pulling out their knives.
There is something to be said for simply telling the stories you wish to tell and having a handful of people who understand your goals as a writer read them.
Honestly, were money no object, I don’t think I would ever try publishing a thing.
And that’s why I loved this movie…
The Beauty of Days
Even when I had day jobs I hated like few have ever hated a day job, I loved writing more. These days, I don’t hate my day jobs, but they are still not how I want to spend my days.
But there are realities in what we choose and what we do. Sure, I could go off and live in the woods on the super cheap and write, but I like seeing my friends…and I’d not expect my wife to share in wanting a life in the wild. I like the little creature comforts we have.
I could complain that life isn’t fair — that I’ve worked harder and smarter than so many others who have “made it,” but…I know life is not fair like that.
And so…I may not drive a bus like Paterson, but I wake up, write a bit, and get ready for work. I write on my lunch break in a back corner of a crowded cafeteria. I sometimes write in the evenings if my wife goes to bed early. Weekends usually afford me even more time to write.
In it all, there is a certain beauty. I may never write full time (in fact, that’s the most likely reality for most writers), but that doesn’t mean I’m prevented from doing this thing I love.
Paterson captures the beauty in doing something you love in spite of time and the responsibilities of life getting in the way. Tomorrow I will wake up at 5:30 in the morning, and my day job will take up most of my waking time.
If you’re lucky, though, you wake up and do your thing.
And if you love writing enough, you figure out where it fits inside the slow rush of days.
I’ve not seen that handled better than it is handled in Paterson. And I suspect I never will…