By Pam Pacelli Cooper
Riding the train from Cambridge to Downtown Boston has become a lonely business over the last 5 years. The once lively cars have quieted down as passengers dive ever more deeply into reading their texts and e-mails and zoning out to the music pulsing through their ear pods. Like individual gel capsules, they are insulated from a touch, a question, a random encounter that might lead to a long friendship or an animated discussion.
I see people whose faces interest me and I want to ask them something, or say hello. I want to smile at the person I see regularly, and at least make eye contact so we can acknowledge one another’s presence, but these simple wishes have come to feel like they’d be intrusions that would puncture the gel capsule and disturb the inhabitant, perhaps even anger them. I wonder how many of the riders would be able to describe their surroundings accurately on a witness stand or register that the woman who always sits in the back left hand corner of the train has bright blue hair and wears origami earrings in the shape of frogs. I leave the train feeling kind of blue, and a little scared about the degree of disconnection I’m experiencing.
But after I saw the film “Paterson,” directed by Jim Jarmusch, I felt a small bounce of hope in the wonder and power of connection that can be found in routine. “Paterson” is the story of a bus driver and poet who goes to work every day at the same time via the same route. At night, he returns to the modest house he shares with his artist girlfriend, takes their balky dog out for a walk, stops at the same bar, sees all the same “regulars,” has one drink, and goes home to bed. We follow him for seven days of his life—and two plus hours of ours.
If you check the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, you’ll find that 75% of the audience loved it, but the 25% who hated it, REALLY hated it. Examples: “If you like watching paint dry…” “slice of humdrum life…” “I’ve already seen ‘Groundhog Day’…” and “Why should we care about a mediocre poet and his ditzy girlfriend and what they do all day?”
I care as a personal historian because I know that I can only help someone else tell their story if I can see the sparkle in my life. Even in a daily routine things are always changing, but not at the warp speed we are used to seeing in movies and which we have come to expect of our life stories. My clients often compare their stories to the Protean tales on the movie screen, and then think their stories are not worth telling. I feel it is my job to show them how off-base that is.
I loved “Paterson” because it celebrated the creativity in regularity, showed me how most of us are like the people in the movie: we are not geniuses, yet we strive for joy and pursue our creative impulses. That is how humans are constructed: as connectors and creators. — The greatest revelations about ourselves reside in the nuance within patterns that are repeated day after day. Each of us is, like the bus driver and his wife, trying to live joyously with the circumstances we are given, finding liberation in all the small wonders contained in our daily routines.
The next time you are on a train, look around. Take out your pods and listen. Look up. Get a feel for the general mood around you. Observe the character in the faces. Then, as you exit, think about the things you count on in your own routine, and how they sustain you, enrich you, help you grow as a person.
And if you possibly can, please go see this film. If you adore it, write me and tell me why. If you can’t abide it, please do the same.