I'm so pleased to be back for a teaching stint in Orvieto, Italy. The town is about an hour northeast of Rome. I'm teaching two classes for the Arizona in Italy Summer Study Abroad Program. I teach a course in creative non-fiction that invites students to unpack their experiences. We just finished reading Phil Doran's delightful The Reluctant Tuscan. I also teach a film and lit course with the same goal--to help students get a better sense of their surroundings and themselves. We just finished reading E.M. Forster's Where Angels Fear to Tread; today's movie selection is A Room with a View, the Merchant and Ivory film based very closely on the eponymous novel, again by E.F. Forster.
This weekend I traveled cinematographically all the way to the town of Paterson, NJ. In Jim Jarmusch’s new film, bus driver Paterson (Adam Rider) takes us on his daily tour of the city while he picks up passengers and delivers them to their destinations. But to us he delivers something much different—a quiet celebration of life. Paterson spends his time enjoying simple pleasures: a job well done, a glass of beer with friends, an evening with his wife (Golshifteh Farahani). But he is no ordinary bus driver. He is also a poet, and every day he records his thoughts in ways that reflect wonder. He may see the same waterfall every day, but inside it he finds the beauty of the universe.
Halfway through the movie, my friend asked if anything were going to happen. It was a valid question. In Paterson nothing happens—and everything happens. Bus driver Paterson shows us a whole world by taking us inside his. He muses on William Carlos Williams, the influential doctor-poet who was from the area. He walks an unfriendly dog. He indulges his idea-rich wife. Throughout, Paterson retains quiet dignity. While his supervisor has new complaints every day, Paterson accepts his life and embraces it. He recognizes that every single moment is worthy of observation.
Paterson is a writer’s movie. It celebrates those of us who are never far from a notebook, who consider pen and paper to be primordial daily gear. We might not be able to explain why we must stop everything and record our thoughts. We might never even want to share them. But somehow, no matter where we are, we live through our words. They come to us unbidden yet vibrant. They tap us on the shoulder demanding to be captured, demanding to be recognized.
Like Paterson, we obey.
What are your own Paterson moments? What makes you get out your notebook and start to write?
Travel is my biggest inspiration. In fact, my motto is that when it comes to travel, no excuse is too small. But now that I'm writing more fiction, I have a special need for the perfect setting. You never know when something exciting or suspicious might take place in a colorful foreign setting!