I’m reading Patti Smith’s Just Kids right now, and it’s having a big impact on how I perceive myself and what I want to do with the gift of life.
When Patti Smith was a little girl, she found herself enraptured by the beautiful sight of a swan in the park. She asked her mother the name for this magnificent creature, and was dissatisfied with the simple answer of a “swan”, it failed to capture the essence of the bird’s attributes. She resolved that she would one day find the words necessary to animate such beauty.
About two decades later, she found herself experimenting with poetry, visual arts, and other means of expressing herself in NYC at the famous Chelsea Hotel. She was about my age, her early twenties, when she moved into the Chelsea. She was in her mid-twenties when she purchased her first guitar, and struggled at first to make songs out of her poetry, most amusingly because she didn’t realize one needs to tune an instrument.
Reading about her struggles, about her uncertainty in life, about the fact that all she knew was that she had some talent, damnit, and would find a way to make a real living out of it, gave me a very precious gift. It made me realize you don’t need to rush into success and satisfaction of any type, whether that’s personal, financial, spiritual, or artistic.
That may seem like a silly thing to learn from a book, but throughout my life, I felt that it was a priority to discover what it was I wanted out of life, what I wanted to be, career-wise, what kind of person I wanted to become, what values I wanted to uphold, so that I wouldn’t end up feeling aimless and transient. Which, of course, led to many a period of feeling hopeless and worried about how my life would turn out. Acquaintances in my age group would speak in hushed tones about the agony of one day waking up at 25, 35, 40, and realizing we’d wasted our potential, so we’d better find out what we wanted out of life now to avoid that sticky end.
Patti didn’t rush into being a rock star though. She started out doing a little bit of everything, working dull, menial jobs that paid very little, sharing expenses with future fellow artist, Robert Mapplethorpe, not sure what she was going to do but knowing that she had the talent and passion to make it when she found out what exactly was right for her. Along the way, she met many mentors, some whose names leapt off the page and others who were more obscure or forgotten, lived life to the fullest, and picked up many talents and hobbies. It was this meandering, these habits of a flaneur, which led to her being the rock star, poet, writer, and all around artistic driving force and legend she is today.
Awarded the top honours in the arts from France and Sweden, a multitude of incredible albums, and a book that’s pure genius, after spending her twenties eating cheese crackers, making necklaces, and taking polaroids of herself and Robert? Why should I worry needlessly about getting the top grades in my class, or picking a career now, or getting in the nth percentile of LSAT scores? It will not be my destruction if I take a few steps back and learn more about the person who is working towards these goals before I reach them, if I even do.
Thank you Patti. You were right. People Have the Power. You are giving me that power with each turn of the page of Just Kids.