Friday, February 25, 2011

"Common Man"

I have not posted in a while. As in so many of my ambitious moments, I planned to "follow through," to post daily, to write for my blog frequently and at great length. But, of course, these ambitious moments come frequently and are rarely followed through - or else there would be about 50 pages of content on my blog. School, the news paper, the etcetera etcetera of day to day - minutia ballooning into do or die. Excuses, excuses - I've had my free moments. 

Do I write about my days? Do I write about what I'm doing? Do I write about my life, my opinions, my hopes, dreams, ambitions, short comings...? All of these little things compose Paul Driskill - a predominantly unknown entity, drifting in and out of rooms and lives.

Let's start with this. There have been several nights during which I could not sleep because I was possessed by an ambitious idea. I'm tired of reading interviews with celebrities, prominent members of this or that, people who jumped in front of buses. Sure, all these people have earned their time in the limelight (I probably wouldn't jump in front of a bus - I'm not particularly heroic). But, who is to say that this creature known informally as "the common man" hasn't earned his place in the limelight? Doesn't the "common person" work hard? I'm fairly "common" and I think that I've deserved a little recognition. 

"Common people."
Common, what a stupid word. Who is common? Who is fully part of the status quo - there is no such thing as a cliche human being. Everyone is an individual. This is no news to anyone who might be reading this - you are in the same proverbial boat as me. 

Logo for "The Common Man Portsmouth" restaurant.
I want to know who you are! Don't you get it? I'm tired of this bullshit following of stupid nonsense. Who the hell is Linsey Lohan and why does she eat up so much attention?  Why is she more worthy of the spotlight than Joe Shmoe, who (by the way), is more interesting and more human? We are infected with celebrity. Yes, they're in movies. People know who they are because, yes, they are unusually pretty and don't flinch in front of cameras. But they play you. They play common people. We're interested in movies about ourselves, so why don't we devote some attention to reality and stop living in this false-world they orchestrate for us. If we're going to watch a movie about a bus-driver who has it tough in downtown DC why wouldn't we want to know about a real bus driver who has it tough in downtown DC? 

Reality TV? What is that? Not real. How many 16 year olds are pregnant? Why should I care about these televised ones who exploited their situation to make money? Why do I care about these people who are on an island and might not be next week - wow, really exciting... More exciting than reality? Than real people? Maybe - but shouldn't there be some subtraction from these shows based on the fact that it is entirely fake. It's fake. This, me sitting in a chair at my desk, rambling about reality television and other pointless bull shit, this is more real than anything could ever be on television or in those big dark boxes where people get together to watch false realities (movie theaters). Sorry, I'll try and stay away from such obscure metaphors.

Do I sound insane?

Am I making any sense?
Photoshop Snowflake Brush Set
Hey look, it's you, you pretty bastard.
Handle with care.

I'm interested in you. The so-called and self-identifying "common man." You are not common - it is impossible to be common. No one has lived a life like mine and no one has lived a life like yours. I'm not trying to purport to the "snowflake" ideal in which we are all wonderful and unique. We are not all wonderful, but we are all unique. Some of us are wonderful, but we're not fragile like snowflakes - we don't melt in the palm of some stranger's hand. We work hard and through our daily attempts to survive and (for too few of us) to thrive. This daily battle crystalizes into oblique, obscure ugly shapes - unique, sharp angles, cracking out like broken bones and breeching into other people. We're not snowflakes, because we're not fragile - we don't live in a society that promotes symmetry or a slow, drifting descent from high up where it's cold and clean.

Okay, I need to step away from that metaphor. 

Actors are trying to play us. So let's pay more attention to us, that's all I'm trying to say. 

Help me do this. Help me learn who you are. I don't know any of you, really, but I want to. I want to know what your story is. I want to hear your personal narrative, I want to know what it is like to be you from day to day. 

I bought an audio recorder. I have time and I'll make time. 

But where do I begin? 

Good old UMB. Taken from the UMB website.
At school. It's a project I have cleverly titled "the Voices of UMass." Why shouldn't I start at my school of 15,000 - a school with a population of 50 percent non-white in a state that is nearly 80 percent white. Where better to begin a demonstration of the diversity of the so-called "common" people? I can't think of anywhere. 

But how do I interview total strangers? Do I try and get them to talk to me in the hall when they're on their way to class? Do I go to the caff to get them to talk to me while they're eating pizza? Do I sit somewhere with a sign posted to my chest reading "I will interview you"? Do I get them in the library? 

I'm not particularly brave, not particularly outgoing. I'm not a hermit, though. But it's really quite difficult going up to random folks. So, I've narrowed my search. I'm trying to get interviews of people loosely connected to me. I've emailed one fellow in my professional writing class and sent another a message on Blackboard. They at least know I'm not trying to sell them something or trying to come on to them. 

I may try and get people closer to me to interview - my close friends, not-so-close friends, my roommates, my family... anyone. I just need momentum and some place to go. 

Studs Terkel. Holy Crap,
this dude is awesome.
I must confess, while I have had some idea that I want to do this for a while now, the true spark that set off the gunpowder in my mind, is another book called Working by Studs Terkel. The strange thing is I haven't even read it. But the idea of it was enough. He interviewed common people. 

Maybe you're thinking "why would you do what he already did?" Well, his book was published in 1978... 33 years ago. 33 is an eternity to someone my age (just barely 21). 

Maybe I'll get someone to talk to me. That's step one.


  1. Paul, have you published this piece yet in Mass Media? It is beyond exceptional writing. I now understand your motivation for this series. After meeting you in person, I can see that you write the way you speak. I am so impressed by this blog. And I am excited (I think that's the word I'm looking for) to read your first "Common Man" piece.

  2. I agree. This is great writing. I also couldn't agree more with your frustration with people idolizing celebrities. It's so completely absurd and I can not stand how everyone puts them on a pedestal.