"Write what you know." That is the advice I began my journey to becoming a serious writer with. It's so simple, an easy place to begin a very long journey. It's not a cliff to jump off of, not an ocean to cross. Instead it is a step as easy as the first one you took through your front door this morning. The creative process fascinates a lot of people, me included, because it isn't static. It is always evolving and growing, filling new spaces as we discover them, as we grow and as we shed parts of ourselves. The journey from napkin to reality is amazing, it is the journey of creation by the human hand and mind. For me that fascination, the thing that made me long for this road, was a movie when I was a child. For Jai Jones it was looking at packaging on a store shelf, studying it and taking his first steps.
I met with Jai over breakfast at The Harbinger on King St. (If you haven't been, then go...right now.) Jai has a wonderful spirit about him. He walks as though he has met himself, that he is comfortable with the rhythm of his speech, the gait of his walk and the look in his eye. It is an uncommon enough thing to encounter that it carries a certain air of mysticism with it as the sun comes up, slowly lighting King. His presence is apparent at all times, he listens with his eyes, paying careful attention to every detail, every moment of your conversation, taking as much in through his eyes as his ears. He is not silent, and the gentle bass of his voice carries with it a presence all its own, as though an old friend has come to sit at the conversation and just be there.
As a young boy, Jai moved with his mother to Saudi Arabia, where she worked as a physician. His time there showed him a side of the world many have not seen. He grew to have a deeper appreciation of Middle Eastern culture, to have names to put to faces and see them for what they are, human beings just like us. It also showed him some darker sides; a stark wealth disparity and the issues women face in certain theocracies. They are not lessons forgotten, but our perspective can only be as big as the world we have seen. This is the problem with building bubbles, we shut out the rest of the world, letting in only what we want to see and hear. We lose not only opposing views but also great beauty and a tremendous amount of love. Jai continues to travel, he loves it and he speaks with the wisdom of a man who has learned how much bigger the world is than himself.
As a child Jai had a fascination in stores. Not with the items themselves, but with their packaging. He would take boxes from the shelf, with no interest in the item, and just study the design of the packaging. This is where his love of design, his creative journey, began. It didn't stop at that either. Like so many creative minds, Jai's grew and grew, drawing upon his passions and driving him to new endeavors. He began working with photography as well as writing. His blog, JaiEats, is an incredible look at the culinary world of Charleston through the eyes of someone who loves food. When he tells me about it, I am an instant fan. I have been catching up on it today, and it is wonderful.
"Write what you know."
Jai wants to guide his blog to some of the more unknown spots in Charleston, to enhance what we know of the food and culture around us. He tells me it is about "shaping the texture of Charleston," and I begin to think about the role of creatives in the world. About how we might be able to open the world to other people, to write what we know and, in that action, show someone something they don't. I wonder if I have done that here, with these stories, with these days past. More cups of coffee, more walks and a bigger world. There are far worse legacies left in the world. Of that I am certain.
My time with Jai was brief, but warm. He has opened my eyes to what the walls of a cafe look like, to the design in every little thing. As we walk out, I look at his eyes and notice that they have a particular way of scanning the room, of taking in all of the elements. He appreciates the design in all things; in the color of a wall, the texture of a table, the presence of a person.
Favorite Dinosaur: Stegosaurus
Why: He marched to the beat of his own drum. The plates on his back, the way he lived, he was the most unique and the most memorable.