A Critical Mind

Around 1am on a humid 4th of July, I waited outside of my friends’ hotel in New Orleans’ French Quarter. I came to New Orleans for my college roommate’s wedding; and after the nuptials, shooting a music video at the reception, and a drink in hand for the past nine hours, it was time to hit the streets and play. As I waited for the rest of my party, I pulled out my phone, pressed record, and focused on a small piece of paper from my wallet, to share on my Instagram stories.

“One day I’ll tell the story of this piece of paper and why I keep it in my wallet,” I said in a slow cadence. I am unsure of what prompted me to do so; perhaps Chad who had a little alcohol in his system forced a promise I had to keep in sobriety. Nonetheless, today is August 29, 2021, which means Single Dadventure has been a live and active website for nine years. So here is the story of a little paper receipt…

Genvieve did not like her previous pseudonym. She told me in her culture, it often has a negative association, so I’ll give her another one: Noiéme. The second time I came into Noiéme’s establishment, she asked me questions about America’s educational system, and we dialoged about how it differed from ones in Europe. “I’m not sure how to say it in English,” Noiéme said, as she placed the phrase into Google Translate, to explain what seemed to be an abstract essence.

“Critical mind,” Noiéme said to me. She explained how from a very young age, children are programmed and trained to question the world around them, for it is what makes each person unique and how they contribute to society. I explained how most are schooled in America to become part of the proverbial, invisible caste systems, which tend to sort children into their adult professions, and there can be consequences for those who question. My last sentence may have sounded a little dark; however, it was quite lighthearted and served for good dialog.

“What does the phrase, Critical Mind, mean in French?” I asked. Noiéme reached for her phone and showed me her Google Translate page, as she said “esprit critique.”

“I like that” I replied. After our exchange, the concept of espirit critique struck a chord with me and was stuck in my head for days.

There is a difference between the phrases critical mind and esprit critique. In my undergraduate studies, the facet of psychology I was most fascinated with and thrived in is called discourse analysis, the study of language and context. Perhaps a combination of my formative years as a nonchalant kid who developed a knack for the provocation of knee-jerk-or Freudian slip-reactions from others, nature and nurture prompted this affinity and talent. Esprit critique resonates because in French, it carried a significance more aligned with its purpose.

The former commends an aspect-or possession-of a person, a trait. The latter is who said person is, their essence. For example, if I were to say “Noiéme has a critical mind,” it would commend how she thought. On the other hand, I would word it as “Noiéme is esprit critique.” Both statements carry a complimentary connotation. The roots of each language state how and why both phrases are similar. English, the Western Germanic is about the mind and French, a Romance Language, literally refers to one’s spirit.

A few days later, I returned to Noiéme’s establishment and asked “Can you write esprit critique on a piece of paper?” She pulled out a sliver of blank receipt paper from her register and wrote it down, in French, twice. In my mind, I saw the two words, as a picture worth a couple thousand, which included the 1,000 or so I wanted to write, which became this essay. I do not think I told Noiéme how, why, or the reason for my inquiry. I told her “thank you,” placed the piece of paper in my wallet, and went on with my day.

In discourse analysis, I learned about the power of words. In sessions with my therapist or conversations with friends, I can and will describe how I feel in intricate detail, and the whole experiences is shrouded in confusion. However, one perfect word will unlock a door; and what was once elusive becomes obvious.

Perhaps it is a narrative I have created in my own mind, nonetheless, I felt seen after Noiéme handed me the piece of paper. With pride, I have worn on my sleeve-and written about-my childhood insecurity, feeling misunderstood and a fear of rejection because of it. I have always stuck out like a sore thumb wherever I was placed, marched to the beat of my own sampler, it would be an understatement to say rebellious, and many would say pretty intense. I have always owned all the qualities stated. Nonetheless, the nonchalant shell which kept me safe was also my defensive wall I ran into, over and over in the form of fears of success, imposter syndrome, and an attitude of “Who gives a fuck what anyone else thinks? I’m too cool to care.”

The quote above is a wonderful way to live; however, it is a high-maintenance mantra which requires lots of care, otherwise it becomes a way of survival instead, or an oversized ego.

I needed those words. It answered many questions I have pondered, then gave me an uncountable amount more. It allowed me to be kinder to myself, ask my inner child for forgiveness and reconcile with young Chad Milner’s needs, seek to understand on another level, and perhaps the most important, lead with vulnerability. Family, close and distant friends, longtime followers and fans have noticed a change in me. I have been told I look and feel lighter. There has been a gradual evolution over the past year or so; but a shift happened when I finally learned the phrase which best described what I felt were biproducts of my shortcomings: esprit critique.

I have kept the piece of paper in my wallet ever since. It is a reminder of who I am. Hell, I keep it in my wallet because esprit critique is what generates what goes in and out of it.

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned as I have worked on my album and book is everyone wants to feel as if they matter. So Noiéme, thank you for this. My little receipt needs to be laminated; the ink has begun to smudge and I plan to keep this with me. And in my own little way, you’re with me wherever I go, too.

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