John M D Mills
Significant moments in our early lives stay close to our memories because they contribute to our identities. I was about 17, sitting at the back of the bus heading towards Birmingham town centre after choir practise with a group of friends. John was speaking. Most times if not distracted; when John spoke, I always listened. At this stage of my life, I hadn’t acquired the same knowledge that he had due to a lack of investment into Politics, History, and Theory. I could only identify with his truth through a trigger of emotions. Since then, I have always stayed close to John’s craft for it has continued to trigger and answer several of my existential questions. John is a writer who expresses his craft through music, spoken word, blogging, and short stories. There is always something to take and reflect on from his work. I’m moved by the way John selflessly challenges the status quo through these mediums. His short stories are my personal favourite, for they gently ease me into the harshness of the world, without being too abrupt, whilst also allowing me to become the character and experience their reality before I face my own. After reading this insightful transcript about John, I urge you to explore his website, for it truly feels like entering a room full of surprises. Meet John M. D. Mills.
John M D Mills
In your short story Pub Wisdom, you state that “most people die inside by 29”. It felt like a reality check for me. These are your words, to what extent do they relate to you personally? You go on to say “the world breaks them into accepting personal mediocrity”, can you elaborate on this point?
The early lessons I experienced growing up is that by 30 people are set up, or supposed to be set up, but that wasn’t always the reality. There is a social standard to know and be available by a certain time. Being in church from the age of 15, you’d hear how Jesus was 30 when he revealed himself so that age always stood out to me. Personal mediocrity is what I see people accepting daily, I also see it in myself all the time. The doubt that comes with it all. It’s fine to fail or to succeed, we have those messages bombarded in our faces every day, but to be just average, that is what people don’t want to be, there’s no lesson with just being one of the crowd and with the easy route being to just join the crowd, you’re allowing the world to break you
How would you describe yourself to people? How did you fall in love with writing? Tell us about your background.
I call myself a writer but explain that I express in different mediums. I explain that by saying if you can write a story, you can write a script, a song, a school textbook etc.
I fell in love with writing early in life, dabbling at the age of 6 because of school. I taught myself to write earlier than that because I saw my older sister doing it, so I grabbed a pen and started scribbling. By the time I went to school, I’d already figured out a different way to hold the pen and despite the multiple teacher’s best efforts throughout my education; I still write like that to this day. It was something to do to stay out the way I guess and I spent those young years writing stories and trying to draw my own covers. Simple times.
I am from a working class background in South-West Birmingham, England, raised around a variety of cultures and religions as well as the dominant traditional white working class community. Growing up, knowing how common asbos are, seeing police activity in the area, people begging as well as all the personal existential problems growing up, being exposed to holy books and different cultures including importantly, the food, and trying to express yourself in the best way you can despite the hindrances. Growing up, the emphasis was always sports or entertainment. From young, I’d say I was conditioned that these were the only ways to move up the social ladder. Despite all my reading, further education and personal learning, there is still that remnant of belief there. Writing formed a release to get rid of the angst as well as comment on the world around me
You write and express your words through a number of avenues, from spoken word, rapping, blogging, and writing short stories. Amongst those, which do you enjoy doing the most?
I enjoy each medium for different reasons. Hip Hop for its ability to cover so much ground, the culture it represents and the barriers it breaks, spoken word for the form freedom and bare nakedness regarding the human experience, blogging to get my thoughts on the world out and short stories because I’m trying to stretch my mind to make a point about the human race in as few pages as possible. I always try to keep a note of human nature in my stories, mainly stuff I’ve lived or seen, but my imagination can go crazy when it needs to!
“Knowing thyself is the first step to changing yourself”. Can we ever truly know ourselves? Can you formulate your response with one ballad stanza? Feel free to explain your response if you feel you need to.
“Performing daily to stop the judgement
I’m judged anyway
The person I am when I’m all alone
Is the person I’d like to stay”
I just freestyled that! I believe we all perform and can get lost in that performance. We can lose ourselves in that sense, so even if a person knows who they are truly by 10-20%, they know they’re not being true to that part of them. I know for certain I perform daily. The person I want to be in public is the person who is free to be how I am when I’m alone. But social life doesn’t demand that person. There is an image we’re shown which is what we’re meant to be like otherwise we break the norm and are to be judged. The problem is, you’re judged even when you’re attempting to be the norm so it’s a catch 22. Life. There’s also knowing when you have to escape your comfort zone which is a journey in and of itself
Who are your main influences?
I have a few! Other than those directly around me and those who I was raised by, my parents are my biggest influences in that respect as I reflect them I suppose, there’s categories of favourites
Life influences are: Malcolm X, Patrice Lumumba, Marcus Aurelius and John Brown
Literary influences are: Hemingway, Camus, Sartre, Baldwin, Salinger, Hobsbawm and Achebe
Hip Hop influences are: Nas, Lupe Fiasco, Wu-Tang Clan, DMX and Scarface
Poetry influences are: Walt Whitman and Seamus Heaney
In one of your YouTube videos, you explain that The Bible, The Quran, and The Autobiography of Malcom X are books you have been reading every year for the past four years, what fundamental lessons do each of these books teach you that you feel are necessary to anyone reading this?
The Bible and the Quran represent over half of the world’s religious belief in population numbers and are the two holy books which promote evangelising the faith. History and the world today reflect the decision of the followers of these faiths to spread the message initially. The Western culture is hugely influenced by the Christian faith and the enemy to the ever evolving ideology of the West for over a 1000 years is the Muslim faith. I see it as reading them both yearly helps me gain further insight into the divide and to help me understand the world around me. Each year I take something different. The fundamental for both the Bible and Quran is that there is truth and it must be told. The interesting part is that these two books disagree on the message!
Malcolm X changed my life. I read his autobiography at the age of 15, I hardly read before that and as soon as I finished it, I started reading more and more to the point people meeting me for the first time after a year or two believed I’d been reading my entire life. What gets me year after year is the ever growing openness to personal transformation and honesty he portrays. It’s the human spirit that is just, disciplined, convicted and yet malleable to truth and growth. I know he had his flaws but I love the man. I believe his story should be mandatory reading for all people. He should be taught in more depth in the Western World as he is still to this day misunderstood by the masses.
Do we establish our own purposes, or do you think they are predestined?
I believe we’re predestined to establish our own purposes. This should energise us to be the best we can be but too often doesn’t. Too often the word predestination can lead to apathy in regards to day to day matters e.g. the world is terrible, it must be predestined this way so I’ll just stay in bed etc. whereas in it’s true context it shows that the day to day matters, the choices we make matter and they do have an effect and that should strengthen us. I have to remind myself this a lot as I lose hope easily.
Where is your safe haven?
I’ve only learnt this on the basis that I’ve been pretty inactive in the last 18 months but it would have to be; in the studio recording, on the stage performing, at a desk writing on my laptop with a hot drink close by or when I’m chilling with my girlfriend and we’re both doing our own thing, the fact we can be in each other’s presence doing our own stuff and there’s no force to talk unless we want to, I find that peaceful. I don’t have to perform when I’m in any of these settings. I also love my daily shower and the first sip of coffee in the morning. It’s the simple things sometimes.
If you were told to write a book in exchange for a reward you couldn’t say no to, what would you write about?
Depends on the genre! If fiction; I’d write a collection of short stories exploring Christianity and it’s involvement in the day to day life of the West throughout the centuries past and the ones in future, I love a bit of dystopia. If non-fiction; probably a general guide of the effect of the British involvement in the Scramble for Africa and the ramifications it has on both the African countries and on the British to this day.
Amongst the work you have written so far, which is a personal favourite for you?
I always tend to think my best work is the next work but as you’ve asked, I’d say a personal favourite is a poem about a dream I had which I tend to perform a lot. I haven’t formally released it as I’ve overthought the process to do it too much and believe no marketing scheme can do it justice. I’ll get to it soon I believe. I think that piece, when I perform it right, it does everything I’d wish a spoken word performance to be. It takes you on a journey and comments on a wider issue without preaching to you.
And finally, what would you like to be remembered for?
That I was useful and that I conquered myself, the latter being the key to the former in my eyes. All the creative stuff flows from me trying to benefit others and conquer my own demons. I would hate for people to be at my funeral thinking I’d wasted my time and I think I’d rather not have lived than to be described as useless. I’d also like to be known as a man of integrity, but for that my life needs to prove it.