Deriving Originality

Very much to my surprise, I find myself cranking up the radio when Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’  “Can’t Hold Us” comes on when I’m in the car.  I couldn’t fall asleep one night because Fall Out Boy’s “My Songs Know What You Did In the Dark” was stuck in my head. Still, I know all the words to Darius Rucker’s remake of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” and I very much enjoy Yo-Yo Ma’s rendition of Bach’s Cello Suite. Beyond musical preferences, I discovered I have an unexplained liking for lace-up boots when I usually prefer high heels. I occasionally watch reruns of Avatar when I very distinctly remember thinking the plot was weird.

Before I went to college, none of this would have been true.  However, having lived in such close quarters, I realize just how frequently dorm life presents infinite opportunities to be exposed to all sorts of new things, good and bad. Thus, I have been able to reflect upon the absurd but somehow obvious assertion that much of who we are as individuals, perhaps even more than we would like to think or admit, is made up of others.

I realize this is nothing new.  Like I said before, it’s actually quite obvious.  We’re all affected by our surroundings and the people in our lives.  What’s absurd to me is that even though it’s so obvious, we still cling to the premise of being individualistic and original, of being irreplaceable and entirely unique.

Now, I am not here to dispute either argument.  I am most interested in considering them together. How can we be a mix of others while still being ourselves? When does it become old hat? How is it possible to derive originality?

Relax.  I’m not going through some sort of identity crisis.  I am, however, evaluating the discrepancies of my own exposure to myriad ideas and concepts while supposedly cementing my own foundation in the world.  In one of my classes last semester, we discussed the merits of self-definition through making distinctions between what “is” and what “is not.”  Someone pointed out that, oftentimes, it is much easier to say, “That isn’t me,” than to explain exactly what “I am…”

I remember reading a quote from somewhere that goes something like this: “There are only a handful of stories but they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never been told before.”

Wow.  Now that’s a statement.

I happen to disagree with it very much, but I can certainly see where it has some merit. In my own experience, many of the stories I’ve read (and trust me, I have read a lot) do indeed carry what some would label “derivative” ideas/plot lines/metaphors – the most common being: the protagonist triumphs over adversity and gets a happy ending while the antagonist gets what’s coming to him (excepting, perhaps, William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  I could go on for several posts about each of those novels, but I won’t bore you with that. Not now, at least).

Anyway, I believe that every author needs to have some sort of foundation to go off of.  As one of my professors said, you need to know the rules before you can break the rules.  If you don’t, the story won’t make sense.  Still, I don’t think stories are derivative.  Each story has some unique attribute, even if it is only the combination of varying degrees of derivative ideas in unique ways, thus deriving originality.

So, in a very roundabout way, I suppose I have come to a conclusion – for now, anyway.  I can still be unique, I can still be entirely myself, even if I’m continuously picking up or discarding all sorts of ideas, characteristics, and attributes, which may or may not be derivative, because the circumstances in which I combine them is entirely unique.


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