Being Original

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First of all, thank you. Thanks for the incredible response and the dialogue in the comments box on the last post.

I am floored.

A lot of the discussion got me thinking about why originality matters so much, since this seems to be a key issue in this next generation of bloggers. What makes writers or artists truly a special snowflake?

I’ve been thinking about two special snowflakes in history in particular: my favorite American composer, Aaron Copland, and Emily Dickinson, whose writing was edited right after her death to fit more in with the norms of the day. To the detriment of everything that made her poetry so unique and punchy. (Thanks to Outlandish Notions for reminding me of my affection for Dickinson.)

As a writer, I am not as original as I’d like to be, in great honesty. I think Faces of ALI is probably my most “original” idea, and even it is a careful retelling of other people’s stories. There’s probably a few reasons for this. At my middle school and high school (as I’m sure was the case for most people), uniqueness of any kind was jeered and shunned. I had some mild mean girl experiences and learned to keep quiet and not make waves in order to survive. At my beach-y, paradise college, I played up my mellow, fun side to maximum effect to fit in. (Which was not terribly difficult, I must say.)

It’s fascinating for me to see a world where originality is awarded and closely scrutinized. Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, blogs: all of these places are outlets to “express” creativity, yet so few writers/artists truly do have anything new to say or show.

Another reason I have been thinking about this a lot is that my daughter shows signs of having no interest in following trends, whether it be clothing, hair, music or, well, anything really. The way she dresses is starkly different than her friends: she cut her hair into an artfully styled bob (and actually set a trend with that), she loves fashion from the 20s and 30s. I cannot dress her. She won’t let me. I try really hard to not mold her but instead allow her to heed her artistic whims. Even though my instinct is to not let her do that.

I guess the instinct to conform is itself deeply rooted in my personality. Or it was, at least, until infertility hit. By no longer fitting into the norms (all my other friends were mostly building their families according to exact plans), I became “other.” Being different was somewhat liberating. I sort of went in an eccentric and reclusive direction, becoming a mysterious figure.

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This is a small example, a seriously small example of being different, but no one I know bakes much. I was a hostess for a baby shower and I wanted to do something thoughtful and cool for my friend who is awesome. So I baked the cake and cupcakes myself, from a frosting I’ve perfected from another blogger (NOT ORIGINAL!) and I graduated the favorite color tones of my friend who was being honored into different cake layers. (Confession: that terrible photo has been photoshopped.) This is not unique either: you could argue (successfully) that if anything, ombre is on its way out. But no one at the shower could believe that I had made (BAKED!) this really cool cake. It blew their minds. It also tasted really good, so that helped. I think they thought it was REALLY WEIRD (original?) that I had made that cake.

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Anyway, I think it takes a lot of time and energy to truly think long and hard about making your work, whatever it is, stand out. Emily Dickinson didn’t have much of a personal life and lived with her parents. She rarely left her home after her early twenties. Aaron Copland traveled and studied with various muses and with different mentors, and even he struggled because his music very much went against the grain during the Depression. Emily Dickinson was never recognized during her lifetime. Aaron Copland had a very brief period in the 40s of writing brilliant music that blazed a new trail. Originality, it seems, has a short shelf life. Unless you are Picasso.

Do you strive to be original? Or do you prefer to write within accepted norms?

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “Being Original

  1. I never think much about being original. I guess I just assume I’m not creative enough to do that. I do think I would be brave enough to put my originality out there, if I ever had the inspiration to be original, but I doubt that will ever happen to me. Being original is really hard, it requires a thinking-outside-the-box that we are not taught in our country much anymore. It is a skill that we don’t cultivate much and those that are able to cultivate originality despite that are few and far between.

    I don’t have much of interest or talent to share with the world but I am good at being honest. I don’t have a lot of shame and I don’t worry about people knowing things about me. Many probably consider me an over-sharer and some probably dislike me for it. Almost everyone at my school (the staff, not the students) already knows we’re struggling with IF and I know that is an odd thing. But I don’t like to hide stuff, I want to live my life with my heart on my sleeve. I don’t want to help propagate the “Facebook fantasy life” mentality that seems so prevalent these days (that of only sharing the good and presenting your life as all Pinterest picture perfect).

    Anyway, not sure where I’m going with all this. But I should probably stop.

  2. I think writing is always original. Even if two people write the same sentence, it won’t have every nuance identical. Words don’t stand alone; every story has a story. Even in retelling, there are differences. The spirit of the words is what brings originality. I believe that it’s the teller, not the tale.

    That cake does look mighty tasty!

  3. I don’t strive to be original, and I’m pretty sure there’s nothing original about my blog (all standard templates and skin stuff too!). Same at school – being different, I just learnt to keep my head down and blend into the background to try and avoid trouble.
    I love that your daughter has that uniqueness going on, and long may she hold on to it and not be chiselled away by peers/society.

    Cake looks yum there

  4. chhandita

    I have never followed trends. I have always lived and done, and written what I wanted. I never cared what people thought of me. I guess being in media helped because I was expected to be different. I love how your daughter is her own person.

  5. A winning formula with an original twist – I believe this might be a happy compromise.

  6. My writing/blog is not original, but I think my bluntness is. It surprises people at times, but I am not one to sugar-coat ANYTHING. I just can’t do it!

    Where my life is original is in the kitchen, even though I don’t spend a lot of time there. Ha! I need recipes, but use them as a template for the most part. I do not buy things like pies,and cookies – they must be homemade. I put a ton of effort into food I take to the dreaded potluck, when everyone else beings store bought junk food. I refuse to conform by buying food to share. Every time I show up at a potluck (and if we can’t come, I still drop off food!), people are shocked I cooked. What?

    So yeah, my tone/persona tends to be original, as does my food sharing approach, but I would say that is all ;). My blog in and of itself, not original. However, I’m starting to notice that my honesty and optimism (which are very, very real) are a bit original.

  7. Just catching up on the last few posts. Lots to think about there, for sure.

    I don’t cultivate originality on my blog; not on purpose anyway. What I try and do, instead, is tell my story with honesty. The good, the bad, all of it. It’s my place to focus my thoughts and feelings and connect with other people who feel similarly. Always has been. And though I’ve seen other blogs change into branded, slicker versions, I’ve never been able to cultivate that for myself. I’m not sure I’d want to.

    So maybe 8 years ago when I started blogging I was original. Now I have no interest in keeping up with the trend. I’m me, my blog is an extension of me, and I’m fortunate enough that my little corner of the world hasn’t been visited all that often. 🙂

  8. I wouldn’t call my writing “original” but I do strive to be authentic and have a “voice” that is mine and mine alone. I’ve always been the kind of person that is mistaken for boring and average by people who don’t know me very well, but there’s more than meets the eye 🙂 I love your daughter’s style and that you cultivate it!

  9. I hadn’t thought of being original much, either. I think a LOT about being myself, my authentic self (sometimes it takes some sussing out to find that). You make me wonder: are those the same?

    You and your daughter are originals, for sure. That cake? FABULOUS!

  10. Mel

    When I got into my third paragraph, I realized I should probably just write my own post linking to yours vs. taking over your comment section: http://www.stirrup-queens.com/2013/01/can-you-label-yourself-original/

  11. I think that we’re more original, oddly enough, as children, when we pick and choose our mimicry.

    There’s a lot of talk right now about originality in the food blogger community (not actually on people’s blogs, oddly enough, but on G+), because of a rise in recipe-stealing without attribution. I try to be good about this, because I’m fully aware of intellectual property issues (more so now than when I first started blogging), but confess that I sometimes adapt things and maybe I don’t attribute in the right way. On the other hand, how many recipes are truly original? We have a limited number of ingredients, and similar ideas about umami … and boom, there’s moroccan stew.

    Like Mel, I think I appreciate people building on the ideas of others. It’s not necessarily “original,” but without a context, there’s no conversation. I don’t know if that makes any sense, or if I’m even commenting on the right kind of originality here, but that issue has been on my mind a lot lately.

    That, and I’ve been feeling like I have nothing original to say, and I’ve been saying pretty much nothing.

  12. circlesbecomeme

    Love the cake and the photo of your daughter. I too was a kid who worked so hard to fit in and now I am struggling to figure out who I am. I have moved countries a lot and the fitting in thing is a useful skill, but I kind of want to try on the being me thing too.

    but more than anything, i LOVED this sentence.. to me, this is an original sentence that just sings as it hints at a much bigger and complex reality:
    “I sort of went in an eccentric and reclusive direction, becoming a mysterious figure”

  13. I read this post in the wee hours of the morning yesterday, and I’m still thinking about it and figuring out what I want to say. I may emulate Mel and write a post in reply (is that unoriginal? Derivative? Derivative of derivative?)

  14. I agree that being original, or unique, is a double-edged sword. It’s interesting that you mention how infertility, which forced you to be original in a way, allowed you to claim ownership of who you are. In many ways I feel that a “forced” black-sheep moment for me (living as an expat, which is surely not unique [nor forced!], but often IS in my daily life) had the opposite effect. I want to fit in MORE because I am so aware of my sore thumb-ness, and because it is so easy to blame being different for all of my tough moments. However, I do find a certain freedom in people expecting me to be different. I am “allowed” to wear sneakers to work (which I then change out of) because that’s “what Americans do [in the movies].” And my having breakfast at my desk is tolerated because it’s so “American.” So at least that is nice. 😉

    (BTW, I think I might have used ALL of the analogies in the world in this short comment. Sorry about that!)

  15. So much food for thought here and in Mel’s post… I am not sure how much any of us is truly “original” or unique… we are all a product of many influences, some that we’re very aware of & some that we’re not — our genetics, the families we were raised in, the people around us, the books we read and other media we consume… although all those influences can combine in different ways, so that one child raised in the same family with similar influences can be very different from another.

    Of course, what might seem “average” or “normal” in one setting might be original or unique or very different in another, as Baby Ruth points out above.

  16. Pingback: news item: blogging about your kids – PAIL Bloggers

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