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.
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.
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?