Can You Label Yourself Original?
Too Many Fish to Fry has a great post that asks an interesting question: do you strive to be original? I started writing a long comment on her blog, but when it crossed into its third paragraph, I decided to move it to my own blog rather than use up that much space on hers.
I think it’s a question without an answer. Not because we should all be striving for originality, but because I don’t think we are the best judges of our own originality. Once we start getting that conscious and thinking that hard about originality, we start moving into either conformity or rebelling against conformity. Neither of those states are true originality. And even worse than conforming or rebelling against conformity is being a colourless, definitionless blob that only holds form as a comparison to others. That isn’t very original either.
I think originality, much like free-spiritedness — is something OTHERS use to describe a person vs. used by the person themselves. I once had a person describe herself as a free-spirit while she was speaking to me. All I could think was that true free-spirits are not trying to define themselves. Therefore, by definition, that woman was not a free-spirit. It’s an Escher-like trick! Once you label yourself, you no longer are the label.*
And I think originality is a lot like that too. It’s a word that we can use to describe others, describe their projects, ideas, etc. But it’s not really a word we can apply to ourselves and do it authentically. You know how you can always tell when someone is trying too damn hard to be quirky vs. someone who is naturally quirky? I think striving for originality, stressing about it too much, can have the opposite effect on being able to march to the beat of your own drummer. Because if you’re defining yourself like that, you’re thinking too much about what other people think, comparing yourself to much to others, caring too much about what others are doing.
In other words, you stop listening to your own drummer in order to listen to everyone else’s drummer just to make sure that your drummer is playing a different beat.
Some of my favourite work is derivative of others. Some of my favourite blog posts are derivative of others! This blog post is derivative of Jjiraffe’s. I like it when people riff off of one another, expanding, changing, bending, and folding ideas or visuals. And remember, originality isn’t always admirable. There are plenty of horrible original ideas floating in space, ideas that you hopefully wouldn’t want to own or have attributed to you. I think originality is held up as something we should want to strive to be, but I would argue a different world formation.
I’m not a fan of leadership. I neither want to be a leader, nor do I want to follow a leader. I am fine with the concept that someone needs to be in charge at times, and I can get behind the idea of a boss. But overall in life, I prefer to surround myself with people who neither lead me somewhere nor follow me.
I am someone who is much more comfortable with the concept of sideways. Of tossing out ideas, conversing, building, supporting. I hold the original idea sacred, and I believe all incarnations of the idea after that should honour the original thought, but I think there are millions of ways to do that, and all of those offshoots become originals in their own right once they have legs to stand on. I think whether or not we strive for originality, we end up — inadvertently — with originality.
Hence how none of us are replaceable; why the world changes when any of us enter or leave it.
* I’ve used this Jedi-mind trick on the twins in so many ways. People who call themselves stupid can’t truly be stupid because if they were, they wouldn’t be cognizant of their stupidity. People who call themselves mean can’t truly be all mean because they care enough to recognize their cruelty. And people who call themselves original probably aren’t that original because in order to know whether or not they are original, they need to spend a considerable amount of time looking at other people’s work to know whether or not they are repeating it.