“A genius is the one most like himself.” —Thelonius Monk.
We’ve all heard the jokes about you being original. “You think you’re original? I wonder what percentage of the nearly 8 billion in the world consider themselves original? What percentage of the billions who lived before us thought they were original?”
If it’s impossible to be original, is it possible to create something uniquely personal? Is it possible to do something so often that you find you? Will it be without influence? What is? No work of art is free of influence, and no influence is free from personal interpretation. Should you even try to be original if it’s impossible? With nearly 8 billion in the world and billions who have preceded us, the chances of you being redundant and derivative are pretty high?
If you can get passed the lengthy confusing originality-is-not-possible algorithm, you could do something that is so you that you might feel naked when it’s over. You might want to consider deleting the vulnerabilities that incriminate you, or you might not. If you leave it all in, it’s possible that some long-dead artist, who many consider one of the most original artists to walk to planet, might’ve considered you ingenious.
Everyone started out wanting to be somebody else. We don’t start out pure and raw. We lacked knowledge, skills, and the sense of security necessary to expose ourselves completely. We felt icky about ourselves when we started. We were insecure, we feared we had no talent, and we thought we were boring, or at least we’re not as entertaining as that guy.
Look at him, he’s got it all figured out. Every woman I know wants to sit with him and chat, he’s got a wad of dough, and everybody likes him. And funny, ohmigosh, if I could be just a little bit like him for one minute of one day, people might want to be around me, they might like me, and they might read me. We add a pinch of ourselves along the way. The other guy over there, he’s all calm, cool, and collected. He’s radiating self-possession. If I could wrap his aura around my neck for just one night, it could all be different. We add a dash of ourselves to it. At some point, in the painfully gradual process, we shed their skin and become more like ourselves, and if we become more like ourselves than anyone else can, it might be ingenious. My new favorite quote.
2) “We might as well be ourselves,” Oscar Wilde said, “everybody else is taken.”
“I wish I could be more like Jarod,” Todd said. “He doesn’t care if anyone likes him.”
Most of us don’t say such things aloud. We might think it. We might think Jarod has something ingenious going on, but we don’t talk to him to find out what he has. It’s understood. We develop a construction from afar, and we try to become it.
I talked to a constructed image once. We were walking away from football practice, and he started dropping a slew of swear words on me. He wasn’t cursing at me. He was swearing in the smoothest manner he could find. I picked up a strange vibe. He appeared to be trying to live up to whatever image he thought I had of him. The idea that he tried so hard confused me, because he was the guy everyone wanted to be, and I was the anonymous nerd who faded into the background of whatever room I was in. I needed to develop skills to stand out. This guy accomplished it by just being him, or so I thought. In our brief exchange, I realized that I didn’t want to be him anymore than I wanted to be me. I realized that if I was going to continue to try to live up to the constructed images I had of people, the pursuit was probably better than the prize. I also realized that if I was going to project images upon guys like him, I probably shouldn’t talk to them.
“You’re the entertainment,” I told Todd after he wrapped up his gripes about Jarod. “You’re the entertainment in the room, and you don’t even know it.”
3) “You are who you are when nobody’s watching.” ―
My goal in life is to control situations as often as I can. If I encounter a situation fraught with failure, I take over, because I would rather blame myself for failure than someone else. I see parents put their kids in awkward situations, and when these kids fail, the parents are shocked. They evaluate their kid’s failure by their own standard. I might over correct at times, and I might be what they call a helicopter parent, but I either try to frame failure according to age, or I try to prevent failure by taking control of the situation.
When my boy went to the refreshment stand in a restaurant to refill his cup, every instinct told me to just take the cup from him and do it myself, but I knew he had to learn, and I wanted to see who he was when he didn’t know anyone was watching. I stood back where he couldn’t see me, and I watched him. As he refilled his cup, I took a step back. It was painful to stand back and watch, but I couldn’t stop looking. After he spilled, I stepped back further. I wanted to see if he would clean it up himself. I wanted to see if he would look around after the spill. I didn’t realize until I smelled it, but I accidentally backed into the sphere of influence of an elderly woman. My first thought, when she expelled gas on me, was this might be her defense mechanism, warning me that I was too close. I thought of the octopus expelling an ink cloud to thwart the approach of predators. She couldn’t know if I was a predator, because she didn’t know me, so she probably considered it better safe than sorry when she let it go. I abided by her silent admonition by giving her distance. My boy cleaned up his mess without looking around, and he double checked his work to make sure his mess was all cleaned up. I made the right move by allowing him to make his own mistakes, and he unknowingly defined his character for me, but I paid a price for it.
3) “Be it a song or a casual conversation. To hold my tongue speaks of quiet reservations. Your words, once heard, they can place you in a faction. My words may disturb, but at least there’s a reaction.” Slash, Dave Lank, and Axl Rose.
Back when I talked to my constructed image of the star football player, I considered offensive vulgarity the more honest approach. No matter how confusing I considered his effort, I thought he was being real with me. He fit the prototype teenager, but we don’t see that when we’re teens. We were influenced by movies, TV, and music. We had lists of which movies used swear words, and how many times they swore in such movies. If we were movie critics, we would’ve awarded stars accordingly. We also loved music, and while we all appreciated great pop songs, a song without at least a little vulgarity or innuendo, too safe. We wanted to hear dangerous, risky music, and we craved that in all artistic venues. We demanded the same of ourselves. The more vulgar and crude the more honest. We wanted to hand the holy grail up to the person who didn’t care if we considered them offensive. The truth is offensive, we thought. “I speak truth, and what does it say about you that you can’t deal with it.” What does it say about you that you said it? “I gotta be me!” So, you’re an offensive person? It took us a while, but we realized that a cup is handed down to the artist, filled with their offense.