Damn that Julie Powell -she stole my idea! A few years ago I was in the kitchen cooking with my Julia Child cookbook called The Way to Cook. It’s one of my favorites – a go-to cookbook that I got as a wedding present. Everything I’ve ever made from the cookbook has been a little scary, but absolute perfection, as long as I followed the directions to the letter (one simply does NOT take shortcuts with Julia Child’s recipes!) Julia is quite sure of herself as a cook, (as evidenced by the title) and the recipes are somewhat intimidating; still I love to use it - whenever I’m feeling quite confident of my culinary skills, that is.
Anyway, as I was cooking, I had this terrific idea for a book. The title of the book was going to be Channeling Julia and it was going to chronicle my attempts to become a cook of Julia Child’s caliber by making all the recipes in her book, inserting hilarious anecdotes and witty comments in appropriate measure and to delightful effect (kind of like the book Julie and Julia - you know it?!) This is the absolute truth - it was MY idea. Just ask my husband (who still stolidly insists that I can write my book if I want to…sure I can, but why would I?) In fact, until the movie came out, I had never actually heard of Julie Powell’s book or blog! (I guess I live under a rock or something!) But I didn’t get to write my clever book because Julie Powell stole the idea and wrote her clever book and even made a movie out of it first - DAMMIT! (FYI - I know she didn’t really steal the idea - I’m just illustrating my point with this very true story!)
Which brings me to said point, in case you haven’t already guessed it. It’s not particularly profound, but I shall endeavor to put a new(ish) twist on it, although my attempt to do so sort of paradoxically cannot actually be done, if my point is, in fact, true – but not to be too obnoxious about it, here it goes: There are no original ideas. How can there be? Humans have been around for at least a few million years, and during that time, we have actually done quite a bit of thinking and inventing. I venture to say that back when people were evolving to our present form (which by no means is complete now) there was quite a bit of originality happening – there had to be – we were, like, BLANK SLATES! I mean, the other day my husband was pondering, “Whoever thought of the idea of looking at a wheat field and thinking they could eat all those seeds up? And then who thought of grinding them up to make a powder that they could add water to and make bread?”
Well, honey, I have no idea – but as you correctly surmised, it happened a heck of a long time ago, back when people were figuring out how to continue as a species. Shoot, our ancestors had to think HARD with those little brains of theirs to survive – they had to invent tools, figure out how to make fire, how to weave cloth – blah blah blah - the list goes on and on. But since then, even though we’ve built civilizations and begun to create art for just for art’s sake (rather than as religious ritual or whatever the cavemen were trying to do) the fact is, pretty much everything that we think of (like my seriously clever idea for a book) has probably already been done in some form, or at least thought of before. And now there are so many people on the planet, it’s hard to conceive of a truly unique, original idea being possible. Basically, we’re just building on – well, the basics.
So what? I don’t care necessarily if I’m the first to come up with an idea or a technique. In fact, I’m sure I’ve yet to do it, and I don’t really strive to, anyway. The way I see it, we forge stronger bonds of connection to other people when we use the creativity they have tapped into to do something that’s new, at least, to us. And while it may not be something entirely original in a universal sense, whatever I’ve made has been made by me and therefore has some part of me in it, (possibly manifesting as some sort of flaw, but whatever) and therefore is in some way, different enough.
Plus it’s a lot of pressure, trying to come up with something new when everything’s already been done before. I’m not saying that people aren’t still coming up with fresh new ways to use old ideas, or that we aren’t extremely innovative and resourceful as a species, because clearly the iPad belies that! (Not to forget the internet – how did we live before the internet? It must have been some sort of half-life, at best.) But really both of those inventions are just new twists on ways to communicate, which cave people did by drawing pictures, gesticulating, and grunting at each other – hey - it worked for them - mostly! But then again, their lifestyle was completely different from ours.
Anyway, I sometimes think we are striving too much to be different from each other – as if we only matter if we are noticed or stand out in some way. (Witness the tendency of people to give their children names such as “Apple” or “Hiawatha!”) To me, that kind of thinking is the kind of thinking that puts us at odds with each other, leading to an awful lot of unnecessary competition, fighting and destruction.
In my experience, we are all pretty much the same underneath the different packaging and life situations. It’s conceivable that much war and other problems could be avoided if we focused on that sameness, rather than our differences, which are really only on the surface. Maybe we think we can somehow enhance our importance by coming up with something no one in the history of the universe has ever done before…good luck on that one! I just don’t think we can raise our value above one another in any way – we all carry equal importance (or unimportance, depending on your viewpoint) where it really counts. We just can’t see that when we are so separated by our perceived “uniqueness.”
I don’t want to seem cynical about the originality thing, though - in fact I kind of find it comforting, because it means we aren’t in this alone. All the ideas and innovations of our ancestors are still with us, albeit in different forms. As we evolve, we just retool our creations and make them more complicated, but no matter how simple or complex or how much easier they make our lives, they do not change who we are, just how we exist.
Here’s a scientific fact: Everything that is in the universe now has been in the universe since the universe began. The atoms and molecules that make up our physical beings and everything we create or make are the very same atoms and molecules that have been on this earth for billions of years! We truly carry everyone (and everything - even the dinosaurs!) who has ever come before us and who will come after us in our very beings! Wow – that is way cool! But again, quite comforting, at least to me. To me, it proves that we humans are far more than any idea we have or thing that we create –but I’ll leave you to your own conclusions on that one.
So - no, I don’t feel like I have to come up with something that’s totally original, or has never been seen or conceived of before. Because whatever I do create is only temporarily in this form anyway, and as long as it brings me or anyone else pleasure in this moment, that’s enough – for now.