You Will Never Be Innovative

An 11-year-old Helen Keller wrote a short story The Frost King. She was later accused of plagiarizing the book from the story Frost Fairies by Margaret Canby. Given the details, it’s likely that Keller’s story was, at worst, fan fiction — certainly not deliberate plagiarism. It’s more likely that Keller had the story read to her as a young child and it subconsciously influenced her story.

Ten years later, Mark Twain heard of the debacle and had this to say:

Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that “plagiarism” farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernal, the soul — let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances — is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily used by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them;

He goes on — which you can read here — but you get the idea.

You will never have an original idea. You will never have a creative thought that in some way isn’t plagiarized from something else.

What we should instead understand is that innovation is relative.

When I’ve told people what I do, it will sometimes come across as this mind-blowing, cutting edge thing. In reality, not only have I been doing it for years — diminishing its innovative-ness — but the principles have existed for centuries.

I’m not saying don’t try to be innovative. I’m saying that if you’ve been tasked with being innovative, you can usually just go with what you know, with what works, and it’ll blow their tiny minds.

Well, not their tiny minds, that’s not fair.

The Day I Remember

When my high school classmates and I heard about the two planes hitting the twin towers on September 11th 2001, we started talking about how this would be a JFK moment for us. You hear stories growing up, from older people, who remembered exactly where they were when they heard President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.

For us, that Tuesday morning, we were in the hallway bouncing tennis balls.

It was a music theory class, and we were using this tennis ball exercise to illustrate the difference between duple meter and triple meter.

Of course, at that point, it was still too early to know the full impact of what was going on, especially because the only official word we had received from the principal over the intercom was that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center, and that we were to go about our day as usual. So we kept bouncing our tennis balls.

Some students were more shaken by the news than others. Those whose parents worked in New York City were the most distraught. About half the students had cell phones, so there was lots of borrowing and anxious phone calls.

As I went from class to class that day, it was interesting how differently teachers decided to handle the situation. My Anatomy teacher, Mr. Shevalier, started the class by saying how he was planning to give his lesson as usual, in the hopes that it could temporarily take our minds off what was going on. My English teacher, Mr. Dodge, said we wouldn’t be doing anything during the class period, and said it would be free time as long as we didn’t get out of hand.

Dodge had been in the Air Force. I’m sure that impacted how he was processing the news of the day.

It’s odd what your mind decides to remember from a day like that.

You’ve got to keep your dignity intact

I used to see a therapist — each week for a few months. Over the course of our sessions, we agreed I most likely suffer from something called Cyclothymia. The purpose of the meetings wasn’t a diagnosis, but it was a good way to summarize what I was dealing with.

If depression is a freight train from out of nowhere, that visits occasionally to level you for days or weeks at a time, cyclothymia is The Little Engine That Says You Can’t. Not powerful, but persistent.

When I read that Robin Williams had committed suicide, I got it. Instantly. I’m not saying he had cyclothymia — his history shows it was much more severe than that — but dealing with mental illness personally was why I wasn’t surprised that someone who was so funny, who made so many others laugh, could be so depressed.

Just because someone is funny, doesn’t mean they’re happy. The opposite of depressed isn’t happy. The opposite of depressed is not depressed. Even words like fulfilled or complete are more accurate antonyms than happy. Funny depressed people don’t try to make others laugh in order to cheer themselves up; they want others to laugh so they can escape being depressed — sometimes just for that moment. For the depressed person, that may be the only time they get to smile.

I know it’s been referenced enough in the past few days, but this “joke” told in (but not invented for) the 2009 film Watchmen is sharply accurate:

Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life is harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world. Doctor says, “Treatment is simple. The great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. Says, “But doctor, I am Pagliacci.” Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains.

I don’t bring all this up for sympathy. As Rainbow Randolph said, you’ve got to keep your dignity intact. But I do bring it all up for awareness. Depression — from melancholy to crippling — is among us, even in the last places we’d think. There are lots of resources out there for those who suffer and for friends of those who suffer, so I won’t repeat them here; but be aware of the people around you.

Things aren’t always as they seem.

For instance, that old woman may actually be your ex-husband pretending to be a nanny so he can stay close to his kids.