Unique, Just Like Everyone Else

There’s a saying that goes something like, “I’m unique…just like everybody else.” We all want to be seen as trailblazers, as independent, as original, to see the world differently from anyone else. We want that to be true.

So what does that look like?

How can we strive to be unique when, for the most part, we’re the same as everyone else. Is it a futile exercise?

I was out with friends once, and made small talk with an older gentleman sitting at the bar. He looked around and said, “I already know everyone in here. I’ve known them all before.” He didn’t mean it literally, of course. But he meant that each person in there met a previously established prototype in his experience. There has been someone like us before and there will be another one after. There are probably some existing even at the same time. Whoaaaa, crazy, huh?

As an artist, it has been ingrained in me as truth that nothing I create will ever be an original idea. That’s hard to hear sometimes. But even as I write this, there are probably hundreds of other blog entries that talk about this same thing.

But today, I think of it this way:

We are a thousand different perspectives on an elephant. We might all be looking at the same elephant, but from each of our unique sum of experiences, we’re standing in different places in the field. One person’s view of the elephant is strictly two-dimensional. But when we combine everyone’s two-dimensional views from a thousand different places, we end up with a three-dimensional creature. We can describe it from where we stand, and it’s one thing, but combined with everyone else’s views, it becomes more whole and complex–literally multi-dimensional.

The man at the bar might see me as fitting the characteristics of someone else in his experience, but to someone else, I am completely different altogether, perhaps fitting a completely different prototype. I am the sum of the experience of everyone I meet. I am the sum of my views of myself. And everything I experience is through my own lens.

So in a sense, there is potential for originality. But not based on any one person’s view–not even your own.

How do you view yourself? How might someone else view you differently? How does this affect the practice of self-definition?

Photo credits: anankkml & africa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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One Unholy Smear

Story Conference blog post attempt #2:

One of my favorite speakers from Story was Ann Voskamp, author of One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are.  She’s a farmer’s wife, and was quick to tell us that she didn’t have any special insight into being a creative.  But after that, she wove a beautiful tale of vision, poetry, scars and beauty, slowing down and speaking a “language of amazement” to a culture of despair.

And she said something right at the beginning: “Creativity is being comfortable with not knowing what comes next.”

I’ve been so concerned with what to do next.  Practical questions: Grad school?  Job?  Where do I want to live?  Existential questions of who am I, and what do I want to become?  What do I want to be known for?  And how quickly and efficiently can I answer all of these questions?  It’s my crisis of being, and I’ve been frantic to try to figure it out.  It’s what this whole blog is about, for goodness sakes!

But through the course of her talk, she reminded us to be comfortable where we are, to focus on the small, overlooked moments.  And the way she cast this vision lulled me into a state of peaceful quietness, yet with an underlying thrum of excitement.

“Life is not an emergency,” she said.  “We take all the moments and blur them into one unholy smear.”

And I remembered my time in Oregon, in a cabin out of the mainstream and away from all things hectic.  Our lives have this crazy way of filling up with noise–TV season premieres, Twitter updates, text messages–that it’s so easy to forget to just sit still every once in a while.  To enjoy this gift of today.

And maybe it’s in this quiet enjoyment of the world that creative solutions arise to solve our frantic problems.

When was the last time you slowed down or slipped out of the mainstream?  Have you ever had a solution come to you in a time of extreme noise?  Extreme quiet?

Story-goers: What were some of your favorite quotes?