I was walking around downtown the other day, standing by a rain-swollen river and trying to think of something, anything, original. But the more rocks I “skipped” (more like, plunked) across the water, the more I dug around in the old leaves of my mind, the less innovative I discovered my thoughts became. Eventually, shoving my hands down into nonexistent pockets and frowning at those two facts combined–sheer unoriginality and pocketlessness–I walked back to my car for a staticky drive back to the house where the kids were playing in the backyard with my old dress-up clothes.
As a child, it wasn’t rarely that I was told curiosity killed the cat. But until now, I never quite put my finger on the nature of my answer-seeking: I’m a collector. A thrifter of the odds-and-ends of life. A scrapbooker of others’ castoff wisdom, verbalized images, and incomplete thoughts. And perhaps that’s why my writing always feels just a little bit stolen.
Are we ever entirely original? The moments I feel most excited about the words I have spewed onto the page…I often happen upon the passage(s) later and think, What a Barbara Kingsolver thing to say or When did C.S. Lewis gain another disciple? I say what I didn’t think, write what I never happened upon myself. But it’s my mind that churns the thoughts around, a new mind with a new collection of experiences and words to phrase the thoughts with.
The leaves are beginning to drift off the trees here. The change hasn’t begun, except in the mornings, you feel it: the cold edge on the waves of humidity, a chill breath on the breeze. Summer’s creative explosions begin to come under inspection, and I wonder how many times I’ve been here before, sitting over steaming coffee in a Starbucks, a Spencer’s, a silent little corner of the library, and sense that I’m pretending, but pretending as we all do. Even the seasons put on repeat-performances; it’s a sensible consolation. What is new in these spheres except the soul that collects the old things, rearranging them? The actor looks out across the audience and recognizes some old faces in the old theater, where he’ll be performing the old show, yet he takes the stage with vigor, like the first day he discovered “Singin’ in the Rain” or the sound of his voice in the hall. Though the tired stream sometimes takes me, in the constant days of unearthing same-stones, I still am one for carousels. Give us same and usual clay (we never could create dirt), and let us redefine innovation.