On Originality

Why are we always beginning everything all over again? Millions of people already play the violin much better than I do. Millions have already mastered French and Spanish. Millions more already know all there is to know about wine tasting and baseball card collecting.

Following in other people’s footsteps is fine, as long as I’m big enough to fill their shoes. But why start from scratch if all I can ever hope to do is scratch the surface? Because our mistakes make us interesting. Like DNA recombination — each iteration introduces slight inaccuracies, which in turn produce the astounding variation we experience as originality.

“Let no one say that I have said nothing new”, French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal averred. “The arrangement of the material is new. When playing tennis, both players hit the same ball, but one of them places it better.” In the margin for error lies all our room for maneuver.

This essay originally appeared in the July/August isue of Ode Magazine.