L. Stachew: The Existential Crisis of Being Original and How It Will All Be Okay

November isn’t a pleasant month, at least for me. I find it one of the most difficult times to be creative. Something about it just doesn’t settle well with me. It’s like the feeling I get in my stomach every time I attempt to eat a Poptart. November makes me question and inhibit myself from being able to think. As I try to sit down to write or do anything to stimulate my creativity, I get stuck. Anything I make is based off of something else. A song I didn’t write, a story I didn’t create, an idea I didn’t imagine. At this point, all I can think is, “Am I original? Is any of this stuff even authentic? Am I a fraud?” Hell, even this blog I’m writing is filled with quotes and references to other people. Before I started writing this I dug through books, random anecdotes, and quotes I had written down that inspired me. This whole thing I’m writing is actually inspired by an “Ideas at the House” presentation at the Sydney Opera House given by Tavi Gevinson. It struck me when I heard her say exactly what I was constantly worried about:

“It’s hard to start creating things when it feels like everything has already been said, every story has been told, and every song has been written…Part of what bothers me is all my references are traceable, everything I do or say can be tracked down and exposed as being heavily influenced by something else.”

I think as writers, artists, poets, or whatever you choose to call yourself, we can all identify with this to some extent. Whether we’ve felt like this in the past or right now, it’s especially difficult to deal with this question of originality in the age of “hey-all-the-cool-ideas-already-exist-and-they-are-also-on-the-Internet-immortalized-forever”. So, what do you do? You’re stuck and can’t seem to create anything. Well, the answer is quite simple. Be a fan girl. (Or boy.) Tavi says it all clearly:

“What if, when you’re in a mood when you feel sad and stuck and too many things to count, it’s just more therapeutic to write down someone else’s words than your own?”

Being a “fan girl” is a source of inspiration for your own ideas. Whether it be your devotion to Breaking Bad, your passion for Wes Anderson films, or your undying love for Beyoncé, all of that fan girl energy can be released through your creative endeavors and pull you out of that funk. The most successful work of art I made in high school was a mixed media collage entirely inspired by the song “Hjartað Hamast” by Sigur Rós. I even wrote about the creation of it in my college essay. Fan girling literally got me into college. And this has been going on for a long time. In my class on Slavic folklore, I learned about how so many people praised renowned Russian authors Alexsandr Pushkin and Nikolai Gogol for discovering and publishing huge amounts of Russian folktales, yet so many of these stories were actually tales adapted from and inspired by French and American stories. These guys were the fan girls of the 19th century, and they were damn good at it.

Now, I’m not saying you should just spend the rest of your life rewriting and recreating what inspires you, never to make anything original ever again. Don’t do that. When you get stuck, think about what makes your relationship to the things you like specific to you. Fan girling is simply a reflection of yourself. When you stand back and look at what makes you so in love with that story you read for English or why you’re so drawn to a certain movie, that passion can drive you to make your own great works of art, and they say so much about you as a person. Find the similarities within the different things you love. Find the common ingredient. Don’t hide behind your tastes; embrace them, and let them guide you. Chuck Palahniuk, the very man who wrote “Fight Club” even said, “Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known.” It’s easy to become intimidated by the greatness of your favorite writer or musician, but remember to not worship them. They’re just regular people, and you have a place right next to them. You may not be the next Dylan Thomas, but you are guaranteed to be the next you! (And that’s even better, in my opinion.) I’d like to end this with another quote by Tavi that really sums up this whole idea. She says:

“I don’t care about being original or authentic or having some ‘artistic identity’, I just want to be happy, and being a fan girl can be the most happy-ing thing you can be because you feel connected to other people and you realize these feelings pass through all of us.”

So get out there and embrace your inner fan girl! You may be surprised at what you are capable of creating.



One thought on “L. Stachew: The Existential Crisis of Being Original and How It Will All Be Okay

  1. Awesome. I am going to share with a photographer group I am in…We just started a book club and read “Steal like an Artist” It really applies to all creatives – writers, artists, photographers, designers, movie-makers, etc.

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