Why this obsession with stamping the world with our existence, those of us who care about it? Are we megalomaniacs, trying to get a purchase on immortality? Why is it so important for some of us to have made an imprint in the fabric of human history – why can’t we just flow through time like everyone else, sliding over the slippery, mossy rocks of the riverbed? Well, one could (and this one has) pondered this for hours, but today I was happy to hear about someone else who found this notion of great importance also. I was listening to a Radiolab program today in which Alan Lightman, author of the bestseller, Einstein’s Dreams, tells of a poignant scientific failure of sorts. Working as an astrophysicist, he spent a lot of time carefully proving an explanation for an astronomical phenomenon through precise calculations. As he was finishing up his paper to present his findings to the world at large, he, as per standard protocol, did a search on similar research to list in his references. It was a rather grave error that he didn’t perform this task earlier, as it turned out researchers in Japan had already done what he had just labored to do – they had discovered and used the same calculations as Lightman. Exactly the same. Beyond being crestfallen that his research was in vain, he realized that as a scientist, he could never truly make “his mark” upon the world.

“How do I leave my individuality on the world?” he wondered. And realized it could not be through science because anyone anywhere in the world can look at the same problem and solve it the exact same way, come up with the same answer; it would seem there is no human individuality in expressing science.

So after that, he wrote a novel: “Einstein’s Dreams.” No two people in the world can write the exact same novel. You might write the same plot and the same characters, but it will never be identical; it will never reveal the same things about the author. Science and all scientists can reveal the exact same thing in the same way about the universe (or its Author if you believe in one), and their methods will reveal nothing about the scientist him/herself. But, (as I was just saying in a previous post) creative writing is so idiosyncratic and psychologically profiling, it's subjective and completely a product of individuality. So are writers obsessed with individuality, or do people obsessed with individuality become writers?

We writers want to be snowflakes, I guess. Uniquely expressing ourselves during our journey, from our birth in the clouds until our death on the ground where we melt into the anonymity of another droplet of water. I mean, really what are the odds of transcending anonymity beyond at most some thousands of years. Texts have survived millennia, to be sure, but their preservation and subsequent discovery by archaeologists or looters or farmers plowing fields or shepherds gathering sheep are such strokes of luck, we’re common criminals to think we’ll be the ones to get away with having our individual work preserved -- the death penalty is not a deterrent to crime because nobody thinks they’ll get caught. The near certainty of eventual anonymity doesn’t inhibit us creative writers because somehow we’re convinced the act of writing the poem/novel/essay makes the indelible mark, worming our way into neural networks of the general population -- or even just a handful of other readers -- passing on our genes through words. Kind of like cryogenically freezing ourselves – every time someone reads our words, our expression of individuality, we thaw and re-inhabit invisible landscapes of humanity, frolicking in someone else’s head. Plus maybe, just maybe, our manuscript will be the one uncovered and displayed in a museum, and everyone will know this is how I saw the world. Really, we are an incredibly self-absorbed bunch. Me! Look at me, know me, love me. I will live forever! (said in my made-up, maniacal “insanity” voice, which of course I am completely making up out of the bluest blue, having absolutely no idea what an insane person would really sound like ... none. whatsoever.)

What a funny coincidence that one of the horoscopes in the Onion (a parody paper, if you don’t know it) this week is exactly along these lines. Reading as such:  “You will be transfixed by the realization that human lives are as unique as snowflakes, and just as indistinguishable from one another when viewed from the proper distance.” (The horoscope for my personal sign amuses me, too:  “Your dealings with the dark powers will be jeopardized when even they are a little freaked out by how eager you are to behead all those chickens.”) Yes, dark powers….. maybe they will help me.

Well, all this just to say I feel a bit better about my craven need to contribute my completely unique thoughts to the world after hearing someone else describe his need to do so as well, to hear him confess it was more important to him to create and leave a mark of his individuality than to discover something that already existed independently of him, even if it was an important discovery. It’s just too bad that I wouldn’t rather write novels, for which I only have to travel inside my imagination, rather than be compelled to write creatively about my own experiences and needing to have those take place at ever-further distances from my home, creating ever-deepening debt in my bank account!



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