My boyfriend is a composer (Yes! Modern day composers do exist!) and writes in a style I’d personally call “music I want to listen to”, in contrast to many of his peers who write things I’d consider more “sound art” which is brilliant, yet not exactly what you want to listen to when trying to enjoy a light-hearted breakfast or a romantic dinner. He regularly faces the dilemma, question, and exclaimation of many modern composers- and creatives in general- in an explicitly stated way: “Authenticity! Originality! Which is better? Which should one aim for?!”
We all want to live authentic lives. We all want to be our best selves and be as authentic as possible. Yet somewhere, even without admitting it, we all want to be remembered, and we’ve been taught by society that always being new, exciting, and original is the way to get noticed and make our mark on the fabric of the world. We feel like doing something no one else has ever done; being something no one else has ever been will make us feel top of the world and give us ultimate life-long contentment and eternal happiness.
We see it in advertising and consumerism too. Remember that really amazing new skirt that was so out-of-this-world original you just had to have two years ago? No, probably not. The idea of originality and our desire to be original reflects this more often than not, and in addition, leaves us feeling blue and yearning for that unattainable goal of a constant, suspended state of euphoria and happiness yet again.
I remember being a teenager and wanting so desperately to be original. Doc Martens, a hat that looked like a tea-cozy and a zebra striped woolen dress from Topshop over purple tights is the image I particularly remember (and I wonder why no one thought I was cool…) and although I was definitely noticable, it doesn’t mean I was original. I was channelling punk, even though twelve-year-old me didn’t really know what that was quite yet. These experiments have continued for my entire life. Wow! I study Russian and wear shorts and tights? I bet no one’s ever done that before!
The point is, it is very rare that one is truly original. Supposedly there are only seven plots for stories in the world, thus even Shakespeare was reforming structures a lot, and if we can’t necessarily consider Shakespeare original then hell, the Weltanschauung of the English-language world is pretty much shattered! What he was- and what we all can be- however, is authentic.
I am not the first person ever to study Russian and like Fall Out Boy and wear Dr Martens. I’m not the first person to suffer from a lot of the problems and successes I do, and here’s the thing: neither are you. And that is one hundred percent a-okay. If you want to write a book it does not have to reject knowledge, attributions, and wisdom of the hundreds and hundreds of years of literature before you. If you write a piece of music you do not have to crumple up and throw away the scores of the great composers you learned from and admire.
And in everyday life, be it in make-up, style, life choices, you do not have to abandon things just because they are not the most obscure or unheard of thing in the world. Do you like Taylor Swift’s new album? Yes? Then go for it, and LIKE it. Who cares if other people do too? It means you can talk to them about it. It’s okay to like Taylor Swift and Nine Inch Nails at the same time and wear pink one day and Dr Martens and black leather the next. But please, don’t feel like just because other people do it too it leaves you with no worth. If I’ve learned anything over the past few years it is that once you let go of the want to be original and decide just to follow you- the things which make you you and things which help to create the best you at any given moment- a weight falls off your shoulders and life becomes more full of choice, joy, and even opportunities.
It is sometimes a bitter pill to swallow, even once you’ve accepted originality is ultimately futile, especially when we are bombarded with the idea that if only we could think of that really original thing we’d be ultimately happy. Yet it is freeing, and it does not mean that we cannot create wonderful things in our lifetimes and also within our everyday lives. After all, even Mozart and Goethe weren’t necessarily original, yet they were authentic.