On Originality, or, Humble Pie with Pickles

April 8, 2016

Just when you feel particularly happy with your own originality and creativity, you walk smack into the realization that your work might not be as unique as you hoped -at least I did. Before you hang your head in shame and embarrassment, take a deep breath and reconsider just how much uniqueness matters. And whether it is even possible.

 

 

 

When my poem, Cajun Style came out, I was very pleased with Eamonn Murphy’s kind review, particularly the line “it’s the best poem about a gator in a jar of pickled cucumbers I’ve ever read.” I liked it so much that the line is posted on the home page of my website (that reason, plus the fact that it’s my sole review to date).  I smugly thought, it’s probably the only poem about a gator in a jar of pickled cucumbers out there. I patted myself on the back for my originality and creativity, and then, foolishly, decided to check out that assumption.

 

 

 

 

To my chagrin, a quick Google search of “alligator pickle jar” turns up a children’s book by Artie Knapp “There’s a Crocodile in Our Pickle Jar”  along with an accompanying variety of crocodilian teaching materials . The story is aimed at small children and has a much more nutritional, less violent ending than mine, which as a parent of formerly small children, I do appreciate. Not a poem, though.

 

 

*Alligator. By James, scubadive67 on flickr.com {{cc-by}}

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/71217725@N00/3176098/

 

There were also links to a wide variety of things connecting alligators/crocodiles to pickle jars – mostly of the pickled-alligator-bits-preserved-for-gawking/scientific advancement type, pickled vegetables with crocodilian brand names, or models of alligators made from pickles. Some images were truly intriguing.  Here’s one, copyright-free as far as I can tell, (although not an alligator, but delightfully creepy):

 

 

 

Using “poem” and “poetry” as search terms brought up that master Canadian poet, Dennis Lee and his iconic “Alligator Pie”, a more carnivorous tale than Mr. Knapp’s but potentially just as nutritious. Click Here to enjoy Mr. Lee as he reads it himself, should you wish a stroll down memory lane.

There were other poems listed about alligators named “Pickles” etc. Then, finally, bingo, another alligator-pickle jar poem, by Bri Edwards, called "Little Dill Pickles".  Enjoy it here on Poemhunter.com. I decided to stop my search there.

 

Sigh. I really should know better by now, but I had hopes of being the only “alligator in the pickle jar poet”.

But besides finding out about some other people’s interesting work, and spending some engaging time on the internet when I should’ve been writing, what is the take-away? What are originality and creativity anyway?

 

When I was a psychology undergrad, too many years ago to count, cognitive psychology’s prevailing definition of “creativity” was that creativity had two parts: originality and usefulness. It wasn’t enough that an idea be original, but that it must also serve a purpose, i.e., be functional and advance towards a useful end. At least as recently as 2003, that definition was still pretty much used, at least according to the American Psychological Association (Kersting, 2003, APA Monitor, November 2003, Vol 34, No. 10, online article"What exactly is creativity? Psychologists continue their quest to better understand creativity.”). The definition may have changed since, but since this isn’t a research article, and I’m not a cognitive psychologist, this definition still works for me.

 

 

Is “Cajun Style” useful? Well, it’s useful to me, in terms of publishing and in terms of surfacing and thus coming to grips with my deep, personal issues with pickle jars (you can take the girl out of psychology but you can’t take psychology out of the girl). More importantly, I hope it serves some of the functions of poetry and art for the reader in an effective and amusing manner. If it gives someone a smile, however briefly, that’s a contribution as far as I’m concerned. So, we’ve got the functional component down (so I’ve been told). Now how about the originality?

 

If something is original, according to the Oxford Dictionary, it has been: 

 

1. Present or existing from the beginning; (i.e. the first or earliest of its kind)

2. Created personally by a particular artist, writer, musician, etc.; not a copy:

3. Not dependent on other people’s ideas; inventive or novel.

 

My poem fits definition #2 as it was created by me, and #3 since it was, as far as I can tell, not inspired by any other gator in pickle jar works. I’m not going to try and determine whether it was the very first of its kind or not. It no longer matters. Hopefully, it serves the function of amusing readers (we’ll leave the edifying or inspiring for another work - in fact, for almost any other work).

 

Perhaps the best words on originality and writing that I’ve seen come from bestselling author Kelley Armstrong in her FAQ For Writers:

 

 “How do I know my story is original enough? What I've learned is that there's no truly original ideas. What is original is what we, as writers, do with our idea. Give twenty writers the premise "female werewolf struggles with her identity" and you'd get twenty very different books. As a writer, yes, you need to look past those "done to death" plots, but only to come up with an idea that's reasonably fresh—not wholly original, but unique enough that an editor won't say "oh, that's been done a hundred times before."”

 

I have come to terms with the fact that the idea of alligators in pickle jars is not original to me. But perhaps “Cajun Style” is original enough. I hope you enjoy it.

 

 

 

MENACING ENTITY OF THE MONTH:  PICKLES

 

Admit it, you thought it was going to be alligators, or their much more menacing relatives, crocodiles. That would be too easy, and perhaps, unoriginal. No, the unprepossessing pickle has a hidden, deadly side. It took hours of time-lapse photography secluded in a pickle blind with decoy victims (who can be seen cowering in the reflected background) to capture this moment of menace.

 

 

 

If improperly prepared and stored, pickled cucumbers can become sources of toxic micro organisms such as listeria and botulism. This is particularly true of homemade fermented pickles. Listeria monocytogenes can cause pregnant women to abort, and can be fatal to the elderly.

 

 

Botulism can be fatal and is produced by infection with Botulinum neurotoxin. While there are many medical uses for the neurotoxin, Botulinum is the most acutely lethal toxin known (at least according to Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botulinum_toxin ).

 

Symptoms can include general weakness, breathing difficulty, dizziness, abdominal distension and constipation, double-vision and trouble speaking or swallowing. There are antitoxins available – if you get medical help in time.  Seek medical attention right away should you have such symptoms after eating pickles, and skip your next Botox appointment. Beware the pickle, my friends.

 

 

 

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