On Being an Original

I view the striving for originality as, first, a struggle for life. To preserve, expand, and affirm oneself. To actualize one’s inherent, energetic potential. About a year ago, I published a post titled, When You Have Too Much Life…, in which I discuss what it feels like to have one’s creativity, attempts at expressing the full breadth and depth of one’s nature, or exercising one’s talents thwarted by external forces. Social, professional, institutional, or otherwise. A universal state that I believe is experienced more acutely and more frequently by the creatives among us. Looking back at that post, now a year after its publication, it occurred to me that, perhaps, what I was really attempting to discuss there was the striving for originality. The intentional direction of one’s energy toward the development of the most authentic version of oneself, a feeling that, when blocked, can be experienced as a “bottleneck.” The feeling that I have within me a tremendous amount of life, of creative potential, a vibrant identity that I am longing to express, and yet I am being forced, at nearly every turn, to stifle it.

To be sure, there is a much deeper relationship between how much life one has–animation, lust, intelligence, creativity, the drive for expansion–and the need to be oneself. Maybe, a deeper, more decidedly philosophical discussion for another day. What I am interested in talking about in this post is the experience of being one who strives for originality. What it feels like. Here are some thoughts on what it means to be an original:

When you (really do) have too much life…

Indeed, I have begun to think, since first contemplating the move toward originality (Individuation. Authenticity. By any other name…) that, in fact, it may represent the most noble (to me) use of one’s life, animating force, or instinct. It is my opinion, based more on observation (inward and outward) than any sort of scholarly resource, that those of us who strive to be individuals in the truest sense–who feel that assertive, inner pull–may, in fact, have more life—maybe even too much, in some cases—than others. That some of us are either possessed by too great a degree of internal force or are so sensitive to its urgings that we are compelled to act, to feel, to create, to view the world from a perspective of tremendous energy and originality. That the drive to be, to become, is none other than a focused expression of the need to be fully alive. “The diamonic,” Dr. May would call it. Eros. Dynamism. To be original is to dignify one’s very existence.

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You act from the soul.

I often find that my creative projects and my growth in self-awareness and insight go hand-in-hand. My work on The Used Life, whose aim is to give pointed, meaningful direction to my interests, is no exception. As I develop my thinking around the topics about which I am passionate, I also develop myself. (This is especially true when I allow myself the freedom to approach my interests in whichever way I choose, effectively teaching myself, however long it takes.) I become more fully myself. I move in step with a purpose. Or, rather, I am pulled. By a force that is almost beyond my control.

This is, perhaps, often the case when our drive to create, to know, to do, to experience is singular and almost blinding. When we discover a pursuit that sets our soul on fire. When our vision of the world becomes overrun with possibility, with a lust for creation and transformation. I find that, to be so driven–or to be driven that forcefully–is one of the most authentic experiences I know. It seems to rise up from the very bottom of my soul. No masks. No pretense. No filter. It feels like succumbing to an amorous form of energy. Like I’ve just been loved. Or bestowed a gift. And, there is never a need to question it. Because to respond to its urgings is innately rewarding almost beyond description. From head to toe. It is the thing I must do. It is who I am. I find that when I allow myself to submit to my passions in that way, many of the other issues that distract me, worry me, or otherwise occupy my mind simply fall away. And, I am just me. Fully engaged in the pursuit of being alive.

You own your thoughts.

I sometimes have a dim sense that I am capable of big things. Perhaps, this is because the force that drives me feels so big. Immeasurable in impact. I, of course, have no way of knowing at this moment if that’s true. But, I am staunchly motivated by a sense that I have something original to contribute to the world. I sense my femininity project—however elusive its conclusions may be at present—is the beginning of that contribution. 

flaming flamenco dance

Every time I try to fit my thoughts on the nature of femininity into an existing paradigm, I scrap them. I remind myself that I needn’t waste my time trying to make my thoughts align with someone else’s—no matter how accomplished or erudite the individual. I am better suited to learn what I can from the best sources available and allow those ideas to shape my thinking. Then, express my ideas accordingly. I am not the kind of gal who does what so-and-so says simply because so-and-so says it. I am the one who says. There is a tremendous power and satisfaction that comes with owning one’s ideas. And, it occurs to me that, in order to be an original—not only in intellectual pursuits, but in all of life’s endeavors—one must take responsibility for one’s thoughts. Originality requires flexibility and the courage to allow one’s opinions and beliefs to be changed when necessary. That means you’ve also got to have a center, a space within yourself that is always certain of itself—abilities, identity, and core values—no matter what.

To conform is to die a little.

More often than not, fitting into prescribed roles, be they social or professional, feels like an unusual form of punishment. Because in order to fit, in order to perform, to function in someone else’s environment, I must empty myself. I must become a caricature of myself, a lesser, dumbed-down version of some of my greatest attributes. I must become numb. To hem myself in and force myself to stifle what I sense is my potential. I must die a little inside.

I wish I had some sort of masterful solution or sage advice to offer here. I don’t. While I think I’ve lived a pretty rich, interesting, and adventure-filled life to this point, I am still trying to create a place where I “fit.” Where more of me can flourish. I dare not ask for “all.”  I often ask myself—and have been asking myself as I’ve bounced from sultry adventure to sultry adventure over the course of the last 7+ years—if I should just settle. But, that’s the thing about being an original. You can’t. No matter how hard you try. Something formidable always rises up inside you that forces you to fight another day. I’ll figure it out. I’ll find it. Quitting is equivalent to a greater consuming, more permanent kind of death. Maybe, some of us really do have too much life. I mean, that is what I’m doing here, hanging out on The Used Life. Looking for it. If this experiment doesn’t work, I’ll keep looking. Although, at this moment, I sense I am close.

14 thoughts on “On Being an Original

  1. Could originality, then, be a way to describe what happens inside when one allows oneself to express in whatever form one chooses the creativity that demands expression in that moment? I relate to this post very much. There is much here to ponder.

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    1. Oh, yes! I think so. How I present my ideas is every bit as important to me as the ideas themselves.

      Your question has now got me thinking about the nature of originality, though. These momentary executions, or infusions, of authenticity versus a longer-term striving to become an original being. You, too, have given me something to ponder. Thank you.

      P.S. – My copy of The Letters of Sigmund Freud & Otto Rank, which you recommended, arrived today. It’s next on my list. I am excited.

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  2. Thanks for your thoughtful reply. And I hope you enjoy the book. I remember the Sunday several years ago that I bought it at our local bookstore. I walked the half hour or so to the store knowing only that some book awaited me there. And I left with the correspondence between Freud and Rank. I have enjoyed reading it because reading their letters to each other allows me to see them as the human beings they were. Hope you enjoy!

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    1. That sounds like a wonderful feeling…knowing that something unknown and yet perfectly in line with your fate awaits you. I am looking forward to the book for much the same reason—to know them as human beings. It’s funny, when I was an undergraduate psych major, I used to hide out in the basement of the college library (small liberal arts school) and read Freud late into the night until the library closed and they kicked me out. Freud and Karen Horney. I haven’t read any of his primary works since. As for Rank, I have read so many of the details of his and Anaïs Nin’s affair (from her diary) that I have an interesting portrait of him as a man in my mind. Rank in love. Rank as a sexual being. Physical imperfections and vulnerabilities, included. I look forward comparing those images with what is revealed in the letters.

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      1. I definitely saw some of Rank’s – and just as much Freud’s – vulnerabilities in those letters. It occurs to me that another major psychoanalytic thinker that you will encounter in the letters is Sándor Ferenczi, who became a very close friend and colleague of Rank and whom I believe has become a major presence in contemporary psychoanalytic thinking. Those memories of reading Freud in the library basement until closing sound like very good ones. I didn’t discover Freud and Jung until I was 27 (I didn’t start to really read either of them until then). I hope your reading of Jung has gone well so far.

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      2. I know of Ferenczi, but I am not familiar with his work. I very much like Karen Horney and have since I was first introduced to her ideas about 15 or so years ago. Yes, reading Freud in the library basement is actually a very fond memory. You know, I haven’t read much Jung at all, which is strange, since I have long thought he was right about a lot of things. I recently read a compilation of his writings on active imagination because it informed my perspective on some of what I’m doing here—the imaginative part of encountering and rewriting the feminine. So many books to read! I should include more Jung…I’ve been thinking lately I’d like to add another dimension to this project. Perhaps, delving into another perspective would be beneficial. Please let me know if you can suggest any readings. Your writing seems to reveal quite an understanding of and familiarity with his work.

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      3. Thank you very much for the compliment regarding Jung. I will definitely let you know if anything in particular by him or a more recent Jungian comes to mind. And your mention of Karen Horney reminds me that long ago I read parts of her Self-Analysis. Maybe I should return to that book. I look forward to reading more of your work!

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  3. Yes striving for originality, creative originality, to refuse to “settle for” or fit into prescribed boxes means never quite being satisfied or content. Or at least, not for long, for creativity is restless. Is that a good or a bad thing, I wonder(?) My instinct is to say good, but I’ll have to think more about why.

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    1. I think that kind of restless energy is predominantly good. As long as it doesn’t have overwhelmingly negative effects on the rest our lives. It’s my experience that the most fruitful and fulfilling creative projects are born out of a cauldron of emotions—both positive and negative—and a restlessness. Of course, I don’t know why that is. But, I also think the restlessness keeps us going, compels is to act, to change, to articulate our visions when we might otherwise become complacent. Thank you for the thoughtful comment.

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  4. You’ve expressed how I feel perfectly! Especially in the last few paragraphs – to conform is indeed to die a little. It doesn’t mean countering this with outwardly rebellious behaviour, it means resisting the peer pressure to ‘settle’ and needing to live a creative and thereby meaningful life that has very little to do with wordly external success.Success for me is living according to my own nature, which I came across when reading about Taoism, the simplicity of this struck me to the core! Lovely post!

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    1. Thank you, Lynne! I define success similarly. It would seem the price we pay for not being ourselves is simply too high. I don’t know a whole lot about Taoism, but I am familiar with certain principles, that being one of them. I’m glad to know you can identify with these feelings—and the strife! 😉 Thanks again for the comment.

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