Recently, I’ve been struggling with the idea that a person can’t say anything that hasn’t been said before. Is there a such thing as original thought? Are we narcissistic enough to believe that out of the billions of people who have wandered this planet and the billions of thoughts that each individual has had that we are actually capable of saying something no one else has ever said before? I mean sure, when a new invention comes out it gives everyone on earth a chance to see it, analyze it, and start talking about it all at the same time, but there are over 6 billion people on this planet. Are you the only one thinking or saying your clever comment, or your praise and admiration, or expressing hatred in those exact same words?
When I start to think this way, I fall back on an exercise that stand up comedian Bo Burnham uses. He does a bit during his comedy special titled “What” where he explains an exercise that he likes to do when he wants to feel unique. He says:
“What I like to do in order to assure myself that I am unique and not just one of many small, white, indistinguishable checker pieces in Jesus’ and Satan’s backgammon game, is I will say a group of words that I think no one’s ever said before, in that order, so that when I say it, I feel like look at me, participating in this new moment that no one’s ever been a part of.”
He makes the exercise into a joke saying things like “I’m your father and I loved your comedy show” and “Here, hold my fanny pack, I’m gonna go fuck a woman.” Even though he uses it as a joke, it is still a great exercise; it really gets my creativity flowing. For a few minutes I truly believe that I am unique, that the words coming from my mind are mine and mine alone.
Do you ever write something and find yourself sitting there with a feeling of deja vu, thinking where have I heard this before? That happens to me all the time. Sometimes I even copy and paste clever lines that I just made up into my Google search bar, just to make sure that they are truly unique. This doesn’t mean that no one has ever thought those same words, or said them out loud, but at least I know that they weren’t digitally recorded and I’ve most likely never heard them before.
Just the other night I was bored, laying in bed trying to fall asleep, and I started rhyming in my head like I always do. I thought:
Some people call me an alcoholic,
cause I’ve survived for five
years on whiskey and Whatchamacallits.
I got the strangest feeling that I’d heard it before. I copied and paste the lyric into Google and sure enough a Young Jeezy lyric from his song “Go Getta” popped up saying:
“I’ll be the first to admit am such an alcoholic
Only blow dat good shit yeah, dat whatchamacallit”
He’s not talking about the candy bar and the lyrics aren’t exactly the same but they are close enough to raise questions. That song came out almost 8 years ago. Did I hear the song 8 years ago, think it was clever to rhyme alcoholic with whatchamacallit and decide to store it in the clever lyric section of my memory? Or was the lyric unique to my mind and just happened to be similar to one from a Young Jeezy song?
In 1999, Eminem performed on Tony Touch’s 1999 Power Cypha 3: The Grand Finale. One of the lines that he said perfectly portrays my thoughts on this matter. He said:
“I write a rhyme a day,
so it’s no wonder how come
your whole album
is soundin’ like a bunch of shit that I would say.”
Original thought perplexes me. We are all individuals and we are all unique, but we are also very similar to one another. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t express ourselves. It doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to generate poems or lyrics that are truly unique creations. We all have similar emotions, ideas, thoughts, but it is how we express those thoughts that make them unique. Whether or not you believe that things can be said that have never been said before, it is important that you say them. Poetry is an expression of our individuality as well as a reminder of our humanity. I’d like to leave you all with a poem I wrote on the subject. Enjoy, live, love, write!
Such as it is, a formless thought,
it cannot be cached, killed, or caught,
hidden inside an empty box
thrown off a cliff or bashed on the rocks.
There it lies, alone in the dark
awaiting conception, a flameless spark.