A couple of weeks ago I went to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's graduation. Walking through campus with friends, I remembered a piece of art near the English college not long after I graduated myself in 2016, and in the conversation that ensued after I offered a comment about that art.
If anyone has walked through UNL's campus, they'll know it's pretty closed off from the rest of the city. It's kind of it's own thing, unlike, say, Creighton or even the University of Nebraska at Omaha. It's quiet that way, even during a graduation weekend. There's a lot of artwork, sculptures, statues and one noisy bell tower.
At some point this early May, I made my way to the middle of campus. There's the giant elephant statue outside of Morrill Hall. The ding-dong-dinging of the bell tower right next to it, and a few more steps through the middle of campus is a silver tree right next to Andrews Hall, the college of English where I spent a lot of time.
Who doesn't love a metal tree? The thought popped into my head, and, as I'll to do sometimes, I impulsively said to those around me, "That would make a good title for a short story about the environment."
I was met with one, "interesting," and a few stares. The stares said,"The title sounds like Philip K. Dick's 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,'" and, "How would you make the plot different from 'The Lorax?'"
I've actually never even read that Dr. Seuss book, but I started thinking I must have been exposed to it, or the ideas, somehow or another. Of course, books about the degradation of the environment aren't uncommon, nor are the plots of many TV shows or movies.
Just how creative are anyone's ideas really? Most any budding writer, artist or moving picture director probably feels the pull to create something no one has ever seen before. To be the new Hemingway, Dali or Scorsese — those that seem to breathe a unique life into their work.
But the reality is we've all got our thoughts from somewhere, even the greats. Hemingway's writing carried the air of a veteran of war, Dali's surrealism wasn't all that off from Picasso and Scorsese isn't the only one who has ever done crime flics. It's less about the subject and more about their personalities being put into the work.
So, would I ever be wrong to write the short story, "Who Doesn't Love a Metal Tree?" or does it call to much to electric sheep and environmentally aware rhymes? Maybe it should remind of them.
I just have to avoid being derivative and opt for stealing like an artist.