Stoves that don’t turn on, lights that won’t turn off and a heater that has a tendency to light things on fire: just a few of the fun things that the previous tenants of my apartment left for my roommates and me. So far, we have survived just fine, and I’ve kind of managed to make myself comfortable in the rather stereotypical ramshackle college apartment I now live in.
While I may have gotten nicely set up with my Playstation 2, various posters and pet fish named after the Avatar Fire Nation’s princess, every day I am constantly reminded of our predecessors. Whether it be the multiple office chairs they left behind for us, the rather disgustingly overused chopping board (which I don’t use out of fear) or the dozens of letters that we still receive in their names, I am repeatedly reminded that I am living somewhere where dozens of people have lived before.
Now, I don’t say this out of disgust. I’m not bothered by it in the least. I know that, no matter where I live, people came before me, and they had as much of a claim to call it “home” as I do now. No, I just find it weird to think that now is my time to make this 600-something-square-foot apartment seem like my home and not some flat I’m squatting in. I feel a need to take the pockmarked walls and somehow make them feel new.
And it’s not only my apartment — everywhere in Berkeley I see the marks of former students. Be it the graffiti on the desks in lecture halls or the legacy of a particularly brilliant essay, hundreds of thousands of students have come before me. I am always acutely aware of the fact that someone else (dozens of someone elses, judging by the density of scribbles) sat in my chair in Dwinelle. And apparently this someone “h8’s school.” Again, a familiar sentiment in a familiar setting, leaving me with the challenge of making something new. In this case, making the school feel new, even under the weight of decades of history.
I suppose that’s it’s not necessarily that I’m located somewhere hundreds of people have been before; location means nothing, really. It’s more about feeling like everything I do has already been done, from attending a class to writing an essay. And by extension, I feel like I’m fighting an impossible struggle: trying to be original in a world that seems completely tapped out. I sit down on a couch that’s seated many other people before me, next to a previously owned fish tank, and I try to think of a new idea. And, despite my efforts, I find it near impossible. I’m far too intimidated by the great things, concepts and thinkers that came before me, because nothing I think up could possibly be better.
But I tend to wonder, why bother spending so much time and energy trying to one-up the people who came before us? They have had some excellent ideas — ideas that ought to be worked with rather than completely overhauled. I think innovation should be more like a collaboration of ideas. It’s not a particularly ambitious sentiment, but it’s a more realistic one. It’s not that originality is impossible; it’s just that our definition of what “original” means could use some tweaking.
For me, original isn’t being the next Albert Einstein or J.R.R Tolkien. Only a few people on the planet will ever achieve that level of ingenuity. I would like to think more than only a few people can be original. To be original in this idea-filled world, I would advocate being yourself, because sometimes your own unique characteristics, ideas or general makeup are all you need to put a new spin on an old idea.
While this may just be me copping out, trying to get around having to actually come up with anything novel, I really do think that what matters most is to simply make something your own, not new. Rather than reinventing the wheel with each assignment, I would instead create a response entirely in my own style. Even if it seems like all of the great ideas of the world have been exhausted, that everyone has been there, done that, the most important question is: Have I been there and done that? And, if not, how can I make “that” more interesting?
So I won’t make my apartment brand new again, and I’m pretty sure that its prime is behind it anyway. What I will do, however, is introduce an Ikea chopping board, hang some Quidditch equipment on the walls and maybe construct a cardboard castle out of the old moving boxes, because that’s way more “me” anyhow.