When Someone Else Publishes ‘Your’ Thoughts (or, Mark Twain Has Great Fingernails)

When I woke up this morning before my alarm, I immediately grabbed my phone to check the time and see if I had significant time left to sleep a little more. I was smiling at the full hour and a half I had left when I saw the Facebook notification from my best friend Donna, but the smile left my face as soon as I saw her post – along with any thoughts of going back to bed. She forwarded me an article someone had written days earlier about painting fingernails!

(To see the article, click here.)

While the article itself may have little importance to some, it is extremely significant to me. Why?

I wrote the same ‘article’ in my blog four years ago – well, close enough to the same. (Actually, it was almost four years to the day; mine was published 4/29/2013, and this other writer’s article was published 4/17/2017.)

(To see my post, click here.)

Even the picture used for her article was very similar to a picture I used that same year.

fingers on coffee cup

These are just two of my favorite things!

It was like having a bucket of cold water thrown on me while I was sleeping (it certainly had the same effect – I jumped out of bed that fast).

FOR THE RECORD:

  • This is NOT about plagiarism. I do not think anyone ‘stole’ anything of mine.
  • I do not hate her article.

Writers, inventors, musicians, and other creative types are very familiar with the Mark Twain quote about ideas:

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

I’m sure every single person has had an idea that they dismissed at one time or another and saw another person some time later cash in on the same thing and kick themselves for not acting on it. Words, musical notes, blueprints, small parts, big parts … thoughts … all get recirculated and recycled.

But I acted on my thought! I did write about it!

In my blog. And only 30 people read it. This other writer had hers published by Glamour Magazine and the article was picked up by the Huffington Post, no less. The Huffington Post! (Can you say ‘dream’?)

Ain’t that a kick in the head!

(I bet she’s younger than I am, too.)

Fortunately – and maybe because of my age? – I was able to get past my initial self-pity. In the short distance between my bed in one room of my apartment and my computer in another (with a pit stop at the bathroom), I pretty much had my thoughts in order – and in a positive light – before I even sat down here at my keyboard. It was not so much as a kick in the head, but a kick in the ass.

Here’s what I realized:

I was validated. Someone else felt the same way I did, and the many other people who read and shared her article felt the same way. Did it matter that it was only about painting my nails? No. I was right.

Timing matters. Yes, sometimes you have to get something out at the right time, when enough people are thinking along the same lines. That’s the reason why some thousands of wonderful books, movies, and songs don’t make it – or even flop initially then grab a chart-breaking popularity some time later.

And now we get to the more personal ‘lesson’:

Did I really act on my thoughts? Yes. But no. I followed through with my idea as far enough to publish it in my blog. And I left it there. Did I send it out to any bigger publishers? No.

I try to be so clever with my blog titles, yet there is a definite difference in an article title – one that informs. To some extent I even downplayed my writing by calling it a ‘fluff piece’ – in the title.

Blogs allow us to be a little more self-indulgent, as well. That is a privilege I enjoy heartily.

We wrote the same idea but for different audiences. If I really wanted my writing ‘out there’, I should have tailored it a little more (with less self-indulgence) and added a supporting authority footnote (“backed by science”).

And then, I should have pushed it out. Pushed. Not just tacked up somewhere where someone may or may not have seen it.

Four years ago, I wasn’t ready to do that. Four years ago I had just started that blog (only two weeks prior to writing that particular piece). It was my third attempt at writing a blog and the first one that ‘stuck’.

Now, I am ready to start pushing further. I can read and enjoy that other writer’s article without anger of any kind – not even self-loathing – because my own personal timing played into things, too. Where I was back then is not where I am now, and it is a place I needed to be at to get to where I am now.

Reading her article was an encouraging nudge to me to get moving more, writing more … pushing more. Her article showed me that what I write about has an audience. No, I am not where I want to be as far as my ‘writing career’ goes, but this place where I am right now (like four years ago this month) is a necessary step in that direction. I have pushed my writing more, I have published more. And I still have more to do.

My alarm just went off. I have to get ready for work. To go do the job-that-pays-my-bills-until-I-can-make-money-writing.

Who knows? Maybe if I follow the nudge and my inner muse a little more closely and seriously, four years from now I will be on that next step.

The time is going to pass anyway; I might as well make it count.

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I Am (Was) Part of the Problem: Assumptions

Tamar Carroll and I are cousins-through-shared-cousins, which means I’ve spent roughly 1/4th of my holidays growing up (about half of the gatherings on my father’s side) with her. Between the combination of a significant-enough age difference that always affects interactions with the ‘once-removeds’, geographical distance, and an almost diametrically opposite upbringing, I had never considered that we had much in common.

I am sorry for that perceived and assumptive brush-off, Tamar.

We both published a book within a year of each other, and I still considered us at somewhat ‘opposite ends’ – her book being based on ‘real’ education and mine only on ‘opinion’ (we all understand the significance of that, and I admit it).

With the normal expansion (and division, in some cases) of families, I began to see less and less of her. Then we became ‘Facebook friends’ (still a funny term to me). I ‘see’ her regularly now; more than when we saw each other at family gatherings.

We are both adults, she is married and I once was, and we are both parents. As expected, the age gap that seemed so divisive long ago has declined with age and commonalities became more … well, common.

I (finally) began to notice things, like specific-subject-matter posts she put up, and her likes/comments on certain posts of mine – and I began to see a resemblance between us, and our way of thinking.

So, I went to Amazon and looked up her book –

and realized I was a complete idiot.

First of all, it was not some lofty, over-your-head thesis type, written only for the well-educated to debate at dressy cocktail parties, laughing while barely opening their mouths.

Again, I’m sorry for my assumptions – all of them.

Secondly – and this was the biggest kick in the pants – her book is about ‘community’ activism, the affecting of change, the banding together of groups usually marginalized, AND how they are all intertwined.

Connections.

Isn’t that what I write (preach) about, in my own way, in my own words? About separation and pre-supposition? About pervasive attitudes and ignorance of the scope of their reach?

And I missed this in her? Because of my own ‘programming’ that seeps into my thoughts and actions?

This means that as much as I talk about fixing certain problems, I am still an active part of them.

Was.

The first step is admission. To be able to admit I’ve done something wrong or negative, I    have to be well enough away from it to view it from the outside. Now, any assumptions I make are not ‘habit’ but choice, because I’m aware I make them.

This also validates points that she and I both touch on in our writing: how ingrained our ‘learned’ behavior is, the un-awareness of the full scope and pervasiveness of certain issues, and the ties between them. It is all connected. We are all connected.

Now, this ‘young grasshopper’ has learned – yet again – that with all she has learned, she still has so much more to learn.

Thank you for the lesson, Professor.

………….

Purchase her book here:  Mobilizing New York: Aids, Antipoverty, and Feminist Activism (Gender and American Culture) by Tamar W. Carroll

From the back cover: “Carroll contends that social policies that encourage the political mobilization of marginalized groups and foster coalitions across identity differences are the most effective means of solving social problems and realizing democracy.”

From the Preface: “… I began to doubt prevailing assumptions that a strong group identity is likely a barrier to social movement building, and I wanted to learn more about how [these] coalitions maneuvered within the difficult terrain of identity and power.”