The Community Pot of Ideas and Why I’ll Never be Original

Submitted into Contest #158 in response to: Write a story that includes someone saying, “It’s not fair.”... view prompt



The sound of the kettle whistling in the kitchen interrupted Bonnie’s lecture to me on the ever-depressing state of my self-confidence. Her long, floral bathrobe floated behind her as she disappeared into the kitchen. I wrapped my legs under the knitted blue blanket on her couch and glanced lazily at all the trinkets she collected from decades of travel; a green, cloisonné vase from a flea market in Arles, a tapestry from Istanbul, postcards taped to the wall from her study-abroad semester in Czech. 

Bonnie came back into the living room with two cups in hand, steam billowing over their edges. “It’s lemon balm and mint from my downstairs neighbor’s garden. Yours has honey,” she told me as she handed me the cup. It smelled sweet, like Fruit Loops. Bonnie sunk back onto the floor. Even with the option of an open chair, Bonnie always preferred sitting on the ground. 

“Anyway, what was I saying?”

“You were saying, ‘Don’t be so timid, Gina, otherwise people will think you’re a doormat,’” I said, mimicking her high-pitched voice. 

Bonnie rolled her eyes and grinned. She took a large gulp of the scalding tea, leaving a red lipstick print on the rim of the white mug. “When you repeat it back to me it sounds so much more critical than I meant it. Gina, I only want people to recognize all this talent you keep so bottled up! If only people knew what kind of ideas you had floating around up there. You just have to keep trying.”

I shook my head and watched a few mint leaves that had escaped the strainer swirl to the bottom of my cup. “It’s not fair. I’ve sent close to twenty query letters at this point and whenever I’ve heard back from someone, it’s a rejection letter.” 

“Babe, you just have to keep trying,” Bonnie pleaded. “When I was your age, I must have contacted a hundred art galleries before I heard back from just one.” Bonnie was ten years older than me, a fact I often forgot but she took great pleasure in reminding me. She didn’t act like any other 34-year-olds I knew; she still spent most Saturday evenings bar-hopping and going to nightclubs. She loved when people assumed she had just graduated college, and she used to say a night was well-spent if she could only remember half of it the next morning. Still, she wanted me to think she was wise, and sometimes I did. Bonnie was a sculptor who made life-sized statues of people doing ordinary things out of ordinary objects. Most were in outdoor galleries around New Jersey, but one, a man made entirely out of used toothbrushes sitting in a chair with his legs crossed, lived in the corner of her living room. For some reason, it was her favorite, but whenever I spent the night and slept on her couch, its hunched figure unnerved me. 

“I think my biggest fear is being unoriginal–that all these publishers read my first chapter and have already seen ten, slightly different versions of the same thing from other people. I mean, it took me two years to write this thing and for all I know it might be the most unoriginal, boring piece of literature these people have ever read.” 

I found it impossible to be proud of myself for finishing the draft of my novel. It was not the first book I had written; when I was 16 I finished writing my first book but immediately after finishing, I decided people would think it was too similar to Pride and Prejudice. I told no one and never looked at it again. Rounding out at 185,000 words and twenty chapters, my stomach twisted with disappointment each time I reread my newest novel. When editing, I tried to look at my work like a publisher would, and couldn’t help but find it uninspired through those eyes. Bonnie was the only person I ever talked about my book with, and despite her enthusiasm, I always felt a gnawing embarrassment for thinking my story might be worth more than anyone else’s. 

“There’s no such thing as ‘original,’ Gina,” Bonnie said. “I used to be so afraid of missing out on an idea I had– I used to write down absolutely everything that came to mind. My infinite list of things I could have been doing but wasn’t always made me feel like I was never doing enough. But now, I like to think of a lost and forgotten inspiration as returning to the big, community pot of ideas. One idea slips into my head, I don’t do anything about it, and so it slips back out, waiting to find a mind that it can hook itself to. Your book was in at least one other person’s head before yours. Nothing can be completely original.”  

I scoffed but couldn’t help but smile at her fantastical notions of collective consciousness. Bonnie wasn’t religious but liked thinking that all people were connected through some nameless, invisible force. “Are you saying even my fear of being unoriginal is unoriginal?”

“Absolutely. Welcome to being an artist, babe.” Bonnie laughed and swatted away a loose, dark strand of hair that fell against her cheek. “Even my belief of ideas slipping in and out of people’s brains is unoriginal–years ago a classmate in a creative writing class wrote about exactly that in her personal memoir.” Bonnie winked, a wicked look in her brown eyes. 

Then her features fell, her smile lines and the little creases around her eyes revealing themselves again. “Promise me you’ll reach out to a few more though,” she said seriously. “I can help you find more publishers. We can go to the library tomorrow morning.” 

I groaned and sunk further into the couch and stared at the ceiling. There was a big yellow stain in the center from when Bonnie’s upstairs neighbor’s five-year-old daughter wanted the bathtub to be a swimming pool. I glanced back at Bonnie who looked at me like an expectant mother. “Okay. Just a few more.”

August 06, 2022 15:30

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.