Prompt #11:

Imitation is Suicide. Insist on yourself; never imitate. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Write down in which areas of your life you have to overcome these suicidal tendencies of imitation, and how you can transform them into a newborn you – one that doesn’t hide its uniqueness, but thrives on it. There is a “divine idea which each of us represents” – which is yours?

(Prompt Author: Fabian Kruse)

My Response:

In his essay “Self-Reliance” Emerson suggests that imitation is a figurative death of the self. He argues that we must insist on our authentic , unique essence and not conform to the pressures around us to be someone we’re not born to be. On the whole, I have always agreed with him.

I wonder, though, is imitation all bad? Mothers know that imitation is essential to the learning process of our children. Just an hour ago I was outside teaching ten month old Eric a little game to play with a ball. He watched me a few times and then began to imitate what I was doing. In our music class, our learning is based on imitative see-and-do play. We teach our children to imitate many of our social mores and our behaviors.

Imitation also helps adults learn, too, maybe to the extent that we become better at something than we are naturally. As a mother, I am always trying to iron out my kinks. Being around other mothers, including my own, and learning to imitate what they do well has been an amazing learning process. I love observing other moms, and more often than not I usually pick up a tip or two from watching them. I think good ideas have a way of passing themselves on in groups of people, and in fact, these kinds of ideas are often called memes.

Imitation, to my way of thinking, is not all bad.

Yet go into any high school and you will hear the modern language of hundreds of teenage Emersonians wandering the hallways. “Poser!” “Faker!” “Wannabe!” These are slurs in the high school world. Teenagers are gifted at identifying the imitators among them. This gift of sight extends toward their teachers, too. One of the keys to success at the front of that classroom is to be authentic and sincere. So what does it mean to be a poser? That’s really what Emerson is talking about. Not imitating in order to learn, but being a wannabe.

I think “imitation” means that you take your natural artistic impulses and hide them away. I believe like Emerson, that we are all born artists—artists of ourselves. We have the ability to write our own stories every day. That little spark of artistry is our “divine idea.” I think being in touch with that art means not being afraid to appear random in our joys and interests. I think that divine artistry has the power to make us interested in everything. An artist can turn most experiences into something endlessly fascinating. An artist is not bored. Everything in life fascinates, because everything is a way to know our authentic selves, and the unique selves around us, even better. This, I believe.

I really had to do some thinking about what artistic impulses I do not always indulge and perhaps cover over—even when I am aware of their presence. I will focus on just one for now.

My clothes.

If how we dress is an outward expression of who we are, then I am not sure I always represent my authentic self very well. Watching my three-year-old Katie reminded me of this. She loves to wear dresses and skirts, so much so that getting her into pants at this age almost never happens. She loves to twirl, and she frequently festoons herself with bows, ribbons, and jewelry. She is colorful and bright, a twirling rainbow of color on most days.

I remember: that’s how I used to be, too. In fact, that is still often me, but I imitate the idea that pants can be more practical (and no doubt they often are, especially with children) and grown-up. I have been known to choose pants, also, in situations when I felt insecure. But my natural artistic self? She wears twirly, flowing, poetic, whimsical dresses and long skirts. She loves color and in high school would pick flowers to put in her hair. She prefers to go barefoot (what is UP with shoes?) around the outdoors. She likes to feel flowing, romantic, and vulnerable, and free.

Often I tuck this whimsical self away, thinking she might not be taken seriously. I tuck her away, so that I can imitate being civilized when really I would like to dance in grass and dirt all day with my skirts swishing around my bare ankles. I tuck her away, so that I can imitate being a grown-up, whatever that is. I tuck her away, so I can seem practical and confident.

Lately though, for the past month, I have been trotting her out. I am losing more pregnancy weight, and some of my skirts are fitting better again. Some aren’t. We’re working on it. I need a few updated skirts and dresses to really make it work, I think. I plan to do a little shopping for a couple of pieces in the near future.

What divine idea do I represent? I suppose I represent the divine idea of whimsy, “a fanciful or fantastic device, object, or creation especially in writing or art.” So much in nature is more beautiful and artistic than it needed to be; so much is beyond imagination. There are species and creatures that are here on earth that have little to no practical function; they are here to add beauty to our experience, here as art for art’s sake. That is the purpose I want for my authentic self: I would rather, through my words and art and choice of perspective, add beauty to the world than add practicality to it. Sometimes practicality is beautiful, but sometimes beauty just needs to exist on its own for the sake of art. I want to be the person who points out that beauty so we all can enjoy it, celebrate it, and give gratitude for it.