On Self-Centeredness and Originality

In a recent family discussion about religion, my mom said, “Numb butts don’t make better people.” She argued that sitting on a church pew for hours on end each Sunday doesn’t automatically make you a good person. What matters more is what you do every day, when nobody is watching.

I recorded the quote in my Notes app, so I’d never forget it. The next day, I wrote down another. Then, I added something my best friend said. It’s a habit now. If someone says something profound or funny, I stop them mid-conversation to document it.

I’ve found that real people give better advice than any self-help book could. With summer fast approaching, I thought I’d share some of my favorite quotes from this semester.

“To exist, you have to be self-centered.”

I just had a conversation with Jessica Twitchell, Resident Director & Coordinator for Access & Inclusion, better known as “Twitch.” I expressed my anxieties about finding a healthy balance between pride and humility, as well as self-care and advocacy work. 

I told her that I want to be humble, but I don’t want to snuff out my accomplishments. I want to help others the best I can, but I don’t want to overlook my health and happiness.

Twitch replied, “To exist, you have to be self-centered. Self-centeredness is really self preservation.” In a simple statement, she put my feelings of guilt to rest. There’s nothing wrong with prioritizing myself. In fact, it’s necessary to my survival.

“You’re not finished until you’ve cut out your favorite scene.”

As a part of the Southern Film Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers, which was held at the Clayton Center for the Arts, I watched a documentary called “Los Hermanos.” It follows two Cuban brothers separated by the Cold War who were reunited through music. 

After the credits rolled, one of the filmmakers, Ken Schneider, opened up to questions about his work. I asked two questions. First, I wanted to know how he lets go of footage that he’s emotionally attached to, when it doesn’t fit the storyline.

Schneider said that one of his mentors told him, “You’re not finished until you’ve cut out your favorite scene.” There was one scene in particular he really wanted to include, but he realized that it distracted from the purpose of the documentary. When he took it out, “The film got better.”

I saved Scnhnieder’s response because it reminded me that what I’m most emotionally invested in might not be what serves me best. I don’t have to stick with every plan or person forever. Sometimes, I need to let go and move on, in order to grow.

The second question I asked Schneider was about how he separates his biases from his work. He responded matter-of-factly, “My biases are all over my work.” When he decides what to document and what to omit, he is “framing reality.” His unique experiences and identities, he said, make his work meaningful.

Since middle school science class, it’s been drilled into me that I ought to avoid biases at all costs. But as a writer and artist, Scneider made me realize that I’ve been doing myself a disservice to strip away everything that makes what I create mine.

“Don’t worry about whether or not what you wrote is edging someone else out.”

Steve Wildsmith, Maryville College’s full-time social media specialist and a freelance journalist, stopped by my publications class to offer advice as a professional writer. 

One of my classmates asked him how she could be sure writing was the right career path. She feared that her work might take up space that could instead belong to someone with a more valuable perspective.

Wildsmith responded, “Writers can’t not write . . . Don’t worry about whether or not what you wrote is edging someone else out.” He said that it’s more worthwhile to hone what you can offer that nobody else can.

I think his advice brings everything full-circle. Twitch emphasized the importance of self-centeredness; Schenieder, of originality; Wildsmith, of both. As a creative and as a human, there’s a place for me in this world, and it gets better as I make it my own.

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