On March 15th of 2005, Pixar’s The Incredibles released on DVD. I watched it ad nauseum—sometimes several times a day—and yet, it never failed to entertain. I’d propel my little three-year-old frame across the dingy floor of my parent’s first house with clumsy somersaults, clomp around on all fours and pretend I was the awesome Omnidroid.
Though I feel a twinge of regret, I openly admit having preferred to visit my mom’s mother over my other grandparents. She was my favorite, in no small part because her home contained innumerable material amusements (the sorts of things children consider when evaluating their tolerance of social situations) and her husband could grill a mean steak. One amusement was The Chickens are Restless by Gary Larson—I recall hours spent flipping pages on the settee, leaving my siblings to watch the VHS of Aladdin while I perused illustrations of goofy chickens. So when a fourth-grade friend invited me to create a strip for his nickel-priced comic books, I devised “Muttley and Whiskers,” a witty three-box dialogue between anthropomorphic animals.
About when I was ten, poetry books caught my attention—specifically, the intimidating-bearded-man-with-the-teeth-on-the-back ones. Silverstein’s portrait was unsettling, but Where the Sidewalk Ends was another staple of stretches spent on my grandmother’s settee—the whimsy and absurdity of its content was charming and warm, and it inspired me to write my own collection of poetry. I stapled poems printed off Microsoft Word and borrowed the naming conventions of Kevin Kammeraad and I called my work “The Blue Cheese Collection.”
At ten and nine and three I embraced this axiom of creativity:
Stealing other people’s stuff is fun.
Or, with more elegance: I learned the value in working from my inspirations. One of my favorite streamers would call it the “yoink and twist.” Embrace others’ work and the ability thereof to rejuvenate and inform your own creative process. Creativity spins a communal web, and each and every contribution causes a reverberation with the chance of touching someone else’s life meaningfully. The stories we find worth telling are often a reflection of the stories we’ve been told, and those which have impacted us most—as I review the wonderful submissions for The Broken Plate 2023, I’m astonished by the worlds which unspool from memories of a single movie, book, or song.
Consider taking time if you’ve not in a while (or never) to think about the art which resonates with you most—and why, and how. And be unafraid to shamelessly imitate—so long as it’s not plagiarism it’s bound to be flattery, and exploring the style of an inspiration can be an excellent way to understand what you value in your own process. Even now, as I try to season my writing exercises with the tasteful acerbity of Isaac Brock’s lyrics or struggle to channel the heartfelt, bare honesty of the album Benji, I throw mediocre impersonations at the wall—the elements most meaningful stick.