So I discovered Jerusalem artichokes the other day. They’re ugly little root-things but they’re delicious. They taste like…artichokes. You just peel and slice them up then sauté them. A lot easier than cooking real artichokes.
When I stumble upon a new food, I always imagine how it must have been for the first person who tried eating it. How did they know what was good to eat (e.g. NOT poisonous) and what it would taste like? Did they just try everything with their fingers crossed? Were they that desperate?
Probably. But sometimes I also think maybe God would occasionally come down and help them out. And that whole thing would most likely go something like this:
Farmer-guy (lifting the first Jerusalem artichoke out of the ground): “I wonder what this is. I wonder if I should try eating it.”
God (showing up, because there was a time when he just, you know, showed up, wasn’t there? Or do I have that wrong?): “Hey! I just thought of that. Yes! Try it!”
FG (apparently unphased by God’s sudden appearance): “It looks like ginger.”
God: “Well, it’s NOTHING LIKE ginger. Give me a little credit for originality. Try it.”
Farmer-guy peels the root, slices it, cooks it up and starts to eat it.
God (excited): “So? What do you think?”
FG: “Um. It takes like…an artichoke.”
God: “No, no, it’s not…”
FG: “Really. It takes just like an artichoke. Which is weird, because we already have…artichokes. What do we need this for?”
FG (eating more): “I mean, it’s good and everything, but artichokes are good. We already knew that.”
God (hands on hips): “Okay, fine. It’s just that…I’m out of tastes.”
FG: “You’re out of tastes.”
God: “Right. Out. Of. Tastes. How many ways do you think there are for things to taste, anyway?” (Huffing) “Not that many, let me tell you.”
FG: “That’s cool. I guess we don’t need any more new foods then. We’ll just stick with the ones we’ve got.”
God: “Oh, please, you people always want something new. And I’m running out of ways to re-package the old stuff and make it seem like something else.”
FG: “Ohhh! I get it. That’s why it looks like ging-”
God: “Shut up.”
(KIDS, please, if you’ve stumbled onto this post as part of an Internet search about Jerusalem artichokes for your school report, be aware I may have fabricated portions of the above conversation for dramatic effect. You shouldn’t be using this post for your report on root vegetables anyway. That’s what Wikipedia is for. Everything on there is entirely factual.)
One of the things I often say about the gym I go to is “You had me at Cardio Cinema.” A dark theater room where I can watch a movie while on the treadmill or elliptical? Perfect, because I’m all about the movieses and the storieses. Even when I’m pretending to work out.
The last couple of days, though, all I’ve seen is re-makes in this room. Total Recall. Footloose. Robocop. Not the originals. The “new” versions. I wouldn’t be the first person to complain about Hollywood re-making too many movies. But all of this has me thinking about a topic: New Ideas. As in, what makes a story idea truly new? Is it enough to re-package or mashup things that have already been done?
Or are we all just making Jerusalem artichokes? Looks like ginger, tastes like an artichoke. No new parts, but when combined together in a different way, a new whole. Sort of.
Leo Tolstoy once said: “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.”
Even better, in The Amazing Spider-man, Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy’s teacher, near the end and right before Peter tells Gwen the best promises are the ones you can’t keep (which is a line totally written by a male writer), says that there’s really only ONE kind of story: “Who am I?”
Maybe because I get most of my philosophy from Spider-man (come on, you mutter “With great leg room comes great responsibility” in the exit row when the flight attendant is describing your duty, too, right?), I sort of like that one – “Who am I?”
Either way, the point of both is the same. There’s a limited number of general plots. I’ve seen another list that describes seven. So how do we get so many books and movies and stories if there’s such a limited number of plot types? Because, really, there is a TON of original stuff being made all the time by really talented people.
Hmmm. Here’s part of what I think.
Some writers worry about their ideas being stolen. I never worry about this, because even if someone with those plans in mind knew about a concept of mine, what came out of their head – the specific plot points, their order, the characters, the setting, the language and voice – would be entirely different from what came out of my head. We’re all unique that way.
So maybe it’s true that there are only so many kinds of stories – one, two, seven – but there are any number of ways to tell them and that’s so exciting, isn’t it?
I think we do need the Jerusalem artichokes. As much as we need the ginger. As much as we need the original artichokes. We need those original takes on things but sometimes the mashups are great too.
At least that’s my rosy outlook today, until the next re-make I don’t like comes out and I go back to complaining. I would promise not to do this but, you know, the best promises…