Layers of Influence

As my last semester of undergrad approaches, and the thesis presentation that comes along with it, I’ve begun to ponder the question of influence once again. I’ll admit that I’m still wringing my hands and brains when it comes to what I’ll say when I’m asked to talk about some of my influencers because I have the hardest time iterating the elaborate scheme I see in my head. I see a seamless “timetable” (for lack of a better word) of who/what/when/where/why… authors build on ideas build up to themes.. it’s exhausting. This tapestry of inspiration and influential bits is so seamless, in fact, that I can’t distinguish who influenced me in what way, when a bit of inspiration sunk in effectively, or how exactly I was changed by what I heard/read/saw/thought. Everything flows together, is bound up through, on top of, and underneath, contained in my head. And new things are being added daily. 

I haven’t been able to identify many specifics; I haven’t had a chance to pick myself apart and figure out the heads and tails of what my brain has collected over the years, but there was something that one of my friends said in a recent conversations that resonated with me and helped me understand WHY it’s been so hard to compartmentalize everything in my head: 

Every professor, teacher, mentor we have ever studied under has influenced us in some way. In a unique way. A group of students who study under one professor will all be influenced and inspired in a different way.

Sense. Made. And I’ll go ahead and mention the obvious: the “layers of influence” go beyond teachers and mentors. There are things in what I read, conversations I have with strangers and friends alike, and experiences that I have or hear about that add shades of color and texture to my “influences” list. I’ve slowly begun to realize that things I notice in books, or thoughts that occur to me (regardless of how dumb I might think they seem at the time) are important. I often find myself thinking “hey, I should record that thought or idea or quote” but then, after considering for a moment, decide not to write it down. Why? Why is that thought so unimportant? Why is that idea a bad idea? 

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I frequently undervalue the bits of inspiration and people/experiences of influence, and in the process of failing to note them, I fail to realize the bigger picture. What of all those times I noticed an authors’ use of catch phrases with certain characters; what if they amounted to something like a propensity in myself to use catch phrases in my own way? Or what if I was held captive by another authors’ pacing, so much so that I had to catch my mental breath, thinking “wow!” What can I learn from that, and how does that change the way I approach my own writing? I’ve decided that half the battle is noticing what makes you gasp and cringe, what captivates you and stirs up the passion in that fantastic heart and mind of yours. THAT is why it’s SO important to nab the thoughts that pass through your head, however off-the-wall they may seem, ideas, and random stuff that you notice and think about. A lot of people expect their influencers to be these big, important figures; they feel like they’re required to have big names on that list… but honestly? Be honest. Really think about what and who influences you. You may be a lucky person who DOES, in fact, have big, famous influencers on the list, but the reality is, we’re all more deeply affected by less known and seemingly less important things and people. 

YOU are unique; there will never be another person like you. It’s like what one of my friends’ parents said to me the other day: nobody ever has the same parents. You can have 8 kids from the same parents, but not a single one of them will have the same ideas, live a same life, or do the same things and come away with the same experiences as the others. Kinda cool, huh? So appreciate YOUR layers of influence, regardless of how significant or insignificant they are. Enjoy the weird beast in your head 😉