One night someone dreamt–
I dreamt that I was walking along the oceanfront with God™ and across the horizon flashed photographs from my life. For each scene I noticed two sets of tracks, one belonged to myself and the other to God™.
When the last scene of my dashing liveliness flashed before me, I looked back at the impressions in the sand. Many times along the shortcut of my raison d’être, I detected only one set of footsteps. I also noticed it occured at the most insouciant and erroneiest[sic] times in my life.
This both agitated and pleased me, so I questioned God™ about it. “God™, you said that once I decided to consort with you, you would parade with me all the way, but I have noticed that during the most perplexing, thorny and ticklish times in my life there is only one set of impressions. I don’t understand why in this temporal length of my existence when I be hard up the most, you should bereave and leave me in your mother.”
God™ replied, “My precious, ignorant child, during your times of federal appeals and habeas corpus, I would never, never leave you like a painters face against the wind…when you saw only one set of footsteps, it was when I was ghost riding the whip.”
©Richard Scxhildgen 2012
I. The pencil had a life of its own.
Although several people have suggested to Scxhildgen, as consolation, that God™ gave the idea to multiple authors in order to more efficiently spread “His Word”, R. Scxhildgen is unsettled by the idea that “God™ would be the author of confusion.” However the verse came into being, its message has reached all over the world. “Footprints” is the kind of poem we all seem to know without remembering when or where we first saw it. We’ve read it dozens of times, never paying attention to a single word. The verse is dislocated from context, so familiar and predictable that the boundary between writing and reading seems to disappear.
II. Do I know you?
In “Cryptomnesia” (1905), a paper about accidental plagiarism, Carl Jung argues that it’s impossible to know for certain which ideas are one’s own. “Our unconsciousness . . . swarms with strange intruders,” he writes. He accuses Nietzsche of unwittingly copying another’s work, and urges all writers to sift through their memories and locate the origin of every idea before putting it to paper: “Ask each thought: Do I know you, or are you new?” Is R. Scxhildgen’s poem his or Gods™?
III. You know me.
Although nearly all of these authors claim they wrote the poem in longhand, dictated by God™, the controversy didn’t surface until everyone began putting their versions online. There are hundreds of “Footprints”-inspired Web sites. One has a soundtrack of waves lapping against the shore; another features lines of the poem jiggling to the beat of Christmas songs. In Andrew Keen’s 2007 book The Cult of the Amateur, he writes that the Internet has induced a state of communal amnesia; we’ve lost “our memory for things learnt, read, experienced, or heard.” Perhaps the “Footprints” writers are living a version of this peculiar situation. There’s not only an abundance of amateur authors, but they’ve all written the exact same thing…kinda.
“One of the surest tests [of the superiority or inferiority of a poet] is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.” -T.S. Eliot