When I contemplated things even further, I realized that what had transpired between me and Ann Patchett could have been the artistic version of multiple discovery—a term used in the scientific community whenever two or more scientists in different parts of the world come up with the same idea at the same time. (Calculus, oxygen, black holes, the Möbius strip, the existence of the stratosphere, and the theory of evolution—to name just a few—all had multiple discoverers.)
There’s no logical explanation for why this occurs. How can two people who have never heard of each other’s work both arrive at the same scientific conclusions at the same historical moment? Yet it happens more often than you might imagine. When the nineteenth-century Hungarian mathematician János Bolyai invented non-Euclidean geometry, his father urged him to publish his findings immediately, before someone else landed on the same idea, saying, “When the time is ripe for certain things, they appear at different places, in the manner of violets coming to light in early spring.”
Multiple discovery happens outside the scientific sphere, too. In the business world, for instance, there’s a general understanding that a big new idea is “out there,” floating around in the atmosphere, and that the first person or company to grab hold of it will likewise seize the competitive advantage. Sometimes everyone’s grabbing at once, in a mad scramble to be first. (See: the rise of personal computers in the 1990s.)
Multiple discovery even happens in romantic relationships. Nobody’s been interested in you for years and years, and suddenly you have two suitors at the same time? That’s multiple discovery, indeed!
To me, multiple discovery just looks like inspiration hedging its bets, fiddling with the dials, working two channels at the same time. Inspiration is allowed to do that, if it wants to. Inspiration is allowed to do whatever it wants to, in fact, and it is never obliged to justify its motives to any of us. (As far as I’m concerned, we’re lucky that inspiration talks to us at all; it’s too much to ask that it also explain itself.)
In the end, it’s all just violets trying to come to light.
Don’t fret about the irrationality and unpredictability of all this strangeness. Give in to it. Such is the bizarre, unearthly contract of creative living. There is no theft; there is no ownership; there is no tragedy; there is no problem. There is no time or space where inspiration comes from—and also no competition, no ego, no limitations. There is only the stubbornness of the idea itself, refusing to stop searching until it has found an equally stubborn collaborator. (Or multiple collaborators, as the case may be.)
Work with that stubbornness.
Work with it as openly and trustingly and diligently as you can.
Work with all your heart, because—I promise—if you show up for your work day after day after day after day, you just might get lucky enough some random morning to burst right into bloom.