Anna Karenina? I Thought of That.

ColumnBeen there, thought that.

Several months ago, Kimberly Clark announced that they would begin manufacturing a line of eco-friendly toilet paper. The paper would be produced without an internal cardboard tube, and could, conceivably, save millions of pounds of trash each year.  Toilet paper, by definition, is thoroughly and inarguably disposable, so finding a way to reduce its environmental impact is an astounding feat. And yet, I reacted to the news of this development with annoyance, feeling  somehow that I had been this close to coming up with that very idea. Taking the cardboard center out of a roll of toilet paper is brilliant but it’s also staggeringly simple. I think that given enough time I would have definitely come up with this idea myself– much the same way that some people think a monkey, if given infinite time and access to a keyboard, will eventually type the complete works of William Shakespeare.

This has not been the only time I felt like a terrific idea was rudely ripped right out of my consciousness. The world is littered with the best sellers I almost penned, screenplays I almost came up with, and articles I came very close to writing – all of which ended up being written by someone far less deserving of greatness; someone who actually sat down and wrote the damn thing.

For example, the guy who authored Marley and Me, a book about a sweet but overly exuberant Labrador retriever, must have surely stolen my idea, since I had a wildly hyperactive black lab and a long-simmering intention to write a book about him. I never got around to actually writing that book, but I thought about it quite a lot and I mentioned it once to a second cousin in New Jersey. Surely that counts for something.

Sadly, there are a limited number of great ideas, which is why I must frequently ransack the life experiences of my family members for inspiration. This does not make me popular at home, where my blood relatives live in fear of seeing themselves mentioned in print. When my daughter was in middle school she used to dread going to the nurse’s office. She would skulk in, trying to be invisible, wanting to quietly score some ibuprofen for an already mortifying case of cramps, only to have the well-meaning RN loudly exclaim, “Ali, I just read all about your bat mitzvah!”

My family would no doubt prefer to have their lives remain private. And when they express this to me I explain, gently but firmly, that I would love to be able to write a first-hand account of being an astronaut, a state senator, or even a rodeo clown, but the fact is, for the past 20 years my primary occupation has been washing other people’s underpants. It follows, naturally, that family life is often my topic of choice.

Of course, I am not the only one who has thought of mining the role of wife and mother as grist for the mill – the trash cans of magazines and newspapers everywhere are filled with the perky, housewifey efforts of those of us who think of ourselves as this millenium’s answer to Erma Bombeck. I will frequently read a “mom” piece and come away convinced that it has expressed an idea that I was right on the verge of having.

Which just goes to show that –tubeless toilet paper notwithstanding – there really aren’t a whole lot of original ideas left.  And the ideas I do have are frequently stolen right out from under me, before they are fully formed. My friend Stephen has experienced this too, and he announced recently that he wanted his tombstone to read, “I was going to say that.” I admire Stephen for coming up with such a clever epitaph…just seconds before I would have thought of it myself.

Susan Goldberg is a slightly lapsed treehugger. Although known to overuse paper products, she has the best of intentions – and a really small SUV. Catch her column, The Goldberg Variations, each week here at EcoSalon.

Image: fanpop