She honestly couldn’t remember how she got into this workshop, full of brilliant and motivated people. She didn’t remember applying for it, exactly, yet here she was, whisked away to a rather luxurious camp— an isolated, densely wooded, deeply focused retreat.
The Nobel Prize for Innovative Thought was not necessarily handed out to eminent physicists or established scientific wizards, but to anyone who presented a unique and understudied idea in a reasonably cognizant manner. Two years ago, for example, a teenage art student was granted the $200,000 prize for their Theory of Exhaustion, which explored new techniques for neutralizing aggressive white blood cells in the body. An elderly woman was a runner-up last year for her presentation, called Randomness in Nature and Art, and How it Affects Radical Pathfinding.
So, what exactly was Naomi’s reason for being here? She had no ideas, none at all, and it was all anyone talked about in the cafeteria, which was crowded and noisy and boisterous and was the heart of the camp. “Who have you teamed up with?” one young man shouted at her, in between bites of a cheese and banana sandwich. She had teamed up with exactly no one, but answered, “Oh the girls at the end of the table, I forget their names, what about you?” Then she pretended to be summoned from across the room and left the cafeteria by the side door.
Not before she saw the Sharing Wall, where the tradition was that camp participants scribbled their ideas and progress so far. Some were simply mystifying and unfathomable, equations and biological diagrams. Some were just strange, like the person who was examining the historical significance of the points in the written number “4”.
She was expected to scribble her ideas at some stage. The pressure was intense. But her head was empty of any thought but: “How can I come up with an idea? Where do ideas come from? Where can I find inspiration?”
There were no answers. She knew no one at the retreat by name. She was the only one who was an impostor, a fraud, participating in an exclusive workshop in the place of someone worthy and truly talented.
It was twilight, and she walked to the shore of the lake. There were not many others about, since most chose to spark innovative thoughts by brainstorming with others and not by sitting alone in an aluminum lawn chair on a rocky beach. Naomi looked at the sky, a gradient of deep blue above to a white light at the horizon, soft and calming. There was one bright star in the sky, no others. Below, the surface of the lake was tossed by an inconstant wind.
None of her cabin mates returned that night. She awoke alone, very early, and made her way to the cafeteria.
At the Sharing Wall, she took out a stick of charcoal and wrote: “Gradient Inspiration, Discontent, and the Incompatibility of Sandwich Ingredients”.
She was either a genius and the next winner of the Nobel Prize for Innovative Thought, or she was in a dream, and would wake up to a life of gradient, inconstant inspiration.