When I was a freshman in college, I was trying to major in creative writing. My professor in the “creative writing 2” course was a woman whose name I have long since forgotten, but little snippets she’d read us out of her fiction have stuck with me.
One was about a man who would stand on a freeway overpass in LA with a baton and “conduct” traffic. This was something that she really saw — everyday on her commute at the time — and she worked it into the narrative of the novel she was writing.
I’ve thought of that man often over the years, but today I found myself wondering how he would feel were he to read her novel and see himself there. Would he be angry that she hadn’t asked his permission to be a character? Would he be honored?
This got me thinking further: What if someone reading her novel had found the idea of conducting traffic so charming that the reader then took up the practice? What if a different author then wrote about that reader?
What if the original conductor himself had been inspired by a story he’d read that my professor didn’t know existed, but which she ended up referencing in her novel, which was then read by a third person who had read the original and thought my professor’s reference had been intentional?
Perhaps ideas in art cycle through the world much like atoms of carbon do.