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If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then what is plagiarism? It has been thirteen years since I first pondered this question following a job interview that required me to submit writing samples. Soon afterwards, my samples were plagiarized.

I wouldn’t have known about it except for the fact that the burglars actually hired me. On my third day of work, I opened my new employer’s house publication (the one I’d been hired to write and edit) and found work I wrote for a previous employer. It was exactly the same content except for a subtle swap of named professions to make it at home in its new environment.

Here, I must give the thieves props: they apologized for their ethical lapse, lamenting that they should have sought my permission. I was flabbergasted by the apology for two reasons: 1) because the content was so uniquely crafted for the original audience that it seemed like a blatant insult to simply transfer the same words to a different group of people and 2) because it wasn’t my place to grant permission even if they had asked. The work belonged to my previous employer. How sorry I was for leaving. But there I was, three days into a new job and I couldn’t turn back; I had trained my replacement.

I could see that we had nothing in common and that I wouldn’t last long in such a place. It was one of those events with the legs to inform how you think for a very long time. All these years later, I know that their decision was unethical, but I finally see it through the gentler lens of someone who has made many mistakes.

When we think our backs are against a wall (whether that’s true or not) we sometimes do things that will later make us ashamed. We’ll strive in any number of unholy ways. Among them is taking credit for something we didn’t do or becoming defensive when someone tries to take something precious.

The reality is that few of life’s truly precious things can be stolen. I loved the people I wrote about. At the time, I thought my appreciation made what I wrote about them sacred. That was wrong. Only the love was sacred. Love can’t be stolen or pretended. Only the real thing will do. Everyone has to go out and get their own love. In hindsight, having my work ripped off seems more like a gloved compliment now. Naturally, I still wish my idea had been reinvented in a new way for an audience who deserved to have something unique composed about them. It would have been better that way for everyone.

Reinvention Rocks (or is it really that old?)

Have you ever noticed how often a brand new idea actually goes back to an old idea? When I saw this tweed coat at an auction, it was identified with the 1940s. I thought, “Yeah, right.” Despite the obvious 1940s styling, I couldn’t help suspecting it was really from a later era revisiting something earlier, as fashion often does. But once I studied it, I realized the 1940s claim was plausible.

Here’s why. The first time I wore this vintage coat, I reached to close my car door and felt the lining rip, an audible sign of its age and fragility. Ooops. Other telltale signs were the tags, which show the coat is made of tweed loomed in Great Britain. By the 1950s, Great Britain had grown into the world’s largest exporter of wool. Considering the textile industry’s role in Great Britain’s economic recovery after World War II, it’s probable that this coat was made in the late 1940s during that climb.

That’s supported by another tag revealing the store that sold the coat, Dickson and Ives. This Orlando, Florida department store was founded by two Georgia entrepreneurs who got their start in business following Florida’s severe economic downturn known as the Great Freeze of 1894-95. Henry Dickson opened a printing business in Atlanta, but left it in 1887 to move to Orlando where he sold feed and fertilizer. A few years earlier, Georgia native Sidney Ives also moved to Orlando to open a grocery business.

The two men formed a partnership in 1897 and consolidated their businesses in a larger store, allowing them to grow into other products like grain. With their prosperity came new ventures including a department store and the sale of stock in the thriving Dickson-Ives Company. By 1914 the Dickson-Ives department store was successful enough that the two merchants renovated the store’s building and closed their grocery business.

Dickson-Ives Company was reorganized as Dickson and Ives in 1944. The first non-family member to run the company bought a majority interest in 1949 and sold it in 1958. Without the family’s influence, Dickson and Ives began to flounder. It went out of business in 1965.

For all these reasons, I figure this vintage gem may have kept some Orlando tourist warm about the time Harry Truman signed the Marshall Plan. Everyone who has seen this coat imagines how warm it must be. It’s actually lightweight tweed, perfect for the mild weather we’re having.

Here’s to great ideas made into new and better ideas!

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.