Let’s talk about that glowing, vapid word that has been attached to anyone engaged in a creative endeavor: Talent. What does talent mean? An inborn strength of ability, a predisposition towards excelling at something. And that’s essentially it. Talent is but a precursor, a phenotypic variation. And people keep confounding it with fate.
Think for a moment about humans. Think about all the different traits we have that can vary. Think back to high school biology, and all the combinations of oversimplified alphabetic concoctions used to explain the potential inheritance of these traits. Of course, we cannot explain away different aptitudes for different things with these schemes – attempts to do so in the past have gone horrifically awry. But they do offer a useful analogy. I am not tall like my father. But I would not for a moment resign myself to thinking I am never meant to reach the top shelf of anything, that I was just not born to access the tea and meringues a foot above my head. I get a chair.
These assumptions disproportionately plague creative fields – music, writing, the arts at large. Unlike many other fields, where we might attribute a person’s success to a combination of aptitude and hard work, we tend to think artists or other creatives just are. And it’s not just projected onto other people – it becomes ingrained in us as well. I know so many people who feel stunted creatively because they think, well, maybe that’s all I was meant to be. I keep writing, and nothing is good, so maybe I should stop. So many people who can identify a spark of genius in their childhood selves that just, somehow, flickered away. I feel like that, too. But we would never think that way about other things. I am not disappointed in myself now for not being able to run a six minute mile – I haven’t trained for it. And I wouldn’t expect to be able to run quickly just from having run sort of fast once, three months ago.
I groan, and decide again not to jump on the treadmill, because it’s hard. It sucks, honestly. Being slow is terrible. Carrying the weight of yourself at the pace of the middle-aged man next to you and feeling your joints crackle like Rice Krispies doesn’t hold half the glory of breaking through a finish line. And then a month later, what do you know, I’m still slow.
Sometimes you write godawful sentences for a month straight, and your poems creak like your tortured, unconditioned knees, and your music collapses in Charlie Horse agony. But it won’t forever. Look back at a notebook from decades ago. The clumsy curve of those giant, lowercase print letters. The detectable wobble in your hand, the weakness in the muscles that knew your name but could not yet express it. Look at a notebook from yesterday. You probably have your own discernible scrawl now. Maybe it’s beautiful in an odd way. Maybe it’s subpar because you type a lot. But it’s beyond good, beyond sufficient – it’s yours.
Outline the curve of your letters over and over again, as if learning to write with a new hand. It will come slowly, so slowly – and to others, it will come more quickly. It means nothing of what each of you are supposed to be. It’s not so easy, though part of you wishes it were. The same part of you that stares at the shelf and sighs and sighs, like a child, wishing you could grow two feet in one night, unaware of how painful that would actually be.