As readers know, I’m spending this year evaluating my career prospects and figuring out how I can (whether I can?) make a happy and lucrative living in the years to come.
Part of this process involves figuring out what I do well. Being me and therefore a bit too introspective for my own good, I’m not just wondering what I do well. I’m also wondering what it means to do something well.
How much of what we are and do is nature? How much is nurture? How much is the perspiration so beloved of Thomas Alva Edison?
My two greatest strengths—the ones that have brought me the most satisfaction in the past—are my writing and my singing.
To an extent I was born with both of these—or at least trained to them. My mother was an excellent writer; my father, an excellent talker. They brought me up in a household that abounded with grammar, editing skills, and imagination (not to mention humor).
My family sang all the time—in the house, in the car, at bedtime. My grandmother considered becoming an opera singer. She serenaded us with a sweet, strong soprano voice she passed along to several of her children and grandchildren.
I recall family song nights around the piano in her house … and in the Play House at my summer home of Singing Brook Farm. There music flowed all around, like the brook that gave the farm its name or the rolling hills that sheltered us like a cradle.
Of course, I pride myself on working at both crafts. I’m a rapid and intuitive writer, but I do spend time planning what I write—and editing it into better form. Likewise, I work at my singing: I rehearse often, recording songs about which I am unsure so I can hear the points at which my voice flags or goes off key.
I also spend time researching the original context in which my songs were written and performed. I don’t want to imitate the original singers, but I do want to understand why they did what they did—and why the composers made the choices they did—as I work on my own interpretations.
Nevertheless, I know that I wouldn’t be doing this work, improving my prose and my voice, if I didn’t have a basic skill set to work with.
So … do I have any right to be proud of what I do? My talent is just … a talent, an innate ability that I may help along but can’t really take credit for. In a sense every day I just borrow my mother’s writing voice and my grandmother’s singing voice.
I find some solace in the OTHER definition of talent—not “natural ability” but (here I quote Merriam-Webster) “any of several ancient units of weight” or “a unit of value equal to the value of a talent of gold or silver.” In other words, talent is not just something we inherit. It’s something we spend.
It’s up to me to use my talent well, to spend my artistic resources wisely and productively. This is a true challenge for me. One of my other natural talents is for spining wheels. I’m apt to waste both money and time.
I hope at the end of this year I will be able to say that I am proud of the ways in which I used my talent.
Readers, what are you proud of? How do you feel about your own talents?