We are all talented in some way. I think we can all agree on that. Right?
But, wait. There’s a catch. (Isn’t there always a catch?) Unfortunately, we are often not talented in a way we would have chosen to be talented.
You may want to be brilliantly talented as a neurosurgeon, say, but instead, since you vomit at the sight of blood and you loathe sharp objects, you are meant to be a collector of vintage buttons. You may pine to play for the Yankees, but, given your acute allergy to Astroturf and your fear of small, hard, fast-moving spheres, you are better suited to the more tranquil calling of vegetable gardening.
I could go on and on about the myriad ways life and reality can crush your dreams, but really! Who wants to get all distraught and angsty this early in the day?
So, I will, of course, talk about myself, which is what you get to do and are just about required to do when you write a personal blog. As I have mentioned in the past, my heart got smashed into little slivers when I finally figured out I couldn’t carry a tune. But after picking myself up by my vocal cords, I finally realized I liked to write almost as much as I liked to sing. And, unlike my singing, my writing didn’t elicit averted eyes or facial expressions of polite nausea.
Sure, I often wished I had a talent for something that caused people to heave great wads of unsolicited cash at me but, as the pretentious and the French like to say, c’est la vie (roughly translated as shut up and stop whining).
Unfortunately, writing is isolating and kind of makes you even crazier than you were when you started it. So, unless you want to end up confiding in your cat a little too much, you have to develop some kind of interpersonal skills.
That suits me just fine. After all, the only thing I’m interested in writing about are human relationships (I consider plot to be a necessary evil). The truth is, everything that intrigues me about the world can be explained through relationships. This is what I call interest in the human condition. My husband uses a far less flattering term for it (see here for the startling expose), but I think he’s just jealous.
Along the way, as I was laboring to hone my social skills, I discovered I did possess a minor talent for something else. Namely, I was quite good at introducing people.
I began to notice this when my family and I lived in Dallas. We had a friend we’ll call “Doug,” since that’s his name.
It was the late 1980s and “Doug” was single and looking for love. To meet women, he began joining groups. The first group we heard about was some kind of anti-nuclear organization. While “Doug” was in the group, it came up with a memorable slogan it plastered on billboards and bumper stickers across the city: “Nuclear War is Worse Than Cancer.”
Naturally, even though my husband and I aren’t pro-nuke or anything, we couldn’t resist the bait. Every time we saw “Doug,” we would nod gravely and loudly opine something like, “You know what, ‘Doug’? Nuclear war is also worse than dandruff.” Well, you can imagine how it went. We unleashed a gamut of other very sincere comparisons from acne to facial tics to hiccups and time passed and parties came and went and “Doug” began to get a little tired of us.
“We shouldn’t be joking about this,” I told my husband. “Dandruff can be a very serious problem for some people.”
Anyway, that’s when I stumbled across my new talent. Instead of making fun of “Doug,” I decided, I would embrace sincerity and respect for his beliefs when introducing him. I wouldn’t reduce myself to any cheap shots such as, “This is ‘Doug.’ He joined an anti-nuke group to pick up chicks.” No. I was a creature of far greater subtlety and finesse than that.
I practiced my introduction till I had the correct and properly somber tone, the careful pause, the utmost seriousness. “This is ‘Doug,’” I would say, then cock my head just a little while I paused to indicate a certain momentousness. “‘Doug’ is against nuclear war.” (Want a surefire conversation-stopper? That’s it.)
One time, somebody said my introduction was straight out of a New Yorker cartoon, which I took as a compliment, but “Doug” didn’t. Actually, he’d kind of been avoiding me at recent parties, I noticed. Oh, well.
That’s really the point of this post, though. As you recall, the point is that we may all be talented, but we don’t get to pick our talents. So, embrace your talent but don’t expect anybody else to embrace you.
(Copyright 2012 by Ruth Pennebaker)
If you want to see how exciting a writer’s life is, please read the story of me and the plumber