There was a conversation I had with a roommate, oh so many homes ago, about creativity, innate talent, and hard work. It was a debate we had several times, and neither of us was ever able to bring the other onside.
He was a multi-talented kind of guy – great musician, good songwriter, fantastic artist. Walking by his room one day, I stopped to admire a portrait he was working on.
“Enh,” he said. “Anyone could do that. It’s all practice.”
I said, simply, “No.”
Not that he didn’t have a point – I could always see where he was coming from, and I also partially agree. When you see someone who’s really good at something, it’s highly unlikely that they just came like that. People who are really good at something have generally put a lot of effort into being that way. My roomie had gone to art school and had spent a lot of hours at the easel on his own because he loved it.
Next I asked him, “Why did you start?”
And he started, like most of us who get pretty good at something, because he enjoyed it, and because when he was finished doing what enjoyed, people saw something good in it and praised him. Which felt good, which made him want to do more, and so on. He had natural talent, and the relationship between that nascent talent, the innate joy of being creative and the societal reinforcement all lead him to put hours and hours of practice into becoming really really good.
Me, I couldn’t be an artist. Well, fine, maybe if I had three lifetimes of nothing else to do, sure, I could put in enough hours to train my eye to talk to my brain to talk to my hands a bit better. In this lifetime? Even if I had nothing else to do, artist is a long shot.
I could maybe have been a musician – I have some natural talent, and received a fair amount of praise when I was a kid. But the feeling I got when I played music was more often frustrated than satisfied.
I have always loved words, as long as I can remember. The sounds of them separately and apart, the feeling they gave me of being somewhere else, even when I was tucked away in a corner at home or school. The prickle of them under my skin when they were particularly right.
It seemed, too, that I had a natural ear for the written word, if that makes sense. The words I put on the page sometimes sounded like they were supposed to when I thought them in my head. I was a good mimic – still am – and could make a fair facsimile of writing I liked, which garnered me praise from my peers and grown-ups alike.
And those things together, made me work hard. I played music when my mom made me. I wrote whenever I could, because I knew I could do it the best of all the things I could do, and there is pleasure in doing the thing you do best.