Of Talent And Turkeys

Image - iStockphoto: wrangel
Image – iStockphoto: wrangel

If Anybody Mentions ‘Talent,’ Just Gobble Louder

At the heart of mystique is talent. Which is the ultimate mystery. Why do some people have it while others do not?

Shelley Souza
Shelley Souza

That’s the writer Shelley Souza in one of several fine, thoughtful comments from Writer Unboxed late last week. In the lead essay there, I ask what, if any, impact contemporary networking has on the sort of mystique that once was a part of many authors’ persona. In an age without instant and constant online contacts, the solitude and quiet of a writing life may have helped many authors at something of a distance, for better or worse, from their readerships.

In my opinion, this bit of distance isn’t a bad thing. I think it helps the writer to think for him- or herself and to evaluate what she or he wants to say more clearly. Avid community life — so popular nowadays with many writers — can run counter to this, I believe, calling on too many of an author’s intellectual and emotional resources, albeit while supplying some interaction that can help reveal something of human nature.

There may be as many ideas of this — or as many gradations of the “right” amount of social exposure — as there are writers at work today, which is fine. No one needs to “win” these discussions. Keep that in mind if you find yourself running into defensiveness or even hostility when you discuss these things. Random, purposeless competitiveness is part of some people’s makeup, and it can mar a good conversation pretty easily.

What Souza does with the issue of “mystique” in literary and other artistic endeavors, is go either farther afield or deeper into the center, depending on your viewpoint. She looks about for the source of that mystique and dismisses the idea of it having as much to do with social availability or seclusion as it has to do with talent.

I’ll just note that she used the t-word before I did. If you say the word “talent” in talks about writerly success or failure these days, you may want to have a getaway car just outside, engine running, driver primed.

Souza knows this, too:

I know it is popular to say, and to want to believe…that everyone who attends [a conference] is talented; they just need a little help in making their talent shine. Therefore, if they attend X or Y conference, and listen to A or B expert and apply their advice or rules, the secret to polishing their work, making it shine, making it salable to the industry will be revealed.

Souza seems, as I do, to like a bit tighter grip on reality. She goes on in her comment to me:

I think we both know: this is not how talent or originality works. Hence the mysterious nature of creativity. The essence of mystique.

Van Gogh’s ‘Drop Of Talent’

iStockphoto: A Vincent van Gogh self-portrait used on an Udmurtiya postage stamp.

What she’s getting at there has to do with more, too, than the traditional dodge in which we intone that everyone has a talent for something and that all we need to do is find our own or others’ talents and help nurture them into fruition.

Many parts of our culture have supported such stances, not least because it’s nice to be nice: we’d rather say that an obese actor is “plump,” even “pleasingly” so; we’d rather say that an author’s book “just needed a good edit”; and we’d rather say that some lousy musicians “just haven’t found their natural talents yet.”

Needless to say, our loose use of the term talent helps us evade the real issues behind it.

  • In contemporary network newsrooms, the anchorperson is your “talent.”
  • In the Old Testament of the Bible, a “talent” was a unit of weight; it could be spoken of as currency.
  • In everyday parlance, a “talent” is usually a mere ability, skill, capability: the kid down the block is “talented” at mowing the neighbors’ lawns; your mom may have a lot of “talent” in the kitchen when it comes to the annual Thanksgiving dinner.

The more we spread around the use of “talent,” the less fearsome a concept it becomes, until we arrive at the inanity of a title like America’s Got Talent. I guessAmerica’s Got Mindless TV Viewers was already taken.

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By Porter Ander­son | @Porter_Anderson

Writing on the Ether: Of Talent And Turkeys

Originally published by Thought Catalog at www.ThoughtCatalog.com



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