Probably because I’m in that sort of mood, I’m going to devote today to venting about “gifted and talented.”
I don’t precisely object to the idea that people have talents/gifts, though I’ll be honest, most days, looking at me and the things I do, I wonder if there is such a thing, or if it’s just an enormous amount of work substituting for gifts and talents. Or if an enormous amount of work can and often does substitute for gifts.
Look, like the chicken and the egg, it’s impossible to say not just which came first, but if there is one without the other.
I am aware some people are instinctively, almost effortlessly better at some things. I think the fact that we all have — more or less. These days I mostly resemble a rhomboid or a sea lion — the same basic shape — and we can use language to understand each other tricks us into thinking as human beings we’re more or less the same, but there are a ton of differences. Not just the difference that is “vive la diference!” but a lot of startling ones. Like, I don’t know about you tovarish, but the voice behind my eyes (which doesn’t have a Russian accent, unless I’ve been listening to TMIAHM again, which I have) is a voice, doing narration. But because I’m not a particularly auditory thinker, the voice in my head is actually the soft clack clack of a typewriter, and the words appear, typed in my head in an endless roll.
At any rate I think in words, with apparently film noir trimmings. So, imagine my surprise when, as husband was engaged in a difficult bit of writing, he revealed that he thinks in images. As in he sees a movie inside his head. And then he has to translate to words, which apparently makes the whole thing more difficult.
Anyway, to backtrack, some people are instinctive good at some things. This is rarely a “full task.” Like, suppose you have to cook something. You might be instinctively good at picking ingredients, or have a good feel for how to chop various things. OR you might be excellent at adjusting seasoning. You’ll very rarely have all of those, so you’ll have to learn the things you don’t have “for free.” And it’s possible for you to learn them so well that eventually you can — easily — do all of those tasks, and you no longer remember what you got for free. Unless you’re a freak of nature, and that thing remains far an above best for you.
BUT it’s possible to be good at and succeed at things you have not the slightest talent for. Take me and my brother, for instance (do. And feed us. We’re both getting old, and we’ll have an argument in your living room while you cook.) He has a natural talent for languages. You could drop that man naked in the middle of the Amazonian jungle, and he’d emerge a few months later speaking several of the languages like a native.
Me? No discernible talent for languages. Not even a little. I was always good at my native language, but learning a foreign language was a process in which I lagged behind even the dumb classmates. My accent was atrocious, my grammar odd, and my vocabulary askew.
And yet, I not only managed to graduate, I managed to — at one point — be fluent in 7 languages, which I could interpret to and from at the same time (and did, in very weird circumstances.) Or rather, you know one after the other, as I couldn’t actually speak two foreign languages in the same instant.
How? Well…. I made more of an effort than my classmates. WAY more of an effort. And we won’t compare my effort with the amount of effort it would take my brother, because that will just make me cry.
Of course, the minute I stopped making an effort, I started losing ability. I could probably recover French and Italian, if I absolutely needed to and made a lot of effort. i suspect German is gone forever. The others…. I don’t know. I’ve had little exposure to them over the last 10 years, at least.
And yeah, I’m currently making a living in my third language, but I think I did that by effectively replacing Portuguese in the “native language” slot. At least no one who listens to me trying to speak Portuguese would believe I”m a native speaker. Fortunately mom is getting old and no loner laughs out loud at my issues.
Anyway, the point being if you’d met me in the days I was working as a translator and interpreter you’d probably think I had a talent or a gift.
Which brings us right back to “gifted and talented.” These people are essentially saying the same thing in two different ways.
Gifts and talents are those things you get “for free.” Which is a blessing and a curse.
For one, if it is a genuine gift or talent, you’ll undervalue you, because you assume everyone can do “that thing.”
And if you’re a particularly non-observant disposition, or if you only hang out with people who are like you, you might go through life being really annoyed at people who “refuse to do thing” because “it’s so easy, if you just try.”
I’ve had this pushed on me for the strangest things. Like, born in a family where perfect pitch is “normal”, after my hearing became terrible at 12 (The songs I learned before that do have perfect pitch) I was forbidden to sing and told if I wasn’t “even going to try.” Then there was jumping rope. To this day mom thinks dad, brother and I were actively punking her when we refused to jump rope. Oh, and on that, there are many, many gym teachers in Portugal who spent their lives devising creative punishments for me, because they were sure no one could be that bad, so I must be doing it on purpose.
And while I realize some of my quirks are hard to believe — like the fact I can’t dribble a basketball. I don’t mean I can’t try to dribble it. I really DO try and if the basketball teacher I made cry is reading this: I WAS TRYING. For two hours. I just can’t get my hands and feet to coordinate, let alone deal with a basketball — I really was attempting my best.
Oh, that is the reverse of natural talents. Almost all of us have one thing at which we’re startlingly, bizarrely bad.
Yeah, mostly it can be overcome, if you’re willing to devote enough time to learning it. (Look, for me to learn to jump rope or dribble a basketball would probably take the time remaining to the heat death of the universe. And I don’t have that kind of interest.)
Anyway, the other problem with your natural talents is that, even if you become aware of them, you might have absolutely no clue how you do “this thing.” So supposing something happens and you lose it, you can’t get back there again. More importantly, if your talent is necessary to whatever you do for a living, you’ll go in fear you’ll lose it suddenly.
(Chill. Barring major health issues, this is unlikely.)
The other thing I object to, is classing PEOPLE as “gifted and talented.” First because everyone has his or her own gift or talent. Yes, sure, it might be that you were born to be the world’s greatest tiddly wink player. But it’s still a talent. But second of all, because no one is uniformly gifted or talented.
And btw, that’s the third danger. If your gift is overwhelming, you tend to lean on it REALLY hard, and never realize you could learn other stuff, which in turn means that while you might have a career as a chef, your food will never be as good as it could be. Or mutatis mutandis, your books will never be as great.
In my case, I get two of the many gifts a writer needs for free: language (the most useless gift) and characters (the most annoying gifts, collectively.)
The first one has forced me to keep a straight face and not know what to say when I get stuff like “I can tell you slaved over every word”. I used to get this A LOT in rejections and it made me go “Oh, hell no. Hopefully I remembered to spell check.” I get it as a compliment too, though. As in even some of my detractors will say things like “of course her use of language is wonderful.”
I not only don’t know what they’re talking about, I’m not jealous of whoever knows. Look, I use the words I need to to get where I’m going. I do try to read over and spell check because I’m the queen of typos. (And I don’t read over or spell check blog posts, before you ask. For reason of not being paid for them.) But that’s about it.
Then there’s characters. My characters is to be so out of proportion for my writing that it often led mentors to say “I know you’re not really interested in the plot” or whatever. But really, no. I just get full people in my head, talking about themselves and what they’re doing.
But therein lies a trap. You see, I rarely (once or twice) can write what they “are doing” without tweaking. Because when Himself handed out plotting ability, I’d just gone to the kitchen for a cup of tea.
So the fact these people are very sure they know everything that needs to happen made things more difficult for years. You can bend the narration, but since I didn’t fully understand how, my books ended up like my mom’s 11 things stew which she made when she was cleaning the kitchen. Eleven things was a minimum and she didn’t throw in the kitchen sink because she didn’t have a large enough pan. When you kitchen sink a plot, it becomes a formless blob no one can enjoy. (I wasn’t that fond of the stew, either.)
I eventually figured it out by diagramming plots of books I liked until my back brain got the point. And now by and large I can do plot, I just don’t get it for free.
I’m much better at diagnosing plot missteps than character or language, though, because well, I had to learn it. Hand over hand. One by one, like Juan Valdez.
So you see, sometimes the gifts you’re giving are not the gifts you need. You still can’t give them back, and you have to learn to work around them.
And sometimes the gifts you aren’t given means you get to learn to do something really well.
And “gifted and talented” remains a moronic phrase. It’s like “tall and height enhanced” or something.
See, that offends me, because it’s just bad use of the language. And everyone should be good at language instinctively, of course. It’s like they’re not even trying.