You know how we always ask kids what they want to be when they grow up? As a child, I hated that question. In the first place, I didn’t know specifically what I wanted to be. And secondly, I didn’t want to have to wait until I grew up, I wanted to be something spectacular right then and there. I wanted to be a child prodigy, displaying talents and accomplishments beyond everyone’s dreams in… well, something!
I had this theory back then: I figured everyone was born innately wired with the aptitude and talent to excel in something. You just had to figure out exactly what you had been programmed to excel in, and then do it. We read about children who, the first time they sit down to a piano, can pick out simple tunes. By age six they are composing songs. And when they’re ten they are conducting some major orchestra through pieces whose titles most ten year olds can’t even pronounce, let alone play. That’s what I wanted to do.
Well, I took piano lessons for umpteen years and my hidden talents remained just that – hidden. I also eventually discovered that I was not going to excel at playing the cornet, base fiddle, banjo, guitar, electric bass, dulcimer, accordion, harmonica, or the kazoo. I was still going to try the flute and autoharp, but by the time I got through all those other instruments, I was no longer a child, and thus my hopes of being a “child” prodigy were lost forever.
I tried my hand at other creative and artistic endeavors. I attempted to paint with oil and watercolors. I took one oil painting lesson and produced a wonderful cerulean blue sky that was to be the backdrop to an old barn landscape scene. For some reason, though, it just wasn’t – I don’t know – cerulean enough. I never finished the painting. Which is okay. I don’t think the Louvre is reserving a spot to display it anyway.
The part of all those child prodigy stories that I seemed to overlook was the commitment of time and energy that followed the initial discovery of talent and aptitude. Between the first realization that Junior could play chopsticks at the age of three and the opening night at Junior’s first symphony performance, there were a lot of hours spent with Junior’s bottom firmly ensconced on the piano bench.
The other lesson that I never caught on to was the dedication to one specific objective. You know the saying, “Jack of all trades and master of none.” That was me.
In spite of all this wisdom I claim to have garnered about focusing on goals and applying oneself diligently to accomplish them, I’m still trying new things, waiting to discover that creative spark that will compel me to great heights of accomplishment in… something.
My latest endeavor is writing fiction. I’ve begun a murder mystery novel, and have written the first chapter. Three times now. I also want to learn to work with stained glass if I can find a teacher. I’ve had plenty of experience breaking glass, even if it was unintentional, so I figure I have half the process mastered already. Now I just need to learn how to stick it back together again, right?
And maybe I’ll take up painting again. One lesson may not have been quite enough to judge my potential. I still have the canvas with my barn scene. The sky is still cerulean blue, free of the white nebulous clouds that were to have wafted onto the scene at my second painting lesson. Someday I will take more lessons and finish it. If I wait too long though, the old barn I penciled onto the canvas will blow down, and then I’ll end up with a painting of a heap of shingles.
Now, my question to all you philosophers out there: suppose this child prodigy pianist we were discussing earlier had grown up without ever coming near a piano? Would he go on to master something else with equal success? Would he eventually find his way to a piano and become an “adult prodigy?" Or would he go through life oblivious to the innate talent lying dormant within him and spend his years as a mediocre barber or baker or whatever?
What do you think?
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I never did finish the painting or the mystery novel. They both eventually found their way into the round file. I did, however, teach myself to do stained glass work, and I did take up painting with acrylics for a while. I enjoyed both activities, but have gotten away from them. I find it hard to keep at something for any prolonged amount of time. But maybe someday I will find my talent, and will have the wherewithal to stick with it. Haven’t tried pottery yet…