Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Inherent talent vs. sustained hard work

He wrote me the tabs to the song and I used his guitar to try to play them over and over. He was in the other room and I was really self conscious as I practiced the words in Russian that he had written down, and as I tried to get my fingers to do as he had shown me. See, he had just completed his first album, and now he was showing me how to play this Russian folk song on a guitar. I had been practicing guitar in the ample free time I had in my komnata there in Saratov Russia. Maybe he thought I was more practiced than I was, or maybe more talented than I was.

I liked being behind the guitar, I liked reading and singing the Russian folk song, I liked feeling like I might get this, if I practice long enough... I didn't like continually goofing up in front of my new musician friend.

It was St. Petersburg, 1997. He had just turned his hair purple and completed a record. I was at the end of my time in Russia. I had spent a year and a half drinking tea with women 2 times my age. To me, a person my age who made music and lived in St. Petersburg was somewhat novel. Ok, I will admit it, I was happy to finally be with someone my age who was cool.

It was white nights, a time when the sun never actually sets, lending to the whole experience a surreality. I lost an important ring. I explored St. Petes on my own sometimes. Traveling alone is a topic for another time.

It was there that the question first came up.

Should you bother to do it if you don't have a natural talent for it? I mean, can you say you do anything if really, you aren't 100% (or even 90%) confident that you can do it pretty well? Isn't there any room for the tinkerer? Sometimes, it felt, in Russia anyway, that you perhaps best not mention your interests lest you were ready to demonstrate.

I have a friend who is beautiful. And her parents raised her so well. She sings. And her singing is beautiful, not because it is perfect, but because it is sung with her heart. And to me, it is that heart that makes things beautiful and perfect. Maybe it is because she is gifted to make people feel loved, maybe it is the life she lives as a Christ follower, not back-biting or 2-faced, not hypocritical or self interested, but just really filled with love for people. Her song is the best to me.

The question reasserted itself time and time again. I realized that it lived in all the people I traveled with to Ecuador who were trying to learn Spanish, amidst others in the group who poked fun.

Should you bother to do it if you don't have a natural talent for it?

And if I wanted to escape it, I went into the wrong profession. Teaching.

Should I bother to do it if I don't have a natural talent for it?

Ok, I admit it, no. No. No, I don't have a natural talent for it. But I plead...
Look, I can do this, I will work very hard and I won't ever give up. I will do the best I can I will work so hard. I will be gentle, kind, encouraging, patient. Watch, I will do all the things no one ever thought I could. Because it is that important to me. I want this.

And after so many years of teaching, I can honestly say, yes, I am a good teacher. Because I have the heart. I have managed to translate that heart into every interaction with students to know what they need, and when I don't I, by default, encourage.

Somewhere else, there is Beethoven, Mozart and every savant with an affinity for something that ever was. Playing chess, speaking to each other in prime numbers, or maybe with colors. Everyone given a tremendous talent. Everyone who is really good at something, anything. They are there. With their talent. And probably an angst or two.

And the rest of us are over here, trying very hard to figure out either what we are good at, or, if in a world with people dying of hunger, if we are permitted to do what we would love to do every day if we were in heaven.

And what if what we do isn't what we are good at? And what if what we are good at isn't something we love?

For example, I am really good at making snarky jokes, being a bit cynical. But I am also good at seeing good stuff in people, encouraging them and I can be articulate. I am a good learner when it's important to me, and I work hard at what I have decided to do. But was I born to teach? Born to be a musician? Born to speak words of wisdom to folks? I dunno, I have to believe that if a person deeply wants to cultivate some ability, they can do so.

So the question is, what is more important, what is inherently in a person as something they are just born with, or a lifetime devoted to crafting and cultivating talents or characteristics that match their values? just curious...

Should you bother to do it if you don't have a natural talent for it?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


There was an argument in my head over the stone that was, in my mind thoughtlessly placed on her grave. Her son, my father, had chosen dice to put on the stone. It was, I suppose reflective of the way he viewed things. But I couldn't help thinking it looked like gram was a gambler or crapshooter.

The Grandma I knew was 20 to 30 years older than I am now. What I remember are her wrinkly pudgy fingers dirty from working in the garden cleaning up a collander full of green beans. I remember goats milk yogurt drunk with trepidation and secretly enjoyed for its milky sweetness with strawberries. I remember the glasses of wine, the endless games with the backgammon board and the John Deere tractor which she rode all over her property as she kept things clean. Chicken coops that seemed mysterious and ordinary all at once. Chicken wire which I clung too as a toddler and the creek with all its multicolored stones at the bottom.

And now I see other things too, my own love for gardening as its own escape. I see the farmers my family were. I see what a farmer is, someone who doesn't give up easily, knows the entire landscape of human emotion by glaring it in the eye with each waking day's coffee, or crawling into ones pillow at night.

I remember the smells, oh the smells of her farm house. Strongest of cats, then some indescribable earthy smells, fire smoke, hard water, dirt and bacon.

More recently I remember trying to build friendships at a university, in a ladies group starting off by describing their grandmothers. By the time the 5th girl described her grandmother, I was wishing I could either slowly be swallowed by my easy chair. I also wondered how conspicuous I would be if I ran out. I considered lying. Not out of shame, mind you, more of feeling like I had fallen in with a group of fine young ladies whose grandma's were worlds apart from my own. I didn't want to stick out, but I didn't want to lie, either.

Their grandmothers reminding them to keep their knees together in church by saying "Close your bible book!" contrasted sharply with my sweet granny who was scolded by a pastor for not wearing dresses to their small town church. I don't believe she owned a dress. To say nothing of him asking her not to come back till she quit smoking.

Or the time she ran her car into the smoke shack.

Or I could have told them, in retrospect about how grandma started following Christ when she was about 80. Or that she lived in the South Pacific with her family for a time. Or about the owls around her house.

One must mention her raising 4 kids, as well as 2 of her grandchildren. I can only imagine as an only child, it wasn't what she had anticipated.

Their grandmothers with lacy aprons baking something light and fluffy and scrumptious, mine with hands in the soil and cooking. I do think of her really as a very rustic Martha Stewart, actually.

I wish I could catalog all the stories of grandma, because they are wonderful. She was a true character. In her latest years she never stopped, receiving awards for her letter writing campaigns to begin veteran's history projects and revamping forgotten sacred lands.

I remember kissing her felt just like I imagined kissing Yoda would be like. Sorry gram, but each one of those kisses I anticipated such.

And when my turn came to describe grandma, I didn't chicken out, I told them that my grandma wore coveralls and rode around on a John Deere tractor and probably secretly wished that someone else would "weedeat the crick" (and sometimes not so secretly). But truthfully, I didn't go back.

When she died, her main entertainment was the birdfeeders outside her window. She loved, no, she lerved the birds and would make all varieties of suet and hummingbird food for them.

I remember as a very little girl her house seemed filled with secret stashes of Prang watercolors and coloring books and blank paper screaming to be drawn on. And strange interesting books and photo albums. As a little girl, I loved her sort of dirty but exotic seeming house. It just seemed to contain a million benevolent secrets.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Things I seldom think about: Women in church

Because I was not raised in a church, I don't have all that baggage goodness of understanding roles that women play in the church.

I have felt at times that I wasn't particularly good at "staying in line" in the context of what a "female role" was in church, but I was a pretty lousy "renegade" too.

Truth be told, I seldom thought about it.

But lately, there are so many different things coming at me about prescribed places women belong, and men too, that I never even realized existed. I am meeting intelligent people who have interesting stories to tell about where they bumped up against the edges of what was expected and came away a little flounced, and maybe surprised. And perhaps a feeling a bit turned out.

Like the married couple youth pastor team who had difficulty explaining to a pastoral staff that they worked together as a team and needed to each pull a wage.

Apparently the pastoral staff that the wife came for free, maybe with a plate of cookies.

And the young woman who has observed throughout her life the gentle nudging off the platform of female deacons and elders. Why didn't they get to serve?

And the man who can find no purchase within ministry at churches, carrying a message that it is men's job to help their wives realize their life goals (oh! I LOVE this!).

And things that I haven't thought much about arise in realizing "oh, yes, I guess they are there," and I have never very well played into the role of abiding female, have I? or have I? Maybe I have played into it more than I even realize.

Drowning in Love notes...

Fingers click clacked the letters urgently. The white paper set intrepidly by the keyboard and the soft eyes looking, waiting so quietly for the click clacking to stop, and the realization to set in. Focused deeply on a task, the click clacker doesn't realize what the blue eyes are patiently waiting for.

Realization of a love note.

There are times in life when you have to let go of precious things, things that you wanted and thought would be normal for you. Dreams deferred, deep sorrow, caring for people who need a person there to catch them.

And then there is that one little persistent beam of hope. somewhere. it just won't go out, it won't stop shining, it won't stop being beautiful, it won't stop being just whatever it is.

for the past i am not sure how long now, I have been receiving weekly love letters from my oldest daughter.

to tell you the truth, when she began writing them with some regularity, after i was overwhelmed with the sweetness that caused her to write them, and when she kept writing them i started to wonder why? and began to imagine that i had some how messed her up in a way that caused her to write a bunch of love letters to me.

I want to pause on that for just a second... wouldn't it be great if we could somehow parent in such a way that made our kids adore us? Ah... an impossible dream.

But as they came daily, I began to get overwhelmed "I love you! don't forget! I LOVE YOU!!!" I wish more people wrote love letters as prolifically as she. Would we all be so bedraggled then?

She is persistent. It has been months. I must have received upwards of 50 love letters from her. They are all over my desk, shoved in my bible, shoved in notebooks, used as book marks, in between recipes, taped in random places around the house... wherever you go around my house, you are likely to find a love letter.

I am no longer fearful that I somehow messed her up and the outcome is love letters. I must be very careful to cherish each one, as she observes carefully what I do with them.

She will say, "You just set it down, don't you like it?"

and I will stop what I am doing and look at her, and take her pink pillow cheeks in my hand and say "Are you kidding? Whenever I get one of your love notes, it's like God is using you to tell me how much he loves me. He loves me so much that he gave me a daughter that writes me love notes every day. They are the BEST part of my day,"

Then she perhaps has gotten exactly what she wanted from writing that love note, and we are all happy.

Lately, when i tell her that i love her too, she tells me "I love you more!"

I could post a few here, but for now, it has been wonderful just to meditate on being drowned in love letters. I hope it is an experience that everyone gets to have at least once in their lives.