I'm sorry to keep bringing up institute dances, but I keep thinking of things that I forgot to mention in the original post. This time I just want to mention that the cruelest thing they ever did was have a ladies' choice dance and allow "dates only" to attend. Their promotional slogan should have been "If no woman wants you, then neither do we." There, now I've said it and now we can move on.
Last week I had the privilege of going with the LDSSA Service Committee to sand and repaint some parts of the fence around the Logan Utah Temple. I got a chip of paint jammed under one of my fingernails and it hurt until yesterday, so my testimony's struggling a bit over that. But anyway, during this event I met this person who had a cool name that I can't say here because then anyone local will know who I'm talking about and that would be an invasion of her privacy. Suffice it to say that it sounded like the name of a Spanish dinosaur.
So anyway, she was like "What brought you to Utah?" And once again, I wondered why everyone asks, "What brought you to Utah?" They never say, "What are you doing in Utah?" or "How did you end up in Utah?" or "What were the primary factors influencing your decision to travel to such a culturally and sociologically different place so far from your childhood home?" It's always "What brought you to Utah?", as if everyone is reciting from the same script. For a while now I've always given the same response: "An airplane."
With that out of the way she moved on to, "What's your major?"
I said, "Creative Writing."
She said, "Oh, I wish I could go into something like that."
Slightly confused, wondering if she had really controlling parents who wanted to dictate her life's path and had already betrothed her to some guy she couldn't stand, I asked, "Er, well, that's within your control, isn't it?"
She said, "Well, yeah, except that I don't have the talent."
Then I gave her some words of encouragement and told her about the Creative Writing club that's open to people from any major, also mentioning that she could double major between that and her current Elementary Education and it would probably work out spiffily [sic], and now I feel that I've probably changed her life forever. If she becomes a more successful author than me, I'll never forgive myself, but until then I'm pleased.
I want to discuss that more here, and I'm going to because it's my blog and I can write what I want. I want to discuss her remark about not having talent. First of all, it may not even be true. People are way too hard on themselves and often falsely believe that recognizing their own strengths is arrogance. Maybe she does have writing talent.
But, let us presume for the sake of discussion that she doesn't. That is also a possibility, because life is unfair. Not everyone is beautiful and not everyone is intelligent and not everyone is athletic, and so on and so forth. Let us presume for the sake of discussion that's she's the worst writer in the English-speaking world; that her poetry is worse than that of the Vogons, that her prose is the real reason people hate America, and that every time she strings a sentence together, a kitten dies.
Is there any hope for this hypothetical version of her? Of course there is. And I know this is going to seem really out of character for the bitter, jaded cynic that is me, but... oh well.
Without checking the dictionary to see whether I am, in fact, technically correct, I am going to assert that talent and skill are two distinct and separate things. I am going to assert that people are born with and without certain talents, to varying degrees, and have no control over this. Remember that in Jesus' parable of the talents, the servants did not receive equal talents. The guy with the most literally had ten times as many as the guy with the least. But I am going to assert that regardless of which talents they are born with, they can develop certain skills. Of course there are still limitations, because life is still unfair, and their skill potentials in certain areas may be constrained by physical disabilities or what have you. But still, we have blind artists and stuff.
Now, I'm not for a moment setting myself up as the standard of writing excellence, but I'm more qualified to write about myself than anyone else, so that's what I shall do. I have a writing talent that, I presume, I was born with. It was always there. Teachers always recognized it and praised it. And yet, when I read any of my writing from between four and twelve years ago (anything older than that is "cute" and therefore exempt from normal criticism), it's so awful I can barely get through two paragraphs, let alone share it. It's convoluted, confusing, stilted, unrealistic, and just generally unpleasant. The talent is clearly there, beneath the surface - it hasn't changed - but it is marred by a severe lack of skill.
For example, the dialogue sounds nothing like the way real people talk. I hadn't grasped that yet. Actually, much character dialogue in books and movies doesn't sound like the way real people talk either, but it's constructed in such a way that it still works and people don't notice. There's an art to that. For another thing, I fell into the common trap of not being detailed or explicit enough about setting or character action or what have you. I had the whole picture in my head, of course, but didn't convey enough for someone unfamiliar with it to get what was going on. The end result of this is that a few years later, when the picture had faded, I was perplexed by my own writing.
Talent is no substitute for skill. There may be a few exceptions. There may be a few people in this world who can write a bestselling novel with no experience and no training and no previous failures. The rest of us can be united in the common bond of hating their guts.
Talent certainly makes acquiring the skills easier, but the main factor, I believe, is whether you enjoy it and want to do it. If you love writing enough then the time and sacrifice required will be worth it even if your natural tendency is to suck horribly. If you don't love it that much, then it will be drudgery and probably a lot less successful. I believe that I could theoretically become a professional basketball player, but only if I really, really, really, really, really, really wanted to, and since I don't, I can't put forth the kind of effort that it would require.
Now that's enough of that. Here, if the link works properly, is the rough draft of my class assignment story about Elizabeth Sommers, who was featured here last week (though you may wish to wait until a revised and superior version is available). It's about fifteen pages long, which coincidentally was the limit. When I shared my ideas with my group before actually writing it, they had a bunch of great ideas to make it darker and more disturbing. At the end, one of them said, "I'm gonna have nightmares about your character now." And I was like, "Well, you made her worse!" Unfortunately, because of the space limitation I wasn't able to do much with those ideas, but I squeezed them in a little bit.
Now, by way of wrapping up, let's bring things full circle by mentioning the temple again. Sometimes when I go to the temple, my attempts to get into a reverent and worshipful state of mind are hindered by my brain's insistence on recalling catchy and irreverent (not inappropriate, but irreverent) songs. And of course, the attempt to not think about them only makes me think about them by thinking about not thinking about them. Last week it was this one, which I'm sharing now because I don't see why I should be the only one who gets it stuck in my head.