I just sat down to begin yet another clever blog entry only to let it languish in my draft box, un-posted, along with so many others. Yesterday, over a plate of "second Thanksgiving" (the Friday of leftovers after official Thanksgiving) with friends, I rolled through several paragraphs of a tongue-in-cheek proposal for a new American holiday. The words flowed quickly and fully-formed through my mind and I thought, as I have many times before, that when I finally made time to jot them all down that the lines would come just as easily. And, as so many times before, I was rudely reminded that inspiration strikes when and where it chooses and rarely lingers.
So, instead, I'll write a little ditty about inspiration and effort because I have got to carry some post all the way through to publication here otherwise this new blog will be never be more than another good intention. I apologize in advance for the length.
Years ago, a good friend recommended me to Natalie Goldberg's classic writing guide, Writing Down the Bones, and I am finally getting around to reading it through. Goldberg is an avid practitioner of Zen meditation and that practice permeates her understanding of the art of writing and creative expression in general. The book includes an afterword in which the author answers several questions. She advocates that the act of writing, like all meaningful endeavors, is one of personal application and hard work. So the interviewer asks her what she thinks of talent, as many would-be writers lament their lack of innate talent as a reason they don't write. Goldberg added that, on the other side of things, naturally talented writers often remain content with their inherent talent but never progress because they don't need to apply themselves.
Goldberg went on. She compared talent to the water table that runs beneath the earth that you can tap through hard work and channel it through you. I'm not one to question her wisdom, but it seems that a more fitting analogy is that the water table is creative vitality and talent is merely one of two ways to tap it. I'll explain.
Photo from: Steve Beger Photography via Flickr
As humans, especially as American humans, we have a great appreciation for raw talent. Our culture elevates our greatest athletes to celebrities, rewards our inventors & entrepreneurs with windfall wealth, and celebrates our geniuses with awards & prestige. And the very reason we admire them is they are so rare among us. They are the rightmost tip of the bell curve. They are humanity's fraction of 1%. Their inherent talent is unrivaled and, in some regard, completely unattainable for the rest of us.
Their natural talent is like a natural spring. Earth's life-giving water bubbles through a spring to the surface without effort. Even today, people flock to natural springs for their remarkable qualities.
So what are those of us without innate talent to do? Lie down and let the 1% shepherd us like sheep? Not likely. At least not all of us. We achieve what we can achieve and the only way to know what that is is to attempt it. In those instances, some of us will discover our efforts can elevate us beyond some of those with talent. Even the greatest of the greats, especially the greatest of the greats, magnify their rare talent through intense training and continuous effort.
If talent is the spring, then effort is the well.
Natural springs are as wonderful as they are rare. When pioneers explore new land, they initially seek out natural sources of water to sustain them - rivers, lakes, springs. But if mankind contained ourselves only to natural bodies of water, we would have missed out on most of the magnificence available to us.
This world is covered in spring-less land. The overwhelming majority of it. Just as humanity is populated with the untalented. When the brave venture into the blank parts of the map, expanding to settle new land, we don't maintain a bucket-line back to our original source of water. No. We put our backs to the picks and the shovels and the drills and we dig ourselves new wells.
Is the new water any less vital for the effort it took to release it? Not one bit. In fact, what the well lacks in the natural spring's beauty it more than makes up for in the satisfaction that it is we who have tapped it ourselves.
I will leave to you reflections on the marvel of mankind's ability to call forth the essence of life from beneath the dry, cracked earth. For me, I can only say it is humbling. Some few of us possess remarkable talent and that is truly remarkable. But some few of those who don't strive to attain what they were not born with and that is what makes mankind transcendent.
The water from the well is just as wet as from the spring.