Sunday, October 9, 2011

Cultivate Talents, Reap the Rewards!


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about talents and interests and how they are formed. I’ve thought about my own childhood and how my experiences shaped my life. I’ve thought about my friends and how they formed their talents and interests. Sometimes talents and interests are the same and sometimes not. For instance I have a great interest in hiking and it’s something I regularly do, though I don’t think hiking is something I’m particularly talented at. In fact, often when I’m with a group I might be the last one to make it to the destination. Both talents and interests enrich my life and the life of my family

However, there are two things I’m particularly talented at and I have been doing these two things from very early on in my life. The two things are writing and pottery.  My mother is a writer and during my childhood wrote for the local newspaper. She took classes. She read us her stories and it sparked my interest. My aunt Emma Lou Thayne is also a writer. Though I never talked to her about writing when I was little, the desire to be something like her was instilled. I had teachers as young as third grade who had us write stories and share them in class. I found out quite early that I had some natural ability. In eighth grade while sitting in a science class and feeling rather bored I began to write a story. It was a story about an abused boy. It was a touching and yes, sappy story but my mother thought it was wonderful and entered it in a contest with the League of Utah Writers and it won an award in the youth category. I was hooked. From then on, I wanted to be a writer.

Now about this same time in my life, I also had an interest in art. I had very artistic brothers and while I was less artistic I was still interested. I took art classes in school. In ninth grade the teacher Mr. Neilson had a unit on clay. I loved making things out of clay. One of the projects I made was a giant tennis shoe. I gave it to one of my friends and she still has it, some 40 years later. Then Mr. Nielsen brought the potter’s wheel out of a closet for a couple of days and we each got a short turn on it. My first pot was thick and small. Pottery is something that no one really has any natural ability. It is a skill that has to be learned, practiced and perfected. From the time Mr. Nielsen brought the wheel out of the closet I was hooked, but it would be a couple more years before I would have the opportunity to learn the skill in high school. I think about the rest of the kids in my class. Why was I hooked and they were not? What has to happen to our brain that turns something from an interest into a skill?

I had another friend Susan who was also in lots of my art and English classes. In high school she learned how to do the wheel right along side me. After school she got on the bus and rode to her house up Provo canyon. Often rather than going home, I would stay after school and throw. (that’s what it’s called—throwing) I would stack the balls of clay up on my wheel and try to center them. And when I’d fail which I inevitably would, I would try again, pot after pot and by the end a pile of slop and sometimes a pot worth keeping, firing and glazing. Eventually my teacher, then Mr. Bird would have to go home. I along with another student or two would beg him to let us stay. Sometimes we stayed until midnight, promising the janitor that we would lock up.  Eventually we got into some trouble for that and we had to get permission from the principal to stay late, but they capped the time at 10 PM. My dad had a hard time believing that’s what I was really up to, but after months of this hours and hours after school, long into the night, I started bringing home my wares—then he would proudly show off my work, even my rejects that I’d thrown in the garbage, he’d dig out and show his co-workers and try to sell the “junk” for 50 cents or so.  He’d give me the money he’d earned.
What I’m trying to get at is that I didn’t have any natural ability in pottery making. I was creative, had a lot of desire and worked hard to learn the skill. So many other things I do and have done spur ideas that transfer somehow to my artwork or to my writing. My science class –contributed to my first good story—because I was too bored to listen. Eventually I majored in art—not because I had any real talent in drawing, I still am just “pretty good” at drawing, but Ceramics/pottery was part of the art department and pottery was something I was passionate about.

Now back to some of my other friends, Susan. In high school Susan was a fairly skilled potter, but the spark that hooked me didn’t hook her. So what did? When Susan went home from school she often went to the sewing machine. She became skilled and developed a real talent in sewing. Both Susan and I took home ec in junior high. Both Susan and I had to sew first a hot pad and then a skirt. That was about all I ever made. Sewing was ok for me, but I didn’t love it. I never went home from school and sewed.  So because I excelled eventually in pottery and Susan excelled in sewing. Was the home ec class as waste of time for me? Were the art classes a waste of time for Susan since she never made anything beyond her classes? I don’t think so. I think being exposed to lots of different learning activities in and out of school helps develop who we are, helps us to find our passion, and helps us to find ways to contribute to society.   I can sew and have sewn a couple of Halloween costumes for my children, believe me I’m very proud of them because they were so difficult for me to do. It would have been easier to call Susan and have her do it. I can mend a seam and sew a quilt block though I usually have to have someone thread the machine for me.

Something else though that I gained from my friend Susan was my interest in hiking. On Saturdays or sometimes after school we would walk up the mountain from her house and hike to a waterfall. She taught me to love the mountains. Isn’t it great what we can learn from each other? My love for the mountains has always brought me so much enjoyment. It has brought my family enjoyment and is one of the things I have passed on to my children. My five-year-old grandson just hiked a full six miles with me without any help. My love for the mountains is reflected in my pottery and again in my writing. One benefits the other. Time is not wasted doing something we enjoy or that we can share with family or friends.

Another friend I had was Shellee.  From 2nd grade on Shellee was one of my best friends. Shellee had a natural ability at all things athletic. If it involved a ball, a bat, jumping, dancing, or running, chances are Shellee was very good at it. In 4th grade whenever Shellee got up to bat everyone in the outfield backed up. When I got up to bat the outfield didn’t even need to worry, but the infield needed to move up. I had no skills, but I loved to play. Sometimes after school, our neighborhood had baseball games. The whole gang played--boys and girls. Shellee taught me how to hold a bat, how to watch the ball, how to catch, and how to hit. I never became like Shellee, but I learned to play well enough that I didn’t strike out every time. I had fun. I didn’t go on to play baseball, but still it was not a waste of time—I was developing my personality and gaining friends, and learning sportsmanship. Shellee on the other hand didn’t go on to play baseball either. There weren’t a lot of opportunities for females in sports in the 60’s and 70’s, but years later when I met Shellee in a park for lunch with our young children, she brought her three-year-old son and I had mine. Her three year old could already swing a bat, hit a ball, and catch. Although she managed to pass on her athletic skills to all of her children, at least one son went on to play professional baseball. Her talent, her desire, her passion for sports increased her enjoyment and ability as a mother. Shellee too was in the same art classes that I was, but did not take it any further and yet she is the friend who still has that shoe pottery piece I made in the ninth grade.  Again isn't it nice what we gain from each other and how we can bless each other through our talents and interests?

Another friend was Rosanna. Rosanna was one of the neighborhood gang. She played baseball. She took art classes too. But instead of signing up for extra art classes she signed up for Drama and Choir. What Rosanna ended up becoming passionate about was singing and acting. I’ve seen Rosanna in performances at BYU, Sundance theatre, Hale theatre, in commercials, and in church films and now during General Conference singing in the Tabernacle choir. Rosanna made some pottery with me when I got my wheel. As far as I know those were the only pots she ever made. Her passion was not clay but performance! And look how many lives she’s touched with her talent.

Now back to writing. I learned in 3rd grade that I loved writing. I learned by 8th grade that I had some natural ability. So what did I do? Whenever I could I signed up for Creative Writing courses. I took classes at BYU before transferring to USU. At USU I took poetry writing, short story writing, and so forth. Eventually—like twenty years after college graduation I attended the League of Utah Writers in Logan and met some friends with similar interests. We started a critique group. I attended conferences. I read books on writing. All the time I was writing some short stories, but didn’t begin writing my first novel until the year 2000. In fact, it was one of my century goals.

I didn’t really know I could write a novel, but I tried it anyway and it turned out good. It takes a lot of work and it takes a lot of desire. It takes a lot of practice and continuing to develop and learn. So even though I always wrote a little I didn’t get serious until I was forty years old. In fact it was a mid-life crisis that sent me back to college to get a second degree in English which reminded me that I was pretty good at writing. Our time to find our passion doesn’t have a time limit. There is no one setting a standard except ourselves. Olive Ann Burns was 60 yrs. Old in 1984 when she published her first novel “Cold Sassy Tree” which became a best seller. She died of cancer before completing her second. And yet her book continues and is being read by young and old alike today and has reached wide audiences and much acclaim.

Talents and Interests are worth developing. They are worth sharing. They make us who we are. Whether you make the best Lemon meringue pie, or garden, or know how to be a good friend, or write a book, making and sharing talents is important. We are told to let our light shine. But we aren’t told what our light is. We each have a unique light don’t we? Isn’t it nice that we don’t all love the same things? Isn’t it nice that we don’t all know how to make pottery? If we did who would appreciate my work? Isn’t it great that we all can’t sing a song or act in a play?  Natural ability helps sometimes too, but exposure can lead to desire which can lead to a  passion, then add the time and learning and practice to really cultivating a talent and reap the rewards. It takes all the ingredients. There are no shortcuts.