Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Talent Vs.Hard Work

Recently, we have been making some improvements around the house. In some cases, it's taken quite a bit longer than we anticipated, and been much harder as well. I am really grateful for Mark for undertaking these tasks, despite having very little background in the Mr. Fix-It business, that is to say, almost none before we bought our house in 2006. However, since then he has:
  • Replaced the garbage disposal; installed the dishwasher- twice
  • Drained several clogged sinks and tubs
  • Taken apart the toilet to extract mysterious deposits from Max (a onesie plus a toothbrush); then put it back together
  • Painted/Stained numerous surfaces after repairing drywall and retexturing
  • Installed several light fixtures
  • Repaired appliances and machines
  • blah blah blah
I must admit, I have not always had complete confidence in his abilities, probably partly because my own father has not always succeeded in his efforts and sometimes a Trusted Neighbor or Father/Son-in-Law has come to the rescue. But both of them try, which is definitely saying something. And Mark has learned a lot. When we got a new sink last month, he spent much of his birthday reworking the plumbing since he had to switch a lot of pipes and move the garbage disposal to the other side, in addition to the new faucet. But he did it! And it works very well.

Some people seem to be blessed with natural ability to figure these things out, taking things apart and reworking them even from childhood. One time, I vacuumed up something that Matthew loved (and I had deemed "trash"), and he told me a few minutes later that he had rescued it from the belly of the vacuum. I did not believe his 3-year-old story, until I saw said item and he showed me how he had taken apart the vacuum and retrieved it from the bag, afterward putting all back together. Not that this is anything amazing, but I was surely much older when I even thought of opening a vacuum. My own construction/plumbing projects have met largely with frustration and disaster; I just don't think I have the mind to intuitively see how things work and to reconstruct. I lack "the knack".

We were talking about this at a Book Club meeting recently (we sometimes go off subject), and I noted that it is similar in my mind to how some people just don't have an "ear" for music, which I've noticed as their piano teacher. My own musical talents are limited, but I have taught enough beginners to notice when some students can really catch on, most improve after practice, and others struggle. This is not to say that hard work and practicing don't make a difference- I think most people can learn to play the piano if they are diligent practicers. However, for some it takes so much more work that it seems like another endeavor would better suit their time (Like me in the sports department), unless it is something they are determined enough to work hard for and eventually succeed, with patience and perseverance on their part, as well as the teacher's.

Upon further reflection however, I've thought back to the students I've had who are extremely talented, and realized that their talents can sometimes become their downfall. Because they can sightread well, they know they don't have to practice very much and can basically show up to their lessons unprepared. In addition, it is hard for the Artist Within to listen to the Voice of Experience, who might make suggestions about fingering, rhythm, practicing methods, etc. And so ultimately, they don't progress very much, at least not with me. (Admittedly, I'm much more of a note-reader than an improviser/composer.) I guess that's why I've concluded that when it comes down to a contest between talent and hard work, the work ethic wins: even a minimal amount of talent is magnified and as a side benefit, the person is stronger for his efforts, even though it has taken so much more work than for someone with natural ability.

Friday, May 14, 2010

How are you doing today? I feel like __________

I'm not intending for naughty words to go through your head; just to allow you the freedom to fill in the blank on your own. Rest assured, my blank is not "sunshine," "lollipops," or "rainbows". No, I feel more like I swallowed a watermelon, followed by a cantaloupe (which lodged itself in my chest), and finished the meal with a lemon. The lemon is stuck in my throat and trying to squeeze all its highly acidic juice all over the place in an attempt to join the party.

Recently, I read a report that when asked, "Are you finding everything okay?" by store employees, shoppers universally dismissed possible help, even if the shoppers actually needed help locating something. The article was basically stating that this was marketing at its worst- mindless questions become even more meaningless when asked routinely; it is more effective to ask specifically if the shopper needed this or that, or to point out things on sale.

I'm no marketing genius, but I do know that people frequently answer the questions, "How are you?" and "How's your day been?"-type questions with the same blank answers. Face it, do random strangers (or even good acquaintances) really want to know what's on my mind? "Actually, I'm recovering from the stomach flu [insert revealing details here], which is the real reason why I'm leaning over this cart, not entirely because of my large pregnant belly that I know you're dying to touch. Also, this store is way too crowded- you have corn husks all over the back, and people are swarming over the zucchini like 88 cents a pound is giving it away."

So why do we ask the questions? Is it poor manners to smile and say hello? I do appreciate conversation, after living in the northeast all of those years of the cold shoulder/suspicious glares/polite reserve if I say a few words. (It's still a little disarming, but in the end, you have to love the Texan hospitality/nosiness/"Bless their hearts...") I guess I really don't know. Tradition? Policy? Rules of etiquette? In any case, it's one of the oddities that makes up our culture. Since it keeps us talking, I shouldn't wonder and just accept that it's just one of the things we do.