All my life I’ve pretended to be a genius, and treated myself as if I were one, expecting others to climb on board as soon as the truth is generally known. Now that I’m approaching my 69th birthday, it occurs to me that maybe I have been presumptuous. Mistaken. Maybe I’m just a moderately talented person, bright and quick in certain areas, but not in others. The reason I’m not better known is because I’ve been lazy and unfocused for most of my adult life.
The irritation I felt with the world for not recognizing and honoring my prowess has been very real, and constant. I’ve been waiting for that call from the MacArthur Foundation for some time now. The knock on the door announcing a telegram from the Nobel Prize Committee. I get many more emails from Nigerian princes who want to share their wealth with me than I do announcements of legitimate awards.
As I write this I’m listening to a YouTube video of Yo-Yo Ma playing a Bach cello concerto. Bach wrote more music than almost anyone else, besides maybe Handel. Bach had twenty children and Handel was probably gay. Born within a few miles of each other in Germany, only a few years apart, they both enjoyed illustrious careers that involved plenty of hard work and diligence. Yo-Yo Ma didn’t get as good as he is on the cello without putting in plenty of practice hours.
I whip out four or five YouTube videos a day. Nobody much responds to them. They’re just floating in an electromagnetic sea with a few billion other videos, all hoping for someone to notice and “like” them.
WHAT AM I REALLY GOOD AT, ANYWAY?
I used to think I was born to write, then I decided I would make a great stage actor, then I concluded my real gifts were in teaching. I also like to play music, sing, and make acrylic paintings. Today on Facebook I posted a picture of a painting I had just completed. Somebody lavishly praised it. Does this mean I should have spent more time painting than writing, acting, teaching or singing?
Do we have an obligation to mostly do what we’re really good at? What about those of us who are sort of good at a lot of things? Are we wasting our time as well as our audience’s attention and good will by dabbling in areas for which we are less gifted?
Maybe the reason I’m not rich is because either I never really found what I was really good at, or that I’m simply not really good at anything. I’m one of those people who is almost gifted. OK, I can handle that. Either way, I’m like Popeye. I am what I am and that’s all that I am.
Never before in the history of the world have so many appliances conspired to steal our attention. It’s a wonder any of us can do more than stumble through a haze of conflicting impulses. It’s like being stoned all the time, wondering why you walked into that room. Was it to brush my teeth or make a cup of coffee? Is this early-onset Alzheimer’s or merely run-of-the-mill Facebook addiction?
I alone am the Gatekeeper of my mind. In my struggles to master and memorize simple Baroque keyboard compositions, I am reminded of the prodigious and profound output of both Bach and Handel. These two German musical contemporaries were a study in contrasts. Bach, the humble choir director, had a large family to support and was always scrambling to make ends finish that Sunday’s oratorio, while Handel, probably a homosexual, arrived in the lap of luxury the moment he arrived in England. Each cranked out several pieces a day, all of which were wildly successful.
How were these men able to maintain focus? No matter how talented you are, composing music takes diligence. In a time before copy machines and computers, it also took the ability to sit down with a pot of ink, quill and paper and to not only compose but copy the final manuscript.
I was not born untalented, but seem to have squandered an awful lot of that talent as well as my time on this planet by chasing illusions. In my twenties, creativity seemed second nature and I was rewarded for tossing off this or that, while now I struggle for hours to get anything accomplished. Even running a few errands seems like a full day’s work. I can’t imagine being employed again, and thankfully, neither can any of my potential employers.
If I had any advice to give those who are still young, it would be this: life is shorter than you imagine, and what you allow inside your head takes up space. If reading the stupid things Ted Cruz or Donald Trump say truly delights you, then by all means, wallow in Facebook’s meme mire. But if you hope for more for yourself, now is the time to batten the hatches. Allowing yourself to be constantly distracted by entertaining illusions is a bargain you make with the devil.