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An artistic journey

They say everyone has a talent. I wanted mine to be in the arts, but it seems that creativity is not my forte.

I wanted to be a musician. Music speaks to me, deep inside and all throughout my body. My whole family cares deeply about music. My father used to play the saxophone. My mother played French horn, and she sings in the church choir. My brother played trumpet and trombone. Me, I can make any instrument sound like a dying cow.

It's not that I don't have experience with instruments. In elementary school, one of my many enrichment activities was music lessons. I learned to play the recorder, and a little bit of keyboard. At the second elementary school, when they started teaching instruments to anyone, I started with the flute, and played for two years before admitting defeat. Then I experimented a little on my own for a few years, trying a little more piano, and also the balalaika, a Russian stringed folk instrument akin to the ukelele and others. The high school band director really wanted to find a place for me, since I was a band groupie anyway and could read music easily by then. He tried me on every single instrument he had by turns. Finally in my senior year he put me on accessory percussion, which is hard to fail if you have rhythm and can count. I did just fine. So I can successfully play tambourine or maracas or half a dozen other minor percussion instruments. I had a whole toy box to play with for the concerts and football games. They don't do much by the way of music on their own, though.

It seems like I always sang. I was in the church junior choir between ages 8 and 14, and the senior choir all through high school and for holidays in college via the home study method. I was in the eighth grade performing glee club and the high school chorus, and one year even made the select choir. But sometime in high school, I figured out that there was a limit to how good I could be, even with training. I could never be a soloist or a section leader. My best ability is in being a decent utility player for a casual group like the church choir I grew up in. When I've been singing regularly, I prefer to sing alto but my range will stretch to second soprano (or higher for special occasions) easily, and I can cover tenor if absolutely necessary. And I'm a quick study. I sight-read well enough, and three times through a piece will get me as good as I'll ever be (this is both good and bad). So if too many people are missing and you need someone to switch sections for a day, I'm the one you choose. But most groups are better-disciplined and don't need a utility player. By college, I sang with Pubsingers but that was it.

I wanted to be an actor. I guess all kids act out the stories they hear. I was writing plays and acting them out, or using puppets, and I'd co-opt friends into acting with me. I took an acting workshop for three years at the summer program [1] I attended. Of course I got involved in drama in high school, with the musicals and eventually the drama club. Even by then it was evident that acting probably wasn't going to work out for me. I was consistently typecast as the mom (or mother figure, Auntie Em not being a mother per se) and after a while, all the characters felt the same to me. It didn't deter me though, since by then I'd discovered that my true love was directing. Yes, I've always delighted in telling people what to do and where to go. I actually started college intending to be a theater minor, but was turned off by the strict hierarchy of the department. At Drew, you were either all theater, all the time, or you couldn't do it at all, and it was never going to be my primary focus. Instead, I turned those energies toward Medfest, and found a more useful way to channel them.

I never thought I could be a dancer. A fat girl with serious balance and coordination issues knows even when she's very young that she's not cut out for dance, let alone as she grows up. Nonetheless, I took seven years of dance lessons. That's just what little girls did in my town. As a result, I'm still able to tap dance a little, and I know my ballet positions and can make people twitch when I demonstrate them. And I love to dance. I'm bad at it, but I love it. Music and rhythm and movement all belong together. I dance at dances and weddings when I have those rare opportunities. I dance in the kitchen when I'm waiting for food to heat up. Sometimes I grab a partner and dance a few steps, while he or she is too confused to stop me. I've come to love the TV show So You Think You Can Dance. I know I can't, but it's sure nice to watch the people who can.

I wanted to be a poet. Anyone who reads avidly for long enough eventually comes to learn that words have value not only for their meaning, but also for their sound, and that the difference between denotation and connotation can include subjective judgments on sound or on past experiences. [3] Having an extensive vocabulary and a knack for pattern recognition makes rhyme easy, and a sense of rhythm goes a long way toward getting the meter right. All the technical ability in the world doesn't make a poet, though. I get too hung up on the technical side, and my verses have no soul. They're just fine for song parodies or anonymous valentines, but poetry they're not.

I wanted to be a writer. In fact, I am a writer. I write because I have to, because the words well up inside me and have to find their way out somehow. But I'll never be a professional, because I don't have anything to say. I've tried writing fiction. I can do descriptions, I can do characterization, I can do conversation. I can't do plot. I have no original ideas. I can muddle along decently well without one, if I stick to chick-lit where day-to-day life is substituted for plot. But I'm not good at that either. I don't write non-fiction because it takes too much work! What I write are short essays, either opinion pieces or slice-of-life. LiveJournal really is my proper medium. This is all I've got, folks. I'm not publishable.

Now, if anyone is feeling particularly masochistic and wants the proof that I'm neither a poet nor a writer, I have a huge body of crap that I'm willing to share, on the strict understanding that I already know it's crap and don't need to be told.

Who wants to be a critic? I never did. And yet, that's the position I find myself in too often. I know a lot about the arts. I've loved them long enough. I may have no talent, but I still enjoy concerts and plays and all sorts of performances. I love to read. And I can't help having opinions. When someone does something particularly well, I want to commend them. When someone does something particularly poorly, I either want to kick them or help them get better, depending on who they are and what they did. But nobody loves a critic.

Instead, I try to be an artistic midwife. I choose my friends by things we have in common or by things I admire and want to see more of, so it's no surprise that I know a great many creative, talented people. Because I place such a high value on the arts and don't have the talents myself, I try to support and encourage the talents of others. I want my friends to succeed. I want the reflected glory, I suppose. It's one of my life goals to someday be thanked in print by the author of a published book. It may take a lifetime or longer to get there. Creativity seems to be partnered with lack of follow-through. I don't even know how many projects I've seen started and never finished. I remember dozens of characters from stories long ago abandoned. I remember worlds created and lost. I remember the song that made me cry. I love seeing the projects while they are works-in-progress. I love being able to provide input and sometimes shape what emerges. I wish I were better at figuring out how to prod and encourage without nagging, because just once I would like to see something reach completion, and for the people I care about to receive the recognition they deserve.


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[1] Gifted & Talented [2] programs rock. If I hadn't already been a gamer, I would have become one at 13 when I took the roleplaying class, which my parents thought was a waste of my time, but turned out to be good for me. Non-fantasy gaming, who knew?

[2] I hate describing it that way, because I feel like it makes me sound egotistical about it, but that's what it was. You had to meet certain IQ or academic standards to participate. All the classes/workshops were interesting stuff we just wouldn't encounter in a regular school program, at least not at those ages. As well as the acting workshop and the roleplaying class, I took photography, newspapers, stage magic, chemistry, poetry, math puzzles, pottery, advertising, and a few more things I can't remember. Four classes per July, four years attended.

[3] See also: moist. *shudder* Horrible, horrible word.