by Leonard Bishop
There is no comfort in carrying around long-held regrets for expectations and goals that were never filled. Regrets are like all-season mosquitoes that sting you into the recall of what you once might have done. Most of us use more emotional time learning how to scratch away those regrets than we would have used accomplishing the expectations and goals we regret having neglected.
One depressing regret in my past is that I used my career as a writer as the only means for expressing myself. I did not ever sustain a serious effort to develop another talent. It was only when I had about seven books published and was permanently fixed into my career, that I let myself realize that I had avoided other artistic forms that might have enlarged my capacity for gaining happiness. I had settled for one talent at the possible sacrifice of other talents.
I never became a painter because my first tries were dreadful. Smears, blurs, drools of clashing colors. Without perspective or attractive form. One morning I studied the four paintings I had created, and shook my head. “Garbage! They are about as unique as a runny nose!” I put them in a closet and forgot about them. Eventually they were lost. I was about 30 years old and not very wise.
I had judged my talent for becoming a painter by the beginnings of my effort. I appraised the crudity, and the shallowness, and the visual slobber, and concluded that I was without talent for painting. It was an accurate estimation for that time. I was also ignorant. Like a frightened cockroach, I scurried back to safety in my unquestioned talent for writing.
When I began instructing in universities and read the amateurish stories of the students, I realized I had been foolish about my painting. There were possibilities of talent in those poorly written stories. With some concentrated work and patience, the talent to write would appear and they would find careers or personal fulfillment. I did not see my painting in the same vision. I wanted my talent for painting to burst upon the canvas in a gusher of brilliance and talent.
I was pathetic. I might even have been tragic.
Rarely does the talent for an art form burst into existence like an Olympic sprinter. All– without exception– beginning work is crude in comparison to what it will become after some time of working in that art form. The beginning in any art form is a procedure of scraping away the suffocating veneers of timidity, ignorance, and conceit–so your talent can begin to breathe. When you consider all the years it took for you to keep your talents hidden, you must sensibly realize how long it will take you to release it.
There are superb gains in the development of a secondary talent. You do not charge into the arena of competition to do battle with the artists who use all their lives mastering only one talent in one art form. This eliminates the assault of neurosis which causes fear, tension, and even physical illness. And there are no demands upon you to excel. The only ability you need achieve is that skill that gives you a unique and deeply personal outlet of expression and happiness.
I always wanted to play the guitar and sing folk songs. I believed I might become another Burl Ives or Josh White. I bought a guitar and self-instruction manual and began teaching myself chords. I plunked and sang I Gave My Love a Cherry and The Girl With the Delicate Air. The range of my voice was as wide as a hair. The musical resonance of my ear was as responsive as petrified tin.
But while I plunked and sang, I was exultant with pleasure.
I made some tapes to hear what I sounded like, so I could improve. Other people heard the tapes and they jeered, “You sound like a cow dropping a calf.” And “Why don’t you take up ballet?” They were right. I strummed the strings as though with arthritic toes. My voice sounded like tearing rags. I sold the guitar and shrugged away the desire to sing.
Today when I hear guitar playing folk singers I become rigid with envy and damn my own character weakness. I not only appraised my talent to play an instrument and to sing too early–I had viewed myself from the superficial judgment of others. All they were listening to was my performance, not my pleasure. All I felt was their disrespect as I ignored my deep satisfaction.
There is always more than one talent in our characters. If your livelihood is founded on the career of one strong talent, concentrate on creating that talent in the “pay-off” plateaus of professionalism. But don’t allow that one form to become your full and only outlet of expression. It will become burdensome and joyless. It will become a Drudge. All talented people are complex and cannot be fully expressed through one art form. And no matter how poorly the second talent begins, or how many people ridicule you, continue in using that talent. Just for the ecstasy that being talented and more self-expressed brings you.
©2013 the estate of Leonard Bishop
(first published May 29, 1988 the Manhattan Mercury)