by Leonard Bishop
There is no comfort in carrying around long-held regrets for expectations and goals that were never fulfilled. Regrets are like all-season mosquitoes that sting you into the recall of what you once might have done. Most of us experience more emotional stress learning how to fog-over 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 outlet 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 writing career, that I let myself realize 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 an artist-painter because my first tries were dreadful. Smears, blurs, drools of clashing colors. More went onto the floor and walls than went onto the canvas. There was no perspective, no form. One morning I studied the four paintings I had created, and shook my head, “They are about as unique as a runny nose.” I put them into a closet and forgot about them. Eventually they were lost. I was about 40 years old and not very wise. I would always be, only a writer.
I had judged my talent for becoming an artist-painter by the beginnings of my effort. I appraised the crudity, the shallowness, the visual slobber, and concluded that I was without talent for painting.
While it was an accurate estimation for that time, it was also ignorant. Like a frightened cockroach, I scurried back to the 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 foolishly impulsive about my painting. There was a possibility of talent in those poorly written student 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 paintings in the same vision. I wanted my talent for painting to burst upon the canvas in a geyser of brilliance and talent.
I was pathetic. I was seriously dumb. 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 to scratch away the cement covers, to release that talent.
There are superb gains in the development of a secondary talent. You do not charge into the arena of competition to do battle with artists who use all their lives mastering only one talent in one art form. This eliminates the assault of emotional shocks which cause awful fears, tensions, and even physical illness. And there are no demands upon you to excel. The only ability you need achieve is enough skill to give 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 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 drum.
But while I plunked and plunked and sang, I was exultant with joy.
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 giving birth to a rhino.” 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. Today, when I hear guitar playing folk singers I become rigid with envy. I 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. To me, personal satisfaction is more precious than publis approval.
There is always one more talent in our characters. If your livelihood is founded on the career of one strong talent, concentrate on creating that talent into 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 joyless. It will, in time, become a chore.
All talented people are complex and cannot be fully expressed through one art form. And no matter how poorly the secondary talent begins, or how many people ridicule you, continue in using that talent. Just for the ecstasy that being talented and more self expressed gives you.
One afternoon while I was practicing my guitar playing and singing, “I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” someone knocked on my studio door. I grinned, and whispered, “I knew it, I just knew it. A theatrical agent was told about me. And he wants to sign me up for playing and singing as backup for a television show.” I walked to the door thinking of how much money I would ask for my talents. I opened the door. A grimy old lady with a few teeth cackled at me, “Why don’t you shut up that racket? You’re waking up all the dead rats!” And slammed the door on my face.
I shrugged. Everyone’s a music critic.
©2013 the estate of Leonard Bishop
(first published May 24, 1988 the Manhattan Mercury)