A friend of mine is in love. The guy she met is wonderful, is amazing, can do no wrong. But then late one night she calls me, her voice a low rumble on the phone. "What do I do?" I imagine her holed up in the bathroom, her knees tucked against her chest. "What do I do? He can't draw." My friend, an accomplished artist, had been thrilled that her beau shared her passion for art. Until the night she convinced him to show her his work.
My friend and her boyfriend are doing fine. He brings her takeout and stupid presents and she encourages him to sculpt, something she's never tried. She doesn't ask to see his work anymore. But it got me thinking about talent: how we measure it, how we value it, and if it matters.
Because we're definitely not equal-opportunity talent scouts. I don't think my friend would have cared if her boyfriend had been unable to, say, balance a slinky on his nose. Or, for that matter, if he'd stunk at math. No, my friend cared that her boyfriend couldn't draw because that was her area, the craft upon which she'd expended the most effort. She respected people who displayed talent in the area she respected, and she had to expend conscious effort not to disrespect a person who didn't.
Could it be that we measure talent not against some objective yardstick, but against our own capabilities? How terribly self-absorbed! Yet, I think there's some truth to it. I'm inordinately impressed when someone, say, assembles a desk from a box. Or, wonder of wonders, hooks up the DVD player. I'm impressed even though these are skills I'd wager a majority of the population possesses. It's just that -tragically- I don't. In contrast, I'm underwhelmed by the ability to sing happy birthday on key, another skill possessed by the majority of the population, this time including myself.
Once, in college, a guy with whom I'd gone on a single date wrote me a love poem. Now, guys didn't usually write me love poems. In fact, guys usually pursued me with the vigor of diseased turtles. So I probably should have been susceptible to the love poem. Only, well, it was bad. Really bad. Rhyming, wind-blown-hair and ruby-sunset bad. I was so embarrassed I hid it (and myself the next time he dropped by) under the bed.
Does talent matter? What if the poem had been only sort of bad, or slightly less good than what I could have written myself? What if it had been excellent? I doubt it would have changed the ultimate trajectory of the relationship (we didn't have much in common, and fifteen minutes into the movie he put his hand on my thigh) but it might have altered its rate of decline.
Maybe a better question is, should talent matter?
I don't know. But if you think you can put together my dining room table, come on by.