Monthly Archives: February 2012

What Does it Mean to Be Gifted?

With the return of “American Idol,” I’ve been hearing that tired cliché about people being born to be a star, possessing a God-given talent causing their parents to notice something in their child, apparently the second they are born, that they are different, gifted.

There are videos of these starry-eyed contestants at 2 or 3 singing along to animated musicals or Frank Sinatra to prove their point. The gushy judges say things like “You were born to sing, man!” (Steven Tyler) or “You sounded like an angel just then,” (Jennifer Lopez) and it must be rather heady for these kids to hear these compliments from their American idols.

The elimination rounds are somewhat heartbreaking. You literally can see the dreams of these castoffs crumbling at their feet. “I was MEANT to be a star,” some say, “I was BORN to be a singer.” I respect them for putting themselves out there, and hope that such a very public blow won’t shatter their determination.

Do we all secretly feel that we were born with a gift? Do we all want to be stars? Why do some make it and some don’t? If we don’t have people telling us we’re gifted at something, how do we know if we are?

I have a friend who is the textbook definition of self-actualization. She lives her full potential every day. One day she decided she wanted to be a window dresser, found an internship and within less than a year was dressing windows for Barney’s. Soon after, she discovered her great skill at jewelry making, got a website up, and has sold many a ring. At the same time she tried her hand at different art mediums and recently had a piece chosen as a part of a very cool group exhibit. She made loads of money making these unbelievable spicy nuts out of her kitchen, getting them into the hands of the right connected people. She married her best friend, has two great kids, and is in awesome shape. Best of all, she is incredibly humble and funny as hell.

I’ve had some really smart friends yelling at me lately for not promoting my writing. They tell me I could be rich, famous. I counter by reminding them that there are zillions of people who want to be famous writers and who think they can be. I tell them I’m a dime a dozen in a very crowded field of friends yelling at their friends for not doing something with their talents. I read some other blogs and think that I am nowhere near their level of humor and intelligence. Do I think I have a gift? Do I want to be a star? Is this what I was born to do?

Quite frankly, I don’t want to be a star. It would be fantastic to have a writer that I have tremendous respect for think my writing is different, that my voice is unique, and that I’m funny in all the right places. I wouldn’t turn down a back cover quote from, let’s say…Augusten Burroughs or turn down an interview on NPR. That’s where my dream takes me, but then I think of the writer’s equivalent of an actor’s cattle call and I get slightly embarrassed for myself.

Yes, I’ve certainly got a story to tell, as we all do, and I really hope that it will eventually reach a wider audience than just the 100 or so people who have subscribed to my blog. It would be so fantastic to be a self-actualized person, to live my potential and see where it takes me. (I actually just smiled, ear-to-ear, when I typed that sentence which I guess is a really good sign.) Maybe in the process I’ll stumble upon a different gift, like, having an amazing fastball or eating more hotdogs in a shorter amount of time than that guy who does that every year. OR, maybe instead, I should just focus on what may be more a talent, than a gift and make my friends stop yelling at me.

What Makes a Friend "Real?"

A man’s growth is seen in the successive choirs of his friends.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Lately, when certain people have noticed that I was getting close to having 700 facebook friends they would say things like “Those aren’t real friends,” or “You can’t possibly know all those people.” What does it mean to know someone? What defines a person as being a “real” friend?

I’ve had many opportunities in my life to gather friends. I lived in the same school district until 10th grade and then went to boarding school for 2 years. When you live and eat with people who are 16-18, away from home, you certainly form very tight friendships. I went to the same sleep-away camp for 15 summers, two months at a time, which equals 2 ½ years of my life. Camp offers a certain kind of genuine, stripped-down friendship and I’ve known some of these people since I was 5 years old. I can say, without question, that I can rely on my camp friends, in good and bad, for just about anything. Unless you’ve lived it, it’s impossible to understand, but, we will always have each other’s backs, like family, and sometimes, even more so.

I have my college friends who are the only people who still have nicknames for me and friends from the 15 or so different 9-5 and volunteer jobs that I’ve had over the years. I’ve learned, that despite how much you think that you’ll be friends FOREVER with the people you bond with at work, that maybe you hold onto one, two if you’re lucky, as you move through life.

I am an extraordinarily (freakishly?) social person. I love people in general, until you give me a reason not to. I have done equal parts of seeking out those on facebook who I’ve lost touch with as those who have clamored to find me. I am always so honored when someone has chosen to look for me and have been known to cry happy tears when a long-lost friend emerges out of nowhere. I’m not randomly seeking people out just to “grow my list.”

The biggest surprises have been those people from way back in my past who, because of the ranks we keep closest as children and teens, I barely knew. Some were just faces and names I struggled to remember from class pictures who now, have become part of my daily life. They laugh with me, read my blog, give me advice and ask for my opinion. They are parents with impressive jobs, great senses of humor and different political and religious views. We are no longer judging each other for being a “burnout” or a “loser,” but who we’ve grown into as adults.

Yes, I will admit that there are about 25 or so facebook friends that I have never actually met face-to-face. They are fellow bloggers, artists of one sort or another whose work I’ve bought, and friends of friends who were told that we’d get along. There are about 30 names and faces that I would have a hard time placing from elementary school, but again, these are all just people at something akin to a virtual party.

I have MANY, MANY people who I refer to as “one of my best friends.” I have one in particular who I always call “my best friend” (I had two, one of each gender, but one decided to end our friendship which devastated me in inexplicable ways.) I have my husband who is in a category all his own. I have friends who I love so much that I couldn’t picture my life without who make me laugh until I cry and who I can count on for ANYTHING. And of course, I have had those who have disappointed me and not come through. They are not among the almost 700.

The two quotes below sum up friendship perfectly. The use of “she” in the Toni Morrison quote can certainly be “he,” as has been proven many times in my life. I am an incredibly blessed human being to have so many people who do what is stated so perfectly below:

In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.
Albert Schweitzer

She is a friend of mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.
Toni Morrison

Parlor Games in Prison

In my prison class last week, as has been happening a lot lately, the inmates led us all astray into a spin-off conversation from my usual writing workshop exercises. Truth be told, I love when this happens because I end up learning more about them in a more candid way than I do from their writing. Besides that, we all end up laughing. A lot.

One young woman suggested we play “Two Truths and a Lie,” where you have to state two things about yourself that are true and one thing that isn’t while the rest of us have to guess which one is the lie. Most of the women gave themselves away by quickly rattling off two things and then hemming and hawing over the third. They would laugh at themselves and their bad poker faces. Some did well, and then a cellmate would know the answer and give it away, or they truly would stump us.

When that ran its course, the same young woman suggested that we do the ubiquitous desert island game starting with who would you bring with you if you could.

“You mean like Martin Luther King?” one woman asked.

“Yeah, like that,” she answered.

I watched them as they thought about it, some with their heads down, some looking up to the sky for a breakthrough.

“I’d bring my son,” a young woman said. “He IS my Martin Luther King.”

Silence. Awe.

“How old is he?” I asked.

“He’s three.” Tears. Gaping mouths.

“I’d bring my grandmother,” said a woman who had been quiet up until that point.

“Me too,” yelled another.

“Okay, besides family members,” I said, “who would you bring?”

“I’d bring that guy on tv who gets glasses of water from cactus leaves,” one said.

This inspired me to bring up Walter White from “Breaking Bad,” a man who can seemingly do ANYTHING. I got a rousing positive response for my brilliant suggestion.

“Actually,” I said, “I would bring Chris Rock. He would keep me laughing.”

“And he’s smart,” a woman added.

“What one THING would you bring with you?” the same young woman who had been guiding us asked everyone.

“I’d bring my ipad,” a woman said who had previously shared that she had been very spoiled her whole life and that her favorite thing in the world was her brand new BMW.

“You wouldn’t get wi-fi on a desert island,” someone pointed out.

“I’d bring my weed,” a woman of at LEAST 55 said grinning while the rest just laughed.

“I’d bring my pillow,” I said.

“I miss pillows. We don’t even GET pillows here,” a young woman said.

“Yeah, I roll up my sheet and use that as a pillow.”

“Really? Why don’t you fill your laundry bag and use that?” someone suggested.

The things I learn in The Big House every week.

That night I went home and posed the same questions to my family, starting with the one person.

“I’d bring Justin Bieber,” my 10-yr old daughter said.

“Ewwww,” my 16-yr old stepson responded. “Why?”

“Well, he likes purple, and I like purple.” I suppose this was as good a reason as any.

“I’d bring Roberto Clemente,” my husband said. (I’m not sure if he was an athlete or some band leader, but I’m pretty sure he’s dead.)

My 20-yr old stepson mentioned someone (a musician from a death metal band, I think) who I had never heard of. His brother thought that was a great choice but he chose Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails.

I again went with Chris Rock.

Do these choices say anything about us? Clearly, they are snapshots in time. My daughter won’t even remember who Justin Bieber is in 5 years and certainly my stepsons will have moved on to other idols. I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t quickly come up with some literary idol or historical figure but I won’t change my answer now to seem erudite and impressive (the use of “erudite” in a sentence is impressive enough, I guess).

If you’re so inclined leave a comment about who YOU would choose to spend an infinite amount of time.