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talent and superficiality.

December 18, 2010

a little while ago an acquaintance of mine asked me a question about talent. i figure that the idea of “talent” loosely relates to writing, as writing is a talent.

also, if you want to get into the mood for the theme of this post, you can watch this:

that is my good friend jason couse being a band guy. i saw him tonight. technically it’s supposed to be the darcys in that video, but i don’t really see any of the other three dudes there. so we can use jason as a frame for this blog post. sorry jason. but it’s publicity and more people are probably going to get all up on you now.


i was asked the question “if a specific person is attracted to another person based on that second person’s talent, is that a superficial reason to be attracted to them?”

okay. talent is pretty broad. in this instance, the term was applied to playing music – music in a band that plays gigs. but talent is a big term, and my mind went immediately to someone playing in a symphony. (this is where my mind goes. i’d rather date a cellist who can play rachmaninoff and mahler than a front man for a band. is this funny? people seem to think this is funny.) but being a writer, “talent” can also apply to writing. and talent can apply to acting, or directing, or drawing, or opening beer bottles with your teeth. (don’t do that. it’s bad – so bad – for your teeth.)

i thought about the question at the time, and tried to make a cohesive answer, but my brain was shot and i was disquieted and so upset – so unable to properly think on it — so i’ve been mulling it over now and i’m going to try to answer it. it’s been a long time since i’ve taken philosophy so bear with me.

my answer, from the gut, straight on, was “yes.” to be attracted (note: word choice is important to me, and important to this point) to somebody because of the way they write, or the way they play or whatever – it’s so fuckn superficial.

and i think it is superficial because of a few things:

– because it is attraction, which is a term that throws me off. physical attraction? emotional attraction? i don’t know what the word applies to, and i’m tempted to lean more towards physical attraction (like groupies).

– because talent can be god-given and inherent, or it can be something is worked on, day to day – either way, it’s something that a person puts out there, like a hair colour, like fashion choices. we, as creators, as creative people – we have a choice to put our craft out there, and we have a choice about how we do it. just like picking a sweater, or a lipstick colour, or how (or not) to brush our hair. talent is something observable, and kind of falls under the “physical” category in that regard.

– and in the vein of “observing” – because “talent” is an aspect of a person that you can observe from across a room – you don’t need to sit and talk to them to figure it out. you see them play a gig, you hear them do a reading, and something in your loins ignites – that’s superficial.

getting up on someone for their talent is no different than getting up on someone for having grey eyes or red hair or muscular thighs. if i am attracted to someone because of the way they read their poem (john steffler…..) then i’m only attracted to them for a reason that i can see from the outside, without getting my arm elbow-deep into their guts and being. oh, john has a nice reading voice. oh, jason has quick guitar fingers. oh, that actor has good timbre and good reactionary time. oh, john’s words are put together nicely. oh. i’m heating up a little bit.

keep in mind, also, that it’s hard to parse talent and confidence (or cockiness). often somebody who is in the public eye and who is on a stage performing in some manner is going to be confident, or at least exuding confidence. and i think that is also attractive to people, which is even more superficial than being attracted to someone for just talent. people who maybe have a lack of confidence are even more attracted to this person because this confidence fills their void. it’s a twisted yin and yang.

the question went on. can something meaningful – a meaningful relationship (romantic, possibly) come from this situation? from being approached by someone who “appreciates” your talent?

okay. in my mind, i interpreted this as follows: someone (jason – playing a guitar? me – reading a david bowie poem?) is approached by someone from our respective audiences – someone who was attracted to our “talent” only after seeing us perform. what if we go home with them? (or don’t. just talk with them. whatever.) can something true and meaningful come from that?

well sure, i guess. anything is possible. people approach each other all the time on superficial bases. i will give my number to a guy if his facial structure appeals to me (i’m picky in this regard). in our day to day society it actually seems pretty rare that somebody is initially attracted to someone for non superficial reasons. we are a time-starved society and we don’t always want to take the time to make direct eye contact and sit down with someone and find that we connect in a meaningful manner. it’s more likely that we like the colour of someone’s eyes, that our pheromones line up, that we liked the gig they played, and therefore gave them our number.

but as always, there are levels. nothing is black or white. there are shades of grey. and maybe it is the word “talent” that threw me off. because i think, really, that we were talking about something much more, the duende of  a situation, the something that you feel in your gut when you watch a cellist play bach’s prelude, or an actress doing the monologues of blanche dubois, or a writer reading something that means so much to them – or a musician playing something that they have composed, something that means a lot to them. i guess it is semantics, but the word “talent” is too shallow for that – it is a kiddie pool, and this unnamed thing, this playing from the heart (for lack of a better word) is deeper than that. i would label it as passion, to be trite about it.

being attracted to someone for talent – the fact that they can move their fingers quickly or slide a guitar or do a good glissando (is that sexy to only me?) or can string together a really good necklace of adjectives or can fillet a fish in 15 seconds – that is superficial. being attracted to someone because they are doing something, presenting something from the gut, something that means something so great to them – because they have a passion – that is different. and you can have passion without being talented, and you can still be attractive. and you can have talent and be wooden and have no passion, and that is when the superficiality comes into play.

i’ve been in this situation before, been an audience member who loved the way somebody danced or the way somebody read or the way somebody wrote. and if i feel something in the hollow of my chest, in the base of my gut, after seeing someone perform, i often don’t approach them. that’s my gauge. if it means something to me, i’m not going to cheapen it by getting an autograph or waiting by the stage doors. i’ve said before that if i saw david bowie in the street, i would never approach him. the appreciation i have for what he does is too great. i guess it’s a little incongruous, the idea that i feel a passion for someone’s work and then refuse to approach them. but something feels cheap when i do that.

final thoughts.

in the end, i think that the onus is on person A – the “talented” person. you have a talent and you are performing it, reading it, showing it to the public. you may be doing it for a pure reason, expressing something straight from your duende-riddled gut. you may also be doing for a shitty reason, for scoring bone. who cares. either way, if you are concerned with the superficiality of people who approach you for the reason that they are attracted to your talent, it’s your responsibility to be able to divine who is shitty and shallow and who is not. this thought came to me days after the original conversation that spurred this blog post. i am a writer. if a man approaches me after a reading to express an interest in me – well, first i’m going to try and remember if i read any poems that were overtly raw or sexual. and then i’m going to get my gut instinct going to try and see if he is genuine.

i’m the one who is reading. i’m the one who is “talented.” it’s my responsibility. and along the way i’m probably going to get dragged through the mud, get a little effed up because my gut instinct might be off. i might hurt. or i might get turned off because i might get involved with the shallowness. but that’s the risk to take – if i choose to take that risk.

so choose.

all right. i am absolutely braindead. maybe i just talked in circles. listen to this.

and that’s that, really. or, as robert plant said:

“You know, people can’t fall in love with me just because I’m good at what I do.”

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