Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Born to be

Barbara here. Rick has invited us all to put in our two cents on the question of talent and storytelling. Canada abolished its one cent coin a few years ago, so here's my plug nickels's worth. I have no idea whether the talent for storytelling is born into us or not, bit I do believe that most of us, if not all, are born with a creative urge and the path through which it is expressed. This path may be guided by early exposure, as in musicians or artists who follow in their parents' footsteps, but sometimes it has nothing to do with the culture and interests of our families.

I was born into a family of musicians and painters. They did other things with their lives, but my grandfather, as a surgeon in France during World War I, painted scenes of rural France as an outlet and counterpoint to the horrific demands of his job. His talent for painting predated the war; I have a painting of his hanging in my house, done when he was 16 years old. My mother was a high school science teacher but inherited that painter's passion, and many of the other walls in my house hold paintings done by her, inspired by the sight of a child playing or a spectacular play of light on mountains or sea.

I, however have never had the slightest urge to pick up a sketchpad or capture a scene on canvas. I have absolutely zero talent for drawing, painting, or otherwise interpreting the world in visual form. But from the age of six, when I first learned how to spell, I have been inventing stories. Story ideas spin in my head all the time. The question is not where do I get my ideas (for they are in the line at the coffee shop and in the sidebars of the newspaper), but how do I know whether an idea has the legs for a 300-page novel, or whether it deserves to be a scene or a subplot in a larger story. Experience and practice have taught me that.

Writing, particularly fiction writing, occupied no part of my family tree. I am the first in my whole extended family to be obsessed with creating stories. However, some of the prerequisites to good storytelling were present in my family home. My parents were avid readers and our home was filled with books. Filled. Every kind of book from biography to history to great literature and poetry. I had free rein of the shelves and picked up books at random, reading William Faulkner and Alexander Solzhenitzyn at whim From them I learned the secrets of great drama and absorbed, without lectures or lessons, the techniques of story arc, characterization, and imagery.

I wrote all through my childhood and throughout adulthood, mostly dreadful sap that fortunately did not see the light of day but that helped me to learn my craft. My late husband, however, was a painter. He saw the world not in terms of story bites like me but in terms of images and framed scenes to be captured on canvas. Not in terms of characters and conflicts but in terms of colour, shapes. shadows, and contrasting light. Yet our children, with their DNA packed on both sides with a painter's genes and on one side with a storyteller's, followed neither path. Like me, they show no talent or inclination for visual art. One has some interest in writing song lyrics and another in writing scripts, so some of that has past on through the DNA. But their creativity has found its primary outlet in other forms -- in music and acting.

It is a strange, human beast, this creative urge. Who knows where it comes from, but I believe we all have it. Perhaps we are all born with our own primary outlet, whether it's writing, art, acting, music, dance, crafts, woodworking, photography, or even software design. It may be the random re-alligning of the DNA but it comes from the core of who who are. The rest -- the talent, training, and practice it takes to do it well -- are secondary, because if it's not your passion, you won't put yourself at the artist's easel or the writer's desk long enough to get anything done.


Barbara Fradkin said...

Apparently one should not write a blog post the night before after two glasses of wine. At least three errors! Can you spot them?

Susan Bexton said...

Wonderful comments on your interesting family artistic bent. Very interesting article and I'm glad you had your few glasses of wine before writing it. Excellent!

Susan Bexton