I’ve owned Meg Wolitzer’s “The Interestings” for a while now, but I’m finally, FINALLY getting a chance to read it. I know, I know. I’m super late to the party. But that’s the great thing about books, right? They’re still there, waiting to entertain you at any given moment. And they’ll hit you just as hard when you get around to reading them as when you purchased them.
Anyhow, though I’m not finished with it yet—and I hope that doesn’t totally discredit me—I wanted to discuss one of the novel’s themes: the struggle between talent and creativity, i.e., the truth that they aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
(All those poor horrible singers on “American Idol” who think they’re personally great but then get torn apart by both Simon Cowell and the nation at large come to mind as an extreme example of this.)
The opening of the book includes a quote from Mary Robison’s “Yours” that discusses what it’s like to only be sort-of good at something:
“…to own only a little talent…was an awful, plaguing thing…being only a little special meant you expected too much, most of the time.”
Meanwhile, the passage pictured above really caught me and seems to be diametrically opposed to the opening quote. It’s a sentiment delivered by one very talented, hard-working character, Ethan Figman, who goes on to become extremely successful with his “Simpsons”-esque cartoon show. The passage is teenage Ethan, discussing his art with the book’s main character, Jules, who, unlike Ethan is only marginally talented (as an actress):
“Stopping was death. Stopping meant you’d given up and turned the keys of the world over to other people. The only option for a creative person was constant motion—a lifetime of busy whirligigging in a generally forward direction, until you couldn’t do it any longer.”
Both these quotes struck me hard in the gut because they seem to encompass the complicated barrage of feelings we endure as writers who exist in a world with other writers, each managing our own expectations, measures of success and love of art.
I believe any artist internally thinks he or she is talented in some way. Maybe we don’t walk around with our chests puffed out and boasts on our breath, but I think just by the act of making art and liking our own art—smiling at our own great turn of phrase, for example—we must think that in our own mind’s eye that we’re talented at it. It’s just up to us whether we care if others acknowledge that talent.
I love writing. I’m always whirligigging forward, because I don’t want to stop. I’d be doing it anyway, whether someone on the outside thought I was talented or not. You can’t stop a passion, you can only squash it down and make yourself unhappy in the process.
But given that passion and talent aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive—oh, poor “American Idol” contestants—is talent really even necessary at all for a true passion? Or does your passion make you talented at it—even just a little bit? What do you think? And does it even matter?