Poetry, music, math

sartorias posted some lovely excerpts from a poetry collection. In the ensuing discussion, quite a few people are talking about how they just don’t get poetry, just weren’t born with the poetry gene, and so on.

This is the exact same sort of thing that people say when one brings up math. Or music. There’s this persistent belief that certain fields are only for the gifted, for those annointed at birth with special talents. Once, I believed this.

But … well, I thought poetry wasn’t my thing. Then suddenly a couple years ago I sold a poem to Mythic Delirium. Suddenly I’m beginning to work on some picture book projects, which are just a step away from poetry, and which I used to assume were a form beyond my reach. I’m maybe not there yet–but I’m working on it, and I’m progressing.

And … the fact that I couldn’t sing to save my life was part of my self-definition for three and a half decades. Yet now I’m taking voice lessons–and, while I doubt I’ll ever be a professional, maybe not even a highly talented amateur–I’m making progress, and finding a lot of joy in it.

These things can be learned.

And unlearned. I actually did have a talent for math in high school–I led the math team; I won a small math scholarship; I apparently solved math problems when I talked in my sleep. Sometime around calculus I went astray through, lost my knack for it or maybe my interest–and I assumed I just didn’t have much natural talent for math after all.

I don’t think so anymore, though. I think I just hit a wall where the study took more work than I was willing to give it, or maybe more work than I knew how to give it. These days I believe that if one day I decide to study it again in a serious way–and I might, not as a career thing, but for fun–I’ll be able to learn it again. Maybe not as quickly as when I was 16, but nonetheless.

Of course there are real walls, things we can never do. I will probably never summit Everest; my lungs simply are physically not up to the task. That limitation is real, not imagined.

But I there are fewer of those walls than we assume. And I think we sell ourselves short when our first response, when hearing about a field we’re not yet adept in, is to say, “I can’t do that.” “I don’t want to do that”–sure. None of us have the time or desire to learn everything.

But that’s different from assuming we can’t, simply because we haven’t yet. It’s different from denying ourselves music, poetry, math, or any number of other beautiful and wondrous things that maybe we’re born to after all, even when we don’t really want to.

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