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The Burden of Talent

Talent is not something you should take for granted. At its etymological roots, it implies a burden, not a gift.

Talent and those who bear it own a stigma, too. We assume that those with talent succeed despite anything else, and those not "blessed" are destined for failure. Having taught gifted children, I can vouch that laziness extinguishes any gift and the success it can bring. Coddled talented people achieve little because they assume they need not put forth effort. I have seen the gifted and talented crippled by existential crises because they have been told all their lives that they are inherently wonderful, something they cannot feel when confronted by a task slightly ahead of their abilities. These crises, the burden of talent, can be enough to stop the person from ever expressing anything, from ever being anything more.

Conversely, having also worked with a learning disabled and adjudicated population, I can point out students labeled as "slow" who continued to persevere and now hold positions well beyond their talented peers. We ought to be the tortoise here, not the hare.

I also have known students who were intent to squander their gifts. I taught a young man who would create photorealistic shoes in Microsoft Paint where most struggle to make competent stick figures, but the height to which he could imagine himself was "prison tattoo artist." At least he put in the effort to perfect his craft, sketching whenever he could (mostly when he ought to have been learning the circulatory system or the details of the French Revolution), even if his aspirations were dismal. Should someone finally get through to him, his natural abilities will not have deteriorated through laziness. Otherwise, some inmates will be very lucky that he is serving ten to twenty at their sides.

Talent has nothing without practice. Writing and storytelling was always my forte, but I understood that this did not make me particularly good, only slightly ahead of the game and innately drawn. I read voraciously, I wrote a dozen different styles, I imitated, I typed a million words until I unlearned bad habits.

Now, I am better, but I am still not great. I learn constantly tweaks and methods to write better because I know there is some studious terrapin nipping at my heels, one who was not called talented but dedicated. Every day, I have to read and write when I may want to do nothing more than wander about outside or watch Amber play videogames. Writing is not always fun, but it is what I do and what I have decided I must continue to do. It is a tradeoff not to be great, but simply not be flabby in the race to the finish line.

I like to believe that this genetic advantage (or a matter of appropriate nurturing) is a gift that means I need to write to pay off a debt I never quite agreed to incur, but that doesn't mean that I am going to shove it in the back of the closet or try to return it. This talent means that I have an obligation to do something grand with it and that I will have to spend my life working to be worthy of whatever that greatness might be.

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings.

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