Despite all my efforts to be a decent, understanding, and loving person, I sometimes completely lose my composure. A strong self-confidence and a weak talent can be a dangerous combination. I then become a fire-breathing dragon, hurting certain minds mightily with my hot breath. From my point of view, these are just singed egos – but please, opinions differ.
I once told a proud photographer with printing ambitions that his expressionless photos were at best only good as a printer color test. To a self-stoned painter I said that her pictures are ideal for decorating small-town waiting rooms. And I explained to a comedian, who couldn’t even imitate Jerry Lewis well, that his performance was an instrument of torture.
There is no difference between professionals and amateurs. There are completely dilettantish professionals and brilliant amateurs. No question about it. And the “wannabe syndrome” takes no account of existing or non-existing qualifications. But with a little more professional and expert knowledge, the suffering potential of those upon whom this “benefit” is forced becomes higher.
With a machete through the ego thicket
While I was still working for the film industry, an actor once asked my opinion on one of his self-written scripts. I warned him in advance that I saw myself as an advocate of what wanted to be told. Because from my point of view, there were dramaturgical sins worthy of prosecution. Also, I would take no account of the vanity of the author. But he begged and implored me to be honest, for wasn´t it for his own good after all?
So, I sat down and stripped a really wonderful idea of the author’s vanity baggage with loving comments and constructive suggestions (I think). For example, there was a character in the story who didn’t fit in there at all and unnecessarily complicated the flow of the narrative. However, he had written this character in for himself, as was easy to see, because the role description matched him to a T… And I suggested inventing a separate story for this character instead of forcing him into the other one. Because for me it was like trying to fit the fender of a VW Beetle to a Porsche.
At the next meeting, the actor was clearly dejected. From his point of view, I had destroyed his great work. I replied that he had to think about whether he wanted to reach his audience and please them. Or whether he was concerned about his role – at the expense of the story. Incidentally, I remarked, his talent as an actor was far greater than as a screenwriter. The meeting ended abruptly.
A few days later he called me and explained in a schoolmasterly manner that I had made a cardinal mistake! But he was ready to accept my apology and give me another chance. For I was basically a nice person! And as a responsible person, one should not belittle another person and never say that he is untalented! Especially not if he felt so much passion for it. That could be traumatic and screw up lives.
I replied that it was only my opinion and if he didn’t take me or himself so terribly seriously, everything would be easier, and his story would have a chance. He hung up and I thought to myself, it is not clear yet who is screwing up whose life.
And the winner is…
Every few years I hear about a new film project that he has realized and brought to cinemas. With the same regularity, the films receive scathing reviews and never make it past the first week of their run due to a lack of viewers. The talent of the gentleman is quite obviously elsewhere. Perseverance, stamina, and unshakable self-confidence are part of it. To this day.
Literature or neurosis
The second example: a young journalist who had interviewed me after I had received a screenplay award subsequently asked me to read her first novel. It was “strongly biographical.” I steadfastly refused. But on the 10th call, I exhaustedly replied, “Fine, then at your own risk.” She was ecstatic, and I read the epic opus.
Unsurprised, I discovered that it detailed her unsavory fantasies outside her marriage. What made it particularly piquant was that the names of the characters corresponded to the real names of the people described. I explained to her that the entertainment value of the book was unfortunately very low. Not only was it linguistically and stylistically tedious. But one would be forced as a reader to become a witness to their unresolved marital problems in an agonizing way, without being able to partake in a solution. This is an imposition! She would be better off finally talking to her husband and going to therapy, rather than puking her guts out on hundreds of pages and inundating others with her issues.
My answer shook her so much that her loving husband asked her what was going on and she lamented her suffering. He then read the work. The marriage broke up and she had to seek psychiatric treatment. He gave me a big bouquet of flowers and a plastic Oscar and left town.
Words cannot defend themselves
At a family constellation seminar, one of the participants learned that I was an author. At the next opportunity, he proudly declared that he had also been writing his first novel for two years. Shaking his flowing poet´s mane, he added: he was already on page 3! With a conspiratorial look in his eyes, he then lowered his voice and asked what I could recommend to support and accelerate his writing. I was speechless. But the friend I was at the seminar with exclaimed, “Discipline and a dictionary!”
A heart for stories
Truth be told, it’s also this common lack of talent coupled with the great arrogance of secretly being better than the great masters of cinematography after all that caused me to eventually turn down offers to teach screenwriting courses. Of course, there are exceptions. But for me there are too few.
I really have a heart for good ideas, poetic images, exciting stories and stimulating use of language. And I can certainly perceive and appreciate the potential for these. Even how a story can touch others in a lasting way. But far too often these end up in the realm of creative duds due to miserable editing – often cliché-heavy and unimaginative. It feels like a desert zone that stretches far into the cosmos. Only envious snakes and spiteful spiders can survive there.
Art is a dialogue with creation
It has led me to the decision that I only support authors who are also written by their stories. It is, after all, an interaction. We write and are written. I think that’s true of all creations: we create them – and if we´re willing, they us. I find that delightful. And to everyone else, I wave a friendly hand, as neutrally as possible. You can decide for yourself whether it’s an encouraging or defensive wave.
And then there are all these talent competitions in our culture – I’ve already talked about that… Therefore, here only the reference to it.
The talents want to be lived
All these experiences have ultimately reinforced my passion for helping people discover and live their true talents. I am absolutely convinced that each of us has at least one talent that can be developed. We are born with it, and we can and should express it to our joy and that of our environment. Even if it is sometimes done with a strange distortion, as the case of Florence Foster Jenkins indicates.
But one obstacle on this path is the frequent confusion between how we would like to be perceived and how we actually are. Most “wanna-bes” are actually struggling with a distorted sense of self-worth. They cannot see, feel, or sufficiently appreciate their true talent. This is deeply tragic. Because the consequence is that they impose their third-rate expressions on the world. Sometimes even with the addition that they “worked really long and hard on it.” Unfortunately, that is no guarantee of quality. Just as little as “I had a spontaneous inspiration…”.
Joy and friends help
The only useful indication of whether we really have a talent for something and that this is the path that wants to be followed is – to have great joy in our own doing and being. Devoting ourselves to this should fill and nourish us internally. And sometimes, unfortunately, it doesn’t go beyond that, certainly not in our lifetime. (This is also such a blatant idea, of the air pumps, to be misjudged as master flutists by our time…).
And it is great when the outside world – the people whose perception we value, are also enthusiastic about what we do and honestly share the joy. And not only friends and relatives who do it for our sake, but because they genuinely appreciate our creations!
How tragic it is when everyone cringes because Uncle George is once again “reciting a poem he wrote himself” – for perhaps he is a gifted gardener in truth? Or everyone gets that pained look on their face when a certain colleague beamingly offers her homemade cakes? Everyone knows that no matter how much effort and love she claims went into it, and that it’s sugar-free, gluten-free, vegan, and organic of course, it still tastes like powder sponges. But maybe she has a real knack for cutting hair or macramé? Or is a super baby whisperer?
This distortion of consciousness is part of our world.
I’ve come to accept it as much as I can. There are just cookies that think they are a cake. And apparently gifted deep-sea divers, who unfortunately never got further than the bottom of their bathtub…
But I have also met golf clubs that thought they were miniature golf clubs. Because just as some skills are massively overestimated, some underestimate their talents. Mostly because they come easily to them. However, the development would be so rewarding!
In the meantime, I have made it my business to appreciate every talent that comes my way! No matter of what nature it is. The main thing is that it is genuine, from one’s own being and fully authentic! For that it comes tangibly from the depth of the heart of the creator…is what finally touches us in our hearts and resonates our own creation potential. That’s what we all love.
We are all treasure seekers
But when that’s not the case, and once again someone gets badly confused in their expression of creation at my expense, my dragon’s breath gets hot. Then there are singed cookies, huffed air pumps, and deep-sea divers who are suddenly left high and dry.
However, it’s part of my reality and the people who expose me to their doing. Loving unconditionally doesn’t mean having to accept everything unconditionally….
And of course, I am gracious to children – they are still exploring themselves. But with adults who ignore their gold during self-exploration and instead consider the inner Styrofoam to be a treasure – there I know no pardon. Because that’s a disregard for their talents and mine. But isn´t that´s what we came here for too: to make our world a better one using our unique talents! Now more than ever!