Apr. 19th, 2010

Genius

Apr. 19th, 2010 08:45 am
theatokos: (Default)
I think living in Wales is killing my LJ habit. There's just not much to write about. Life is peaceful, delicious, green, and utterly magical in its sheer ordinariness. The days blur: reading, laughing, eating, walking, playing outside. Bennett thrives. He is night weaned and is sleeping through the night. His language skills leap every day. In fact, for some words and concepts he seems to be functioning only in Spanish. Crazy. He knows colors in Spanish, English and Welsh. And he's nearing two. When he's tired - hoo boy: tears and gnashing of teeth, I tell you.

Over the weekend I read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. It's an easy, quick read and pretty enjoyable. What makes him enjoyable is also what makes him downright annoying to me. Just stick with a damn story and I don't need three examples of cultural miscommunication to get your point, thank you. However, I greatly appreciate his dismantling of the American success myths: being self-made, talent and genius being innate, etc. I've never bought into the first. I've long understood how one's context, environment, access to opportunity, etc can help or hinder a person's chances of success. Gladwell talks a lot about class being a factor in educational success but I think it's more of one's cultural class than just monetary class. He has several examples that point to this, without being explicit about it. This idea led to some personal reflection.

My family definitely had upper middle class values but was very, very working class (until I was in solidly in my teens). My father hasn't moved much out of the working class mind set - call him retired and he bristles (he's busy growing his own food and building the houses he lives in), call him wealthy and well.... I wouldn't say that to his face, even though he and my mother split their time between two continents. I see how my parents' value on education helped me pursue my academic desires. They may not understand the content of my studies, but they very much respect that I am pursuing these degrees. Fitting with the more working class idea of kids doing their own things, I was left to cultivate myself. I'm grateful for this because I think kids need to ample time to play and do nothing and learn about being bored. But this is easy to say because I have always been self-directed and one to take the initiative in my interests, which my parents would then try to facilitate. But we never went to the theatre or to hear live music, or all those other 'townie' things that I wished I could have done. It's amazing that I started singing at all.

Which leads me to another reflection: I completely bought into the 'genius is innate' idea. I started singing thinking I had some natural ability, which I do, but I think I've always thought that if I was really talented it wouldn't be so hard and so fraught with angst. But that's not true. The people who get to be great singers and performers are people who didn't let the angst and hard work stop them, people who had opportunities, who loved the process and worked hard, all the time. I can't say that I did those things, or at least, not very consistently. This 'talent is innate, so if it doesn't come easily then what's the use' idea is sadly ingrained in me. I see it crop up in many other areas of my life. I think it was easy to believe because some things have come absurdly easy to me: reading and most school. I didn't have to work hard to get a respectable B+. A smidge of effort and I'd get an A. (Except math, but that's another story for another day.) Reading and words are like breathing to me, so I think I just assumed that's how everything was. But what I didn't take into consideration is that my mother read to me from an early age (I don't remember this at all), that the house was filled with books, that I saw my parents read all the time, that I was allowed to spend entire days engrossed in a book. Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes about 10,000 hours to become a master at something. I'm pretty sure I've more than logged my 10,000 hours reading.

Interesting stuff.

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