Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Of Gifts and Talents and Proclivities

Left: Our granddaughter's interpretation of Michael Jackson's Thriller. Photo and stylization courtesy of Jane Cato Studio. What you can't see is the makeup and tousled hair of her zombie princess alter ego.

Years ago, I read one of those how-to-live-a-blessed-life kind of books in which the author spoke of the time-released capsules she believes God builds into each of our lives. Sudden discoveries and realigning of circumstances had released new and unexpected creative energies in her own life. God doesn't give everything to us all at once, she wrote. He lets us discover, in His time and as we go along, the gifts He planted in us from the beginning.

I have thought about the phenomena of implanted time-released capsules often these last few years. My husband touched clay for the first time three-and-a-half years ago, and one of those extra-fast-acting time-released capsules burst open.

For me, however, the first sense I had that I could be a "real" writer came in my 20s. But circumstances didn't align themselves for me to explore that in all of its fullness until I was in my 50s -- a slower-acting capsule, as it were.

One of our responsibilities as parents, says Proverbs 22:6,  is to "Train up a child in the way he (she) should go." Most people interpret that in terms of religious teaching. But it also speaks to paying attention to the individual personality, abilities, and talents each child has -- and to the times they are released in their lives.

One of our sons was assigned in seventh grade to write a computer program for a game. This was in the Commodore 64 era when we played Atari's Pong at home and kids played that newfangled game, Pac-Man, in arcades. I don't even have the vocabulary to describe the game he created, but it was intricate enough that we had to buy additional external memory to hold it all -- and even then I think he only scratched the surface of what he had in his mind. Today he's the IT guy at a Colorado ski resort -- where he can also make the most of another time-released capsule called snowboarding that exploded in his life a couple of decades later.

Another son absorbed everything he could learn about fishing and hunting from his father and from other people and from books. Beginning when he was about eight years old, he often fished the neighborhood ponds after school when the other kids rode bikes and played kickball. One day when he was 13 or so, my husband and I were visiting my parents in Spring Hill when he called to tell us he had snagged a barbed treble hook in the top of his foot while fishing from a bridge not far from our house in Seminole. My husband walked him through the process of backing the hook out, which he did successfully -- and then went back to fishing. He explored the professional fishing tournament circuit for a time before circumstances limited his time. Today he's our go-to guy when we have questions about Florida flora and fauna . . . and fish, of course.

A third son would spend days in character -- Huck Finn was a favorite, corn cob pipe and all -- and he also learned to love the physical labor of building things. His second grade teachers commented on his "showmanship" when they filmed him doing a science experiment. When he played the Jack of Hearts in a fifth-grade production of Alice in Wonderland, the advisor suggested he consider a theater program  in high school. He did, but turned to building sets and running lights and sound in the technical theater program instead. Today he's the go-to guy at a major corporation, responsible for maintaining much of their physical infrastructure and equipment. And he's a backstage dad for his children.

Of course, our sons explored other interests along the way. They played baseball and soccer in the local leagues. They each learned to play more than one musical instrument -- one still plays around with music quite a bit. One has learned the art of selling. Two of them still enjoy reading books. All three are good writers, when they have a use for writing. They all learned how to cook and to use hammers and saws and wrenches and what not. Sometimes they still call their dad for a how-to walk through, but sometimes he calls them for the same.

Now our children watch their children walk in particular paths, or -- for three of our grandchildren, at least -- dance down particular paths.

Our oldest grandson was two, maybe three, when he started asking to wear my "clap shoes" when he came to visit. They were just my wear-to-the-office 1-inch heeled pumps . . . but he liked the clapping sound they made on our tiled entry way and on our concrete kitchen floor. By the time he was four, all he wanted for his birthday was a pair of tap shoes. His mom, a dancer herself and married to our theater son, enrolled him in tap lessons. From his first lessons, he exhibited an innate ability to follow the steps -- and, when he made a mistake, to correct himself back into the rhythm. Last night, I got teary-eyed watching him rat-a-tat-tat across the stage . . . and also perform a very sensitively danced lyrical number.

His brother was barely two when he memorized the score and choreography from the Wizard of Oz. He couldn't articulate the words, but the on-pitch melodies and voice inflections were there. He couldn't match all the steps, but he had the timing of Scarecrow's loose moves down pat.  Before long, he followed his brother into dance classes. Last night, I lost count of the number of dances -- solos, duets, trios, group dances -- to which he had memorized the choreography and inserted his own personality.

Little sister was just four when she saw Michael Jackson's Thriller video and started teaching herself the choreography, including the moon walk. Her reaction when Michael Jackson died? "But he's still alive in Thriller." Last night, she performed a solo version (a 5-year-olds' recognizable rendition) of Thriller at the DanceMoves Studio's final program. She can turn respectable cartwheels and has a lovely toe point.

Their parents have poured lots of time and money into helping their children follow these paths to date. What does the future hold? None of us know. They could wow them on Broadway or a different time-released capsule could take them down new and unrelated paths. For now they have learned the disciplines of working hard at something, of working consistently at something, and of sharing what they have learned with others. I suspect they have learned to walk hard, walk long, walk joyfully in whatever way they find themselves down the road.

Everything else is icing on the proverbial cake.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Making a Joyful Noise! Part Two

From Haydn's The Creation and Lord Nelson Mass -- performed by the Eckerd College Concert Choir and Friends this past March.

It's a grand night for singing . . . 

The voice lessons I took in high school didn't turn me into an opera diva. Cosí fan tutte wasn't on my Top 20 and Lohengrin wasn't exactly easy listening.

Those were the days of the Beatles, Herman's Hermits, Marianne Faithful, Petula Clark, the Mamas and the Papas, the Lovin' Spoonful and others. Even now, phrases from "As Tears Go By," "Downtown," "Monday, Monday," and more drift through my mind at the oddest times.

Just listen to the rhythm of the gentle bossa nova . . . 

Playing tag in my brain with  the pop tunes and lyrics of the 60s, are the show songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Leonard Bernstein, and others.

How do you solve a problem like Maria? How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?

Not opera, by any means. But my instructor was also the choir director at our church. And he encouraged me, a high school sophomore (freshman?), to sing in the adult choir.

I wonder if he knew what a gift that was.

For one thing, I was never quite youth group material. Most of the other kids at church went to the same high school, a different one than I went to. Most of the other kids played sports or were in band or were in other group activities.

Me? I was on the speech team.

The debate team.

Yes, I was on the drill team one year, and I did go on a youth group outing to play in the snow at Big Bear. And while I wasn't exactly a fish out of water, I felt a bit like a mountain-stream rainbow trout mixing it up with Coho salmon fresh from the ocean.

For another, my voice wasn't knock-'em-dead-powerhouse solo quality. Give me an acoustic guitar and a coffeehouse setting and I might be able to earn a few bucks. But belt it out on Broadway? Ain't gonna happen.


Except that somebody encouraged me to join the adult choir.

Chorus, choir, chorale -- the synergy of individual voices so yielded to and blended with each other creates more than just magnified sound. It creates a new voice, one that is more than the sum of its parts and that transcends parts all together.

We bring our puny voices to the group, offering them to the music, moving as one with the director, trusting -- as did a long ago little boy -- that our vocal loaves and fishes will be multiplied and divided to feed the multitudes more than just a picnic lunch.

And what of the loaf being multiplied? For me, my range extends, my volume expands, and my voice becomes a little less puny. I am taken out of myself and become more than myself.

Make a joyful noise, the Psalmist said.

He never said it had to be a solo.