Friday, November 4, 2011

Walking Around Talented

My friend Amie Tyler has a new blog. She e-mailed me yesterday, sweetly asking if I would mind if she put a link to my blog on hers. Being new to this blogging thing, she wasn’t sure if it was OK to do that without asking. I took the high road and did not grovel with gratitude. (“Oh, God, yes—please, please, please link to my site and I will get on a plane to wherever you are and paint your house.”)

So I toodled over to Amie’s blog, and…holy smokes, what a good blog. So far, she has just a few posts and two videos of her singing and playing guitar. (Actually she’s too shy to film herself singing, so for now it’s just audio.) Now, I’ve known Amie for 8 years or so, and I’m astonished that I didn’t know she did any of these three things: write, sing, or play guitar. And, even more astonishing, she’s excellent at all three—like bestseller good, like Shawn Colvin good. So now I’m bombarding her with embarrassing e-mails about how great she is. I already knew she was wonderful—you can’t spend two years in a book group with somebody, eating Chinese food and drinking martinis, unless you think they’re pretty wonderful. But I had no idea she had so much talent. I mean, she was sitting right there in front of me the whole time!

This makes me think about people in general, about how each of us is a walking encyclopedia of cool stuff, each a very different and very interesting universe. I’m reminded of it every time I go to an open mike where singer/songwriters are up there, strumming their guitars and doing their thing. Like poetry open mikes, those shows suffer their fair share of scratchy, tone-deaf exhibitionists. But every once in a while, somebody gets up there—usually the least likely person, the beanpole high-school girl or the smoke-smelly guy with the sailor hat—and the next thing I know, my jaw has dropped open and I’m sitting there with tears in my eyes because this person is just so damned good. This person, like my friend Amie, is just walking around every day with all that talent inside them? How is that possible? Shouldn’t it register, like some color on the spectrum? Shouldn’t they trail a stream of it as they go by?

I used to get a similar feeling when I was spending a lot of time at the assisted-living place where my dad used to live. To overcome my sick-old-folks phobia, I’d go with him down to the dining room at lunch and talk with his tablemates. I did this dozens of times, and I’m telling you, it was never, ever dull—those people were so freakin’ interesting. Once I said hello, smiled, asked where they were from, and managed to tune in to what they were saying over whatever impairment they had—a stroke, or Parkinson’s, or a tracheotomy—I was astounded to learn that these people, every one of them, had led fascinating lives. At the time, I also ran a reading group at a senior center, and it was the same way there—these people had lived all over the world, ranched inhospitable land, danced with stars, and worked in the White House. And to top it off, almost all of them had a wicked sense of humor.

It’s so easy to walk through my days, elbowing past people on the street, interacting with them at work just enough to answer a question or say hello. It’s easy to think of people as being the sum of what they say, or what I see. But sometimes something comes along, like Amie’s blog, that reminds me that each of us is a practically infinite soup of possibilities. While not every one may be to our taste, it’s pretty miraculous anyway. Bon app├ętit.

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