Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Last weekend, I "performed" at The River's Family Music Meltdown & Book Bash (which was organized in part by Lunch Lady author Jarrett Krosoczka). In between musical acts, authors gave a book reading. It was a loud, fun & energy-packed event, with great authors and rock bands.

But it was also a bit challenging for me--not because the kids or people were rude, but because the venue was so large with so many other things going on (vendors & food in the back, lots of people walking around). Enormous crowds are not my forte.

But, I think I did okay. I've done so many school visits that I'm not really nervous onstage anymore. I was able to get about 30% of the audience's attention, which was still pretty good.

However, after me, came Mo Willems, who commanded 100% of the crowd with awe-inspiring mastery:

It was quite impressive. And it reminded me of Meghan's thoughts about talent and Libby's post about what it takes to succeed as a novelist. The truth is, I've worked and worked to become a better public speaker. And I've gotten much better at it. I'm proud of that. But when I see a speaker like Mo, I realize that no amount of practice will ever make me a public speaker like that. It is a pure talent that sets him apart.

Just as I feel when I am faced by another author's amazing book, it is impossible not to acknowledge a superior talent. But strangely, this doesn't cause me great despair nor will it stop me from continuing and trying to get better at it. I think Mo will always be a great speaker, in any environment, continually and without exception. Me, maybe, once and a while when all the right elements combine & I keep working at it, I feel I can get a glimpse of creating that myself. And that's enough.


Dad said...

I know this is not my forum for espousing my beliefs about talent and intelligence but, here's a list of three prominent researchers I'd like to point out who have studied talent/intelligence each followed by a super short synopsis of their work:

Howard Gardner - There are different types of talents/intelligences (i.e. mathematic, linguistic, artistic, etc.). Talent and intelligence are pretty much interchangeable.

Carol Dweck - An individual's growth in any given talent/intelligence is largely dependent on their beliefs about the plasticity of their ability.

Joshua Aronson - When an individual feels inferior to their peers, they underperform dramatically.

Take these three together, you can basically distill a single theme from their research: No matter what activity you choose to do, your success will be determined by how you feel about yourself and how you deal with the stress of feeling outclassed.

Talent and intelligence are functions of your mind. It stands to reason that if you change the way you think about them, you can actually change the way they are expressed. It is easy to get discouraged when you try to do something or create something or perform something but courage is all you really need. The courage to fail, the courage to keep trying, the courage to measure your success by your own standards.

It may sound hokey but maybe there's no limit to human potential. Maybe Grace's success is due to the fact that she does not despair when she has to do things like share the stage with Mo Willems. Maybe Mo Willems' success is due to the fact he didn't lose heart when people told him a pigeons can't drive a bus.

Sorry for posting such a long comment but (as you can probably guess) I feel pretty passionate about this stuff.

BOB BOYLE said...

Mo is a very special talent and a super AMAZING performer. But his books also lend themselves perfectly to being read aloud to larger audiences.
It sounds like your books and presentation might be best enjoyed in a smaller more intimate setting.
Just like some bands are better playing in clubs rather than arenas.

Anna Alter said...

I relate to Grace's experiences big time. There are some people who have a special talent at taking the stage. Is that because it is a function of their mind and they have immense confidence and courage as said above by Dad or because they have abilities they were born with I don't know (I do think confidence has a lot to do with it, though as we debated in Meghan's post there is a level of talent I think even the hardest worker will never reach). Either way at this point, like Grace, I am pretty confident that I can do a good, even great job doing a presentation. But its never going to be the thing that sets me apart. And I think thats totally fine, because there are other things that will. I don't see that as a cop-out on potential, just being realistic about the most productive use of my energy.

Meghan McCarthy said...

Well, I for one am probably the most unlikely person to ever get in front of a crowd. A large part of this (or all of this?) is due to the fact that I was brutally made fun of in school. All through college I couldn't even speak in class. Just thinking about it now, for me, is really funny. Now I'm sure you wouldn't be able to get me to shut up. A few teachers in school got me to talk after a lot of effort on their part. After a while I realized that no one in the class was going to make fun of me so I talked. But in the next class I'd go right back to the way I was--red faced and extremely embarrassed to be the center of attention. And this is all because of jr. high! I remember my dad making a comment once (he was picking me up from school I guess)--he said "You're such a pretty girl but why do you walk with your head down?" After that i made sure to always walk looking up. I'd walked with my head down as a way of "hiding."

Now I do school talks in front of hundreds of kids, and aside from me having a hard time getting them to quiet down when they get too excited about something I said or projected, I'd say I do a pretty good job. And I'm not at all shy anymore!

So what changed? I kept agreeing to do talks even though I hated them. Eventually I got used to the whole thing and realized that it wasn't like going back to jr. high. No one tried to trip me or put things in my hair or yell out insulting names. So I've done a lot of growing.

Do I have a talent for public speaking? Honestly I'm not sure. I guess I'd need some one to watch me and give me some feedback (which I've never really gotten). What DID help immensely was on my very first school visit (in Conn.) the organizer said I was amazing - better than Mo Willems. That certainly gave me confidence! I think public speaking is all about that.

I won't repeat all of my opinions about talent again, though I will say that I agree that it is a form of intelligence. (hey, I'll take it where I can get it!)


Libby Koponen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Libby Koponen said...

Beautiful post, Grace!

As for the whole talent thing:I agree about it being a form of intelligence....but even your experts say "growth." While hard work and confidence and all the rest can make you BETTER (or smartER or however you like to put it), they can only help you grow what you have, not give you a talent or intelligence you lack.

No matter how hard I worked or trained, I'd never get good enough to sing opera at the Met. Or at math to teach (or maybe even understand!) physics. Or ski in the Olympics...I could get BETTER, but I wouldn't ever be good enough at those things to succeed at that top level, even if I had started training when I was 7.

David Niven once wrote that he had "made a little talent go a long way." He worked really hard, he was lucky, he was good with people which probably helped a lot in old Hollywood -- but he did have a little talent for acting,too.

Meghan McCarthy said...

I agree Libby! You can unleash your hidden potential, you should always try new things because you'll never know what you might be good at, and you should work hard to improve on what you already have BUT you can't add to what you aren't born with. PERIOD. I will never ever ever understand math. I've tried. Trust me. That's just one example. Sadly, there's also a reason why men and women are judged separately in many athletic things. We are born differently. Men have bigger hearts, they're stronger, etc. As much as a woman would like to run as fast as a man, even the best in the world won't be able to beat the best man in the world. It will always be that way. It's what people are born with. And it's the same for art and literature. Some people will always be better because they were born with TALENT.

Ugh! Now I've started again! I"m stopping now.