I heard recently about a video circulating in which a MFA teacher complains about many of her students. I chose not to seek it out for a number of reasons, but I thought of it again when I learned of an article published in the Seattle alternative newspaper, The Stranger, in which an ex-MFA teacher complains about his students as well. In both the video and the article, I am aware, the question of talent was raised. Talent, goes the story, cannot be taught. You either have it or you don’t.
Perhaps I’m a bit of a coward, but I chose to avoid that article as well, specifically because of that toxic word. I know why that word exists, and why it feels appropriate to apply to certain people and not to others. I am frequently tempted to use it when talking to students or describing writers I enjoy when I perceive the bright, effortless light of originality. It is the perception of effortless that is so attractive and magical and the source of what is misleading about that word.
Over my writing life I have worked deliberately and consistently to find the most effortless expression of whatever I am trying to share. The more I have found this effortless path, the more I have come to understand that effortlessness is our natural state of being. That most of us, including me, often live outside of this effortlessness does not alter this truth. Rather, the suffering I have known in my life and perceive around me merely proves the point, for what could be worse than struggling against what we are meant to be?
So sometimes a writer, whether young or old, new or experienced, finds that bright, alive, effortless current of a story. The writer didn’t make it, didn’t force it, and didn’t get in the way of it, the writer merely found it and let it come. No teacher alive could teach that current, and no amount of skill could imitate it. Either you are in the flow of that current or you are not. But to say that the current is available to some and not to others, that one either has talent or doesn’t, is to measure one life against another, to believe that one child is born capriciously with the capacity for happiness and another not, and all the while praying the wheel of life will turn for you.
“A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com