Last week I bumped into Dr. D., whom I have known since he was in junior high. It was a particular treat to see him as he now lives in another city. At age 27, he has interrupted a residency in neurosurgery to take a Ph.D. in brain-machines interface. Then he will go back and complete the surgical residency. Once he has become a full-fledged surgeon/scientist, he will have an exciting array of interwoven skills and insights to offer his own patients and the world.
When I first knew Dr. D (who was then simply D), he astonished me with his piano-playing wizardry.
So I told him last week that I had imagined him pursuing a career as a concert pianist. “Maybe that could have happened if a different trajectory had been followed,” he said. “Maybe I had some talent–but not the tenacity and drive. If you put a piano in front of me I can play it. But I’ve got the drive to study and do surgery. And I’d rather do that eight hours a day, no matter what happens, than play the piano eight hours a day.”
Right away I made the connection with writing. Talent is not a useful concept when I think of my writing practice. Application is. Ultimately, much as I fall, fail and falter–as I frequently do–determination and the desire to keep getting better as a writer kick in. Now when I have a bad moment I will think of Dr. D. Drive and tenacity always see him–and me–through the rough patches.