Final Fairy Festival Installment

13 Jun 2007


I almost forgot to add this last detail from the festival. My daughter was hanging out at a tent where they sold wooden swords and shields. A bunch of kids (and some adults) were gathered outside attempting to balance a sword on one foot while hopping up and down with the other. When I asked about this, the vendor explained to me that he's got a standing promotion: Anyone who can balance a sword on one foot and hop up and down on the other 15 times wins $25 worth of merchandise from his tent. Did anyone ever win? It's extremely rare, he said -- just four people in the last five years, including, coincidentally, one teenage girl today who'd spent hours attempting the feat.

It didn't look very difficult, to be honest. So, I grabbed a sword and, within about two minutes, had accomplished it. Since he wasn't watching, I had to do it again (which I did on the next try). It' seemed pretty stupid to me, actually. But, the kids got excited and went on a $25 shopping spree courtesy of yours truly. The guy congratulated me, and we chatted for a few minutes.

I offered some advice: "Your challenge is too easy."

"It's not, though," he said. "It's a little weird that I had two winners today because, over the past five years, there's only been three who've done it."

Well, I could go on building the story up to mythical proportions, but I won't. I'd briefly entertained the idea that the guy was bullshitting me for some reason. But, after some thought, I don't think so. If it were an easy trick, the guy would lose too much money. Of course, it's also a neat gimmick. People hang out for hours outside his tent jumping up and down. It becomes a small attraction / activity, which generates additional sales. But, why lie about it? Why say no one ever wins? While I'll admit that it's within the realm of possibility that the guy was bullshitting me, I believe it's actually considerably more likely that he simply wasn't.

A few Winter Olympics ago, I was watching a figure skating competition one day. The announcer paid an odd compliment to the athlete. He said something to the effect of: "What you're seeing here with this skater is more the result of pure will than it is natural ability." I understood that comment deeply because I've always felt that there are at least two distinct types of "talents" in the world -- those who can do what they do effortlessly and those who can do what they do via considerable work, practice, etc.

Most of the pursuits I really love in life (writing, piano playing, a few other things) represent the latter. Some would argue that it's better to work for a thing or an ability than for the talent to manifest itself automatically, fully formed. If for no other reason, one would feel more of a sense of ownership in his or her special gift. One might also appreciate it more.

The thing is, of course, you can choose what you want to be gifted toward, but you can't choose what you're naturally gifted toward. I believe that, extremely rarely, these things match up. Mozart, Michael Jordan, Bobby Fischer, etc. I've always liked to imagine that each of us has a gift like that -- even if it's something we'll never discover about ourselves -- something we're just naturally, effortlessly better than everyone else at.

Me? Yeah, I can do a few things well. If you didn't know me, or see how much I practiced, you might even think I had talent in a few areas. But you'd be wrong. I simply have a particular will to do certain things that I enjoy, all sheer acts of volition. But damn if I'm not a prodigy when it comes to balancing a sword on my foot. It's not a million-dollar gift, unfortunately. But, it's won me $25 so far.

Original Comments

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On June 16, 2007, Monstro wrote:

I knew it. Patrick, you are the chosen one.

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