The Bludgeon of Talent?

A quiet morning here in paradise and I have little fear of my head intersecting a bludgeon later on, but you never know. When vectors start flying the outcome is always a little unpredictable, regardless of the equation. Some bludgeons are emotional, existential, internal.

Today is my brother’s birthday, and as he is no longer around to help celebrate, I thought I’d write about talent. A couple of days ago I was helping my neighbor with her computer and she said some interesting things. She said that I get up in the morning and think, “I’m going to paint that” or  “I’m going to write that story.” I agreed. That’s pretty much what I do. She then said she wished she had talent. I told her that there’s not much to talent. The big thing is to keep at something until you’re good at it and take pleasure in it.

My brother was extraordinarily talented. His artistic abilities as a storyteller through comics emerged when he was just a little guy of three. For most of his young life he could happily sit in the corner of our basement drawing cartoons. He did it hours on end. Anyone can draw cartoons if they get a book that shows them how, but not everyone has the mind to put the comic characters together with stories. He had a phenomenal and unique sense of humor.

Combined with this — and this is what artists are “notorious” for — he had a very large dark side. I don’t know when he started drinking. In my perpetually naive state, I thought it was when he was 18 or so, but that’s probably wrong. At a very early age my brother began looking for something he could imbibe that would intoxicate him.

A friend of mine seven years ago — also a brilliant guy who’d fought alcoholism and, for the moment, had won — said that for some people talent is a curse and a burden. I thought maybe that accurately described my brother. Anyone with an alcoholic, drug addict or suicide in their family wonders, “Why?” Maybe that was it. Or maybe it was our family, but I don’t think so. I think it was inside my brother, a mysterious dark force that I will never (god willing) understand.

So here I am. My brother would have been 63 today. When I think of him I don’t think of the sorrowful denouement of his life story. I think of the kid I played with. I think of sledding in the woods near our house in Nebraska. I think of going out trick-or-treating (and pulling tricks on people). I think of walking to school and seeing the snow coming toward us as stars pelting the window of our spaceship. I think of the young father who yelled at the nurse because she would not let me hold his new baby, “Immediate family only,” said the nurse.

“But she’s my sister!” yelled my brother as the nurse walked away, the baby in her arms.


The photo is my brother in 1975, aged 22, at Pine Creek Gallery and Restaurant in Colorado Springs, at a painting show with some of his work and the work of his friends, Daryl Anderson, Rick Berry, Artie Romero and probably others whose names I don’t know. 🙂

19 thoughts on “The Bludgeon of Talent?

  1. An immersible loss Martha, this is a very poignant day for you I’m sure. My thoughts are with you. I too lost someone to alcoholism at the age of 50. A dear friend and fellow writer of tales and poetry, gifted beyond words. I know that It hurts the heart to lose someone so dear. A wonderful text my friend.

      • No, we can’t forget and I think they live on as long as we remember. I sometimes post my friend poetry at my blog to keep his beautiful words alive. I do think that creative people are more likely to be addicted, I don’t know why that is, perhaps they are too sensitive to the harshness of life or somehow unfulfilled. ❤

        • I don’t know. There are plenty of untalented people who are addicts, too. I tend to think it’s that a talented person like my brother is just extraordinary and therefore more visible to others. Have you read Kay Redfield Jamison’s book “Touched with Fire”?

  2. I’ve lived with alcoholism in my family as well. Who knows, there are probably as many different reasons for a person to start drinking as there are people. But the common denominator is the sorrow it brings to those who love that person.

    This is a wonderful tribute to a brother you obviously loved very much. Thank you for sharing it.

    • ❤ I agree. I think each person who goes down that road has his/her own reason. My brother was honest with me. He said he liked being drunk. I think that could have been the whole story, though it was almost impossible for me to believe. Once I believed it, I let go. Who was I to stand in his way?

      • I guess that’s as good a reason as any, isn’t it. In my own case, I think they drank to escape their lives. As for me, I never could stand the taste of alcohol, so perhaps I got off lucky….

        • I just never liked being intoxicated that much, then I poisoned myself during the disco era and that was a lucky thing for me. 🙂 Nothing like alcohol poisoning to make someone sober.

  3. At the beginning of one of his novels (I’m afraid I don’t recall which now), Kurt Vonnegut related the time he took his sister to task for not making use of her considerable writing and sculpting talents. “Having talent doesn’t carry with it the obligation that something has to be done with it” she replied.

    I’m glad your brother managed to use his talents to great effect, if for far too short a time and despite battling demons. This was a very touching elegy.

  4. My brother died of pancreatic cancer before he had a chance to collect social security. He exercised, ate sensibly, had nothing more than an occasional beer, and loved hot peppers. If he had lived, he’s have turned 73 last July. He died 9 years ago. I still miss him.

    • I’m so sorry, Marilyn. I’m sure you miss him. This death thing — well the life thing, for that matter — makes no sense. I miss my brother, too. ❤ ❤

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