Other Talents

“Why didn’t you tell me… to bring along my harmonica?” the Baroness says to Max when Maria leads the Von Trapp children in song in The Sound of Music.

The Baroness is being sardonic. We know she has no musical talent.

I felt for the Baroness back then when I saw the movie in 1965 when I was in the seventh grade. Each time I’ve seen the movie, I have felt for her. I have no musical talent. I get the Baroness and her sense of being an observer, not quite of the party, left to sit on the couch and tap her foot hoping it coincides with the tempo of the music.

I have long reconciled myself to my non-musicality. There are other things I can do. I can write, I tell myself and hold up my published novel and stories as evidence.

But guess what? There are people out there who can not only write, they can play a musical instrument and sing! There were a number of such people at the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference earlier this month. Faculty Sam Ligon, Robert Lopez, and Gary Lilley played their guitars and sang some bluesy rock tunes one evening. Kim Addonizio added her harmonica to a blues poetry performance by her and Gary’s students at the end of the week.

I know other musically talented writers—Jennie Shortridge is lead singer for The Rejections and the Trailing Spouses, which also features Stephanie Kallos and Garth Stein.

The members of my writing group are quite musical, most notably, Alma Garcia, who in addition to being the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award and a Narrative Prize, also until recently played and sang in a rock band.

It makes me wish for a talent.

“You run,” my husband says, a super dad and himself a perennial speedster. Generous man.

Once upon a time I was an above average runner, hitting seven-and-a-half minute miles in easy 5K races. But at sixty-one years old, I’m a plodder now. The speed, such as it was, is history. Anyway, it’s not as if you can entertain someone with your running.

I can’t cook or quilt or build things. I don’t skateboard, ski, or turn cartwheels. I’m a self-conscious dancer with a stunted repertoire. I can do the basic salsa step unpartnered, but if someone tries to lead me in a turn, I stumble out of rhythm.

But there is this thing I can do. It’s not a talent or a skill, but I can claim (a not-quite freakish) flexibility. Not of attitude—that would indeed be a talent.

No, I’m talking limberness of the limbs. You see, at sixty-one, I can still do this: