While there are a few skills and talents in which I am proficient, there are lots of them that I am not. A good enough for a small church choir singer. An I-can-make-it-to-the -end-of-the-pool swimmer. I am a decent quilter but without the artistry of some and precision of others. I have tried my hand at printmaking (hated it), flute (not enough breath support), basket making (okay but not great), and a variety of other skills and crafts. In the process, I discovered something I’m pretty good at. I am an appreciator, an audience, a fan. And so, I expect, are you in most things.
Great musicians, athletes, actors, writers, gardeners,or painters usually have some inborn inclination and natural talent that were transformed into skills finely honed by regular effort and practice, practice, practice. They have a dedication to their craft and often a limited range of other interests and skills. And then—there are the rest of us. Interested, attracted, give it a try. Can I draw? Not really, but my daughter the artist assures me that I can learn. Can I dance? Yes, but not well. Can I play softball? Put me at third base and late middle of the batting order and I will try to do as little harm as possible.
Many years ago, when I was struggling to learn to pick out the alto line from the accompaniment, I read an article that claimed that people we used to call retarded, but now describe inmore compassionate terms like slow learners, or developmentally delayed. The writer claimed that they could learn anything anyone else us could learn. It just took them longer, so they couldn’t reach a high level of attainment in a lot of different skills. But they could become proficient in a more limited number. Aha, I said to myself, I am a retarded musician. I got pretty good at picking out the alto line, but it took me longer than someone with more natural talent. My singing “career” was further hampered by a rather limited sense of rhythm. I learned about that flaw when I flunked my rhythm test in college freshman PE and then I understood why I was such a terrible typist. But there was more hope for getting the pitch. Like most of my family, I could pick out a one fingered tune from listening to the notes in my head. (My late husband, who had excellent rhythm, could not pick out Mary Had A Little Lamb on the piano without sheet music.) While I sing in the kitchen, or the shower, or the car, and sang for about 25 years in a church choir, my main achievement is that I have become at least a moderately competent appreciator.
How did I learn to become an appreciator of music, athletics, quilting, basket making, and even the dreaded printmaking? In some cases, I set out to learn enough about how these things are done. That effort enabled me to appreciate the complexities, the precision, the practice it takes to make a skill or a product look easy. I can appreciate a good basket or a good quilt because I took the trouble to try my hand at it and learn from others about the art I was observing and the effort it took to create something beautiful. I was never a good dancer, but 23 years of Jazzercise has improved my sense of rhythm and has helped me to understand how the body learns things like how to ride a bike, sail a boat, or throw a ball, which made me more appreciative of athletes and athletics.
Being a good audience is not passive. It too requires skill and continuous practice and learning, although less intensively than the actual actor, singer, artist or athlete. When I used to go to sporting events, there was one cheer that particularly spoke to me: “Two, four, six, eight, whom do we appreciate?” That’s why we are there , to appreciate, encourage, and support. It is no small contribution to offer to those who need witnesses to their accomplishments and comfort in their stumbles in order too keep on truckin’, to get up and try again.
As we athletic appreciators say over and over in Clemson, on good Saturdays and not so good ones, Go Tigers!