On Talent and the Physical

I used to believe that only people born with natural talent could do physical things. And I knew I wasn’t talented.

When I was five, the doctor recommended ballet classes because I had problems with my ankles. Ballet isn’t a particularly good exercise for weak ankles, but it was one of the few physical classes available for girls back then.

My teacher put me in toe shoes. Clearly she didn’t know anything about strengthening ankles. Toe shoes probably made my ankles worse.

I don’t remember much about those classes, but I came away knowing I wasn’t talented.

I was always one of the tall kids, so I figured I could play basketball (even if my parents thought it was silly). The PE teacher told us that anyone who could run a mile around the track could play basketball, so I did it, only to discover that the test only applied to sixth graders. After that, I went to a school that didn’t have basketball for girls. I used to shoot layups before PE class, trying to get good just because I wanted to be good.

But despite that, PE class informed me that I wasn’t talented. I got picked last for teams. I could never get the volleyball over the net. Or the tennis ball, though I liked tennis.

I could ride a horse, though I never rode as much as my sister. I used a bicycle to get into town until I got a driver’s license. Mostly I spent my time curled up with a book. I was “smart,” not physical.

The first chink in my wall of belief came from watching The Avengers. Not the superhero movies, but the clever British spy spoof TV series from the 60s. Mrs. Peel, as played by the late Diana Rigg, was an awesome fighter because she had trained in martial arts.

A seed was planted in the back of my mind: Learn martial arts and you won’t be at risk from men.

Of course, martial arts was physical and I was untalented, but the idea remained.

Yes, stories matter, even high camp sixties TV.  Continue reading “On Talent and the Physical”