How do I discover and apply my gifts? / by Rebecca Tillett

Our talents are the gift that God gives to us.
 What we make of our talents is our gift back to God.
— Leo Buscaglia

In a recent interview for an Italian magazine called Kult, I was asked, "What is the connection between your photography and poetry?” I replied, “Poetry and photography are simply the two most meaningful ways I attempt to express myself. Sometimes I gravitate toward photography, sometimes poetry or writing. Occasionally the two mediums coalesce and create a new means to render whatever’s going on inside me. Both are therapeutic in various different ways and I couldn't live without either one.”

When I attempt to ponder my own gifts, the first and foremost thought is: I see things. I see beauty in ugly places and ugly in beautiful places. I see the abstract artful formations that a random assortment of words on a page can make and I can feel those words. I see light in dark and history in skin. I see the good and tenderness in people and I’m sensitive to the dishonest, black-hearted and manipulative (and do what I can to maintain a life without them). And I try so hard to depict these things that I see through the lens of a camera and through writing and yet I realize as humans, we all see things a little differently than anyone else, and through our own lens. That’s the incredible thing about art; whatever I create, it changes depending on the particular observer. I think that if I’m truly lucky enough to count these as gifts I can say without flinching that they’re all rooted in consciousness, in emotion and passion and an absolute awareness that we’re all delicate feeling beings.

When I asked my boyfriend Mike to list four gifts he sees in me, he wrote “It seems a futile and impossible exercise to compress or narrow down the virtues I see in Becky, so let us call this a condensed list. She is passionate. In our culture, it seems strong emotions are disconcerting, frowned upon, even alien. I believe it is readily apparent in most facets of it, whether it be the apathy of civic duty and politics, or formulaic, structured, boring art. Becky feels, and feels hard; a relatively recent rarity, and something I revere. She is empathetic. In the same vein as her own passion, she feels for others; knowing the ins and outs of the spectrum, from joy to despair, grief and love, makes her compassion and understanding a kindness also sorely missing from the world. She is creative. As a statement of fact, those three words are beyond inadequate, incapable and unequal to the concept. She finds exquisite loveliness in places most would remain ignorant of forever. She finds beauty in everything, and like a Midas of grace, everything she touches, everything she creates, is beautiful, particularly her reflection. And the last for this list, most important, and again, extremely lacking in humanity; she is humble. She will never accept these words as truth, in a way only one with true humility can ardently deny. Four gifts of a long list.” And when I asked my cousin Cassie to do the same, she replied “4 gifts I see in you: An eye that envisions beauty especially in darkness. A bold voice whose power increases exponentially in written words, especially when combined with your images. True grit and real shit. Drive to create, passion to survive, strength to fight, generosity to share. You continue to inspire me as much as you did when I was a little girl and I will always look up to you. You are a role model for me in so many ways.” My good friend Carrie referenced my writing, my art and my propensity for free-thinking and oftentimes rebelliousness and my cousin Rachel said "Your best traits/things that make you special: 1) Your perspective. You have quite a unique bag of experiences that have affected your life and put you in very hard, difficult situations, but you always overcome those obstacles, and continue to see the beauty in life. 2) Your definition of beauty, whatever it is and however it expands and grows as you do, evolving, and continually resonating with others. It is the reason you are such a badass artist and why your work is completely unique. You see beauty where others might overlook it, and that is special: I would consider it a mixed up jar of gratitude and awareness, that ends up leaving this beautiful, raw but completely honest portrait that I always see when I look at your work. And lastly, a trait that I associate with you, especially after this past year, is courage. This year I saw you make choices that scared you to death, that pushed you to places that I knew you never imagined for yourself, and even though it was possible. It was incredibly hard, terrifying, lonely, and more, but you did it because you knew you needed to. That shows your unyielding loyalty to honesty, especially with yourself, which is one of the hardest things to do. You looked at all your fears and took the plunge anyway. That is one of the most inspiring and brave things I've ever seen an adult that I know intimately do."

There are indeed some common threads amongst these responses not discounting my own and while I may balk at the degree to which my loved ones claim they exist, I believe I harbor enough self-realization to know where my smattering of creative gifts and talents lie.

In the readings assigned to us this week, the recurring theme (in Kant’s Grounding for Metaphysics of Morals, Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Brontë and Damon and Affleck’s Good Will Hunting, at least) seems to be duty and obligation. How obligated are we to utilize our gifts for the common good and betterment of humankind as well as the prosperity of ourselves? “But he finds himself in comfortable circumstances and prefers to indulge in pleasure rather than to bother himself about broadening and improving his fortunate natural aptitudes.” (Kant, 2006, p. 320) And “…yet she must not shrink from the extra responsibility implied by the very fact of her possessing such talents. She must not hide her gift in a napkin; it was meant for the use and service of others. In an humble and faithful spirit must she labour to do what is not impossible, or God would not have set her to do it.” (Gaskell, 2006, p. 321) And “Why is it always this? I owe it to myself? What if I don’t want to?” (Damon, Affleck, 2006, p. 329) all seem to echo the same sentiment. Do I have an obligation to employ my talents in some constructive way? Is that even a possibility? How can my strengths improve the lives of those around me as well as the world we all live in? Quite a few years ago I wrote: “For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a reluctant artist. It wasn’t who I wanted to be. I wanted to excel at math and science, and I wanted to be logical and rational and intelligent and good with numbers. I wanted to be an astronaut. But at the age of 16 I found myself fascinated by the female form, and I gravitated toward photography in the hopes that it would help me to express my feelings on the topic. Since then, my interest in various subject matters has grown and although my skills and my body of work have multiplied substantially over the last ten years, I’m still grappling with my identity as an artist and a human being. I suppose I have trouble accepting that my sole purpose on this planet is simply to create beautiful things … but perhaps I really am just that fortunate.” Perhaps the simple act of producing beautiful (beautiful being somewhat subjective, of course) works of art and releasing them into the world is enough of a contribution. Only time will tell. Or it won’t and I’ll simply have to hope I did enough to make use of the gifts I was given.