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Jerk of All Trades

July 20, 2013

                                   jerk of all trades - Plain

Work.

School. (Masters.)

Political Organizing.

Being a Tidy, Responsible, Sociable Human.

Fun.

Spiritual Study.

Can I be real for a minute?  There is just no way.  AND YET NONE OF THEM CAN BE DROPPED.

Well, at least school’s about to be over.  But you’ll also notice some areas I haven’t listed (let alone included in the chart — can you even make a real Venn diagram with more than three or four categories?).

Romance? Nope.

Babies? Sorry.

Family? Barely.

Death and/or Major Disasters?  Oh I’m sure they’ll come, but knock-on-wood not yet.

Do you see what I’m getting at?  How is somebody supposed to be a well-rounded, compassionate, stable, vibrant, rhapsodic  jewel in the Indra’s Net of the universe, and ALSO ACTUALLY GET GOOD AT SOME THINGS THAT MATTER?  There are too many things that matter.

And speaking of which, I lied: there is romance.  But who has time to give it the care and attention it deserves?  While also, you, know, exercising and reading fiction sometimes?  And watching Krissy Chula youtube videos?

I’m not saying it’s impossible to do many important things at once.  (see: Immigrant Hustle. Even the 2nd Gen in my family gets super serious.) Plenty of people manage much more than I have to, with even fewer resources.  I’m lucky.

But goodness, can I just find a team and specialize as one of its Power Rangers?  Hone my green or blue or pink abilities, whatever it is Power Rangers do, and feel effective and helpful in the world?

And here’s the other problem: contentment.  Not that contentment is a problem — in my experience, it’s wonderful.  But it also comes at a cost.  Because in the periods when I’ve experienced deep contentment, I’ve simplified.  I’ve covered just two or three basic areas, and that’s it.  Working at a bookstore, cooking my meals, and writing letters to friends.  Great.  Living and working at a meditation center, trying to pick up kitchen Spanish.  Fantastic.

But eventually (and I suppose if it were Total Contentment this wouldn’t occur), eventually: something feels missing.

At the bookstore, wisdom.

At the meditation center, politics.

In politics, love.

In love, friends.  Or work.

In work, deep meaning and purpose.

Maybe this stage is like the first planting: all the seeds close together, until you see which ones sprout strongest, and remove the others.  (Isn’t that what they do?  I probably shouldn’t attempt too many farming metaphors.  See?  Half-knowledge.)

I’m guessing within the next couple years, or maybe months, some of these seedlings will be plucked out — whether I like it or not.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 20, 2013 7:51 am

    Ah, how I wish I were older and wiser so I could give sage advice, but at 66, all I know is this, keep on keepin’ on.

  2. July 20, 2013 10:25 am

    I love this diagram, Katie! At age 59, I do have some non-sage unsolicited advice, which is to trust your path and believe in your multi-talented, amazing, brilliant, passionate, committed, creative, caring and beautiful self. You are anything *but* mediocre. And, to put it bluntly, there will be death, illness and major disasters, later if not sooner, and when those occur things will quickly shake down to a clear list of priorities, and you will know exactly what to do and what you have time for, and what might be good/nice to do theoretically but that you have no time at all for, so too damn bad. We cannot accomplish development on all fronts simultaneously (I can’t, anyway), so some periods of life are focused on some things (for me, think of changing around one thousand diapers and hauling kid around for three years of my life as primary activity) and other periods of life on other things. After awhile it all comes together and integrates, not as a mediocre mush, but like a really great stir fry with all the elements distinct and tasty, coming together as your distinctive, signature dish to nourish the many beings. After that integration occurs, we die. That’s the Mushim model, and “FUN” is a big part of it.

  3. July 20, 2013 8:32 pm

    Roger, I hope I am saying and feeling just the same when I’m 66! Thanks!

    Mushim OMG the stir fry metaphor!!! Love it. Just love it. Thank you for the encouragement; you are too kind. And yes, the era of one thousand diapers is preceded and followed by other eras. Sometimes I can’t even imagine the next era until I’m in it.

    One thing I haven’t been able to articulate for myself quite yet is how this fear of being ‘mediocre’ might be related to feelings and trepidation around assimilation and Otherness. If I feel mediocre, what would excellence be? What are the definitions and standards of excellence in which I actually believe, to which I actually aspire? And what are the standards that have just been handed down to me, the hegemonic excellence that could be dangerous to internalize? Especially as a mixed-with-white and racially-ambiguous-looking kid, I think I have a few “acting white” hangups, perhaps not unrelated to the histories of my parents. When my dad had the good fortune of being sent to prep school on scholarship, away from his friends in the New Haven CT projects, as the only Black kid at the academy he would sneak a flashlight into his bunk and study past lights-out. Slowly, his name ascended the publicly posted grades roster until he was ranked at the very top of the list. I’ve of course heard stories of similar pressure on Black people, having to be twice as good to get half the respect of white folks. Even though I’m so proud of my dad’s intellectualism (and it runs in his family), I also resent the institutional racism that gives kids of color inferiority complexes (plus physical endangerment), and then holds white norms as the highest standards of cultural excellence. I think I worry about internalizing, reinforcing those norms if I throw myself into certain pursuits.

    Luckily there are also plenty of examples of non-white excellence, and more and more access to these. But what can I say, it runs deep! Similar stuff also goes for more ‘masculinist’ or chauvinistic styles of debate and self-articulation: that pressure to adopt a certain aggressive style in order to be taken seriously. (To take myself seriously, even.)

    Have you had any helpful guiding stars in navigating internalized racism and fraught definitions of excellence? I love how you consistently make visible the work that goes into mothering or raising children, which is its own worthy area of learning, growth, practice, and reality-checking. Would also love to hear from others on this score of what excellence and mediocrity mean, to you.

  4. July 21, 2013 3:53 pm

    Excellence and mediocrity are completely artificially constructed and relative terms, except in how they might (might) apply to your internal standards and goals. Even then, so what if it’s excellent or mediocre, in your own opinion of yourself, as long as it’s moving you toward your goals and into further alignment with your integrity? It’s all good. Failure is also good; it means you tried. Probably the best practice for all of this is The Eight Winds.

  5. July 21, 2013 4:07 pm

    Also, the point where we can tell our parents, “I’m sorry if I’ve disappointed you, but I’m not going to do this any other way so we can do this the easy way and you can accept me as I am, or we can do this the hard way and you might not hear from me for quite a while” can be a valuable watershed of individuation in our lives. I effed up totally (and I do mean totally) in the eyes of my parents when I was 34 and returned from a monastery in S. Korea, literally penniless and pregnant. My mother sent me $25 and told me not to tell anyone because my father said he was ashamed of me and no one in the family should help me. I said fine, I don’t want your help. When she started to moan I said, “Look here. It’s not the end of the world.” She was quiet. I got Medi-Cal and a job and I did it myself. When my father relented and my parents traveled to California and met the baby, who was several months old, my father did a complete voltafaccia and couldn’t stop beaming and hugging Josh and carrying him around. So, do what you have to do. Whether you feel it’s mediocre or excellent is a feeling and nothing more. The only question to answer is, is what you are doing the authentic life you wish to lead, considering your circumstances, opportunities, and limitations? Yes or no. Yes = success (even if you run out of money and have to change course — then do that with integrity). No = non-success. My two cents.

  6. July 21, 2013 4:10 pm

    I love your diagram — everything EXCEPT the mediocre. That just strikes a wrong note! What does excellence and mediocrity mean . . . I don’t know. I just use different words. Actually, the word “excellence” makes me angry because I keep seeing it on the Seattle Public Schools website and publications as “Excellence for All,” which they really ought to know they aren’t delivering. (It’s like them saying they value diversity while at the same time trying to shut down an anti-oppression curriculum.) I like “talented” and “interesting” and “fresh” and “creative” and “smart” and “empathetic,” and you are all those.

    Now I realize this isn’t any kind of practical advice, but I remember having the same feeling in my thirties that I should be doing everything. And the way I solved that is to have a baby so that I was so completely exhausted and sleep-deprived that I decided everything else didn’t matter. Like I said, wouldn’t advise it as a solution. But you could imagine that you were so sleep-deprived that your personal to-do list consisted of “take a walk” and “soak my torn perineum” and realize that you’ve reached 4pm without managing either, somehow.

    Once I came back from complete exhaustion, though, societal expectations started sneaking back in. I TOTALLY feel like if I’m not successful in the way the world expects me to be successful, I’m not good enough. On the other hand, all my pursuits came back too, just not with the same feeling like I had to be good at everything all at once.

    Anyway, long story short, what Mushim said. “. . .believe in your multi-talented, amazing, brilliant, passionate, committed, creative, caring and beautiful self.”

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