In Vindication of the Jack of all Trades

In the section about “Specialization” (presumably within a capitalist economy), my 11th grade Economics textbook hammered home its point about the effectiveness of specializing with a phrase that I will never forget: “While the Jack of All Trades is certainly an interesting character, he is certainly lacking in efficacy.” Or something like that.

I think, in that moment, it hit me: I was a Jack of All Trades, and had been one my whole life out of necessity. And to the contrary of what the book said, I thought I had dabbled in my various pools to at least decent effect. I could do bookish stuff, play a pretty mean guitar, compete pretty well against dedicated athletes in sports, write decent (if unrefined and youthful) verse and songs, as well as speak Spanish quite well. And what was inefficient about that? Or was it that efficiency (in this “modern” postindustrial world where kids don’t have to work so much) is an “adult” concept? Would my Jack-of-All-Trade-ness be dissolved, for instance, when I went to college and chose a “major”? Would my eventual profession free me from my up-to-that-moment unknown pretensions at being a polymath?

Well, fast-forward about 10 years, and I’m now 27 and in grad school. After a brilliant time in college, the last few years have been quite a struggle, quite up-and-down, and I attribute this, in part, to my Jack-of-All-Trade-ness. Spanish Language Literature is cool, but so is Hip-Hop, or Indie Rock, or Jazz, or Blues, or some fusion of these things that’s always around the corner and somehow classifiable as “pure” Hip-Hop. And so is poetry, whether in verse, rhymed, epic, or even prose or dialogue. What about teaching, which I love? How can one push forward professionally, artistically, socially and personally without sacrificing one passion for another? And, better yet, how could you? Efficiency be damned. I’ma forge my own (perhaps infinitely) bifurcated path, and when I get to the “end” of that road, I hope the world will see a person complete.

I think the secret to being an “effective” Jack of All Trades lies in two things: time and patience. And also in how these two things lie in each other. I believe that Gladwell talks about “chunking”, about how a master of a given trade must spend hours upon hours upon hours mentally recognizing and reconnoitering the spaces and the contingencies, the causes and the effects of that trade. If you play basketball for four hours a day and think deeply about it for four more for 15, 20 years, you will likely have a deeper understanding of the game and will be more capable or preventing uncertainties in your performance, or of vanquishing them should they arise. How does this help the dedicated JoAT? Well, I suspect that time is key here. What I mean is that I might not become a “master” of any of my trades until I’m 47, or 67. Maybe I’ll master some sooner than others. The key is that I must be patient and not put too much pressure on myself if there is no instant mastery. There is sufficient interest in each of my trades, such that everything I want will come to my in time.

And so, the purpose of this site is to provide myself with a space, a capsule, in which to place the some of the objects of my (hopefully) increasing mastery of all my trades. As the name implies, there will be sonnets, but I will also eventually be introducing musical content, as well as more essayistic stuff–that is, if I don’t get lazy and just start posting meaningless word associations and rants.

My high school Econ book asserted that the JoAT, while interesting, wasn’t too useful within a capitalist economy, where everything–but the market itself, not to mention evil conglomerates–is ostensibly cut-and-dry, this-or-that. I’m here now to argue that an interesting character has so much value, and that a desire to operate in different, if not disparate, realms speaks to an ultimate need to understand, not to define. I mean, who knows? Maybe if we had had a few more JoATs running things, there wouldn’t have been no new recession.

I guess we’ll never know, especially if our curiosity must stop where our professions delimit.

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