Specialization Is for Insects
I once asked my friend Ross how he developed such a wide array of interests and pursuits in his life.
“I’ve done my best to avoid specialization,” he replied. “I believe specialization is for insects.”
At the time, we were hoisting the ridge beam of a cottage into place using an intricate web of ropes and pulleys. Ross had hired me that summer to help build a modest four hundred square foot structure. I had never swung a hammer in my life. By contrast, Ross had already built two homes from the ground up.
He had also helped design aerial weapons systems for the U.S. Navy. When I griped about the complexity of the network of pulleys, he laughed, “Well, Josh, it isn’t rocket science.”
I couldn’t argue.
After that summer, I adopted Ross’s motto as one of my personal mantras. I still haven’t reached his level of diversified expression: he learned to play blues harp from Sonny Terry, he holds one of the first registered patents in the U.S. on a digital synthesizer, he’s composed an arrangement of “Eleanor Rigby” for a recorder quartet, and he’s writing a treatise on Eastern philosophy that’s piling up pages like a Chuck Kinder manuscript.
But I’m getting there.
I knew I was on my way when I got introduced at a party as “The guy who was working on translating the Bible into English in the dorm study lounge.” Granted, my Biblical Hebrew is rusty these days, but my claw-hammer banjo technique is on the up and up, even though I still can’t play “Old Joe Clark” like my great-grandpa used to frail it.
I haven’t swung too many licks with a hammer since that summer seven years ago. But this past summer, I drove in my first tomato stakes, and my grandma showed me how to can the juicy Mr. Stripeys, Yellow Boys, and German Pinks that my wife, Kristen, and I picked off the vines.
We’ve got some Christmas pickles soaking in a jar for the holidays; maybe by then I’ll have a slideshow of my digital photography portfolio ready to project onto the living room wall. Of course, that’s contingent upon wrapping up the semester; I’m teaching three expository writing classes and a section of American Lit. this time around.
I couldn’t be much happier.
I don’t remember asking Ross if he ever worried about falling into the Jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none trap. I think about it sometimes, like when I’m wishing I had more time to polish up a poem I’ve been working on for months, or when I wonder if I’ll remember enough about carpentry to build a cottage someday with Kristen.
But even if I never pick up enough German to translate Rilke, or I never discover my grandma’s secret to making biscuits, I believe I won’t be in any danger of waking up one morning to find that I’ve morphed into a dung beetle sleepwalking through life with my antennae on automatic pilot.
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