“Jill-of-all-trades, master of none.”
It isn’t until my facial expression registers, until she sees that she’s metaphorically spat in my face, that she changes her tune.
“It’s a saying. It’s something I’ve heard, but it’s kind of true right? Sure. You’re good at some things, but you can’t be good at a lot, at one time. You have to master, something. That’s the way life works.”
I listen to her babble on, trying to rectify her mistake, believing she is sewing up the slight tear she’s created. Little does she know, with every word, a thread comes undone. It is years later, when that tear becomes a gaping wound.
I guess black cracks, sometimes. I am a fault line, a strong believer that you can be talented as all hell, so talented that it shakes all the nonbelievers to their core.
You will receive commentary, that is truly projection of one’s self-worth and societal upbringing, that will floor you. It’ll keep you grounded, clinging to one thing, ignoring the barrage of thoughts that is a creative genius’ mind.
I can manipulate the code on your website, draft a few graphics, design your living room, cook you a three-course gourmet caribbean-infusion meal, keep your pre-teen mesmerized with culture, perform a poem that’ll make you cry, and accrue followers on your social media within a matter of hours.
“I am damn good at a lot of sh*t and it haunts me. I feel like every one that is talented is doing so well and they’ve found their...”
The same friend laughs at my sentiment and cuts me off. I try to settle her laughter, recounting the successes strewn across my timeline: A writing workshop roommate signs with a publisher, a poet that I used to write love letters to travels the world on a sponsor’s dime, someone we all know just inked a TV deal.
She uses this to prove her point, “One thing. They’re good at one thing and they stuck to that one thing. Monica has been writing that book for a decade, Michael writes and edits poems in his sleep, and we know that mutual friend studied scriptwriting. Those folks hone that one craft or project, until they get it right. That’s your problem.”
Instead she’s proven my point, “Exactly. That’s why being damn good at so many things is terrifying.”
She sighs, “Well, you’ll never be as successful as they are if you keep this up.”
We all weigh success differently: She views it as a monetary thing, an instant glow up that makes it on the face of something mainstream. I see it as fulfillment, something that floods your body each day, drenches you, and keeps you heft in your purpose.
I try to tell her that purpose is not something practiced. It is something felt. It is what makes you want to “make perfect.”
My adoration of my talents is a roller coaster. I am adamant about them for long and short periods of time. Sometimes I’m enamored so long that I almost feel married to one and then something comes and pulls my heart from its chest, right before I reach the altar: a notion, a quote from a pertinent author, a comment from some awestruck human.
“You should really write a cookbook or do a cooking show. You’d do so well with that.”
Damn right I could. I can saute, flat-lay, and promo, at the same damn time.
This thought strums me like a cello and almost instantly the weight of my obligation to a former talent sneaks in and buries me. I roll my eyes at whatever naive victim has made this statement and hold out my octopus palms, as if they should know what’s been in them all this time. For twelve hours a weekday, I cling to the students I hold near and dear. For the hours I can stay awake, I am prisoner to my generalized anxiety disorder and whatever talents have steeped into my soul for the evening.
I spend hours thinking, “What if?”
It’s a question that sprawls out of the pit of my stomach, claws its way to my ceiling, and spreads it’s wings at 3 am. It is a Robert Frost poem, carved into the tongue of onlookers. It’s a road that I have taken over and over again and still find myself thrusting it into my internal navigational system, trying to find my way back there.
There is no practice, no perfect, or focus that can stop this question. You can choose. It is possible. You can stand still in that choice and you’ll appear firm in your stance to onlookers. However, your entire inner being will waver. There will be a constant fluctuation happening in your mind and it will manifest, like madness: a midnight search for canvass, an impromptu performance on a train, offering to do things for free.
You will overwhelm yourself unintentionally, as the urge to fulfill some other destiny awaits your attention.
I truncate this sentiment, to said friend.
She says, “You’re blessed. You can choose one of your many talents. Some folks are not talented at all.”
I no longer try to explain the feeling to her, but I want you to know.
For the last few months, I’ve been home due to an injury. These weeks have given time for my artistry to truly manifest. It’s given light to something I’ve always known: I’m damn good at a lot of things.
The monotony of a nine to five keeps you stable. It stifles your wondering. It only gives you enough time and space to consider your multitude, to satisfy an inch. I’m sure my friend would consider this “a blessing” too.
I don’t agree.
I sat in a college professor’s office years ago, with Marvel figurines, comics, and drawings everywhere. She was filling me in on a missed assignment, when I asked impromptu, “Big comic book fan?”
She smiled, “Yeah, but these drawings are mine. I used to want to be a graphic novelist.”
“Why can’t you still be one?”
Her smile disappeared, “I wasn’t getting where I wanted to be. I’m a professor now. I turned out alright.”
Her stare lingered at her drawing for longer than I expected it to. There was something in her eyes, for a split second, and then it was gone as she handed me my assignment. I recognized that stare. I wore it in the mirror, when I traded my sneakers in for uncomfortable heels. I used to skateboard and I was almost serious about it, until someone convinced me that it wasn’t priority in the grand scheme of things. I wore it walking into the release events of friends who’d followed a passion further than I took it.
My professor is one of many that I’ve seen wear the look of sacrifice. I’ve seen it on my grandmother’s dresser, in pictures of her former life. I’ve seen it in the doodles and scrawls of my students, right after someone asked them what they wanted to be and darkened their blue sky. I’ve seen it in the aging of a generation that lives through their children and sets expectations that are out of desire’s reach.
I may be a jill-of-all-trades, but I still want to master many things. I want to master not lying to myself. I want to master being able to weave in and out of my aptitude with ease and comfort, instead of anxiety and longing. I want to master the language that breaks the societal framework. I want to tell everyone that they can be multitalented AF and proud, without suffering from presumption.
Erica B. is an author and arts educator based in Brooklyn, New York. Erica writes fiction and memoir that elaborates the experience of the millennial woman of color. She’s written/published four books: (Intention, Boroughs Apart, and Of Micah and Men). Her latest is F-Boy Literature. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram, for more narratives.