“Jack of all trades” is the pessimistic kin of the Renaissance man, or person, if we’re changing idioms for the sake of inclusiveness. I’ve frequently heard the former used as a compliment, I assume by those who don’t know the second half of the epithet, “master of none.”
I was messaging with a friend today and I mentioned to her that I’d finally submitted some of my jewelry for a local museum shop’s consideration. This eventually lead me to declare that I’d only ever sold two pieces (that I can recall) in my entire career as a jeweler, a ring and a set of earrings. I explained that a good deal of what pushed me out of metalworking was my inability to sell myself, that I grew disheartened at the thought of making new things when I had old ones that hadn’t sold. Metalwork had become one of many sets of skills I’ve relegated to conversational mention but little practical pursuit.
I was then struck by the realization that I’ve only been published in three places. Further research proved my memory to be as shoddy as ever, but still, the fear of illegitimacy remained. I told my friend that I simply didn’t want to be irrelevant.
Definition has been on my mind and in my conversations much of late. I asked the community pool about writing and got supportive answers. But any one with self doubts can just as adroitly tell you that the assurances of others, though welcome, doesn’t solve the worrisome personal riddle.
Mary and I tried to define what it was to be a writer, she the more egalitarian, me the elitist. But we didn’t resolve it, I’m sure no one ever has, successfully.
What of the people who freely pigeonhole themselves? The rocker in the uniform of carefully selected casual clothes, the artist always sure to carry a bit of paint or a charcoal smudge. The writer who goes to coffee shops to clatter away loudly enough on the keys to make those around him listen. Does their sureness lessen or bolster them? That I’ve never been able, or ever wanted, to select a singular role for myself make me more or less?
I envy those who can unashamedly declare themselves something. For me it’s a matter of clinical definition and strong personal opinion. I wasn’t a writer until I’d been published and I wasn’t an artist until I’d sold a piece.
There’s no end point to this. No absolutes available. The danger of self-reflection is always the same, for a moment seeing that there’s no base beneath you, that the solid precepts around which you’ve built your life are a mobius strip, at best, or worse, an untethered bundle of beliefs and descriptions floating nebulously over nothing.
A baseless thought is worthless. An unquestioned or unanswerable belief is worse than none at all. So I won’t say I’m a man who typed 28,000 words on a dare. I won’t say I’m someone who owns a lot of tools and once used them to make jewelry. I will not be a set of disconnects floating in a void.
I am a writer because I write. I am a metalsmith because I still do. I am no jack of trades.
I am a Renaissance man.