I envy my husband sometimes. He’s an artist with tunnel vision, the classic absentminded professor. He jumps head first into things and doesn’t look back, working with feverish abandon on the project of the moment until the next idea strikes, oblivious to the debris field in his wake. The trained eye can look over his studio and our garage and trace the history of his artistic endeavours, much as an archeologist interprets layers of sediment in the fossil record. But it’s not his breadth of talent I am jealous of, nor the piles (and piles, and piles) of raw materials that are sure to one day deprive someone of a limb.
It’s his focus. Me? I’ve got just as many things to work on. But I can’t seem to pick one of them without worrying about abandoning the others. If I practise guitar I stress about the gardening I haven’t caught up with. If I go out and weed, I berate myself for not putting more time into writing. If I sit down to work on a book, I stew about which book should have my attention, or whether it might be better to churn out some more cash-in-hand freelance stuff. More often than not, this angst results in paralyzing fits of self-doubt that look a whole lot like cleaning my house, baking muffins, and/or reading long novels.
I’ve always been kind of enamoured with learning. It’s an ideal state of being to me. One of the driving forces behind settling on library technology in college was my inability to settle on writing, or theatre, or music, early childhood, science, or photography. Rather than pick just one, I chose to place myself where I might learn anything.
The perfect solution. I would chase the vision of the polymaths, of Leonardo Da Vinci, with the purest of heart, and no clue how pretentious I must have appeared.
But 15 years on from earning that library diploma, I’m wondering if I made a mistake. By dabbling in so many disciplines, I’ve avoided the deep ends of any of their respective pools. I haven’t become an expert in anything, and I’m only mediocre at most. Can I blame this on our modern world, where human knowledge is just so much more complex than it was in the Renaissance? Is motherhood my really, really legit excuse, as it’s the one discipline I can say I’m searching the depths of? Or, says a tiny voice, have I got something to prove?
I’m desperate to believe that I’m simply what Emilie Wapnick calls a ‘multipotentialite,’ someone whose mix of interests actually makes them more valuable, but I am warned by Da Vinci himself, who wrote, “Like a kingdom divided, which rushes to its doom, the mind that engages in subjects of too great variety becomes confused and weakened.”
It’s a warning I’m trying to take to heart, beginning with discerning what’s passion, what’s hobby, and what’s expectation. Maybe I’ll always be a plant obsessed, craft-loving writer who teaches junior high drama and mutilates conversational German between music practices and kayak trips. Maybe my fascination for physics will always distract me from making dinner and a good social justice debate always take precedence over the dishes.
Maybe my navel-gazing is a study in and of itself… but I’m going to stay in the shallow end. Time to get to work.