I have lamented often in the past few years that pieces of my personhood have gone missing. I spoke already about jogging, but the same has happened with writing and especially with music. I was a pretty isolated adolescent, and I would spend hours alone crafting playlists, playing my guitar, and reading Pitchfork. Goodness, what an era. I even considered following my brother to study music in the land of screaming insects.
But I remember quite clearly that I considered it a selfish pursuit. I thought of the hours it would take to perfect the craft. I thought of performance as a praise-seeking venture. I thought of the kind of environment needed to nurse a muse. Self-serving, is it not?
And so when I left high school I left behind the lessons and the band practice and pursued other interests entirely. I knew that there would be consequences to this decision: that music could not always take such a central place in my life. But I always expected it to be a kind of anchor. That, ceteris paribus, music would remain a hallmark of my nature. People who knew me would say “Oh yes, she loved music.”
But it hasn’t been an anchor at all. To take the metaphor to a silly extreme: it hasn’t been a lighthouse, guiding my way. It hasn’t been a giant whale that I’m pursuing. It hasn’t been uncharted land I must explore. It’s been the ocean itself. All around me, swelling and calming and raging for me whenever I decide to take a swim.
Dilettantism, rather, has been the true anchor of my life. Instead of studying one language and gaining mastery in it, I studied four different languages in high school and college (German, French, Swahili, and Norwegian). I studied abroad in four different places (not all of them corresponding to the aforementioned languages) to fill my ‘intercultural experience’ requirements when one would have sufficed.
Even after I learned the terms ‘marketable skills’ and ‘technical expertise’ and attempted to remedy my unfocused studies with an uber-focused post-college five-year plan, I seemed to take on more little hobbies and interests in my personal life. In addition to my voracious readership, jogging, and music-love, I added interests in cooking, gardening, and knitting. And let’s not forget about the brief affair with bookmaking.
Music has returned to a central place in the past months, and I am more confused than ever about the changing tide of my affections. Is there no balance? No small space available for each pursuit? Will they always push and pull and fight? Will I always mourn for passions lost while ignoring passions gained? Can I ever truly be talented at anything if pursuing it so irregularly? How can I hope to have a work-life balance when I can’t even balance the small interests vying for my free time?
I don’t know if I can ever really pin myself down to one or two pursuits. The world is entirely too various and interesting for that. But I think I may be able to arrive at a healthier perspective on how these interests fit into the composition of my identity.
Music is a god for many, and I think that for a long time it was my god. The fact that it has slipped from my grasp is probably a healthy thing. Competency is another god, and oh do I want to be competent. I can cook! I can make that! I can sing that! I can work hard! I read that! I’m a reader!
When I think rationally about it, I can recognize that I’d much rather be well known for more substantial pieces of my identity. My faith. My character. My relationships. My work.
My more rational thinking also leads me to gratitude: that life is so full that my current struggle is how best to fill it.
PS–Listen to Rayland Baxter‘s description of his dream encounter with Jesus. “Thanks for having me. I really love your world. Your dad’s cool.”