Multidisciplinarian Creativity

‘The Jack of All Trades’: On Multidisciplinarian Creativity

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree…” wrote Sylvia Plath in The Bell Jar, “From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked.” I could picture myself at seventeen, eyes gleaming with a sense of inspired recognition and kinship as they passed over these lines for the first time in a dusty corner of our school library.

Time and passion both seem infinite in youth, possibilities endless. And it was not until five years down the line that I truly grasped the essence of this analogy in the lines that followed: “I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose.”

The heroes that humanity celebrates are mostly those who have given their lives in the dogged pursuit of one thing for which they are known. My heroes are masters of their craft, steadfastly, single-mindedly hurling themselves toward an ever-receding ideal of perfection. These geniuses have a place in their minds for anything other than their goal. They labour till they burn, and their light dazzles all. In such a world, what is the place of the ‘jack of all trades’?

This is a question I have long pondered as someone who grew up with a habit of immersing herself at random into diverse concepts and activities. Music, physics, astronomy, literature, and performing arts all held a world of fascination unseparated by compartments before all of it was brought down to semester goals, coursework, and scoring schemes.

All too often people with multiple interests have had common cliches thrown their way by concerned yet pestering voices asking them to “choose your priorities” and “focus on what is important” because time is either a resource to be utilized or a force to be conquered. We must segregate hobbies from passions and passions from a “stable” life path, and never stray from the uppermost goals of life on the prescribed hierarchy of priorities.

In going through the predetermined, upward-focused, streamlined motions of middle-class life, I was forced to face the limitations of my abilities and the fact that it was impossible for me to do everything I wanted and also be the best at them. As hard truth as this was to swallow, the only alternative to which is the complete paralysis of creative will, I knew there must be a silver lining to this bleak fact of life.

Human beings are dynamic creatures, not machines for excellence. What has sustained the human race for hundreds of thousands of years is not the desire for relentless progress but the desire to create. Creative ingenuity is the germ from which everything we value as a society has evolved. In the direst of moments in history, whether in prosperity, plague, or war, the spark of creative resilience has always been there, be it in the form of a pen, a sickle, a hammer, or a voice. It will not be contained or put into boxes, ever yearning for novel realms to explore and harvest.

If the overreaching genius of his craft is the luminescent star that dazzles and mesmerizes, feeding humanity its dreams and hopes, the ‘jack of all trades’ dwells on earth among the living, drawing the chaos of the world to themself to weave out of it all a comprehensive idea of order. Proximity with diverse realities makes us see everything in relation to other things and patterns that repeat themselves at every level of existence, from the microscopic to the cosmic.

Everything we touch or learn makes its mark on everything else we do throughout our lives. The way I play music always carries a hint of what I read, the same way my language and the way I write are influenced by the music I listen to. Even the scientific principles and geographical facts I memorized in high school are not simply locked away in the past; they seep into how I think about things.

While it is great for the progressivist economy that human beings willingly turn themselves into high-functioning beings playing their designated parts in a grand scheme, shunning anything that does not directly contribute to their ideal of perfection, there is more power in the little things we do than we think.

Conversations with friends, watering plants every day, hobbies we pick up and fail to continue, the casual humming of a tune, pondering on subjects before bed, these little habits contribute more to life than we often give them credit for. Not everything we do has to be turned to razor-sharp perfection or a source of economic profit before they can be deemed valuable. The simple act of doing them forms the essence of human nature.

Perfection is not a fixed goalpost but a process of constant making and remaking that comes from a place of love, sincere labour, and sometimes excruciating pain, but also joy. But creativity does not want to wait for perfection, it simply wants to exist for the simple joy of existing. It is a testimony of life and will prevail as long as people do, just as it has done through the rise and fall of empires, civilizations, and societies. Even today, when the world demands that we fragment our lives into shelves of priorities, we must never stop creating. No matter the quality, or its utility, ceaselessly, consistently, we must create.

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Anuska Saha

Anuska Saha is an aspiring academician and musician pursuing her Master's in English. A passionate book enthusiast and a singer-musician, she navigates the realms of academia and creativity with equal enthusiasm.

1 Comment

  1. It was a pleasure reading this. Not everyone thinks along these lines, let alone, write. Wonderful!

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