Thursday, 29 October 2009

It's a JOAT's Life After All

I spend far more of my time than I would wish trying to flesh out acronyms and so I am sitting here laughing at myself as I title a post with one. I first ran across 'joat' in Heinlein's stories, I think, and loved the word. It means 'jack-of-all trades' and he used it to describe someone who could turn his hand to anything as needed. But I have always thought of it as the perfect description of a housewife and mother (or, to be politically correct, a house-husband and SAH father too.) Chief cook and bottle washer, laundress, chauffeur, chief procurement officer ( of food, silly), safety inspector, chambermaid, librarian, early childhood educator, gardener, handyman, dog walker, book-keeper, gate-keeper, practical nurse and practically everything else. With a lot of us working outside the home as well. Not to overlook the amount of energy it takes to make the personal part of marriage work. It doesn't surprise me at all that vitamins sell so well.

There are a lot of joatish aspects to running a home even after the kids have left it for good -- and even after they have, you're still a mother, there at need, and eventually a grandma.

As for me, I am a quintessential joat and have been all my life. I'm the kind of person who can turn my hand to a lot of things, from being the body on the other end of the cross-cut saw as an eight year old to the person who could think up skits and draw or make decorations for school dances, chair an obstreperous meeting, make costumes for the gymnastics team, run a parents' lobby group, read and correct a PhD thesis, work puppets (and make them), design posters or look after an evaporator. As I write this list, I realize that I could make it longer: good for a person's ego to look back and think about things that have been accomplished.

There's an underside to this rock, however. Or there is for me. In the course of doing a bit of everything, I have never spent the time and energy to do one thing well. I've been reading The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. The book is an analysis of why some people do amazingly well at what they do - Bill Gates is one of his examples as are star hockey players - and he postulates that it takes ten thousand hours of practice to learn to do something exceptionally well. Putting in that amount of time is not something that a joat will do, being too busy doing an adequate job for ten hours at a thousand things. After I put the book down, with a sigh, I thought a bit about that ten thousand hours. And I realized that I have, indeed, put that amount of time in at something. Reading. I have known how to read for 62 years. That's 22,630 days. And I have probably read something for at least an hour on more than half of those days. I'm eligible to be an elite reader. Woot.

Somehow, this thought is not as comforting as all that. It would be nice, she whispered, to be really, really good at something that other people recognise as amazing. Even nicer if that thing generated income, but, for me, the important thing would be to have some confidence that the thing I did (whatever that would be) would turn out superlatively well. I wonder, though, if the kings (and queens) of their kind really feel the kind of confidence that I long to possess. Did Gretzky take the ice knowing he could and would score or did he start every shift in terror that this time it wouldn't happen? Or the Beatles wake up in fear that they wouldn't come up with anything new that day? Strangely enough, I can launch into an activity that I am 'good enough' at with some confidence and make adjustments on the fly to make it work.

But when it comes to something that I would really like to be an ace at, like writing in this blog, there are a lot of false starts, erasures and angst. (Wait, should angst be a plural noun to keep the cadence? Is there a plural of it? If so, what is it? Mmm. Better pick another word.) But when it comes to something I really want to do well, such as writing this post, I make a lot of false starts and erasures and suffer a lot of anxiety.

Every once and a while, though, the words will fly and I will fly with them, higher, faster, stronger, and what ends up on the page is all I wanted it to be. And some day, maybe, I will have written my ten thousandth post and it will all come together. Until that day I jog along, a happy-enough joat, using my highly honed reading skills to admire the work of my friends. And life is good.


  1. Oh, I hear you. I hate to be stuck when it's time to blog and I don't feel like I have a "postworthy" idea. For people like us, no one is harder on us than we are, and it's tough, isn't it?

  2. I think I'm a bit of a joat too. Quite wearing really. Hey ho.

  3. Well. I think this post did you proud. I hope that you agree.

  4. You're an elite reader. An "er". I want to be an er too!

  5. Stop it! Your blog is perfect - it's charming, well written, insightful, has great photos and is very endearing. Every time I read one of your posts I so want to meet you and talk more about whatever you've written. Anyway, the thing about people who do a particular thing really, really well is that 99.9% of the time that thing is the only thing they can really do at all. I've seen it so often -- the better a person is at one big thing, the worse they are at stuff like practical things or human interaction. I'll bet you are capable at a lot more things than Wayne Gretzky or Bill Gates are. Being able to turn your hand to a variety of things is an amazing feat. Would you give up all the things you've learned and know how to do and are good at to be an outstanding concert violinist for instance?

  6. I don't think I've never read that much. I would never make it as a Joat but I married well, my Hubbie is a Joat. :)It's a great word. I enjoy reading here, you do Blog very well.

  7. kyooty, my husband is able to do just about anything he puts his hand to. He is also a PhD and other elevated thingies. A lot of what I do I learned in desperation. And one of the reasons I read so much is that I hide in the bathroom with a book when husband gets one of his projects going.
    XUP, thanks.I wasn't fishing for compliments, truly. That is how I feel about it. Mostly I plod, sometimes I soar. Silly, but true. Yeah, me too. I have to stop writing posts in your comments box. I love what you do. A lot.
    I don't dislike violins, but am not moved to play one. If I could write like Jane Austin, however.... all bets are off.
    Loth, all you lack are my advanced years.
    Slouchy, thanks. Not bad. I can do better, though. Maybe tomorrow.
    Isabelle, yes. It is. You don't get to sigh and subside into an armchair looking helpless. Drat!
    Nance, of course we are. We have STandards, after all. I don't have much trouble copping to being just a good enough mother, but the writing is something else.

  8. I am also a joat but don't look like the picture above!!!! LOL!
    Although I am one...... must admit I had never heard this word before.

    Many thanks for your kind comment over at mine.

    Nuts in May

  9. While I can't qualify as a JOAT, I get you. There have been a number of things that I do well enough at, but I am not great at anything. It's something that I've mused on before.

    I have also come across the 10 000 hour thing and have concluded that it must be done at a relatively young age in a fairly compacted period of time. Sorry. ;)

  10. AC, now you have me trying to figure out how much of my reading I did as a kid. Sigh. You are on the high end with your photographs, I think, speaking of doing well.
    Maggie May, you are probably just a blur as you buzz through your amazing life.