My name is Jack.
I can do nothing.
I've climbed a beanstalk and killed a giant. I've jumped over a candlestick. I've climbed a hill with my sister. I've never made my own fortune – I've always just been very, very lucky. That's the way it is in all the stories – Jack is poor, so he goes out into the world and meets some weird peddler or a fairy or something that gives him a chance to lie or cheat or just plain climb his way to the top. But it's never his own skill or talents – it's always magic or a charm or something he was given. And we all know the saying: Jack of All Trades, Master of None.
It's been with me since I was a kid. It's what every kid would want – to be named after his Grandpa. Given to me.
My name is Jack. And I am a Jack. Master of none.
When I was in school, I would get good grades. But that was all – no honor roll, no awards, no teachers would ever say I was their best student. I would only ever get grades that were good. When it came time for other kids to decide what they would do, they all had just the right fit. Not me – I could do all the math in my classes, but I wasn't good enough to be on the math team. I did well enough in English classes, but the debate team could all out argue and out orate me, the literature club didn't want me, and the school newspaper? Forget it! I understood the work in science classes, but not enough to be in the chemistry club or the environment club or the computer club.
Dad asks me what I'm gonna do with my life. What am I gonna make of myself?
I can hold a paintbrush in my hand, but my artwork is never good enough for the art club. I can sing, but never well enough for choir. I can dance, but not well enough to be in a troupe – heck, I suck even at those dancing video games. I can act, but it never impressed the director when auditions came for the school play. My friends chuckle with me when I tell the odd joke, or a spontaneous impression of someone famous, but I can't do it on demand, and I can't make up my own stuff. And that's not even useful.
Dad says that if you're gonna do something, you might as well be the best at it. I can't be the best at anything. A Jack of All Trades.
I'm just not that great. I am just Jack. Average, boring, useless Jack.
And if I can't be the best at anything, then I might as well not be able to do anything.
A Master of None.
I am Sam.
I can do anything.
How could anyone be unable to do... well, anything? Everything is so easy. All you need to do is try, and you can do it. After all, that's what I do.
Think about it like this: What is it that makes a person so great at their vocation? Are great writers so because they have the syllables and words of countless languages memorized and ordered in their brains like books on the shelf of a library? Or is it because they have such ardent love for their craft that they are unable to cease the words they spill – unable to hold in what they think and believe, until they create something in the world of that which cannot be seen until the words have painted the picture?
What makes an artist able to craft an image, in their paints, in their lines, in the curve of clay or glass? Does it only lie in their dexterity with a brush, able to smear soft, smooth swaths of color or to etch the ink in unyielding strokes of line with a pen? Or is the greatness born of their desire to create, to yield, to deliver into this world a piece that moves others to the core?
Do accountants or statisticians excel at their work because of the hard, unalterable data they are handed? I don't believe so – after all, a computer can crunch numbers, so why bother having people do it, if it were not for the fact that the numbers have meaning, that every number is a person or a tree or an animal species that the Human race might be causing to go extinct (or might be conserving – it's all in the perspective) that the work in the numbers has a purpose which a man might willingly throw himself into?
How could a mixer of chemicals or a wielder of scalpels do his work if it were not for the purpose? How could it be anything but the passion of an apothecary to mix and dispense the formulas that are the brew of life for the ill? How could it be anything but tender, creative love that gives a doctor the strength, the will to measure and observe and cut and drill – and all for the life of his patient? After that, it is all a question of formulas and components. It's like being in the kitchen – follow the recipe, and you will get just what you need. And then, add a bit of yourself – that is what makes it something completely new, what leads to new discoveries.
I love to write – for without words, how could I possibly give the thoughts that bring me joy and grief a place? I love to paint, to draw, to sculpt – these fingers of mine give life to something else that I could never otherwise imagine. I love the meaning to the figures in every fraction or decimal – they tell me stories about people whom might not otherwise be accounted for, whom might be unable to reach out except as numbers on a spreadsheet. I love the health of mankind – of course I am able to make sense of the symbols and equations that go into every, solitary aspirin.
So, because I love them so, I excel – they are everything that I am, and I cannot be anything but excellent at being me.
Sam, I am. And I am everything I do.
I was asked today, what my goals are in life.
What do I plan to do? What can I hope to accomplish? Where will I go, if I must set out and find my fortune, like Jacks are always supposed to to?
I'd have to be lucky. I could get any job, and stay in that forever – I'm pretty sure anyone would happy to have a good enough worker for anything, and never have to pay them more than their worth. A good guy to have in an entry level position – maybe kick up to manager of just that little niche in the store, who could do enough of the math to fill out paystubs, understand the science enough to direct the info to where it needs to go, a good enough people person that nobody would protest to have him lead... for a few months.
But, then, I'd always have to leave – nobody wants a loser who can't do anything any better than okay.
Mom says I'm such a wimp. Of course I'm a loser – I just give up. I can't even be brave or smart about admitting it.
After all, I'd never be able to do more than the job needed of me. They'd always find someone who was better at my job than me – whether I went into banking or selling, someone would always be out there who could do what the job needed, only better than I could. Who could give one-hundred-and-ten percent, while I only had that average in me. Nothing more, nothing less.
I'm always going to be average. Like an Average Joe. Average Jack.
I'll be an office grunt. A menial worker, who only ever works the nine-to-five, the base salary, average wages. I wouldn't have a cow to sell for a magic bean, or a pair of seven-league boots and a magic cloak, or anything to help me out.
Mom tells me about her dad – my Grandpa, Jack – he was the best bus driver in her hometown. The most dedicated, the most careful, the most courteous. Nobody was better at it than he was.
But I'm just Jack. Not my Grandpa Jack. Just Jack.
Master of none.
I'm going to be whatever I want. I have every skill in the world that could help me.
I could be the best painter who is also a secretary. I could be the best mail-carrier who is also a poet. I could be the only fast-food worker who can compile statistics about the restaurant. I could dance a ballet on my way to work as a janitor, and sing an opera on my way home. I'll build my own house – no, I'll dig it, like a hole in the ground, and use all my knowledge of the earth to make it a sustainable, comfortable little hobbit-hole. Grow vegetables in my own garden – on the roof. Or, if I can't do that, I'll live in a single-room apartment, make my own food in a communal kitchen, mix my own soaps in the sink in the bathroom everyone shares, sew my own suits and jeans and shirts.
There is nothing I cannot do.
So, there is nothing I cannot be.
I come home from school and the homework is already done. Now, what shall I do to relax? I think I'll go for a walk in the rain – I'll compose poetry as I walk, and rejoice to the sound of a symphony that only I can hear to the time of the rain's drum on the windows and streets. Then, I'll come back home, and balance my checkbook – a counterpoint of strict order and systematic numbers, compared to the wild chaos I was in awe of, just a moment ago.
Or maybe I'll stay indoors and clean – move the heavy, stuffed boxes to the attic, and the extra, out of place tables to the basement. There is nothing I cannot lift. And when I am done, put a record on and be the Prince from Sleeping Beauty, and the Princess at the same time. I'll lift myself off the ground, beat myself with an imaginary sword, awaken to my own face from a True Love's kiss.
Nothing I cannot do. Nothing I cannot be.
I am Sam. And Sam is everything.
Dad calls me hopeless and a screw up. I need him to fix my computer, for me. What kind of a boy needs his daddy to fix broken toys for him? What am I, a baby?
It's not my fault. I just don't get the code. I can't write programs. I can't even install new software on my machine – at least, not the way you need to with this open source stuff.
Mom sighs and takes the plates away from me and loads them into the dishwasher. She'll take care of the pots and pans in the sink – I just need to put soap in the machine. She says I'm lucky I'm a guy – nobody expects me to be able to clean, anyway.
At least I can unload them in the morning. Nobody bothers me when I'm up at five in the morning, stacking them neatly and putting them away in the right cabinet – that's probably why I'm up at five, come to think of it.
Nobody appreciates how the sun looks when it rises in October mornings. Especially not between the buildings of a suburban town, reflecting off the glass panes in the windows and shining through the different shapes cut by lawns, trees, bushes, and roofs.
I imagine what the sunrise must look like if you were living in a big city. How different it must be. I will see it, one day.
But, first, I must get through today. Time to make today's lunch – let's try curry. Curry with chicken and potatoes and rice – and then clean up. Nobody would even know I was here. Well, except for how clean the kitchen is, now. Maybe I'm a little elf. Maybe I should make some shoes before I leave – at least it's a funny thought.
Out the door, time for school. It'll be a good day, I know it.
Today, I met the strangest guy. I couldn't see his face, only his feet. He had no shoes, and his toes were white, as though he'd been walking that way for awhile.
I asked him what he could do. He told me "Anything".
I asked him what he was best at. He told me "Everything".
I cannot do what he claims he can. I wish I was as lucky as he was. For everything I can do, I am good at none of it. So, by all accounts, I might as well be able to do nothing.
He laughed at me. He told me I was wrong.
I am Jack.
I met another boy – with the most dreary of postures, for he would not look at me, but slouched like a dummy that has been abused for target practice. Like a scarecrow whose pole had snapped in several different places.
In a sad, pitiful little voice, he moaned that he had no skill, no freedom, only the ability to do a little here and there, but nothing big.
What a thing to say – for it is lots of littles that make one big lot. I could not be able to do everything and anything if I missed one little thing – then, I would NOT be able to do everything and anything.
Never say you can do nothing. You can always do something, and that is always you. Nobody can be you, but you.
Sam, I am.
Or, maybe, I am Sam.
Who knows – I might just be named Jack.
I look up.
What do I see? It has the same shape – the same nose, and ears, the chin that droops when the lips are parted and hanging open with shock, and the cheeks which turn pale when warm and flushed when cold. The eyes meet mine, and they are the same – except for the light. I see no brightness, no joy, no understanding or grasp.
Why am I looking into my own face? How can there be a me who can only ever be average and one who is perfect? He even looks perfect – even though his nose is just as wonky as mine, and his glasses are still thick and clunky, he looks like the kind of guy who should be the romantic lead on a TV drama. It doesn't make any sense.
Am I crazy? Or am I not even here at all?
Maybe I'm not even breathing.
No, this won't do. Come on, strange boy – you know how to breathe. Here, I'll help you.
Breath. One, two, three. Breath. One, two, three.
But I can't do this on my own – I need you to help me.
Put your hands on your chest. Feel for the sternum – there, where your ribs meet. One palm, then the other.
Hey, I know this. This is what they use in CPR classes. You press down on the heart. Guess I shouldn't say "You", huh?
But I need a rhythm to press in time.
Here, use my rhythm.
Up, down, up, down. Now, breathe. Press. Breathe. Hey – I've got a pulse!
C'mon... get up... I can do that.
Put a record on. I can dance the Swan – you be the Prince. Think of the bones in your toes, and the muscles in your leg as you flex. What's the pressure on my foot as I pirouette, in pounds per square inch? You sing the tenor, I'll sing the bass. Don't worry – we can switch at the next movement.
I move. I act. I can pretend I am this Sam – who can do everything – instead of plain old Jack – who can do nothing. It is as though I am something else – like an incarnate of the words he pours into me, and laces together into a single knot like the laces on my shoe. It might not even be my fingers that stretch in the dance, or my eyes that catch the glimpses of the walls and the windows and the moon outside as we spin.
Flex. Twist. Bend. Think about the vertebrae as you curl your spine. Now, pretend you don't even have a body – how would you move, then? No, don't say it – show me.
The key is C major. The muscles being used are the abdominals, the lower quads, the biceps. I can feel the blood pumping in time with the percussion. I can do this – I can't fall, I can't sprain, I can't bruise. I have no body – so I have nothing to hurt.
I can't even fail, anymore.
That's right. All I needed to do was give a little.
My name is...