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Jack of all Trades

Several unfinished drafts of untitled documents waiting in the drive. A library of books all earmarked at varying degrees of doneness from the end. Multitudes of notes left to transcribe; from audio to analog or analog to digital, all sitting in the in-between of understandable and utter nonsense. Which brings us to now. Welcome to the latest entry in the catalogued catacombs of my creative productivity. I remember reading about the legendary polymaths of the past, enamored of their masterful command and understanding of the world around them and wishing in my tender years to one day be one of those greats. I taught myself basic French at four, and memorized Hamlet’s legendary soliloquy at 6 alongside Samuel L. Jackson’s iconic Ezekiel 25:17 speech in Pulp Fiction. In elementary school, I participated in Talented and Gifted courses which gave way to advanced placement classes all throughout high school. I took the SAT in 7th grade to secure a spot with Johns Hopkins’ Center for Talented Youth summer program and passed, spending the summers of my adolescence from 12-16 in the haze of Baltimore’s heat so I could take college courses with other precocious peers in a span of three weeks what would have usually taken a semester. I had a promising future ahead of me, they said. So what became of all that work? 

Well, as the only daughter and first born grandchild of a Filipino-American family, the pressures of my single mother’s academic investments were not lost on me. However, all the steam that pushed my engine out of the station would eventually derail me from its tracks. I hit senior year of high school and assumed that my lackadaisical attitude towards academia was merely a symptom of the so-called Senioritis that the rest of my cohort at the time were experiencing. Our AP exams were behind us, our colleges had already accepted us, and we were about to be home free. Quite literally. Despite the stone’s throw move from one Brunswick to another, I knew I would be in a dorm come September so what was the point of putting in any more effort? I loved my English classes but felt my interests wane in most others outside of Psychology – the subject I would eventually major in. I felt my energies focus elsewhere and as my studies had shown me, to the next stage of my development – identity. 

I became the social savant that years of strict isolation spent honing my academic prowess never would have allowed. Surrounded by a large group of friends and a boyfriend by my side, I was climbing towards the peak of all the life experiences I had only dreamed of when I was under my mother’s roof. The peers in my courses were writing and discussing material at a level I found myself content to coast with. Unchallenged and disinterested, there seemed no reason to invest any more time than the bare minimum in anything those classes held for me. After all, I had read through the same books when I was in middle school. Untethered by any obligations to please anyone but myself and the ones I loved most, the future seemed limitless.

Then Joe died.

Joe was my best friend. Her life inspired mine. She was my sister, my teacher, my muse. Her fearless embrace of life’s unpredictability and her contributions to it pushed me out of the comforts of my own reservations. Suddenly, the world turned grey. 

Simple tasks turned insurmountable. Schoolwork once again became a struggle but not in the familiar engaging way. Every task seemed to flood the valleys that I had made in my grief and came to drown me in them. What is work worth when the salt mines of life have dried up leaving the land desolate? What joy could be had in any success if she was not there with me to share it? 

And yet the world continued to turn. 

How cruel it felt to see the flowers come into bloom and buds in the magnolia trees on the day of her wake. The sun shined on Baltimore, illuminating every blade and bush in its light but even its touch on my skin felt a cold mockery of her memory; as if anything could come close to mimicking the magnitude of her warmth. The cacophony of sounds following her death all fell flat or struck too sharp a chord knowing her hands were no longer there to make it music. Without her brush strokes to strike color, the world’s palette became a wash of blue and grey. Words were lost, bore no meter or tempo, no flow or flourish; merely garbled letters on a page without her guidance to create poetry. 

Time marched on and the seasons changed from a cold spring to heady summer but I was stuck in the same place. Whatever dreams I had before her passing I could not recall, they all seemed beyond me. All she ever wanted was to experience each moment of life unadulterated, marvel at all of the world’s wonder, and use every part of her being to bring beauty into creation. But she was gone and so too I thought were those dreams. How could I think I could ever accomplish anything to match what she would have made? Why should I? 

In the first summer without her, the initial shock of pain dulled into a numb existence. The ties between myself and my family became tense as I opted to move into an apartment with my friends. And even though there was a new world of freedom open to me, any opportunity to progress myself knowing Joe could not, consumed me with guilt as I saw myself a bastard for disrespecting her memory. 

That summer I divorced myself from any real commitments to the halls of academia. Anything I would devote my time to would be to honor the promises made during our friendship. I always dreamed of bartending and so I took on a job at a dive in town, thinking back on all the drinks I promised to one day make her. The place was dilapidated. There were holes in the floors, shelves that bowed under the weight of their dusty bottles, and the lingering stench of cat piss that permeated the air. I felt at home with the depressing surroundings. One could tell that at one point, there was life here. The mirth and laughter of close friends once filled the booths at a time when they too were new. The kitchen, though closed now, must have been open before to fill the hungry bellies of rosy cheeked scholars following a long day of classes. A stage now forlorn and forgotten behind two off-level pool tables must have hosted local bands excited to play for the first time outside of a basement that only served cups of wine from large jugs and one kind of kegged beer. I felt resigned to spend the rest of my life working in this shadow until I, too, would hit the twilight of my service and fade away. 

Strangely, between the exploding taps and dingy bar rags, I found joy again. Things there seemed to rely more so on intuition and reflex than the rogue memorization and hours of study of any previous undertakings. The experience was new and refreshing, a break from the web of academic drudgery and anesthetized existence I was caught within. I began to realize this was the freedom Joe felt when she was lost in a flurried vision of creation. Spurned by the truly limitless, genuine spirit of inspiration, this was the root of her song, her paintings, her prose. I had taken up so much time focusing on her absence that I lost sight of her presence, and how that could never truly leave as long as I kept her alive. 

In a similar vein to the net she’d cast, her passions widespread from music to film, analyzing art and politics, innovation in all its forms, I found myself inspired again. Her life, as it always had, continued to push the comforts of  my own. Through the annals of old recipes and bar room technique, I reacquainted myself with history. I wrote feminist theses on the often overlooked female presence in taverns and saloons. The international effect of Prohibition and later US imperial presence in the Pacific called into question my own complacency in the bartending traditions and figureheads I had once held in esteem. The chemistry of water soluble whiskey molecules and temperature’s effect on taste drew me in to in-depth discussions of service quality and practice. The ethical implications and cultural context of ingredient sourcing and nomenclature became the subject of many heated debates. 

In trying to make sense of life’s uncertainty, I felt the fugue of burnout chasing the unattainable summits of understanding. Only when my compulsion to work became spurned by genuine purpose did my narrow vision expand into lands of previously unimaginable opportunity. In putting the pressures of success and productivity to rest was I able to understand that a sense of community is truly what’s worth investing in. It’s what gives me peace amongst a sea of unfinished books and writings, fledgling recipes ready to be developed. I know what my work is worth as I am a jack of all trades, and a master of none. 

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.

You can find announcements, more news, and get to know our staff on social media: give us a follow, and learn how you can get involved today!

We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

We hope you’ll join us.

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