Charlotte was versatile. You remember Charlotte, right? With the web? Well, she was. She made a huge egg sac and Wilbur was looking at it and she said, by way of explanation, that she was versatile.
“Does ‘versatile’ mean ‘full of eggs’?” Wilbur asked.
“No. Versatile means that I can change with ease from one thing to the next.”
Which is how you know that Charlotte’s Web was one of the best children’s books ever. NezSez did a fantastic post yesterday on versatility, and I wanted to riff off of it, since versatility is one of the things that’s been amazingly useful to me as a writer and a business owner (she says, as though it has been SO LONG since she became that latter thing).
Sure. I can do that.
I would never, ever utter those words again if I weren’t versatile. When you’re a freelance writer, you very rarely see the same project or the same subject twice in a row. One week you’re writing about a cow’s gastrointestinal tract and the next you’re writing about underprivileged children in downtown Oakland and five minutes later you’re writing weird trivia facts about chocolate.
Favorite trivia fact about chocolate: A survey of office workers in London found that almost three quarters would reveal their network-access password in exchange for a bar of chocolate. Now that I know what the going rate is, I’m holding out for two bars.
If I worried about having the exact relevant experience necessary for each job as it presented itself to me, I’d never write again. But I don’t. I’m versatile. I’ll write about chocolate, and then I’ll write about electronic resumes, and then I’ll write about modern art. Different voices, different backgrounds, different set of facts. One of the great things about being versatile is that you’re never bored, and you’re never boring. And as we’ve established over here in Rogueville, being bored sucks, and being boring sucks more.
It finally happened. Wendi made the Tei party joke. And since she has, let us celebrate with a Mad Hatting Tei Party, and talk about wearing different hats in a business.
I get to be a lot of people in my business. I’m the project manager and the head honcho (a VERY cool hat, by the by, like something out of Dr. Seuss) and the secretary (what, like you have someone to make your coffee for you?) and the accountant (surprisingly cool hat, it’s one of those visors the money-counters wear in Vegas) and the marketing director (evidently, no hat, but a yellow jumpsuit and a katana) and, of course, the copywriter, or as I like to think of it, the talent (beret. What? I look great in berets).
Versatility is your friend when running your business. You can’t have someone call and ask you for a price quote and say, “I’m sorry, but I’m wearing my head honcho hat right now, I’ll have to refer you to my secretary hat.” You are all hats, and no hat, and every hat individually. You are Zen and the Art of Hatting, my friend. That is what versatility is.
Wisdom from a Cabbie
This is a true story, so parts of it aren’t funny. It’s worth the payoff, though. Come along with me.
When I was moving out of my apartment in Chicago into another one, I left everything too late. I tried to move everything, by myself, in the Chicago heat, which is another way of saying I wandered into hell and tried to take over for Sisyphus. I was so stressed out and unable to sleep that I actually gave myself shingles. Yes, that is correct. Old people’s chicken pox. If you are insane enough, you too can fool your body into thinking it is past menopause and on into second childhood.
There was a great moment where my man-friend at the time convinced me that some of this stuff just wasn’t worth it, and we spent a delightful hour or so throwing all my glassware twenty-two stories down a garbage chute. It was wonderful and it didn’t last long enough.
The final morning, I had six boxes that needed to be transported from one apartment to the other. I had not slept at all. We both had flights to catch. The moving van had already been returned, since I couldn’t afford to keep it an extra day. We called a cab.
The cabbie showed up on time, driving a cab-van. I was so thrilled that he had a huge van instead of a little cab that I ran outside and said something blatantly honest, which is not generally wise if you have not slept and you have shingles: “We are going to be a huge pain in the ass for the next three hours, but there is a huge tip at the end of it for you if you can help us out.”
The cabbie, who was tall, dreadlocked, about thirty, and looked like he’d rather be doing Capoeira or some other highly difficult martial art, immediately perked up. Versatility, people, I’m telling you. “What can I do?” he said, and we had a friend and an ally. He not only folded down the seats in the back of the van, but helped my man-friend carry all six of the boxes up three full flights of stairs and refused to let me do anything. I suspect this was because I looked like the living dead, but it was still sweet.
While we were driving to the airport, my man-friend inquired after the best fare the cabbie had ever had.
Immediately, the cabbie said, “The happy man.” My man-friend and I waited in the backseat. We can see a good story coming. We know from introductions. “There was one man, older man, and he was just incredibly happy, shone all over with it. And I asked him, I said, wow, you look like you’re having a good day.”
The man says, calmly, as though he’d thought about it before, “I’m always having a good day.”
The cabbie was a little startled. “That’s . . . that’s unusual.”
“I suppose,” says the old man, and smiles at him.
“Look,” the cabbie says after a moment of thinking about it. “I don’t suppose there’s any wisdom you have that you can offer a young guy like me, just trying to figure it out.”
The man leaned back into his seat and smiled. “Well,” says the old man. “There’s one thing. I learn something new every year.“
Versatility. That old man learned to wire electricity one year, learned glassblowing another, learned how to take a car apart and put it back together again, learned to play the guitar. Every year, he picked something he didn’t know anything about, and in his spare time, he learned all about it. And he found that every new thing he learned made him happier, because he understood more and more about the way the world worked. He never stopped learning. As he neared the end of his life, he was happy enough that a young Chicago cabbie was so taken by his air of contentedness that he asked him to impart some wisdom upon him, as though any of us ever actually says such things to each other any more.
That’s the story. From my Chicago cabbie to you. Learn something new, be a jack of all trades. It will make you better at life.
I hope that’s useful to you. I stopped being sarcastic just to tell you that story. But hell, I can be sentimental sometimes. I’m versatile that way.
I am also full of eggs. Omelettes for dinner are the best.
Subscribe. Roguishness is always versatile.