Can do

Most of you by now, even if you haven’t read Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love, have seen this quote therefrom, and I concede up front that one quotes Lazarus Long at one’s own risk:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

I can do some of those things, though certainly not all of them.

One of the fringe benefits of being out on the network is the occasional contact with people who can do, and have done, lots of things. A particularly inspiring example:

I have a degree in art and art history, have traveled my fair share around the world, from Europe to South America to Australia, and also around my own country. I’ve stayed in German hostels and taken the train across the western U.S. with just a backpack. I have been involved in humanitarian work in Central America for nearly a decade. I’ve been a newspaper reporter and photographer, a public school teacher, and freelance designer and writer. I’m a small business owner/entrepreneur, published writer, artist, private pilot, and even a former pastry chef. I grew up on a farm, a Centennial farm, which has been a productive part of this state for over a century. I’ve ridden horses in the badlands and competed with others in horse shows. I like to camp, I play five musical instruments, and have carved trees with a chainsaw. I spent a week learning to weld and use a plasma cutter. I have season tickets to the BMSO and my favorite composers are Dvorak, Chopin, and Rachmaninoff. I love ZZ Top and Led Zeppelin. I like trap shooting, but do not like to kill animals. I do not support the death penalty. I care about the environment a great deal. I have regular charities I support. My great-grandmother homesteaded out west for a time, on her own, and I come from a long line of hard-working adventurous brave women who went out and did what they were going to do and didn’t allow their life to be one of victimhood. I always take every opportunity to continue learning, am well-read, and continually reading.

“It’s people like that,” Tom Lehrer once observed, “that make you realize how little you’ve accomplished… When Mozart was my age, he had been dead for two years.”

Which Lehrer presumably said in 1965, when I was, um, twelve.


  1. Roger Green »

    7 June 2013 · 10:18 pm

    Apropos of doing it all, She & Him on the Tonight Show

  2. Nicole »

    7 June 2013 · 10:43 pm

    I agree with Lazarus.

    The second quoted excerpt just makes me tired. :)

  3. CGHill »

    7 June 2013 · 10:57 pm

    I know from fatigue these days.

    (And no, that wasn’t a prop Jay was holding: Volume 3 has been released on vinyl.)

  4. Francis W. Porretto »

    8 June 2013 · 5:10 am

    Humans should be adaptable, but that’s not the same as saying that any given individual should have mastered all the disciplines Heinlein enumerates. He himself could not do a quarter of those things, and he’d readily admit it.

    It is enough:
    1. To have something of value to offer to those around you;
    2. To appreciate the values they offer you;
    3. And to be flexible enough to change trades when the one you’ve been plying has waned to insignificance.

    He who can do those three things shall flourish. More, those around him will value him.

  5. Charles Pergiel »

    8 June 2013 · 9:36 am

    I can do all that stuff Robert lists. You might not like the results, but then he doesn’t specify that you do these things well. And the second list, well, yes, wonderful. My parents took me to Disneyland once. I think. Or maybe I took my kids. It’s kind of a blur. My rhetorical question is, are you satisfied?

  6. Mark Alger »

    8 June 2013 · 11:19 am

    I suspect someone might be confusing the preamble for the text. The actual point is the last sentence:

    Specialization is for insects.


  7. Tatyana »

    8 June 2013 · 4:21 pm

    Anyone who claims he is able to design a building and then concludes: “specialization is for insects” never designed a building.
    Unless the building in question is a sand castle.

  8. zigzag »

    8 June 2013 · 10:49 pm

    word for word. staying the course, loyalty.

    Al to Mrs. De Groot: “So you think I’m a loser? Just because I have a stinking job that I hate, a family that doesn’t respect me, a whole city that curses the day I was born? Well, that may mean loser to you, but let me tell you something. Every morning when I wake up, I know it’s not going to get any better until I go back to sleep again. So I get up, have my watered down Tang and still-frozen Pop Tart, get in my car with no upholstery, no gas and six more payments to fight traffic just for the privilege of putting cheap shoes on the cloven hooves of people like you. I’ll never play football like I thought I would, I’ll never know the touch of a beautiful woman, and I’ll never again know the joy of driving without a bag on my head. But I’m not a loser. ‘Cause despite it all, me and every other guy who’ll never be what he wanted to be, are still out there, being what we don’t wanna be, forty hours a week, for life. And the fact that I haven’t put a gun to my mouth, you pudding of a woman, makes me a winner!”

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