I Contain Multitudes

Walt Whitman penned the line, “I contain multitudes.” And while he seems to have contained greater multitudes than many, all humans contain multitudes.

We aren’t always encouraged to acknowledge the multitudes. With questions for kids like, “What do you want to be?”, for physicians, “What is your specialty?” for the politically-minded, “What political party?”, for musicians, “What genre is your music?” – humans seem to be predisposed to ignore the multitudes inside us and focus on singleness.

But great art requires multitudes. In Norah Jones’ recent interview with Marc Maron on the WTF Podcast, she struggled at attempts to place her in an genre. Her music compels because she contains multitudes – jazz, country, Indian raga. The same is true for many of the musical heroes she mentioned, from Ray Charles and Willie Nelson to Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington.

It makes an artist easier to classify if they do not contain multitudes; but it makes the art better if they do.

I contain multitudes; so do you. It’s great to specialize one one thing, to obsess, to focus. But do not forget the multitudes underneath.