I’m in Texas for a convention. But this one is short on Nanu-Nanu and long on “Shop smart, shop S Mart. YOU GOT THAT?” No big deal, that’s the day job. I got up at 7:30am and I just got back to the hotel room… yes, it is across the street from the con. I’m tired, wired, burnt and slightly cranky. I am also sort of crazy.
One would think that after 12+ hours of typing out timed, stacked, and nested (as in the Russian dolls) purchase orders, that I would like to kick back, relax, and take the edge off. Well, the edge is gone, I am laying in a hotel bed, watching the only (original) Matrix movie. But my head can’t stop. I should be finishing up the final few orders, but I am pretty wasted. This job requires thought to do properly. That being said, I still can’t shut it off. And it brings up another thought. A personal thought. A hard thought.
And, try as I might, I gotta write about it tonight.
I grew up as the youngest of three children. My sister is something of a prodigy. She might tell you different, but I’m telling you that my sister’s is sharp enough to shave electrons off a molecule. My brother is mechanically inclined, and I remember watching him work on his cars, put together electronics, and so on. It’s all magic of one kind or another to me. Both of them played sports. I… well I did not. Needless to say, ok, fine. It has to be said: I was the artsy one. Not bad at school, but I actually had to work for it, and no manly skills to make up for the odd ‘C’. They were years older than myself, more advanced, and constantly correcting everything I said. Nothing wrong with that. I was young. And wrong. They were kids trying to guide me. Perhaps ungently, but they were kids, and knew about as much about child rearing at that age as I did.
Then there were adults. I had a prominent adult in my life that liked to ask me if I ever thought about anything I ever said and did. I was asked often. Mrs. (I still shudder to think anyone mounted that formaldehyde-ridden bride of Frankenstein horror) Cooper, my first grade teacher called me ‘dull’. Well, dull, uninspired, and lazy. Don’t fool yourself. If you call a first grader dull, they know what you are really saying. Other examples may have been my own overblown reaction to criticism. Not Cooper. That woman was a kind of evil that needed burning at the stake.
Girls my own age called me stupid. They did it a lot. Everyone gets that, but of course by that point I was pretty sure I was a half-wit. That started to change toward the end of high-school. I started to have complex thoughts. A series of nasty surprises and personal tragedies lead me to trust myself and my own opinions. My first year in college a friend offered to give me an IQ test on the fledgling internet. I did the worst thing I could have. I took it.
It told me I had an IQ just above room temperature in Alaska, I was lucky to be able to button my shirts correctly half the time, and I probably should have some kind of minder. Failing out of my first year did not help.
I have spent most of my life believing I was, overall, pretty dumb. Even getting published really didn’t help much. Then, I began noticing stuff I could not explain. I could find holes in certain political thoughts. I was able to build complex plots in my head. I may have ended my education too early, but I was still able to grasp situations and then delve more deeply into them to break them into their component parts and redesign them in more efficient shapes: plots, processes, and so on.
Then, one day, a guy I used to lose arguments constantly with as a kid, well, we were arguing about something stupid: a movie or book or something. I said the plot was horrible and backwards, and he said something like:
“You have no idea what makes a good story.”
And I replied, “Sure, the only published guy in the room doesn’t know what makes a good story.”
And that was it. I started to question. Quietly. In the back of my head, because some things are just easier to be borne than to struggle against.
A few years later, my wife took the MENSA test. I was already convinced that she – like my sister – was scary smart. I was – stupidly it turns out – afraid that the moment someone told her she was a genius that she would start wondering what she was doing with a loser like me (which I have wondered every day since we got together). She passed. She joined MENSA. She did not leave me.
And she enjoys talking with me. My wife and I are exceptionally close, and we do enjoy time together. She does not lord over me, or even put up with me. We are partners, and she respects my opinions. She told me I was smart, but I did not believe her. All that being said, I eventually did take the test.
I was terrified. I thought: this is it. If I fail this, I’m an idiot forever. I was already an idiot forever in my own head, but that is neither here nor there. It’s amazing, because for the longest time I had thought myself crippled, honestly crippled. You can show me someone who cannot walk, someone that cannot hear, the very small, the very large, the blind, and I know they have troubles, but these are all things that can be overcome. Hard work, dedication, friends, and thought can overcome these obstacles to a long and full life.
Stupid? Well, if your brain is broken, it’s not like they can fix that. And if you were just born… dull… damn sure you are not thinking your way out of it. But it was better to just leave it be and think I was a lucky idiot than to… well find out that things were even worse. How? I don’t know, but just to have it confirmed again would be horrible. There would be no turning from it, no denying it. I took the test anyway.
Yes, I passed.
I was accepted into MENSA. I am not an idiot.
According to the tests, I’ve got more than a few neurons firing up there. In fact recently they started sending out your scores, and.. well, I’m wither pretty lucky or pretty bright. Maybe as bright as my sister, my wife even.
And it’s very strange, it hasn’t changed how I view other people. Not even a little bit. I don’t think I’m better, or even smarter. I have found out that this perception of myself is a lie, and it has wrought miraculous changes. All of a sudden my world has changed. A flood of new perceptions have come ashore and carried a layer of dirt that has filled deep cracks in my head. The waters have receded and then those wasted tracts have started sprouting life.
The other day I did something clumsy and said, as I have since I was a child, “Boy, I am stupid.”
And for the first time. I did not believe it. I said it, I heard it. But the words held not more weight upon me than a light breeze. I started giggling, because it was as if I was seeing the sky for the first time in a long, long time. My wife stared at me, confused. I could only shake my head and laugh.
And I have experienced what few men ever have: I have become free.
I am honestly not that sure if this makes any sense to anyone else, or if it means anything to anyone but me. I guess I fire this arrow into the air because if anyone, anywhere, can use this to shirk off their own hair shirt, to put away the flagellant whip, then it’s worth telling the world that I had some trouble growing up.
Since then I have seen all my flaws through a magnifying glass. I limited myself. I hurt myself. In short, I systematically abused myself. However it started, from whom and by whom, purposeful, accidental, innocently or evilly, it does not matter. I called myself stupid, and that is my fault. The wound may have started by others, but I was the one that kept picking at it, keeping it infected until it could never close and heal. I did that to me. It took me a long time to get rid of it.
I hope, if you have one, it’s as easy to heal as mine.
Just don’t wait a lifetime.