I’m not quite as stupid as I let people make me feel. I know this intellectually because I still have all those scores from different tests they gave us in school to try and separate out the chaff. (This doesn’t work, by the by, there’s a lot of book smart chaff.) I know this practically, because if I put my mind to mechanical things and cookery type things and artistic type things I can figure them out, even if I haven’t been taught how to do them. Sometimes it’s just about taking something apart and putting it back together again, which is a quiet activity–except for the bouts of creative swearing–that lets me focus on my hands and not overthink the processes. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the points in my life where I feel the most stupid are the points where someone, a person, is standing across from me asking me a question and expecting a response.
Just spit it out already what is your problem why won’t you answer me don’t you want to talk me?
That. I’m not good with that.
And it’s not even always that I don’t know the answer. It’s just that finding the answer in my big, confusing brain decorated solely with non sequiturs is, well, it’s hard.
I recently went to a couple Big Fancy Art Museums (TM) with a friend I don’t see often because she lives very, very far away. At each of them she wanted to know, before we had seen everything in the museum, what my favorite piece was. If I could take one thing home, what would it be? There’s nothing that makes my brain freeze up quite like a question like that. That question is loaded with expectations, even if it isn’t meant to be. The first time I came up with something. I mean, the breath did kind of get knocked out of me when I turned a corner at the MFA in Boston and spotted John White Alexander’s Isabella and the Pot of Basil at the far end of a set of rooms, framed by successive door openings that forced the perspective. The lighting in it is amazing.
The second time I didn’t even try to answer, begging off that I hadn’t seen it all yet. I couldn’t possibly know. The real reason is simply that my brain doesn’t work that way. I like to amble and wander and learn. I like to take in everything and then sit with it for a little bit before I have to come back to it. And ‘a little bit’ could be the afternoon. It could be the day. The first time I read Camus I fell for his words with my heart, but it took my head a good week to really comprehend what was being said there, about life, the universe, and everything.
We like to think of intelligence as speed. A person is said to be quick witted or a fast learner. If you’re smart then your brain works like a cyberpunk hypejack. The information buzzes through it at four times the speed of light, often lit up neon. If your brain works another way, a more mechanical way, well then, the poor dear tries, doesn’t she? Because very often my brain feels mechanical. I have to put a lot of focus toward walking the halls in the way I’ve trained myself to and not just letting myself jump about. I’m an ADD kid and I don’t take the medicine! is often my excuse.
I actually fear ADD medication more than I fear people thinking I’m stupid, because I don’t trust any drug that might alter my brain. I worry that it will alter who I am. I’ve spent 29 years becoming used to being me, for better or worse. Why throw it all out the window now? But it’s true, and it’s also an excuse. It’s an excuse I feel I shouldn’t have to make. But you know, there’s nothing quite like people cutting their eyes down when you screw up a word or a name or a Batman subplot or can’t collect an answer to their questions quickly enough. It makes you cringe inward and want to hide. That people walk away from me sometimes and think that I’m not interested or not interesting or dumb causes spirals of bad feelings I’m still kind of learning to control. And I’m learning that coming up with an answer at any costs isn’t the right way to do it. That doesn’t make people think I’m any smarter.
When you ask questions, be patient. Be kind. Understand that if a person cannot answer you at the moment it’s not that they don’t want to. That person would probably like nothing more than to move the focus to someone other than themselves, if only they could come up with a way to shift it.
I say I’m stupid kind of a lot. It’s a defense mechanism, you see. It’s how I feel sometimes, because I’m just never going to win any races and a lot of the people around me can. I’m proud of them. I’m learning that that doesn’t mean I have to compare myself to them and feel out of sorts about it. Everyone has a talent after all, and there are some very intelligent people who can’t change the tires on their car. As we move into an age where everything is going to come faster and more technological, we should be conscious of making sure that the mechanical is still held in some regard. Without it, we wouldn’t be where we were now at all.
This post was actually brought to you by a bit of musing about whether our ability to stave off age will make us less likely to require fairytales that focus on maintaining youth and beauty. That’s just the weird, non sequitur way in which my mind works.
My favorite piece of art at the MoMA, by the way, is Rendezvous of Friends – The Friends Become Flowers by Max Ernst. I’ve been a fan of Ernst’s collage work for quite a while, so seeing his paintings in person made me a bit lightheaded with excitement. I would almost say it was surreal, but the way in which I’m not funny is a whole other post altogether.