Discovering My Life

I spent a great deal of my life being told by other people what I should do and not do.  What I should want and not want.  And what I should be and not be.

Which is pretty rich considering that none of those people was ever actually talking about me.  They may have been talking about themselves.  Or people they knew.  I have no idea.

But I know they weren’t talking about me because they didn’t know me.  None of them ever put the pieces together that I was autistic (Asperger’s Syndrome) or dyslexic.  Or even asthmatic.  I spent my whole childhood on antibiotics that wrecked my immune system and damaged by teeth and bones irreparably — with no effect on the asthma, because no one thought to take me to an ENT, or even a competent general physician.

And since nobody in the 60s knew about dyslexia — nobody noticed.  They just chalked my grades up to being lazy or distracted.

Certainly nobody knew about autism.   If I hadn’t been mostly neglected as a child, they might have figured out something was really going on and had me drugged and institutionalized.  Lucky for me, nobody was paying attention.

Odd, now, that at mid-life, I am just now discovering what my life actually is — and what it is in life that matters to me.  My son and his wife, and my husband matter — that’s a given.  Without them, I probably wouldn’t have survived long enough to get to this point.  And I am outrageously lucky that after having been a single mom for over 18 years — after working back-breaking hours and creativity-killing jobs for nearly 2 decades — after living in cities I hated near all those people who were so catastrophically negligent and abusive for most of my life…

I now find myself in a place I chose.  A house I love.  A marriage I treasure with a man I adore.  — I even have a dog!

And I am discovering what I like.  What I choose.  What I want.  What I care about.  What I am afraid of and what I am fearless about.

What I am.  It’s an ongoing process.

so here’s the start of a list.

I like coffee strong, dark roasted, and very hot.  I like it with a lot of half & half, and real sugar or stevia — but very little of either sweetener.  I like “Italian Roast” best (as they all seem to be trying to taste like Illy Caffe) but I also like dark Sumatran blends.  I don’t care for black espresso.  And the only flavor I really like added to coffee is real cinnamon.  I like iced espresso drinks, but not ice-weakened regular coffee.

calder_mobileI love art.  I love looking at it.  I love making it.  I love artists and all their quirkyness and novelty.  I love museums, but not galleries; online art supply stores, but not brick and mortar stores.  I love pastels and watercolor and collage and line drawings and art assemblies and miniatures –and sculpture!  I love abstract art, and impressionism and post impressionism, and cleverly thought-provoking political art.  I love almost every painting I’ve ever seen by van Gogh, and almost none that I love by Pollack.  I am fascinated by Calder and Bourgois and Rauschenberg — and bored to tears by all but a few of Picasso’s.

I like my breakfast eggs over medium or poached.  But I love fried egg sandwiches late at night, and scrambled eggs with ketchup and Tabasco anytime.

I don’t want to go to crowded places.  Not crowded restaurants at the noon hour.  Or even a place where I have to have a reservation because every table is sold out.  Not shopping malls at Christmas or on weekends.  Not airports in the crush of loading and unloading.  I don’t want to stand in line in a crowded movie theater for a first run blockbuster, or sit on a full bench of strangers in a church — even for a wedding or a funeral.  I don’t want to wait in a crowded doctor’s waiting room or even go to the ER on the night of a full moon when all the loons are out.  I’d rather sit outside in my car alone until the crowd dissipates — or just stay home.

I like a small cocktail after dinner.  Not much — just enough to relax and enjoy a little reading before I go to sleep.  I like a salty and spicy Bloody Mary — and I also like a sweet cordial like Bailey’s or Frangelica or Kahlua & Cream.  I love the flavor of Southern Comfort — especially with lemonade.

I like tarot cards — especially the art.  But I don’t much like reading them for people as they seem to encourage people to accept the world as “happening to them” rather than as something they make happen.  I like that I do not see and experience time and causality the way most people do, but I sometimes regret not having such a basic thing in common with most people.  This is also true of the way I see and experience deaths.

I love stories.  All kinds of stories — but especially fantastical stories.  From fairy tales and science fiction to alternate realities and mythical heroes — I love a well-told tale, whether it’s a book, a story told by friends, a great play or musical theater piece, a movie or television story — even a ballet or opera.  As long as it’s a story with a beginning, middle and end — I’ll be there.

I love sitting on the porch and watching the dog do dog things like sniffing each blade of grass and licking the dew off every last one until his face is soaked.

I like wearing socks.  And soft shoes with laces.

I don’t like brown rice of any kind in any recipe.  Period.  I do like white Basmati rice, Texamati, Jasmati, Jasmin, and Arborio.  And I like whole barley, either pearled (hull-less) or hulled or made into rolled flakes like oats.  I like steel-cut oats, Irish Oats, and just about any thing else you can do to oats including oat flour, oat cakes, oat meal, oatmeal hot cereal, oat bran, oat bread — even sweet oat soups.

I’m not too crazy about babies and children.  I liked mine okay — but I knew him really well and he was interesting and intelligent and funny.   Most others — I should probably wait until they’re grown-up to talk to.

I don’t like “skinny” lattes or non-fat cheese.  I’d rather eat or drink half as much and have real food.  I like butter but not margarine or “spread.”  I like cream and half&half and buttermilk and whole milk — even 2% milk — but not fat-free or 1% except for Organic Valley’s 1% chocolate milk.

I like to sleep on the sofa or in a recliner chair.  I like reading until I fall asleep.  I like cotton blankets.  And I like sleeping in the room with a dog that lets me know if there is something I should be paying attention to.

I don’t like chewing gum, but I like hard candies and mints.  I don’t like any commercial candy bars except for a Mr. Goodbar or a KitKat — but I do like organic extra dark chocolate in small amounts.  And I really don’t like milk chocolate or any of the cheap chocolate flavored candy that’s made with paraffin or other wax, or that’s had all the cocoa butter stripped out and sold off — then replaced with cheap tropical oils and hydrogenated fats.  I don’t like any of the artificial sweeteners, and I’d rather drink alka-seltzer than a soda made with high-fructose corn syrup or sugar-free substitutes.

I like orange.  And green and purple.  In fact — I like just about every color there is.  And I like the all at once.  All over the place.  I like colors that vibrate and others that are subdued and grayed or silvered.  I don’t much like animal prints on anything but the original animal.  And I don’t care for sequins and rhinestones.  Or real stones, for that matter.  I like representational jewelry — silver and gold that has been cast or carved or etched to look like real things.

I like to visit other places, but I’m not crazy about traveling.  I hate airplane travel and everything associated with it.  But I love wandering around in new cities and driving through beautiful and unusual territory.  I love the ocean, though I’ve never been on an ocean worthy boat.  I’m not crazy about lake-boating, and could go the rest of my life without it.  But I do like ferry boats and riverboats.

I love to play games and cards — but I don’t like casinos.

I love live shows, theater, the circus, and baseball.  I love amusement parks, aquariums, zoos, picnics, and outdoor cafes.  I like factory tours and seasonal festivals and state fairs and carousels — but not roller coasters or ferris wheels.

I like having a large breakfast/brunch, and then a bowl of soup or a salad for dinner.  Three meals a day turns out to be 1 too many for me.  Though I kind of like a cookie. or a piece of cheese and a cracker late in the evening.  And I like a cup of milk in the middle of the night when I wake up and can’t get back to sleep.

I like to keep the house at about 64 degrees F.

I like ice in just about any drink except hot coffee or tea or chai or cocoa.  And even those I like iced as well as hot.  And I like a lot of ice.

I like Mac computers.  And smartphones — but especially the iPhone.  I like being paperless and not owning a printer.  I like having the world of information at my fingertips all the time — and I like what a different way of experiencing the world that is from every generation that’s ever come before.

I like sitting in a quite room and reading or listening to an actor read a book aloud in and interesting way.  I like driving while listening to stories and books.  I like listening to some books read aloud on CD or iTunes — and listening to them again and again like bedtime stories that are full of familiar and friendly characters.  I like knowing what happens next.  And I like the surprise of a writer telling me a story I’ve never heard before — and that I can’t imagine the ending until it’s all told.  I love genius and exploration and invention.

I like whole days to go by without having to know what people want or are thinking.  And without having to guess at the things I’m probably missing.  I like not having to be something I’m not.

I like my life.  I’ve always liked parts of my life.  But now — the parts I didn’t like or couldn’t understand seem to have faded away.   And it’s a very different existence without all those things.


“An Open Letter to Chick-Fil-A” — and the Dilema it Leaves Us

This is a letter by someone I don’t know.  But he represents such a vast number of people I do know and care about —

JOHN PAUL – An Open Letter to Chick-Fil-A.

This presents a dilemma.  I know why Chick-Fil-A is closed on Sundays.  Anybody raised in a fundamentalist protestant church knows why.  Because somebody wanted to “keep the Sabbath holy,” but didn’t know enough to realize that the Sabbath meant Saturday.  And besides, what fundamentalist wants to share a day off with a bunch of Jews?  And what lunatic would close a business on Saturday?

So we all knew that Chick-Fil-A was run by those kinds of arbitrary rules.  And I understand that.  There is and will always be a segment of the population who believe they have the one and only true truth in the world, and everybody else is either choosing to disregard the truth, is too stupid to know the truth, or have been persuaded of a lie.  They are a very absolute people.  Everything in their world is solid black and solid white — like the little cows in their ads.

And that’s fine.  They’re entitled.  It is, as they say, a free country.

And as long as I didn’t know all the things discussed in this open letter and the supporting documents linked in it — it didn’t matter.  They make good food for a fair price.  No MSG.  No trans fats.  Lots of fruit and veggies.  They’re reliable.  They have a gluten-free menu.  They try and treat their employees fairly.

But now, having read and searched out to be sure of all the things in this letter — I know of other things in their black and white world which are counter to my own beliefs and practices.  And I can’t ever un-know what I know about Chick-Fil-A.  And I don’t think I can ever drive through one of their outlets again without being reminded where my dollars may get applied through their charitable giving.

And I have no idea how to resolve this.  No amount of boycotting is going to change their black and white beliefs.  They would rather lose profits and even go out of business than waver one iota from their absolutes.

And I know that I (and we — my family) inadvertently support other businesses who channel money into things we wouldn’t approve of — if we knew about them.  But we don’t — and so life goes on.

And we DO know about Chick-Fil-A.  And it makes me a little sick to think such a well manged and honestly good little eatery will be off the list of choices — but it has to be.  Because I can never not know these things about them again.

If I cared so much about the crimes being committed by banks that I would move my money to a small, locally owned bank or credit union — if I care so much about the business practices of other institutions that I would take my business elsewhere , then it’s not really a choice.  This is like leaving a country club that wouldn’t allow people of certain races to be members.  Or choosing a different university based on prejudicial admittance policies.

It’s such a little thing — but little things are important.

The Curse of the Internet

Not so long ago, I went on for a bit about people who use God, the gods, or whatever deity people think will give gravitas and the appearance of veritas to their own personal agenda, bias, belief, or politics. (See: A Few Words About Using God)

I have another holy bone to pick.  This one is about the bizarre American mind-fuzz on the subject of cursing.  That is cursing (as in: I call on the God of all that is right and just in the universe to damn you to a life of suffering and pain as the only righteous payment for the evils you have done….); not cussing or going on a God-damned rant.

Somewhere along the way after we came to the undergrown fork in the road between British English and American English, we immersed ourselves in intentional cultural amnesia, and forgot what cursing actually means.

When little hunched-over hags in fairy tales spit between their fingers into the dust of the road and pronounce a curse on someone — like “You will spin for a thousand lifetimes at your spinning wheel and the wool of your sheep will pass through your fingers until they bleed, and the bones wear down to nubs wrapped in shards of flesh — and not one inch of wool will ever skein into thread.”  Now THAT’s a curse.

Calling somebody an asshole — not a curse.

Calling on powers and universes and gods and demons and angels to inflict pain and torment and suffering and eternal damnation?  That’s cursing someone.

Telling somebody to go to hell — not a curse.  Just venting steam is not cursing.

Truly pronouncing punishment — passing judgment single-handedly and pronouncing the sentence for that judgment — that is pronouncing a curse.

And regardless of whether you are passing judgment in the name of your clan, the church, the party, the family, the brotherhood or sisterhood — no matter who you hold yourself up as speaker and judge for — unless you are the duly elected law or an actual god, pronouncing a curse is not your job.  And even if you are duly elected law, your job is not to curse.  –Your job is to exact justice — a punishment that fits the crime (after it has been proven legally), and then only punishment that is not cruel and unusual.  Payment of time, liberty, choice, possessions, fines, community service, the respect of your peers — that resonates as justice; the just payment for the offense is justice.

A curse rarely has the cool detachment of law.  And justice is rarely the goal of a curse.   A curse smells of revenge, emotion, and the heat of the moment.  It can even masquerade as fervor on behalf of the wronged.  A curse in the hands of someone out to avenge a wrong will never be just payment.  It will be born of hate, whether long-burning, or heated in a flare.  It will come of anger — unbalanced by grace, and fear — unbalanced by mercy.

We lost track of our history of using language to suggest to others their destiny.  We lost track of our ability to use language to emotionally hurt and metaphysically wound one another.   It’s no wonder we have such bullies in our schools, streets, and political debates.  It’s no wonder we spend hours of bandwidth on RANTS AND ANGER.  It’s no wonder we have music made of negative emotions, fears, violence and the injustice of the streets.

We’ve lost track of the power of what we create with our words, and the Pandora’s boxes we open with our words.

Worst of all, when we pronounce our curses into the airwaves, into the bandwidth of the internet or the twittering drivel of short-word damnation,  we are asking for agreement.  We ask for those we know to say YES! — and lend the power of their words, their upward-pointing thumbs, their LIKEs, their re-posts, their forwards, their shared empathy, their soul’s own energy, and their emotions — to our pronouncements.

Calling for agreement on a curse made of emotion in the moment —

That is not our job.

Curses — judgement — justice.  None of those things are our job.

You can observe and comment — always.  You can research and offer an informed opinion — always.  You can have an emotional reaction –as long as you acknowledge to others and to yourself that your words have lost their detachment and any hope of objectivity.  You can promise to look again with a cooler head and with more evidence.  You can promise to look at the situation from the outside, the inside, and every other side available.  You can step into the shoes of everyone involved.  You can be the cooler head, take the high road, use your faith or your intellect or your goodness to always forgive and move on.  There are a million choices.  There is always another choice besides naming yourself a judge, jury, and executor of the Will of God.

To claim to know the judgment of God — the way we’ve all see the folks at Westboro Baptist Church claim to know the judgment of their god — is to break the law of the god whose name one uses.

Go sit on a jury — and you can pass judgement.  Go to law school and you can plead for justice as you see it.

Otherwise — it really isn’t your job.

Art, and Artists Making Art

This is a copy of my paper on the relationship
between art and brokenness.

Brilliant Insane Genius Lunatic Creative Mad-as-a-March-Hare
Inventive Abnormal Artistic Nuts Innovative Just Plain Crazy

I am writing this, in part, to satisfy my own curiosity.  I have heard the idea that genius and insanity were linked, in one form or another, all my life.  Whether people claimed the two were flip sides of the same coin, that the relationship was cause–>effect (though it is never clear which is the cause and which is the effect,) or that there is some as-yet-unknown neurological or genetic link; the effect is the same. Both the general public and artists of all stripe seem to buy into this notion at some level – if not consciously – then lurking somewhere just below the surface.  This presupposition changes the way we, as artists, think about our work and our existence; and it certainly has an effect on how we, and our work, are perceived by the public.

I believe the best potential counter argument to this culturalized belief is the claim that humans are, without exception, all broken or damaged.  We all experience pain, loss, damage, broken faith, unfortunate circumstances and misunderstanding; of the world around us.  We all experience death, fear, anger, and sadness – and some experience much more than others.  We all enter the world made of chemicals, genetic patterns, electricity, water, and breath – and the world being what it is, we all enter with glitches, skips, breaks, gaps and holes.

In reading about and considering the very full lifetime of work by artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), it is brokenness and the damage of her early life which is trackable in her art – not insanity. In fact, her genius is tied most closely to her handling and expressing her own past, rather than some Freudian suppression of it.

According to Leonard Cohen’s poem Anthem: “There is a crack in everything/that’s how the light gets in.”  (This is a kinder and more optimistic view than Yeats’ entropic fatalism of The Second Coming, which observes that “things fall apart.”) It’s true. Things do fall apart. Entropy is a real thing – but the more complete truth is that as humans, we have some say in how and where entropy moves, and whether we are engulfed by it or ride it like a wave.  If our inevitable brokenness is where “the light” gets in – whether it is the light of innovation, invention, and creation; or the light of faith and hope; it is this shared crack in everything that makes it possible for us to minister to each other by way of cathartic Dionysian ritual (theater/art), the spiritually cleansing catholic confessional, or the psychologically purifying  therapist’s couch.  We may not be able to control what happens in the world around us, or what happens to us; but, we can control how we respond to it.

And it is that response which makes Bourgeois such a glorious counter-example to the presupposition of insanity/genius.  In her own words,

All my work in the past fifty years, all my subjects, have found their inspiration in my childhood….  My childhood has never lost its magic, it has never lost its mystery, and it has never lost its drama.

At first glance, we might assume from this that Louise lived an enchanted childhood. The reality, however, is that the magic of her childhood was made up of a revolutionary feminist mother who did her duty by her husband and had two children, then left him to find himself a mistress. Further encumbrances of motherhood were not on Madame Bourgeoise’ list of coming events. The mistress also served as a live-in caretaker for the children, tutor, and governess.

Strident and independent Mother was foreign, cold, and absent; the Mistress was a villainous pseudo-stepmother; and father was not just cold, but abusively cruel to the children born so dutifully by his ultra-social wife. This was a house full to the brim with angry, self-serving adults, and a couple of clueless children who only pieced together the truth of the arrangement as they entered puberty. The only magic I found in this childhood is the near miracle that there were no poisoned apples, huntsmen, or cinder-covered hearths involved.  Louise left home in her teens to paint live in a house full of surrealists in Paris (the house full of surrealists.) Not surprisingly, hardly anyone noticed she was gone.

It is only been in the last 200+ years that painting could be thought of as self expression.  As soon as the self, the mind, and the intentions of the artist began to become important players in the making of art, all sense of trade and craft disappeared from all the arts. Meaning became the subject of a work of art rather than some object or model being copied.  Since this was happening just as the unconscious mind, mental health, and general psychology were creeping into everyday the 1st World cultures, it’s no wonder that artists were perceived as breaking the rules and wandering into the sinful landscape of the criminal and insane. Vincent van Gogh was the poster-boy for the insanity/creative genius camp right up until the culture of the 1st World grew and discovered he might have been bipolar or schizophrenic. Then he became the poster boy for physical chemical imbalance. Whether it was a serious food allergy, and/or PTSD/abuse/neglect-induced fugue states, those are late 20th and early 21st Century understandings of his life.  The more we learn, the less insane, criminal, sinful, and weak van Gogh looks. (see Wilfred N Arnold’s  Chemicals, Crises, and Creativity for more on van Gogh’s relationship to his own biology.)   At the beginning of the 21st Century, Vincent is an unfortunate victim.  If we could choose for him and pick a different century for him to be born, would we give up his art works in order to allow him a peaceful, balanced life?  Is it a fair trade?

Louise Bourgeois, on the other hand, turned those magical, mysterious, and dramatic bits of her childhood into art by choice – by all evidence, fully aware of the metaphorical connections between her art and her past.  Her cold, alien mother became Maman (colloquial fr. for mother)

"Maman" sculpture by Louise Bourgeois

the giant spider that seems to wander through forests of cement and steel.  Her installations are   experiences to be fashioned between the individual and the place/object.  They are her home.  Her rooms.  Places of memory and rite, built to elicit feelings and ideas to be shared between the artist and the single audience member.  She has built these places and made this art so people will understand and build relationship through these intensely personal conversations. We all experience her isolation and loneliness with her – and we recognize it because we have felt it, too.  Bourgeois’ father appears in her art – though not in the dramatic and shocking form of her monster mother.  Instead, his presence is felt in these rooms and in many of her other installation. He is a tangle of objects and a claustrophobic lie of a room.  He informed Bourgeois through every action and word that being a girl – a woman – was to be grotesque, useless, ugly, ungrateful, unwanted, foolish, stupid, and disgusting.

Red Room installation, by Louise Bourgeois

Listening to Bourgeois as she demonstrates her father’s trick with the tangerine reveals a pain so deep that after 7 decades – it still reduced her to a weeping child.  There are some pains – some breaks and rips in our being – that, like a wicked witch’s spell, never lose their magic.

The Father and the Mother are responsible for Louise Bourgeois reaching out to communicate with the rest of the world.  Had they been loving and affectionate – she might never have picked up a paintbrush or sculpted a frail hand.

Why?  Because there is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.  It’s the light (energy,) memory, and emotion that travel through those cracks that connect us. That’s where we meet –and where communication happens.  Those universal cracks are where art does what art does, and where artist and audience share and survive together.

I believe that the question about the relationship between genius and insanity is an old, out of date question.  It presupposes that what is not normal can be labeled criminal, insane, sinful, stupid, useless and/or weak. But that’s a 19th century understanding of normal – and a 19th century understanding of insanity.  By starting with the wrong question – there is no chance of finding a right answer.  The real question artists, critics, audience, and history have to start asking has to do with understanding and choosing how to express and relate to our own individual and cultural breaks, cracks, quirks, skips, and bumps.  What is the relationship between brokenness, health, and the making of art, invention, and creativity?

I know that we must have care with the words we choose and the presuppositions we make.  If we start with the question: What is the relationship between brokenness and making/creating (or just between brokenness and art), then we have changed the playing field of presuppositions.  Brokenness carries a few negative bags of its own – but it also carries the solution for itself: it carries the presuppositions of repair, mending, re-finishing, correcting, and healing. A broken pot can be fixed.  A broken window can be replaced and made good as new again.  A broken person can be brought back to health.  An insane person just gets more insane until s/he finally succumbs.

Some people presuppose that artists and other creatives somehow experience more deeply.  They are especially sensitive and have a stronger emotional life than an accountant or a short order cook.  I have no idea how true/not true those assumptions are.  But I know that artists in all the arts find a way to express what is inside their own minds and guts in a way that is recognizable and creates a link to others through Leonard Cohen’s cracks.  I don’t believe artists make art as a means of self-therapy (though it may sometimes happen as a side effect) – but I do think there is something to be said for extending a helping hand to all those accountants and short order cooks through art, music, story, poetry etc.

Art requires us to be generous and to be able to need without shame, simultaneously.   This is a very great evolutionary step.

As for how my own thoughts and self expression relates to the life and art of Louise Bourgeois, I suppose the first point of contact is that we share some of those “magic” childhood experiences.  There is something about profound neglect and intentionally inflicted pain that is, as Bourgeois says, never lost.  What we choose to do with those experiences makes the difference between her building giant, alien looking mother-spiders, and Van Gogh at his most disturbed eating tubes of chrome-yellow paint.  While Louise Bourgeois spent the first 30 years of her 70 year career just learning to use her tools and talent to express what was going on in her mind; I spent those 30 years learning what was going on in my mind, and about the minds, motivations, and puzzlements of others.  It has only been the last 5 or 6 years that I have begun looking for materials to start creating expressions of those things.  I am just now comfortable with the tools of the trade.  But like her, I know the language of metaphor.  I understand the layers and pieces of the puzzle, and I have a long-running intimacy with opening boxes.  Communication, in whatever form, has always been the crux of what I have done, said, made and searched out.  Whether that ultimately makes art or not is another question.  But it is certainly fun trying.

Here’s What I Know About Being Over-qualified

There are many ways to be overqualified.

You can be doing a lower-responsibility version of a job you are actually qualified for.  Like being hired in as a night manager at a company where you were the primary General Manager.  That would be a real “step down” even though it’s only a step down in prestige and the credit or recognition.  A demotion in the military results in this kind of overqualification.  It is a kind of deliberate disrespect by the organization to take a person backwards and relieve them of responsibility and respect that was previously given. We might call this overqualification by demotion.

Then there is the kind of overqualification that comes from loosing a job in something technical and high paying like undersea search and rescue — and taking the only job available because of the current economic crisis.  Cleaning the deep fryers at a burger joint for this kind of person would be an example of overqualification by external circumstances.

But the kind of overqualification most of us think of when we talk about being over-qualified has to do with learned skills, and native intelligence.  That Einstein really was a patent clerk, and Kafka really worked for an insurance company — almost sound like jokes.  But they aren’t.  Imagine the level of boredom and phoning-it-in involved in those jobs….  Imagine a Jacques Cousteau doing the obituaries for the a local newspaper, or Fareed Zacharia driving a truck for Walmart.  “Not likely” you say?  Okay.  But consider the USSR’s decision to ship a huge number of intellectuals, Ph.D.s, and university professors off to Siberia to farm enough food out of the frozen ground to survive, just because they spoke out against their leaders or government. Imagine the slaughter of every living soul with ANY formal education in Pol Pot’s killing fields.

Intelligence and education aught to be valued — but too often, they are seen as a liability, especially by those who are insecure about their own intelligence and education.  There is nothing worse than a local good-ol’-boy network for carefully NOT hiring anyone with more education or someone who shows themselves to be a quicker mind.  Nobody of mid-level brains deliberately hires somebody smarter than they are, who might show them up in front of their co-workers.

So you end up with physicists working as patent clerks, and philosophers selling insurance.  Or artists and novelists working for the post office and great composers working as short order cooks.

This kind of overqualification brings up our own worst guilt as well.  The national guilt of having squandered oceans of potential by forcing people into servitude and slavery. The species guilt of squandering the minds and abilities of billions of women because they were viewed as property, breeding stock, or home-keepers.  In fact, between racial and sexual discrimination, there is no way to calculate the number of potential Einsteins and Shakespeares and Camus we’ve tossed into the garbage pile.

However —

There is something to be said for earning a living at something  low-stress and low-responsibility.  It leaves a lot of time for daydreaming — and daydreaming took Einstein all the way past the edge of the known universe, and Shakespeare all the way to Prospero’s Island and Titania’s garden.  The ability to earn your keep by doing a phone-it-in daily grind, frees up geobytes of processing power.  In terms of raw native intelligence and educated intelligence — this is pure gold.  This is the free-period after lunch, but it lasts all day long.

It’s also a free pass to fly below the radar for as long as necessary. The step from the shadows to the spotlight is one of the most treacherous there is. A lot of over-qualified people don’t make the move gracefully, and many don’t survive it at all.

The trick, I think, is knowing which light to move to, and when to make the move.  The truth is, the spotlight is not the only choice.  There are a lot of directions you can go from the shadows of overqualification.  Sunlight is good.  Neon is good. Energy-saving florescent is good.  Halogen, candlelight — you get the idea. And each of those represents a possible and intentional move toward fulfilling potential.  Even Einstein had choices — university research?  Teaching?  The developing national laboratories?  R & D for some industrial giant?

Likewise, Shakespeare could have gone other directions with his native genius.  In fact, the most likely institution for him at the time would have been either religion or public service.  A word spinner can ply their wares in all kinds of markets.  Lucky for us, he had a flare for the dramatic.

Choosing the right step at the right time is the real challenge of overqualification.  Everybody does jobs and finds themselves in situations that don’t require their best and their full talents.  The task is to know where you’re going  — and to know the value of good timing.  Stepping too soon; attempting to step after the time has passed; and stepping without first finding true north and centering yourself result in less.  In obscurity.  In delay and postponement.

It all has to do with time and space.  When and where.

Being overqualified for what you’re doing right now — is just a signpost that reads:


Nomic Melliorism, Nomics Pt. 4

Tuesday, March 10, 2009 at 4:21am

Because I thought I had a normal childhood, it never occurred to me that there were these big holes in my skill set and knowledge base. I assumed my parents taught me all the things everybody else’s parents taught them.

Now, at this late date, I realize that many people were actually taught either directly or by example how to judge — or at least guess — whether someone is trustworthy or not. Loyal or not. Truthful or not. Friendly. Positive. Empathetic. Afraid. Angry. Dangerous. Generous. Careful. Courageous.

Some people were given hints about finding a purpose in life, or just knowing the difference between something that is worth doing and something that is a waste of time. Some people had help figuring out what they were good at — and what things they should put aside because of a lack of native ability. Some people’s families helped them figure out what is important in life, and what is important to them, as fully functioning people. Those things would have been helpful before I went off to college. Or got married. –just sometime before I was allowed behind the wheel of a car, or allowed to vote would have been nice.

It took me until I was nearly 30 before I began to realize I had to figure out what I believed and why; what Iwanted and why; what kind of a person I wanted to be and why; what I value in other people and why, and what is valuable about me and why. And here Iam, all these years later — just realizing all the basic stuff nobody bothered to tell me about life. And that there is a name for this. And it’s a horrible name.

But however terrible neglect is, discovering for myself that I am both a melliorist, and nomic cancels it all.

Iam a uniquely flexible, self-amending system that believes she can change the world.