Most people may view this as puny whining, but for a long time, I felt caught in an intellectual world of torment: smarter than most other kids, but feeling significantly dumber than all the other kids in the advanced classes at school. In Pre-Algebra, for example, the “smart” math class of seventh grade, I was the worst student. It seemed everyone else was sailing by with A’s, whereas I was struggling to hold on to a C. I can attribute social awkwardness at that time to being in a perpetual state of arrested development, but nothing was there to explain to me why I couldn’t grasp the basic concepts to which my fellow preteens so easily took.
I struggled through smart classes for years, ever more down on myself for my inability to keep up with the kid sitting at the desk next to me. At the same time, I refused to let go of the notion that I was destined for these classes, because I was TOLD I was smart, so I MUST have been smart. Because no adult would b.s. a kid like that right? …Right?
My sophomore year of high school, I dropped out of smart math classes. I barely made it to AP English senior year. I barely graduated high school at all, and felt a failure for not living up to my intellectual potential.
Funny thing about intellectual pursuits. It turns out that most of the ones worth chasing are the ones they DON’T teach you in elementary, middle, or high school. I almost had my B.A. before I found something that made me FEEL smart. The class was called “The Theory of Criticism,” which may or may not have been a philosophy class (it depends which department was talking about it). I didn’t feel smart in this class because it was easy; I felt smart because it was hard, and it took work, and I GOT IT. That’s a three-sided combo that I had not before encountered. And I may have embraced my intelligence with every fiber of my being then, had it not been for an event which occurred shortly before this class:
The I.Q. test.
I’m the first person to throw up my hands and say that any intelligence test is just a number on paper, that at the end of the day it doesn’t mean much, and yet I trusted that test, more than anything, to explain for me why school had been a world of academic hurt. I don’t know what I was expecting to hear from the test evaluator, but it certainly wasn’t “153.” As in, my I.Q. is 153. Roughly speaking, 100 is average, 120 is gifted, 140 is genius. My score is enough for Mensa, with enough left over to plant into a mad scientist’s pet rhesus monkey. Which I feel should be flattering, but at the time, all I could think of was, “If I’m so smart, why have I struggled in school?”
This led to a minor existential crisis from which I’m only now beginning to recover. In the months, years, life changes following the I.Q. test, I doubted the efficacy of my own brain; someone with an above-genius I.Q. should have been able to handle trigonometry, no? And if not, what did that mean? Was I smart but incapable? Were the test results a fluke? If I was so smart, why wasn’t school easier?
The obvious answer to that last question is that being smart doesn’t make ANYTHING easier. It doesn’t necessarily make anything harder, either, but it’s ridiculous to expect that brains are going to make school, life, anything bow to your whim. I earned my B.A. with the average amount of blood, sweat, and tears. I finished school with a respectable amount of scarring, but nothing traumatizing. Brains may have helped, but they weren’t the be-all and end-all. And until recently, I thought that brains didn’t much matter anymore.
But now, with all the thinking and reading I’ve been doing lately (philosophy, theology, math, history), all of it on my own terms, without grades or classmates to whom I can compare myself, I’m beginning to finally see how NICE it is to be smart. And to feed the smart. And maybe, someday, I’ll actually do something with my smarts. But even if I don’t, it’s okay, because the important thing is that I’m comfortable with the ol’ grey matter upstairs.
In a sharp lesson of “don’t take things too seriously,” I feel obliged to point out that when I took the I.Q. test, I didn’t KNOW I was taking an I.Q. test. The short answer is, I thought I was taking a test to determine my mental state. For example, for the first test, I was shown one picture at a time, and I had to say what was missing from each picture. The first picture was a white rabbit with only one ear. The appropriate answer is, “The rabbit is missing an ear.” However, I figured that if I said something like, “THERE’S NO BLOOD ON THE BUNNY,” it would indicate something about my psychological makeup. Only after the ages-long test was done did I understand what had taken place. Which strikes me as very odd, because it’s pretty obvious, in retrospect, what was going on.
Consider it proof that a person’s I.Q. isn’t necessarily reflective of their commonsense. Nor is it reflective of one’s ability to ace an algebra test. An algebra test which I would still, to this day, probably fail. But that’s okay. Because I’m still smart.