I hate having fingernails. I hate cutting my fingernails. I feel like I am constantly cutting my nails. At least once a week, I find myself carving out time in my schedule to snip at them. I can sympathize with cats. I mean, I get it. If I were a cat, I’d be constantly scratching at shit. It’s how I am now, the second I get space between my nail and my finger. I’m scratching and picking at everything–mostly myself. And then I find myself constantly picking at my nails. Trying to get the weight off the ends of my fingers. It’s unnatural–having space there. Just thinking about it gives me the willies. I hate having fingernails.
For all of my life, I have underestimated my intelligence. I don’t know if it’s something about my personality traits, some weird combination of my Meyers Briggs and my StrengthsFinder. Something about the way I was raised. Something about my genes. Or if it is only because I am, in fact, of above average intelligence. But I always enter a room assuming everyone else in it knows more than me. And then I am often disappointed to learn that I am smarter than most of the people in the room. In some way. I can almost always identify a lack in the other person. A speck of dust on their intellect. They might be better at numbers, or at talking, or at laughing, but in turn, I am better at thinking through the big picture, or at waiting, or at focusing, or at recognizing how another person is feeling. It doesn’t take me long to make sense of the yin and yang of it. How me and we fit together or don’t. Minutes, maybe. Half an hour.
I have always been this way. I have always been able to read the room, to get the things. To make sense of it all even sometimes without needing it explained to me. I might not be able to explain what I know, or how I know, or why I know, but I can feel it in my brain. The scaffold, the foundation, the structure of it. My knowing.
I did not go to any elite schools. I went to shitty public school for most of my life. In elementary school, in the white farming town where I lived, I recognized from an early age when I was smarter than my teachers (1st grade). I did not think less of my teacher. I just didn’t understand why she didn’t know more things. I didn’t understand why she would correct me, or get impatient with me, or blatantly disliked me. I couldn’t help how I thought and what I knew. I couldn’t change the way I was. I just was. I also didn’t understand why the other kids didn’t like me. Why they mistook my curiosity and my earnestness and my eagerness to learn as an insult. Why they felt threatened by my knowing. I just knew. I didn’t understand why it mattered to them, or that it really had any effect on their lives at all. Why do we have two words in the english language that are so fucking similar: affect/effect. Who the god damn invented this?
But anyway, what happens is, I walk into a room assuming that everyone is at about the same level intelligence-wise. What inevitably happens though, is that while my eyes are wide and I’m waiting for someone to drop some knowledge, I find that I’m the one dropping knowledge. I know the things and have to tell everyone else. And that is… That always comes as a slight shock. And then I get…disheartened? Impatient? Almost self-righteous. Am I superior to these people–not necessarily. My better brain does not make me better, as I feel everyone has something to contribute. Most people. But I get like, disappointed, that no one gets it. That often, people don’t get it. The it that I get. It’s not there within them. It’s only there within me. I’m living it. I get it. I have it. They don’t. And I get angry, and disappointed, because it’s lonely out here. The only one with it. And also, why? Why don’t they have it? What is it about our experiences that has determined that I will get it and they will not? Whatever it is, that thing that inevitably shapes, marks, starts the chasm between us.
It was a problem in college. It was a problem in high school because I was bored all the fucking time, without being able to pinpoint why I was bored. I felt like I tried really hard in my classes, but now I realize it’s because I was either a) memorizing everything or b) teaching myself. I thought I was dumb, stupid, less than, because I was bored, yet I was trying so hard. I wasn’t trying so hard because I was stupid. I was trying so hard to mask the boredom. It was my coping strategy. If I spent all my time trying, and thinking about the trying, and planning to try, I would not have to think about how little there was to try at or for. I would not have to think about how different my trying was from everyone else’s trying.
In college I became a bit of a snob. I was tired of being the smartest, and when I got to college I thought everyone would be smarter. Smarter than me. I was ready for it, to be blown away by the intellect of my peers. To have some hope. To feel like, I was finally not alone in this world. There would be so many others like me in college.
This was not the case.
I idolized my professors from afar. Too afraid to get to know them on a personal level because they were smarter than me, and I didn’t know how to interact with them. I was intimidated, never having interacted with anyone really smarter than me. And also, still not really aware that I was slightly above average intelligence. I felt like I was constantly proving myself in their presence. Not realizing that they recognized my intelligence. Not realizing that they thought I knew. All this time, I was so used to being bored, but didn’t realize the cause of it. I just expressed boredom. It hung around me, hung off my skin, seeped out of my being, like a poison. My professors attributed my boredness to my intelligence, but no one bothered to tell me that’s why I had perfected the bored posture, the bored look, the bored walk. I had fallen down the rabbit hole of boredom, unable to recognize what had led me there in the first place. Like depression, like how I feel when I’m depressed, that I don’t know my self anymore, that I am somehow detached, separate from myself. Boredom had done the same thing to my brain. It detached me from myself. I was so bored I could not see myself anymore. I could not recognize my own patterns. I was unrecognizable to myself. If someone had bothered to tell me, hey, morales, you’re fucking smart; my whole life would have been different.
Working at colleges & universities has freed me from that chained bored state. I did, and have, found people of equal/superior intelligence. I loved graduate school. I loved the caliber of it. The level. The expectations. Here was something I could really fuck up. Finally, if I wanted, I could fail. What a thrill. I didn’t have to do all the trying, but it was still happening everywhere I went and with everyone I met–the learning. Suddenly, a community I could learn from. People with things to say I didn’t already know.
It made me a little sad, as I met more people and learned of their opportunities, learned of their elite educations and the things they knew, that I had missed out on all that. If only someone would have told me, if only I had been able to see myself for what I was. You belong here with these people. Maybe I would have tried different things. Maybe I would have done different things. Maybe I would have ended up in some of those spaces, and met myself sooner. Life would have been way less lonely. I would have been way less bored. What a waste, right? All the time I spent being bored.
Is this sounding like a humble brag? I really hope not. This is honestly one of the most frustrating things about myself. One of the things I critique myself the most on. See yourself for what you are. See your brain for what it is. But I don’t. Like I can’t.
So tonight, I went to this terrible lecture, and I found myself thinking. Challenge me. And some days at work, I meet with a student, who can’t seem to understand the ways of the Internet, or of reading, or of having a question and finding the answer, solving for x, like 2+2 is 4….and I feel… like how the fuck are you not getting this? Who has allowed you to be this stupid? This lazy? How have I ended up over here with this brain and you’ve ended up over there with your brain and we’ve ended up in this world, in this space together. How do all the people not know all the things that I know? How do they not get it? How do they live? Not knowing? Why are they not angrier that they don’t know? That they don’t get it? Yo, someone needs to tell you–you’ve been shortchanged. You’re out here, all alone and dumb and clueless and you don’t even know. Aren’t you worried? I’d be worried. But no, of course, that’s not the world we live in. The world is built for mediocrity. At least, the human made world is. Social constructions.
And I’m over it. I have zero patience anymore for being bored. For finding myself stuck in a place where my time is being wasted. When my brain was so hungry for so long, and I am not going to spend another fucking second of my life not getting the stimulation I now know like an old friend. Don’t waste my fucking time. There are so many more things to learn. I could be learning right now. Instead, I could be learning.
Why am I so willing to feel this way, this angry way, yet also find myself so easily slipping into another person’s way of knowing, way of being, and sympathize with that, and understand that, yet at the end of the day still feel empty, realizing I didn’t do anything to challenge myself, to feed myself. I just spent all day looking at you, looking at your brain, and maybe feeling a little sorry for you, maybe feeling a little patronizing. Maybe feeling like… you’re so cute with your dumb brain; how nice it must be to be you…only to be left feeling like, well shit, there goes my day and what did I get out of it? What have I learned?
And then I’m bored again.
Some inconvenient truths. I don’t like fingernails and I don’t like boredom, but I don’t like being the smartest person in the room, so I dumb myself down a little bit, so I play nice, so I act like I don’t know when I know. So I let myself slip on your dumb skin for a little while, just to see, just to get to know you. Just to meet you where you’re at. But then I come up for air and my tank is empty and you don’t even know I’ve been wearing your dumb skin this whole time. The chameleon in action. And I’m left with very little to show for stepping down, for hiding out, for blending in.
I don’t want to blend in, because it’s never mutual. The feeling is never returned. And then I have to? And then I go to?