Mary Beth Writes

Someone asked me what I thought might be the definition of genius. (If you send me an open-ended question I might try to answer you, too.)

Here are some of my thoughts.  Because on Halloween, plus the day the House of Reps votes on how to proceed with the impeachment proceedings, plus California is on fire, plus there is a half of foot of snow out my window – why wouldn’t we talk about shades of genius?

Sometimes it's calming to talk about a situation that doesn't exactly affect many of us. 

If you look up the etymology of the word genius, it starts with the Greeks and Romans. GEN is the same root as ‘generation’, and it means (more or less) ‘where the breath comes in’.  In ancient times genius was considered as something OUTSIDE a person, like a spirit that lives close to a person that will infuse them with ability and curiosity about relevant things.

Curiously, the more researchers figure out how personality works, the closer we get back to this.  There really are waves of energy (for lack of a better word) coming from others that affect us. And we do the same to them. If there’s a genius in the room, are we all elevated?

Then during the Renaissance, the idea that some men (sic) were extraordinary and others were just ‘plug-alongs’ rose to the surface.  Call me liberal and cynical but doesn’t this just figure?  As people who were not born to royal/’superior’ families started to make money and amass power (think the Medici family) there had to be a way to justify their luxury versus the poverty and exploitation all around them. So they called themselves geniuses and boom, a new way to conquer by dividing.

What's your opinon of Bill Gates and Zuckerberg?

I see two ways of thinking about Genius. First, there are those rare human supernovas born with bright and dazzling brains that enable them to write symphonies at 7-years old and solve world class mathematics conundrums and write astonishing literature, and figure out how the universe works.

I have never personally met that kind of genius.  My sense is that this kind of brilliance generally arrives with a side order of being on a continuum of mental agility / not so agile.  Not that having autism, depression, bipolarism, schizophrenia means one is also a genius, but that the biochemistry of human development that affects one part of the structure of a person’s brain will likely affect other parts of it, too.  We know so little.  Imagine where we’d be if what we spent on war was spent on knowledge?  

Also: When we talk about genius, we need to be careful about our privilege, especially our white privilege. We so easily accept that “Shakespeare and Mozart were geniuses.” Of course. So who were the people of color, or women, who fly to your mind like Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein?

We all know there were and are Black geniuses, as well as ladies who Did Surprising Stuff, but none of us know exactly who we would name if we had to choose fast. This isn’t because we are bad people, but it does say our privilege is around us like a huge down coat.

How many geniuses died in cotton fields or on slave ships. Or spent their lives making a hundred or so corn tortillas per day while trying to keep themselves and their kids safe from the dangers surrounding them? How many genius kids are displaced right now without access to education?  How much faster could humans have figured out cancer and heart disease and astrophysics and how to design comfortable shoes that never wear out - if we didn’t enable the finest institutions of learning to belong to the rarified rich?

Glance at this and consider how many brilliant humans are in these numbers right now. https://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html

So this leaves the kind of genius that’s somewhat available to the rest of us to be. People with gifts and talents who have somehow received enough training, lessons, time, education, and wherewithal to practice and pursue their blessed cleverness.

A couple months ago Len mentioned something he wanted to try to cook. He was describing an item he had eaten about 20 years ago; he was thinking the sauce from that meal would be tasty to recreate.

I have been this man’s Matrimonial Other for eons and yet I stood there, astonished. “You can remember a flavor from twenty year ago?”

He replied, “Sure, can’t you?”

No. I know what I like to eat which is almost everything, but I don’t have a place in my brain for the actual flavor of things. It never occurred to me others could.

Genius involves what a person's brain processes and doesn't process. 

I know I am a good writer. I have a way with words as did both my mom and dad, my grandparents, and my energetically Anabaptist great-grandfather who rode from cabin to cabin in the 1890’s, preaching in living rooms, leading prayer meetings, starting the church where I, sixty years later, would marinate in pious scriptures and hymns.  I’ve been living in a Niagara of words since I was old enough to lisp. 

My “genius” is a good brain, a childhood calm and supported enough for me to play and go to school, lots of reading, and super-wordy higher education.  Which I then used and abused by writing a lot of stuff for a long, long time. So my “genius” is not very complicated to understand. I’m good at what I wanted to do and have done. 

I read an acerbic remark that Annie Dillard once made. (Dillard is one of my most favorite writers; she’s an amazing writer.)

She said she heard of a general retiring from the military to, he said, “take up a little writing”.

To which she replied that when she retired from writing, she might take up a little "general-ing.”

It’s kind of interesting - and humbling - to consider what one has become a genius of. Such as: In addition to writing, I’m really good at clearing a messy kitchen well and fast, baking, walking (I’m an ace walker), and reading. I suck at knitting, crocheting, and creating small delicate things. It’s good I don’t moonlight as a surgeon.

So did I define genius? Probably not.

But I did find this awesome quote. It’s attributed to Albert Einstein except the Quote Attribution site says that’s wrong and is probably from a self-help book in the early 2000’s.  https://quoteinvestigator.com/

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole like believing that it is stupid.”

If anyone is still reading, I think it would be marvelous if you responded to this essay with your own list of abilities that have become, through your life, your genius.

Tags

Comments

Recently watched a mini-series on Bill Gates ("Inside Bill's Brain") on Netflix -- it was in some ways a puff piece, but also very revealing.. I guess he is a very smart person and likely someone who would qualify as a genius -- he devours so much knowledge on so many subjects and connects it together in amazing and admirable ways. He has a complicated ethical perspective which seems to be evolving into an admirable life. Zuck strikes me as a very talented huckster whose ethics are highly questionable, well beyond confused. I don't think being a super-slick-salesman qualifies one as a genius. So that's my 2 cents. :)

I am very good at organization: paperwork, bill paying, planning. And, I have common sense, which I believe takes a certain genius. I am however, a complete luddite. Technology, blah! I recently; yes recently, learned to "cut and paste." I am 58. I believe that act alone should qualify me as genius. :) Patricia/Fl

I am one of those people who can remember a flavor from long ago... I remember reading an African recipe ( bobotie ) and thinking how tasty It sounded so I made it... It turned out to taste and be a recipe that I remember my mother having made several years ago on a regular basis when we were growing up... I think she made it because you could feed alot of kids for a reasonable price and you could use any stail bread in the house. I also can walk into a room and know exactly how it should look in my head... It may not be genius but It's a talent that I enjoy...

Add new comment

CAPTCHA

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

The Badlands

4/29/2022

The Lakota call this land "mako sica" which translates into "badlands." They and many other wanderers and settlers named it this because it is so hard to travel through.

Wade in the Waters

4/28/2022

This is a small announcement that could be a lot of fun for some of you.

For the past two years Len has been a volunteer Wisconsin stream monitor. Once per summer month Len and another guy (with whom he has become friends) check water quality and stream-bed life at a few local sites. Before they started, they received clear but uncomplicated training in order to understand what is being looked for and how the testing equipment works. And they received hip waders!

Who's in the Mirror? Representation Matters

4/19/2022

Who’s in the Mirror? Representation Matters

Old story, I’ve probably mentioned it before: In 1977 I was visiting a friend in Ohio for a weekend. We went to her United Methodist Church on Sunday which is in itself amazing since we were two single 20-something women who had been out drinking the night before.

In just spring

4/13/2022

We know what the “Signs of Spring” are, probably because we did so many "Signs of Spring" art projects in grammar school. We know what to notice. Green shoots. Birds singing. Kids playing outside with kites, jump ropes, and jacks.

Why do we celebrate Signs of Spring but not Signs of Winter? Hmmm? Maybe Winter ought to look into this and make a complaint?

Meantime, Karen K sent these photos. Look at these lovely pale-but-not-boring colors and hues.

The Day I Moved Into Chicago

4/8/2022

Franc and I had a conversation about men who won’t or don’t explore their feelings over in yesterday’s comments section. If you want to chime in that topic is still wide open like a swanky whale swimming through swales and swells, swilling for krill. (I don’t know where that came from either. Follow the muse.)

Also, I suggested that if you have photos of Spring where you live to send them to me and I will post them. David sent this from Raleigh, NC. Drying puddle. Yellow aura of pollen. Yup, it’s Spring.

Tag Cloud

9/11 17 minutes 500 Words AARPtaxes AAUW abortion Acadia accident Accountable Advent anniversary antlers apples appointments Arrows Ashland August Augustine baby Badlands balance Baldwin Barkskins Beauty Becky Becoming Esther Berry birthday bistro BLM BookReport books boy scout Bread BrokenDays BuyAngry Cabeza de Vaca Cahokia calendars Canada cat romance cats cello Chicago China Choosing Christmas cilantro Cinnabuns circus clouds Clowns clutter Colonialism comet ComfortZone CommonSense community consumerism Cops Corvid-19 Courage Covid-19 Crazy creditreport creosote CrimeShows death Debate December DecisionFatigue decluttering democracy depression Destination Today Detroit Didion disasterprep dogs dollhouse Dreams Duty Easter eBay Eclipse EmilyDickinson Esquipulas exit polls eyes Fable FairTrade family farmer firealarm Fitness Five Flexible flu Fort de Chartres frame Franc FrancGarcia friends frugal Frugality frustration Ft.Ticonderoga Gannets Garden GarfieldParkConservatory Gaspe genius geode GeorgeFloyd ghosts gifts girls gorgons GovernorThompsonStatePark granola groceries Guatemala gum guns happiness HaveYouEver? hawks healthcare Healthinsurance heart HelleKBerry heroes hike History home HomeRepair Honduras Hope hurricane impeachment Innkeeper integrity InternetPrivacy Interview InviteMe2Speak James Baldwin Janus JoyceAndrews Judy JulianofNorwich justice Karen Lamb LangstonHuges LaphamPeak laundry LeeLeeMcKnight lemming Len Light Lincoln Little Women LockedOut Loki loneliness Love Ludington Macaw macho Manitoulin MargaretFuller Maria Hamilton Marquette marriage Marsden Hartley masks Mayan MayaWorks meme Memories men Middlemarch MilesWallyDiego MindfulChickens Mistakes MLK moon Mother MothersDay mouser movies museums must-haves Mustapha Nancy Drew New Mexico New York City Nomadland Ocotillo OnaJudge OscarRomero osprey Outside oximeter Parade mayhem PastorBettyRendon Paul Hessert PDQ Penny persimmon photos Pi Pies pineapples poetry Preaching privacy Protest Quern quest Questions Rabbit holes racism recipe recipes Remember RepresentationMatters Reruns responsetoKapenga Retirement rhubarb rime RitesofPassage Roses Ruth SamaritanWoman Sanctuary Sandhillcranes Santuario de Chimayo SaraRodriguez sculpture Sermon ServantsoftheQuest sewing Shepherd Shontay ShortStory shoulder sick sickness Slower snow Social Security SofritoBandito solstice South Dakota SpaceShuttle spring square feet staining stele Stereotypes StoryStarts stress Survival swim taxes teenager thankgsgiving Thanksgiving TheBridge TheMaid ThePerpetualYou ThreeBillBoards Three Things ThreeThings TidalBore TimeBeing toddler Tom tortillas Trains travel Traveler Tubing turtle Twilight Bark Tyrone Ukraine UnrelatedObservations Up North urgency vacation vaccine Valentines vanilla Vietnam VivianWokeUpDrowning vole volunteer WalkingAndSeeing Wampanaog war WarsanShire weather weaving wedding whines WhyAttendChurch Willa WillaCather Wisteria
Ad Promotion