Monday, 14 May 2012

Me here talk good?

I'm finding it incredibly difficult to feel intelligent at the moment. It's not surprising, really, when you consider that I've gone through life being told that I'm a clever boy and subsequently treated like a bit of an idiot. For my own part, I am aware that I'm in the "higher intelligence" bracket. Not that I actually use it for much. Academically speaking, I didn't put much effort in until I got to secondary school, when I started to work harder - and even then, not particularly hard. I coasted through the first three years without much difficulty, put in a bit of work for my GCSEs and then stepped it up for my ASs and A2s. Not that my results pleased me much, but at least my 9 A*-Bs got me through to the sixth form, my A-Levels getting me into university.

My problem with academia has always been that it doesn't necessarily reward intelligence, as such. It rewards one's ability to jump though pre-set hoops, certainly, but that's no indication of how bright you are. By the time I got to university, I was overwhelmed with a mass of creative/expressive energy that I wasn't able to channel anywhere, except through my guitar (not doing A-Level Music was a big mistake) and my IRL-style blog, which I'd been writing for three years by that point. I was intelligent and in higher education, and eager to set myself free.

And yet, through the first two years, the work was uninspiring. I joined a band to get the energy out and, although the music was great, I was bullied there... especially by the bandmaster, who used to treat me like I was completely devoid of intelligence. Every time he mentioned stupidity, he pointed at me. He constantly told me I couldn't play my instrument (and at one point hinted that this was due to my not eating any meat!), and used to send me home crying. Yet at the same time, I was the champion of the underdog in that band. I came to represent the downtrodden and ignored - when he fired one of our players and boasted about sending her away in tears, I was the only person to e-mail her to ask if she was okay. I stood near the younger players to help them with their parts. I chatted to the tea ladies and found toys for their children. I am aware, yes, that my good heart was more apparent than my big head. I didn't mind that at all - and it did help, somewhat, that a lot of the other musicians in the band were aware that I was far from vacant. My thoughts move very quickly inside my head sometimes, and so sometimes I'm concentrated on selecting the one bit of information; I haven't zoned out. I'm thinking.

So I unleashed my intelligence into my degree work. My tutors loved it. Okay, sometimes it wasn't exactly what they wanted, but I was doing an English degree. Here I was, contributing to every seminar with an eager voice. Being unusual and original in essays. Making it my mission to make everyone laugh. Sometimes I slipped, felt despondent, overwhelmed, unable to cope. But my heart picked me up and my head made the break forward once again. What a team.

I ended up with a 2:1 a the end of my first degree. I cried for about three days before I realised that that's a pretty good mark. My dad got a pass without honours and he's done okay. But why was I so upset? Because I was well aware that everyone was expecting me to do more. At five I was told I was going to read English at Oxbridge. At ten, I was told I was going to my local selective grammar. At sixteen, I was promised a string of A* grades; at AS level, at least four Bs. And when I started university, having failed to achieve any of those things despite trying hard, I was told I was clearly good enough to get a First.

But of course I didn't. Not that it'd have made a difference. But I liked the fact that my tutors were aware that I was intelligent. They treated me like a person, rather than a statistic, to the point of calling me by my nickname as opposed to my real one.

When I did my second degree, however, everything flipped. I wasn't clever any more - I wasn't allowed to be. Gone were the heady days of studying English - this was a science degree. Academic brilliance wasn't meant to shine in a world of citations and figures. I wasn't even meant to analyse. Adamant that I wasn't going to play their game, I continued to use my language in their essays - foreign phrases like raison d'ĂȘtre, modus operandi, apropos and even et ceteri (not cetera - I was indicating not "and so forth" but "and the rest"). I even ended every essay with a humorous aside. My tutors hated it, but it made me give a wry smile. Every time a lecture mentioned intelligent people, I nodded sagely. My friends grinned. Here I was, hating a course with a passion, but safe in the knowledge that my intelligence would get me through (despite people telling me, for the first time, that I couldn't do it).

The last time I felt intelligent was last year, at college for the third time. That course I enjoyed. I did okay (again I didn't quite get the mark I wanted, but by that point I was resigned to the fact that that would be the result), and I was allowed to use my intelligence in a productive way.

I don't feel clever any more.

All weekend, my brain struggled to work. It was firing thoughts back and forth as always, but there was no motivation to channel them anywhere. I started things I didn't finish. I didn't write. I barely worked. I only went outside once. I sang, but only a bit. It was a quiet, lazy, lonely weekend. Sitting on the train this morning, a random memory - that of my sixth form philosophy teacher telling my mother that I was clearly the most intelligent person in the class, but that didn't mean I was going to do particularly well - swam into my head. I stepped onto the platform, and felt lost - strangely detached from the throbbing mass of people, with a void of emptiness swirling around me, with my head screaming out to be noticed and my heart aching to be set free.

4 comments:

Anna Fruen said...

I really, really relate to this. I got told my whole life that I was capable of great things, and here I am, having achieved none of them... it doesn't feel great.

Cath said...

I miss being clever. It was nice.

Innocent Loverboy said...

You're both right. But, as I was saying to my slightly dodgy colleague an hour or so ago, intelligence is one thing, but having a good heart is something you never seem to lose. I'll go with that one for as long as I can. Seems to work for me.

Cath said...

Being an evil genius is clearly amazing though.