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1:14 a.m. - 2010-06-21
I hate these questions.

My ex-MIL said something once that struck me as very true. Of her four children two were self-employed doofuses (doofii?) who would always barely scrape along living hand-to-mouth and two were hotshots who'd climbed to nosebleed heights in their chosen fields. (Engineering, btw, one a chemical-medical engineer, the other a mechanical engineer who specializes in hydrodynamics and other water-based civil engineering. Not tit fields by any means.) And why were two of her kids in the corporate big time with multiple advanced degrees and the other two barely employed bums who semi-managed to make a living? Because the two bums were brilliant and the other two weren't nearly as smart.

Sounds counter-intuitive, I know. Ex-MIL explained that the non-genius children had to learn to work. And work to learn. They had to acquire self-discipline. Not much came easily for them, thus they had no problem with applying themselves. They never had the ease of being so frightfully quick that things came without effort. They're not dummies, those successful two, not by a long shot. But neither were they spoiled by having such nimbleness of mind that everything they turned their hands and minds to was just there for them.

Yeah, I was married to the elder of the brilliant bums. I know what his mother said is stone truth.

I saw this play out in my own life as well.

I don't know if public schools do this much anymore, but back in the day when kids were entering kindergarten they were tested. Tested and sorted according to scholastic aptitude. In my kindergarten class there wasn't a single kid who wasn't already reading. Reading scarily well. The other kindergarten classes had the kids who could maybe draw a picture or count to 10 or exceed at picking their noses, whatever. Every kid in my class was one of the advanced ones, the kids who not only drew a great picture, we wrote an essay to go with it. At 4 years old. Maybe 5, depending on their birth date in the calendar year. We did math too. And aced every other test they threw at us.

24 little brainiacs. Of those 24 kids, 19 were still living within the district when we graduated. In that kindergarten class were the class of 1981's valedictorian, salutatorian, 8 like me who graduated early by a semester or more, and nine kids who'd either dropped out, were chronic discipline problems with GPAs in the toilet, and in one sad case, one who'd fatally overdosed in our sophomore year.

And you know what? The bums were the brightest of us all. Their minds too restless for the numbing churn of ordinary academia. The ones who never learned to work or worked to learn. I guess I should really lump myself in with the bums, I skated because I was pretty, because I channeled my restlessness into political and social causes instead of mischief, and because I'd learned to play the system by then. Too much of a coward to be a real hellion, but I still gamed it good. Never going to class if I could avoid it, striking deals with my teachers that if anytime my GPA fell below a 95 I'd voluntarily attend class and behave myself, but woe to any teacher who made me go under duress. I'd also learned which classes to take that'd net me the easy A, which teachers who'd go along with my antics and which were the burnouts who didn't give a shit one way or the other anyhow.

I never had a class with one teacher, a brilliant scholar in her own right, a woman of such frightening intellect she didn't even have a scornful nickname amongst the kids- she was too scary and just too damn genuine to be mocked. But she sniffed me out. Used to corner me in the hallway and take me to task for being a wastrel. When I'd protest and point to my great grades and my honor's level classes she'd shake her head at me and ask why if I was so busy working to my full capacity did I have so much time to play spades in the cafeteria? Why, if I was taking advantage of my gifts, did I occupy a booth at the diner for at least 3 periods a day, and hang around on the lawn playing Frisbee and smoking dope the rest of the time?

I had no answers for her. Getting by, and getting by damn well at that, was good enough. After a while when I saw her coming at me with that glint in her eye I'd run. I didn't want to hear it. My home life was a hell- I was the flashpoint and ground zero for the horrors my parents dished out and fall-guy for my sisters who were glad enough to let me take the heat for all of us, I had two jobs, and a serious speed addiction foisted on me by my greedy mother and her pet diet doctor, I had shit. And plenty enough for six other girls besides. Did I really need to add more? Were calculus and AP physics going to prove anything?

Maybe not. But maybe they would have. Maybe they'd have taught me how to work to learn. Maybe I'd have come away with knowing I was able to do more than what came easy. To dig in and go after more than what I was already good at.

I don't know.

I just don't know. ~LA

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