Smart is a flower dying in the desert

5 Sep

current book: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

For most of my adult life, I’ve tended to hang around people who were… well, is it rude to say people who aren’t as bright as me? I hesitate to say that, because intelligence is relative. I have book-smarts, but I don’t have much in the way of street smarts or social intelligence. Anyway, I’ve gotten so used to my social circles at this point I don’t even feel comfortable hanging around other educated people. They come across as self-absorbed and into their own “thing”–whatever that happens to be. And why not? I am.

I have this prejudice that less educated people are nicer, more other-centered than self-centered. Not in love with the sight of their own navels. My experience with other intelligent, educated friends is that we want the other person to talk about what we want to talk about, not what they want to talk about. We want to look at each other and see reflections of ourselves. And get two such people together and you have two mirrors facing each other. An infinite reflection of reflections, without any real communication.

So when seeking friends, I go to the mainstream places. I avoid other intellectually-minded folks.

The upshot of all this, though, is that in everyday life I end up having to compartmentalize a big part of myself. If I start talking philosophy or theology or science or any other topics, my friend’s eyes start to glaze over and I’ve lost them. You learn not to talk about such things, except in solitude (which is really more thinking than talking to myself. Sort of).

Well, naturally that changed a little when I started doing my website. Or at least a few years into my website. In the beginning, there was no ATPo board, there was just me, putting up episode analyses and occasionally getting email. I didn’t really want to know what other people thought, because I figured they’d tell me I was full of shit and didn’t know the first thing about Kant or Sartre or Spike or Whedon’s vampires.

But then I actually started to recognize the names of some of the folks who emailed me regularly, and I knew that I had Readers. They would tell me there really needed to be a board, so on one hot day in June, I made one. That little demon (it wasn’t a Voynak then) grew up quickly and left the nest and became something much larger and more wonderful than I ever could have imagined. Or kept up with.

But I digress. This wasn’t supposed to be a ramble about the board. My point was that I met Smart People on the board, and they were nice. Of course they wanted to talk about literature and social theory and myth and other stuff they were into that I don’t have a clue about, but that wasn’t all they wanted to talk about. And they read stuff I wrote. They read stuff I wrote and commented on it and were interested in me.

And yet still, in everyday life, I had friends I didn’t dare talk to about philosophy or other highbrow topics. In fact, I had friends who asked me not to talk philosophy. Presumably, because they wouldn’t get it. Which I understand, but living in a closet can really be confining. Confining until it’s painful. And you don’t realize the effect it’s having on you because you get so used to it.

I’ve had the experience a few times when my life became especially suffocating in this way of talking to someone of some intelligence and feeling like a woman dying in the desert who had suddenly been given water. You don’t even know you’re dying until some random person appears out of nowhere and hands you a cup, and it’s so sweet and pure and wet and wonderful and then suddenly you know you’ve been killing yourself.

Looking over my love life, I can see this is especially so. I’ve dated a variety of women, but the ones I ended up with in long-term relationships were not just “uneducated”, they were the type who would never become “self-educated” either. I have good friends who never went to college, but who have such a broad life experience and who are so well read it doesn’t matter. This would not describe my ex-girlfriends. I remember the day I decided I was going to have to break up with my first serious girlfriend, Judy. It was when I made some random comment about the solar system and she said to me, “The sun’s a star?”

Once she thought about it, she realized it was true, but the point is, she had never thought about it. I realized I was going to have to break up with her because it wasn’t the first time this had happened. It happened a lot. We walked in totally different worlds. Her world was full of the mundane realities of everyday life–getting the car serviced and paying the bills and where we would go dancing this weekend. Had she never looked up into the sky and wondered about the nature of the universe? Now this particular woman had an almost bottomless capacity for kindness and care-taking. I’m not speaking ill of her here, I’m just telling it like it is. In fact, fourteen years after we broke up, I still love her.

What set off this whole journal entry in the first place is that I’ve been doing that getting-back-into-the-dating-scene thing. I have a difficult time dating. Most of the women I meet on a day-to-day basis don’t interest me. I’m “too picky” according to my friends. Well, even according to me. I tell myself that all the time. But I’m wondering if there isn’t a legitimate reason why. Maybe after walking into the same brick wall over and over again, I’m wary of it. I meet the women I meet and it’s Judy all over again, except not half as nice or caring. Yet another woman who isn’t going to ask me what my dissertation was about, or if she does politely ask, or even curiously ask, I lose her after the first few sentences. And my dissertation topic wasn’t even that esoteric.

To save my dating chances, I learn to keep quiet about such things.

But see, the prospect of dating women who would actually engage me is daunting and scary. I’m scared of intelligent women. I’m afraid I won’t be able to keep up with them. When they start talking about the stuff they’re into, stuff I know little or nothing about, I start BS-ing and putting my foot in the mouth and it’s not pretty. Or I doze off and do not ask them any engaging questions about their interests because I’m a self-centered navel-gazer who doesn’t care about social theory or 18th century history or whatever it is.

My life coach would say at this point that I’m distorting my reality or creating a self-fulfilling prophecy or being avoidant. “You don’t want what you want.” And what you want is someone to be yourself with.

I recently started an email correspondence with a very bright woman who has (I think) a doctorate of Divinity. We’re talking about some rarefied topics in theology. Now this is Very Weird. I’ve done the internet dating thing before, and I usually say a few things about my novel, my day-job, my cats. I talk about living in San Francisco. Maybe I scare them by giving them the URL of my website. I’ve learned not to do this anymore, though. Quickest way to guarantee they will never write back again. Oh, sometimes we get to the point of a first date, and they say politely over dinner or coffee, “Well… it was… interesting.” And that’s the last we talk of it.

This is my dating life, and I wonder why I find it so difficult to face. I always assumed it was because I’m shy and dating makes me nervous. Which is true, of course, but that’s not the whole story. I actually LIKE talking to this woman. Well, we haven’t actually talked, we’ve emailed, but still–I look forward to coming up with things to say in the email. Usually I’m stumped for topics. Emailing, talking on the phone, talking over coffee–it’s all agony. Let’s see, I’ve already mentioned my cats, I’ve already mentioned my novel. I don’t share her interest in sports or politics or her taste in books or television shows. And my life is pretty uneventful, so what else is there to say? Conversation over, have a nice life.

But see, my life isn’t uneventful. It’s just cerebral. I’m struggling to understand and develop the metaphors in my novel. I’m uncovering the philosophical richness of my favorite television shows. I’m undertaking this amazing spiritual journey, but I can’t talk about these events in my life with most people because they don’t get passages like,

“One of the things about pantheism that appealed to me was the non-personhood of god, the non-anthropomorphizing of god. But at the same time, I am not attracted to the idea of a universe arising and operating out of completely blind, random processes, either. Finding some comfortable ‘in between’ view is sort of a spiritual project for me.”

And they certainly don’t reply with, “Yes, that’s what I’m trying to do, too.”

It’s not that I think I’ve found my soul-mate here. In fact, this particular woman’s about 90% heterosexual and toying with the idea of dating a woman and from the picture I’ve seen of her, I’m not attracted to her. Probably more trouble than she’s worth, dating-wise. But to have friends like her, and someday, a partner like her? That’s an amazing idea to me. Because I’ve spent most of my life running from people like that.

I usually run when I see them coming. Because intellectual = rude and self-absorbed and boring and inscrutable. Bye! And then I meet people who are so not like that (most of them on the board, and so naturally half-way across the country or the world). And once again I realize that I’m a woman dying of thirst in the desert. Or maybe a flower dying of thirst in the desert. A tropical flower transplanted where it doesn’t belong.

There really are people like that in the world?

And if there are, would they be friends with me?

And would I be able to keep up? Would I be able to keep them?

29 Responses to “Smart is a flower dying in the desert”

  1. angeyja September 5, 2003 at 12:27 pm #

    Yes.

  2. rahael September 5, 2003 at 12:50 pm #

    A really nice post Masq. Wish I could respond properly.
    And, echoing Aliera, “Yes, and Yes, and Yes”.
    There are, I have discovered, many individuals in the world who combine intellect, heart and common sense. You, Masq, are one of them!

  3. bhadrasvapna September 5, 2003 at 1:11 pm #

    Don’t hide your candle under a basket
    It causes lots of smoke and eventually the candle will go out. In order to relight it, you will have to lift the basket.
    I like to cast out my net a lot. There are only a few fish big enough for me to keep (for me as friends, since I’m already married, but friends are important too. Just a husband isn’t enough). If I only cast my net in a small pond, chances of finding them are really small. If I don’t cast it at all, I don’t get any fish worth keeping. There are big fish out there that might not be perfect, but they are good enough. Good enough is well, good enough. They don’t have to be perfect. Perfect isn’t really perfect. My husband is aurally inclinded and I tend to be more towards the visual. He taught me about music and I taught him about art. You don’t have to be interested in the same things, just willing to share.
    But I just like to fish. I get more fish when I just fish and don’t try so hard. Then the fish I get are because of me, not some persona I’ve adopted. An unexamined life is not worth living, but if you examine it too much, it isn’t living either.
    I like you and I’d be your friend IRL. When I saw you had friended me, I actually screamed. My husband ran out into the living room and wanted to know what was wrong. I jumped up and down and said “Masq friended me. Masq friended me” over and over again.
    I’m in the world last time I checked and I believe there are lots of people out there like me. Well, not just like me, but close enough. Not in terms of percentages, which makes them hard to find, but the world has how many billions now? Even 1/10th of 1 percent is a lot of people.
    Thing about friends, it doesn’t matter if you keep up. That isn’t important. It isn’t a race. And it isn’t about keeping. It is like holding water. (Warning Buddhist metaphor to follow) When you keep your hand flat, water runs right off of it. When you clench your fist, water runs through your fingers. The only way to hold water is to cup your hand. That fits so many things in life.
    As a friend of mine told me yesterday, don’t worry so much.
    Jeanie

  4. yabyumpan September 5, 2003 at 3:28 pm #

    Echoing the YES’s :o)
    I used to do the same thing as you but then I realised that either I got bored and dumped them or who I’d get to feel safe and start revealing myself and they’d run screaming, so I adopted a ‘this is me, like it or lump it’ attitude. It seems to work ;o). Be proud of all that wonderful stuff that swirls round your mind, there are actually loads of people out there, some ‘intellectual’, some not, who would love to talk about all that stuff with you. When I first decided to ‘come out’ I was temping and I was amazed that pretty much every where I went, there would be at least one person there who’s mind traveled further than the soaps and the latest celeb gossip.
    I’m going to pimp the Peter Russel group again. I’ve done loads of workshops with him over the years and he attracts people from all walks of life, from the book-read to the plain curious. Even if what he talks about doesn’t resonate with you, I think there’s a good chance that you’ll find at least one or two kindred spirits in the other people in the group. You’ve got nothing to lose except your thirst.
    I just want to finish by saying that you’re one of the few reasons I’d like to visit the U.S. :o)

  5. hankat September 5, 2003 at 4:26 pm #

    Over thinking things
    Years ago I had a friend who in conversation stopped looked at me in an odd way and said…..”Tina, you think too much”. She didn’t mean it in a paranoid way but that I tended to worry about a dismal end result before I’d even started a task or attempted to meet anyone. I was very picky cause I’d just gone through a nasty divorce and didn’t want to risk getting hurt again. So, to protect myself I could think of the silliest things to avoid getting too close to anyone. So Masq, I figure you are in the trap I was in…you are thinking to damn much, and that is putting the actual process of living on hold. Everyone feels insecure as some point, even folks who cover up about it well.
    When I talk to people who are book smart I try to figure out what the hell they are saying and apply it to how I see things. It takes some time (cause the smart folk have out read me) but I find that if I can break through the “big word” chatter, I find that the only difference between them and me is our life experiences. I do admit at times feeling sleepy when someone goes on in a language (academic talk) I’m not familiar with, but a considerate person will find a way to make me understand. The only academic types I find boring or intimidating are the ones who go on long past the point it is obvious the person they are talking to doesn’t understand them.
    I feel that most everyone has something to offer, even if they don’t know the sun is a star. Each person has something about them that makes them worth knowing. I find your LJ entries facinating cause you can write in a way that makes sense and are honest about yourself. You are a person it takes a little time to get to know but it’s worth it. Now listen to your Life Coach and stop the avoidy stuff and give people the chance to get to know you.
    Rufus

  6. fresne September 5, 2003 at 4:29 pm #

    Waiting for Rain
    Because intellectual = rude and self-absorbed and boring and inscrutable. Bye! And then I meet people who are so not like that (most of them on the board, and so naturally half-way across the country or the world). And once again I realize that I’m a woman dying of thirst in the desert. Or maybe a flower dying of thirst in the desert. A tropical flower transplanted where it doesn’t belong.
    Or to extend the metaphor, desert plants with pale and dusty leaves struggle and get by for years on the ekes of water and then the Nino, the deluge, and plants that bloom once every fifty years send forth rich startling blossoms.
    Sitting in dry river beds, waiting for the spring rain and hoping we don’t get a flash flood.
    And well, you’re not really wrong. To be intellectual is, to a degree, to be rude, self absorbed, boring, inscrutable. We are aborbed in the inner life. Deer in the headlights shy. Tracing strange internal labrynths with mental fingers.
    It’s a hard thing not to be able to express those inner pathways with the people that you want to lower your masks with, lower barriers, let down Rapunzel’s hair, not just to go out into the light, but to let people in.

    There really are people like that in the world?
    And if there are, would they be friends with me?
    And would I be able to keep up? Would I be able to keep them?

    Yes, yes, yes, and yes, but it’s frightful hard. I’m not sure that it’s a question of keeping up, as it is letting go. Sometimes it seems like it takes a world of people to find individuals who not only challenge you, but make you feel safe. Home.
    And in the meantime, Margaritas. Not exactly mountain spring water, but nevertheless, refreshing.

  7. wisewoman September 5, 2003 at 6:21 pm #

    Smart is a Flower Dying in the Desert
    While I know we write very different things, I have to say that the title of this entry would serve very well as the title of the novel I’m working on right now. It kinda deals with a whole lot of “gifted and talented” issues, and how society and the GTs interact (or don’t).
    I met David through a service, and while there may be many aspects of our lives where we disagree, being compatible intellectually makes up for all of them so far.
    Break a leg, Masq. ;o)

  8. neshaffer September 5, 2003 at 7:05 pm #

    Re: Smart is a Flower Dying in the Desert
    One of those specialized dating services? Because I’ve considered those. The ones that advertise that they are for people who are “serious about meeting quality singles” or something like that.
    I realized I wouldn’t be doing the other singles a service by being there because I’m not entirely sure I’m “serious” yet about wanting to be in a serious relationship. I’m still working through some stuff.
    Feel free to use that title for your novel, if it works. After I wrote it, I thought, “that would make a cool title for a poem”.

  9. neshaffer September 5, 2003 at 7:10 pm #

    Thanks, Fresne
    To be intellectual is, to a degree, to be rude, self absorbed, boring, inscrutable. We are aborbed in the inner life. Deer in the headlights shy. Tracing strange internal labrynths with mental fingers.
    I realize as I’m stereotyping and disparaging such people that I’m disparaging myself. And quite self-consciously. As Rufus points out, I am hard to get to know, and ATPoers have a leg up over other folks because you meet me through one of my “internal labrynths”.
    Sometimes it seems like it takes a world of people to find individuals who not only challenge you, but make you feel safe.
    Isn’t that the truth?
    And in the meantime, Margaritas.
    Word. Margaritas will make everything all better.

  10. neshaffer September 5, 2003 at 7:12 pm #

    Thanks, A
    I really value your friendship.

  11. neshaffer September 5, 2003 at 7:21 pm #

    As are you!
    Both you and . I enjoy knowing you both immensely. You’re special friends.

  12. angeyja September 5, 2003 at 7:22 pm #

    Re: Awww…
    {{{blush}}}
    How’s the HP going?

  13. neshaffer September 5, 2003 at 7:33 pm #

    The HP?
    Harry Potter? So far it seems like the movie, but I’m not that far into it yet.

  14. neshaffer September 5, 2003 at 7:41 pm #

    Re: Don’t hide your candle under a basket
    I know I do have a tendency to take things too seriously. Like before every date thinking “This one could be The One!” and making myself completely unable to relax and have a good time.
    I’m slowly but surely learning not to constantly think that way. To just relax and enjoy things for whatever they turn out to be.
    I like you and I’d be your friend IRL. When I saw you had friended me, I actually screamed. My husband ran out into the living room and wanted to know what was wrong. I jumped up and down and said “Masq friended me. Masq friended me” over and over again.
    Now I’m *blushing*. Thanks!

  15. neshaffer September 5, 2003 at 7:45 pm #

    Re: Echoing the YES’s :o)
    ‘this is me, like it or lump it’
    Words to live by. But not always easy. But I’m learning how to do it.
    I just want to finish by saying that you’re one of the few reasons I’d like to visit the U.S. :o)
    There’s only a few? Well, any time you want to make the trip, I’d love to meet you. The conversations we could have!

  16. neshaffer September 5, 2003 at 7:48 pm #

    Yes ma’am!
    Working on it!

  17. angeyja September 5, 2003 at 8:05 pm #

    Re: Thanks, Fresne
    As will… wine. And yes, I meant the Harry up above. Doesn’t sound as if you are too thrilled. I’m reading Steven Brust this week. I really enjoy his female characters. They have well… character. And panache. And swords.
    Re: the red… I’ve been trying some things that were recommended to me this week, and guess what? I seem to like the inexpensive California Merlots better.
    Which pleases on two levels, only one of which is the pocketbook.
    Tracing strange internal labrynths with mental fingers Very nice turn of phrase.
    OK, back to playing now.

  18. wisewoman September 5, 2003 at 8:39 pm #

    Re: Smart is a Flower Dying in the Desert
    It was just a regular, pre-internet, telephone dating service, but we had some extra intervention. A female friend of mine who was recently divorced introduced me to the service and we were both going out on dates at around the same time. She dated David first and during the date she kept thinking, “Wow, this guy would be perfect for Elizabeth,” and she kept telling him that. She told me all about him at work the next day. Day after that, he happened to respond to my ad by telephone and we quickly realized that we’d already heard about each other through my friend. The rest is history.
    One thing I will say though, I was brutally honest about myself in my telephone ad. Among others, I believe I used the phrase, “Chances are, I’m smarter than you.” I figured if that didn’t scare them off at least we had a chance.
    I tend to believe that there is no “one, perfect person” for anybody…there are hundreds. The problem is being in the right place at the right time to happen upon one of them, and a dating service narrows the odds of that. If there are specialty services available, the odds are narrowed even further.
    And being “serious about meeting quality singles” isn’t the same as wanting an immediate, serious relationship. I think it just means you’re available, and looking. Time enough for that kind of decision when you happen upon one of your Ms Rights. Have you considered mentioning philosophy and Buffy-fandom in your introduction? You might be surprised.
    And thanks so much for the offer of the title…I’m seriously considering it!
    dub ;o)

  19. neshaffer September 5, 2003 at 8:52 pm #

    It’s not that I’m not impressed
    I’ve heard the books are better than the movies from sources I trust, so I’m expecting that to be true. She certainly is an entertaining writer.
    I’ll enjoy reading the books.

  20. oyceter September 5, 2003 at 11:16 pm #

    I always feel strange because I have a set of intellectual friends, and then my normal hang out friends, who often make fun of the intellectual friends and the converastions we have. It’s very odd, the divide.
    And I met a whole board full of people like that over at AtPO and LiveJournal.

  21. neshaffer September 6, 2003 at 9:47 am #

    Well..
    My current friends don’t make fun of intellectuals necessarily, but sometimes they disparage liberal arts higher education, claiming it’s impractical, unnecessary, yada yada. That always angers me because almost all my interests are in fields emphasized in a liberal arts education. I could never have taken a degree in a technical school and been happy, no matter how much more money or no matter how much more “practical” that would have been.
    I would have been miserable, and I think happiness and the joy in the life of the mind are still important values in our pragmatism-intoxicated society.

  22. ponygirl2000 September 6, 2003 at 8:36 pm #

    I think that it’s an incredibly hard thing to feel that parts of yourself are going unused. How to live the life of the mind, the life of the heart, the life of the body, in the space of the one brief life we all have? I ask myself these questions and try to reply with pat answers about balance and juggling. I’m also toying with the idea of putting up a picture of the evil version of myself (complete with evil goatee, it was Halloween) on an online dating-type thing just to see what would happen. A challenge and a dare but I wonder to who it’s directed.
    No real answers to anything here, except that if the people you meet, intellectuals or not, don’t want to be friends with you then they are idiots.

  23. oyceter September 6, 2003 at 8:50 pm #

    Re: Well..
    Oh yes! Of course, I got severely depressed around senior year when it looked as though my impractical idealism would lead to unemployment and that idealism in general was stupid and useless. Luckily I survived nearly being disillusioned. It sounds kind of silly, but I’ve always believed in a liberal arts education and that one could be somehow appreciated in society despite not knowing anything about business or math or computers, and when it looked as though that weren’t true, it was devastating.

  24. neshaffer September 7, 2003 at 7:15 am #

    Re: Well..
    Well, you know, most liberal arts majors are presently employed. The fact that they may not be employed in jobs that emphasize 18th-century german literature or whatever they majored in is what most “practical” people point to as evidence of the uselessness of liberal arts majors.
    That is because they assume school is only useful if the things you learn have direct bearing on the job you will have after school. Learn refrigerator maintenance, do refridgerator maintenance.
    Lose your refridgerator maintence job and find yourself unable to find a new one, go on unemployment.
    If you don’t buy into this assumption, you don’t have to buy their party-line. Because the things you learn in a liberal arts education–history, other cultures, culture itself–teach you how to live in the world: the world of politics, arts and entertainment, family life. They enrich you.
    And if you still buy the party line, most liberal arts majors will do you just fine: they teach critical thinking, they teach the ability to learn and adapt to ever-changing information, they teach discipline. And they teach you how to sit chained to a desk for hours on end!
    Witness the liberal arts majors employed in all sorts of different areas who, if they lose their jobs, have the transferable skills to find one in a new area.
    The fact

  25. neshaffer September 7, 2003 at 7:20 am #

    Thanks, PG! : )

  26. deevalish September 7, 2003 at 8:10 am #

    Yes to all of it.
    Like anything, it will take some effort and time but in the long run it will be worthwile. It just takes patience from both sides. But it will happen.

  27. oyceter September 8, 2003 at 10:15 am #

    Re: Well..
    Unfortunately, too many people I know fall into that mindset. “East Asian Studies? What are you going to do with that?” they ask with a great deal of disbelief in their faces. It was not fun looking for a job, because through interviews and whatnot, I got the impression that a lot of people would look at my resume, and despite a good GPA and whatever, still not think I could do the job because I was an EAS major, not someone in business or whatnot. Grrrr.
    Hee ^_^. i think the liberal arts education definitely prepares one for a cubicle job! It’s just me and my computer again….
    And it was great meeting you in person! Had fun at the meet and will have the picture up sometime, as soon as I retrieve my camera from the boy’s place.

  28. neshaffer September 8, 2003 at 11:01 am #

    Re: Well..
    “East Asian Studies? What are you going to do with that?”
    “Philosophy? What are you going to do with that?”
    Um… enjoy my life?

  29. oyceter September 8, 2003 at 11:44 am #

    Re: Well..
    Hee ^_^. Good one.

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