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Enjoy the Silence | 2017 | Fabio, the Goose, and Infinite Consequences


All men who have turned out worth anything have had the chief hand in their own education.  

-Walter Scott

Some of Them Want to Be Used by You

Don't let the brightness be wasted

I harbor a not-secret judgment that nothing much was ever done to capitalize off my apparent intellect. My school, prodded no doubt by some higher authority, fingered me early as somehow smarter than the average bear in kindergarten because I was given to intuitive leaps about exactly how to game the system and could decipher which clown face ought to come next in a pattern on standardized tests. (The fact that I can vividly remember this test and who sat on either side of me as I took it - Jason Oakes and Alison Wood, both strangely arboreal names to pen in a Quackenbush - might mean that the label was not completely unwarranted.)

My gifts, such as they are, corral into a few pencil thin disciplines. If I have a genius anywhere (and no formal certification has ever been undertaken; I am too insecure to have endeavored to have my IQ tested any more than my tea leaves read), it is in the verbal-linguistics field. I can speak circles around most if I get a mind to. (This does not mean I've mastered any other language, but I have over the concept of language; I am most fortunate that I grew up with English, the ironic lingua franca and thief.) After that, it is patterns and interpersonal intelligence. Of late, and thanks to the blessing of the gods of mood stabilizers, I have added to this a surfeit of intrapersonal knowledge, mastery over my own mind, which thinkers ancient and modern proselytize as the most important pursuit. Beyond this, I have a canny enough instinct to Know Things since I crave knowledge for its own sake. It gives me topics on which to discourse when the conversation might otherwise lag. Who wouldn't want a vaguely wild-eyed man to ramble about the psychology of alien abductions or the wonder of slime molds?

I say all this not to toot my own horn - this is no Rapture and archangels should not be readying those pipes. I am keenly, almost painfully aware of my deficiencies. I say this to bemoan that, with all this effete tracking, someone was not bright enough to properly capitalize off my kind. Johns Hopkins had interest in me for several years of their Center for Talented Youth program, but they seemed far keener to shake down my parents for future college tuition. The point was not that we could have been a useful force in the world to properly cultivate. It was to partner with Sallie Mae and Freddie Mac to transform us into debt slaves early as feasible. I'm optimistic that the original intention might have been more in line with my imagining, but some bureaucrats only seeing a barely black bottom line for this fiscal quarter redirected it. Johns Hopkins is, after all, the same organization that spread HeLa cells worldwide, but did so by shafting the indigent family of the black woman from whom they stole the cells. One would think they could envision a way to turn current prodigies into future pioneers. We could have been so much better utilized than pawing at our parents' pockets like beggars, forgetting students who were intellectually and academically gifted without also leaping from the uteri of Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and Rothschilds. This mercantile myopia forgot the harvest because it involved tending the field. They are nomads who could have the Hanging Gardens of Babylon with only a bit of fertilizer and sunlamps. Now more than ever, the world needs geniuses in every discipline. Instead, it has great minds in little roles and little minds (backed by their family's money) in great roles. We could have a crop of Nabokovs, Feynmans, Barishnokovs - wow, our concept of genius is awfully white and male! Pity there are no groups based out of a major institute to combat this - but we leave them to rot in the ground.

Society is not best served with so many clever people held back because their parents couldn't pony up tuition to Vassar or Harvard out of pocket. I am not suggesting that universities ought to just allow people in wholly out of their enormous endowment and the knowledge that it will improve society - though obviously they should - but that society is best served by understanding that valuable resources are being left on the table. If one can do something well and we shuffle him into a cubical for forty hours a week without regard owing to a system of wage slavery and generational poverty, we are much poorer for it.

If some government think tank or college initiative had told me "We can use you and, in exchange, we will provide you a salary and a place to think for us," I would have asked for nothing more. I am not alone in wanting a fate, to feel I was shaped in this fashion toward a worthwhile end. Society is not best satisfied by having me give worksheets to juvenile delinquents and write little read novels and less read articles. I ache to be useful and not only busy.

I think not merely of my own good, but of the people around me. I have known more than one likely certifiable genius - people who could write evocative essays about Russian architecture with one hand while correcting a lab report on mitten crabs with the other, a boy who taught himself ancient Greek in middle school because he already had absorbed the standard curriculum, another who understood the elements of writing better at thirteen than most MFAs - who have fairly vacuous jobs not because they sought them but because our society didn't allow them anything better. It is simplistic to say the potential discoverer of the cure to cancer waits tables because she couldn't afford MIT, but it's not wrong. It is not as though they aren't being tracked. It is merely that there is no societal follow through. If one has a learning disability, one gets an individualized education plan, scholastic and financial support (as well one should). If a child manages to read at a college level while her peers are struggling with seeing Spot run, she is ignored in the back of the room because the teacher doesn't have to bother keeping her scores up on the Regents. Maybe, from frustration, she acts up and drops out because we have a great mind we never cared to cater. Without that forty thousand dollar college degree albatross around her neck, no one respects and she is never given the chance to contribute to the culture.

I married a clever mouse who is paid a bit above minimum wage and is such a whale shark in the tiny pond of her community college that she frequently and accurately corrects her teachers. If society had any sense, they would throw a stipend at Amber and put her brain to proper work. Instead, she toils. Her time is worth much more than she is paid, though she insists upon working for her money because she doesn't wish to live on my patronage. The world would be better if Amber were allowed to be productive rather than having her grand aspirations thwarted. The woman who can spend twenty or more hours studying a week, who speaks calculus equations aloud better than I speak Spanish, who repeatedly takes twenty-one credits on top of at least one job and still manages a 4.0, is more capable than the world lets her be. We need her brain and we are putting it to work tending the lawns of the idle rich, retail at a garden store, or making calls about boat renewals. She shouldn't have to wait until she is forty to be acknowledged, if then.

Soon in Xenology: Infinite consequences. Abuse.

last watched: IT
reading: Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang
listening: Regina Spektor

Enjoy the Silence | 2017 | Fabio, the Goose, and Infinite Consequences

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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