By third grade I was identified by staff at the elementary school as “gifted” but socially backward. My report cards were stuffed with A’s but under teacher’s comments there was the ever-present “Does not work well with others.” There was discussion of sending me to a school for gifted children, or at least skipping a grade, but it was decided that I should stay put and that somehow “social behavior” would rub off on me. Looking back over a lifetime of experience with all this, I ought to have been sent to the “gifted” school. If anyone thinks being one of the smartest kids in class, year after year is fun, you are completely wrong. The smart kid, especially if female, is ostracized, ridiculed, watched intently for any error, and never allowed to forget a real dilemma: you are told that being smart is a wonderful thing, but that it’s imperative to hide your intelligence as if it’s a giant wart on your nose.
Another peculiar message that comes across loud and clear from adults is that you don’t actually own your gifts: society channels intelligence into purposeful personal sacrifice for the greater good. Smart girls are obliged to become nurses or teachers – or other professional helpers, who serve the needs of other people. Doing something personal, like following your bliss (thank-you, J. Campbell) is selfish. I was even told that my “intellectual destiny” was to be a mother who could be really good at helping my children with their homework.
I cannot express how much this pissed me off. It was like being given an around-the-world airline ticket and then told that you can’t use it to fly any farther than Toledo, Ohio.
It is a measure of how wrong adults were about forcing gifted children to “socialize” – relief came in high school by virtue of a gifted program that I was drafted into. At last! Kids like me, just as smart and many much smarter. I made friends with a group of girls who were talented in many different ways; I learned about myself by being with kids like me and didn’t ever have to apologize for my interests, my focus on intellectual activity, my propensity to question everything. My artistic abilities blossomed in the correct environment, and with the encouragement of teachers, I blossomed as a person.
As a young adult, I found the same type of open and welcoming (totally crazy) environment in advertising. The work was cooperative, team-based and competitive. I was never told to hide my intelligence or talent; those attributes were why I was hired. To this day, that special environment remains one of the islands of creativity and personal fulfillment in a dreary landscape of job-jobs.
But – the call of curiosity and exploration took me on to geology and personal art, a duo which often was commented on as “peculiar” because I ought to choose art OR science: no messing with those social and gender boundaries! This perplexity about my interests came from both sides of the equation, as if I were a “traitor” to both. Science versus art is a recent division in human social myopia. Boundaries fall away when one understands that beauty is the underlying connection.