Stroking My Genius

I used to romanticize the process of art creation, assuming that great words would just fall out of my head in perfect sequence. Assuming that every single one of my thoughts and sentences should touch the page in perfect form, achieving Nirvana and changing the world simply through being. I wanted to be a genius.

And then I heard a podcast about the evolution of the term ‘genius.’ Today, when we want to tell someone that she is smart, we tell her, “You are a genius.” You ARE a genius. It’s an attribute, a personal characteristic. It’s internalized. An entitlement.  It belongs to you. It’s a permanent condition. Like being a Senator, once you have the title, it stays with you forever.

In previous centuries, centuries in which people died of diseases that scientists pretty much eradicated until Jenny McCarthy convinced housewives that vaccines cause autism, there was a much less egotistical concept of ‘genius.’ It was far more fleeting. It needed to be captured and treasured and appreciated. Instead of simply bestowing a title, people said they were ‘visited by genius.’ Said they ‘had a genius.’ Like it was a pet or a sidekick. It could leave you. It could go on its own adventures. It was its own external entity. It lived outside of you. You had to feed it. You were responsible for fostering it.

I only recently figured out how to stoke and stroke my genius. He’s here now, sitting with me. To be honest, I’m terrified every time I see him and every time he leaves.

My genius doesn’t drink coffee. My genius likes black tea and black people. My genius does not like when people talk to me or are engaged in loud, distinct conversations nearby. He’s very shy. He hates having the TV on. Truly hates it. Wants me in another room, far away from the TV. Thinks it’s for softheads and time-wasters. Is offended that I even consider it sometimes. He doesn’t say so out loud because he doesn’t really say much, but I can see it in his little angry face and his telltale gestures. He sucks on his paw and puts his back to me, letting his tail whack against me on his way. I try to tell him it’ll only be a few minutes, or that this is ripe fodder for me to explore in my next thinkpiece, but he ignores me and soon enough, he leaves.  Oh, how I hate it when he leaves.

My genius loves classical music and the clinking sound of dishes, plates, and glasses. He’s always hungry and prefers me when I’m well fed too. He is easily distracted and has worse focus than I do. So, if I venture off-course to do some internet research or scroll through Twitter or Facebook, he’s gone for the next however-long.

I have no idea where he goes. Maybe to the bathroom, maybe to visit someone else who’s creating something more interesting. But it’s hard to keep him engaged. I do my best, but he keeps me on my toes.

My genius doesn’t care what I’m wearing. He doesn’t really have a preference of subject matter.  In that way, he’s unopinionated, and he grunts at me when I employ those excuses for why I’m not feeling clever.  The grunt sounds almost like he’s calling bullshit.

He thinks it’s very funny when I curse. He urges me to do that a lot. He thinks it’s part of my personal writing style, and I tend to agree with him. I sometimes try to find replacement words for fuck or goddamn, but he looks at me like “what are you afraid of?” and then hits Command + Z very deliberately while staring me in dead in the eyes. He doesn’t say a word, but his body language tells me I’m stripping the power from that sentence. Neutering it. Taking all the fun out of it. And so the curses make their way into the final draft, virtually every time.

You really can’t argue with genius. He makes a very compelling case.

My genius haaaaaaates the ‘delete’ key. Sometimes he sits next to it with his hand hovering above it, waiting to slap me every time I reach for it. He lets me go when I correct misspellings or specific word order, but if I spend too much time there, hanging out and obsessing over word choice, he grabs my ring finger and bends it all the way back to the wrist. I mean, it’s painful and kind of abusive, but he’s right though. He knows that the longer I dwell, the less I create. And then he’s just going to be bored. And then I’m not even going to have anything to say to the world. He hates wasting time, but he doesn’t hate wasting words or stray thoughts. He hangs on every word when I’ve got momentum, even if the words and phrases are senseless and bland and non sequitur. He brings his two front paws to his face like in prayer, and his eyes are rapt on my screen or notepad. He sits back on his hind legs in a deep squat, his knees are nearly at his eye height, and he’s folded up like a catcher stretching his hip flexors.

It’s funny, though. He’s so disinterested when I’m editing my work. I mean, he gets it, knows that it’s important, and doesn’t get cranky and selfish. He doesn’t discourage me or roll his eyes at me or slap my fingers when I dwell. He just quietly naps beside me, and it’s kind of nice. He just sits there making little snoring sounds, occasionally scratching his ears or his nose. Sometimes he gets comfortable, laying in my lap or wrapping around my feet. I’m not sure it makes much difference that he’s around, but I’ll admit with a little bit of self-consciousness that I am comforted that he isn’t visiting others. It kind of makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing. It kind of makes me feel like we’re friends.

But we’re not friends. This is entirely utilitarian. It sounds very sweet and all, but it’s exhausting. He’s very needy, and so am I. We have this symbiotic relationship. But that’s really being generous. It’s mostly a codependency. It’s a little gross and destructive and pathetic, honestly. For both of us. It’s like watching two addicts pull each other into the abyss, away from our friends and family and deeper into solitude and madness. It feels so good when it happens and when it’s done, but the next day? The next morning? It’s just a sadness and an emptiness that needs filling.

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2 thoughts on “Stroking My Genius

  1. I love this. Your genius and mine are very similar in some ways, but exact opposites in others. My genius could not care less what I write every day and very specifically will only show up when I’m editing. My genius is convinced that the mundane process of writing isn’t worth his time, and he is very conceited in his approach to how well he can edit beauty from nothing. My genius and I didn’t agree on that approach for a very, very long time, but I’ve learned to let him do what he wants. Life is so much easier when I keep him happier than when I try to force him to keep me happy.

  2. This is really awesome and makes me really happy. I’ve been struggling for a bit on the “Things to write about” front and your first race reports are what initially got me into recounting races of mine. Thanks for sharing some insight into your genius and writing strengths/struggles.

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