Sunday, January 20, 2008

Pitstop on the Way to Mensa

My popularity has soared over the past several months, while my faith in such things as popularity has plummeted.

When I was in high school, I always thought it strange that I wasn’t invited into the honor society until the end of my sophomore year. I had been earning the highest grades of my class since my family moved into the district when I was in third grade. And of course I was destined to be the valedictorian of 1986.

Even though I knew I was “the smartest hillbilly in Hillbilly Town,” I really received an education with the politics of popularity because one, after all, had to be invited into the honors club; one could not merely join based on one’s merits, or grades, or intelligence, or aptitude, or IQ, or any other factor. One had to earn it, ostensibly by being noticed by those already accepted.

But I too was destined to obscurity, especially among my peers. I think eventually enough of my teachers or perhaps the honor society’s advisor probably felt awkward enough to convince the popular kids to invite me in, even though my gpa had always been and would continue to be several points higher than theirs. It would’ve been scandalous, no doubt, not to have the soon-to-be valedictorian as a member.

I did join. And I also briefly toyed with the idea of not joining just to prove an already over-proved point. By “accepting their invitation,” I also proved that I could play nice even when the cards were stacked against me. That lesson, I’m certain, was lost on my smart (in a popular sense) classmates.

I’ve always felt clumsy and shy when people noticed my intelligence anyway. Just in the past couple of weeks several of my friends, colleagues, and professors at the university have made very flattering comments about how I stand out on campus as “the smart one.”

I’m even more flattered by the fact that I really value the opinion of those people whom I respect as some of the smartest people I’ve ever known. It’s like an ungainly feedback loop of smarts and flattery falling back upon itself as if upon a black hole. But lessons learned at sixteen temper too much egoism.

That said, I’ve always been jealous of Stephen’s graduate school cadre of geniuses who would spend hours sitting in coffee shops having fabulous and articulate conversations for hours at a time. I’m not sure if it was the number of people in the group (popularity) or the quality of their conversations (intelligence) I was most envious of. But now it seems I have some of that for myself. Finally. After how many freaking years in school! I’m really looking forward to the next couple of years working with these people.

To quote an email I sent just last week: “P.S. Do you think Andy likes me?” And no, I'll never join Mensa.


  1. You have always been popular. You have never embraced that aspect of reality until recently. Face it - you were on of the cool kids - you just didn't know how to handle it.

  2. Being cool is not equal to (but certainly is greater than) being popular. I was never popular, but I most definitely was cool (at least by the time I got to college and stopped caring about what the popular people thought).

  3. If you were popular you NEVER would have befriended me. Sexy, creative, slightly creepy....yes...popular? NEVER! But lovely and in all ways exquisitely real. Popularity is never beautiful the way you are beautiful. No wonder Stephen and I fought over you endlessly.