Patricia Kennealy-Morrison – FAQ 45

You seem to boast a lot about your IQ and literateness.

Yeah, so some folks seem to feel, probably the stupid illiterate ones…some jerk reviewer even sneered that “Kennealy trumpets her Mensa membership” on the jacket bio of Strange Days. All I say on the flap is, and I quote, “She is a member of Mensa.” (For one thing, it lets other Mensa members know a fellow Mensan wrote this book, and not a few have gotten in touch with me because of it.)Yet out of his own insecurity this guy felt the need to bash. And he’s not the only one.

Listen. Am I supposed to pretend I’m not smart? That I don’t belong to Mensa (top 2% of IQs)? That my head is just as empty as certain other heads we could mention? I don’t think so! Because that would be a lie. You can lay ‘boasting’ on it if you want, if out of your feelings of inadequacy and inferiority you judgmentally perceive it as such, but those are your feelings. My parents didn’t raise boastful children: All I do — all I have ever done — is state the facts.
And the plain statistical fact is that out of any randomly assembled room of 100 people, I would be one of the two smartest people there. And Jim (recorded IQ 149) would be the other.
I like to think that in the next random room of 100, YOU would be one of those two people…or the next room, or the next…and for all I know, you are!:)
A very well-known young writer, who interviewed me for the New Yorker when Strange Days was first published, was nervous enough about my literary allusions both in Days and in our conversation to muse aloud about it during the course of the interview. She took me to task for throwing in the odd reference to, oh, Banquo’s ghost, or Wallace Stevens, or the trouvères, mildly dissing me for what she seemed to see as my dissing rockwives or readers who might not get my references, chiding me for, apparently, not being apologetic for being smart.
I confess I was rather surprised and nonplused to hear this from her, a likable young woman, a well-educated person herself, a very talented writer who went on to publish what some consider a manifesto for her generation. But she herself was clearly smart enough to pick up on the allusions; what was she complaining about? Was she troubled that others who might not be so brainy and lit’ry as ourselves might feel bad, that I was rubbing our superiority in their faces? That hoi polloi might be expected to get the commercial brandname references employed by popular novelists for instant accessibility, but that more rarefied allusions would whiz right over their little empty TV-icized heads?
Well, ex-cuuuse me, just a thought, but is that more or less elitist than me making the allusions in the first place? I’m a writer; I deal with words, and that includes the words others have set down before me. Anybody who has a problem with this has a problem with themselves, not with me. If my erudition threatens people, does that mean I have an obligation to be unerudite? Should Michael Jordan stop sinking baskets because it makes the other players feel inferior? I don’t think so!
Why is it okay to brag about your kid the star quarterback but not about your kid the star scholar? Somehow, in this country, athletic gifts are perceived to be more democratic, more acceptable and desirable, than intellectual gifts — how the hell did that happen? Athletic genius is just as unequally and capriciously distributed as intellectual genius; yet the one is celebrated while the other is felt to be somehow elitist — vaguely disturbing and threatening. In fact, people get together behind superlative athleticism, as if by watching and cheering a great athlete they can somehow bogart the achievement (check out the sports chat on TV or in the bars and armchairs of the nation: It’s always “we won,” rarely “he won” — and almost never “she won”). Do people feel resentful and inferior in the presence of a Shaquille O’Neill the same way they do in the presence of a Stephen Hawking? Logically, they should. But they don’t; instead, they idolize and identify and admire.
Well, this country was democratically founded by those aristocrats of mind that people today seem to scorn; all the great advances mindlessly enjoyed by those intellect-fearing louts in the armchairs were given birth out of the very brainpower they despise. Maybe when Thomas Jefferson was around it was a little easier…
For my part, I have never in my life tried to hide the fact that I am smart; it would be like denying I have fair skin and brown eyes, when all you have to do is look. It’s not anything I can take credit for; I was born smart the same way athletes are born with the genetic chops to be a gymnast or a tennis player or musicians are born with perfect pitch or beautiful voices. And boy, would I just loooove to be able to swim or sing… But simply being born intellectually gifted is not enough; and I worked and trained that gift the same way athletes and musicians train. I have the same love for learning and knowledge for their own sake as runners have for the track or pianists for the instrument; it will be with me all my life, it will inform everything I do.
I certainly never sat around thinking “Hoo ponies! I am so smart and everybody else is so stupid. Cool!” That’s not how the gifted think — it’s how the less gifted think they think. I never ONCE played dumber than I was to get a guy or make a friend. Indeed, quite the opposite: I learned to use my intelligence to get what, or who, I wanted, and I knew I didn’t want stupid friends or stupid boyfriends. I may not have had a lot of friends or dates in high school, but college was a different story, not to mention real life; and not one of the friends and boyfriends I had was a dunce. And I certainly didn’t marry a stupid man, or land a smart man by pretending to be stupid.
What attracts me first to people is the power of their intelligence and their exercise of that power. The idea that someone can keep up with me — or, even better, is ahead of me, that I don’t have to explain things to them — is something I find extremely seductive, whether it’s in a lover or in a friend. I’d have been just as attracted to Jim if he had been as smart as he was but less gorgeous, but not if he’d been as gorgeous as he was but less smart. (Though, I must admit, the Morrison brains/beauty package was unarguably unparalleled in perfection of combination…)
Smart people, contrary to what less smart people think, are never annoyed or threatened by those who are as smart as they are, or smarter; on the contrary, they are secure enough in their own heads to be glad of it, as a great swordmaster will be pleased at the arrival of an even greater fencer. It means there’s a chance to learn; and that is always a welcome thing.
And a man as smart as Jim was — however taken he might have been at first by pretty red hair — is going to go for brains, ultimately, because intelligence is the thing that lasts, the thing he’s smart enough to know he can’t live without. Red hair is fine, but in the end Jim wanted the head it adorned to have something inside it equal to what was inside his own. And ‘equal’ is the operative word: Smart and strong is incredibly sexy — Jim told me that all the time, he said that our intellectual parity gave our physical union a spectacularly fierce and intense erotic dimension he never found with anyone else. He was, of course, absolutely right; and it worked every bit as much for me as it did for him.
So, young ladies reading this, don’t you ever let me catch you playing dumb to get a guy, okay? You’re only cheating yourself; and the only kind of man you’ll get by pretending you’re stupid is a very stupid kind of man.
I think that downplaying your own intelligence, for whatever reasons, is not only an offense against God who gave it to you but an insult to the people you’re downplaying to. [Stay with me, I’m on a roll here… 🙂 ]
I say, let them come to my level, not me to theirs, and I will do everything I can to make them feel welcome; that’s not condescension but equality in action — flattery, even. In fact, it’s condescending NOT to speak to everybody from your own level. And in return I expect the same courtesy from the people who are smarter than I am, or who know more than I do about a certain subject: I want them to bring me up to their level, to make me work to understand them and their knowledge, because by working I will learn, and through understanding I will gain something that I can add to from my own knowledge and pass along to others in my turn. There’s no shame in ignorance; the only shame is in staying ignorant.
So, it’s fear. Basic. Bor-ing. Yawnnnn. But also it’s a function of deep and bitter misogyny: Smart, strong, independent women (hi Hillary! Hi Yoko!) are still terrifying to plenty of men (though not to the really good ones). They scare plenty of other women too, who out of feelings of envy or defensive inadequacy get all hissy and mean about them (hi Diana! Hi Oprah! Hi Aphra Behn! Hi Camille Paglia my college classmate!). I blame a lot of factors for this — men, women, society, economics, the rancid gynophobia of the Christian Church (not of Christ himself, you will note) — but blaming is not merely an empty exercise in bile. It locates the problem, and correct knowledge of a problem suggests the solution.
I don’t know why so many people seem to be so frightened of intelligent women. If they can’t love me, then by all means let them fear me; I can make that work too, but it would be nice not to have to deal with that extra layer of hostility…
I have two nieces and a goddaughter, all under age 12, and their brilliance astounds me; what will it be like for them, women who will live their adult lives in the next millennium? It’s already better for them than it was for me when I was a girl; if they have kids, it’ll be better for those kids than it is for them.
We have to remember, women only got the vote in this country THE YEAR MY MOTHER WAS BORN. That’s 75 years ago — and we have 5000 years of patriarchalism we’re working against. It will happen. I promise you. But we’re not going to see it. And women of my generation have to realize that. We’re the pioneers. We broke the plains and sent the covered wagons rolling westward. We will be remembered for it. But we won’t live to see the harvest. And that’s fine, that’s okay. We did our job, and we did a good job. My goddaughter and nieces will see much, much more of what we worked for; the generations after them will see more of it still. The workers who built the great medieval cathedrals didn’t live to see their efforts crowned, either; they knew that before they showed up at the jobsite. But that didn’t stop them carving those gargoyles, or mortaring those huge pillars, or glazing those glorious rose windows…they weren’t working for themselves. And neither are we.
Women far younger than I are now raising sons who will see women as equals, who will not maintain the Neanderthal attitudes that persist even today; things are going to change. Things have already changed more than we think, or can know. But it is crucially incumbent upon us not to get hung up on all the petty p.c. crap — that’s just window-dressing thrown up by the Dark Side to distract us from the real issues, by those men and women alike who have a vested interest in preserving the status quo, or who secretly, or not so secretly, prefer the status quo ante, who want us all back in our 1955 kitchens in pearls and aprons, who think the only way women should exist is with heads empty and mouths shut and legs open.
Well, it never should have been like that. AND IT’S NEVER GONNA BE LIKE THAT AGAIN. Get used to it. And get with the program. It will be so much better than anything you have imagined — or can imagine.

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