Shades of Close Encounters: Mashed Potato Mountains and the Tears of Richard Dreyfuss

I know the difference between facts and information. What I yearn for is knowledge.

I was an average student all throughout school. I read constantly. I was the nerdy kid who checked out whole stacks of books at one time and brought them all back in the same week. Librarians shivered in delight in my presence. I have a higher than average comprehension of a handful of esoteric subjects. I’m known for my conversation skills. (Shamefully, I’m also known for cornering guests at dinner parties and bludgeoning them with tedious trivia they’re probably already aware of.) None of this entitles me to park my car anywhere near the genius garage; parroting memorized information and having a library card isn’t the same as having an original thought.

Come to think of it, I probably wouldn’t know an original thought if it surfaced in my soup.

I’m not an academic. I spent four years in Europe getting all fired up by experience, ancient history and culture, and conversations with a legendary girlfriend. After that, I returned home intending to burn through college like a flare gun in a butter factory. I had it in my head that college was some all-important mountaintop experience, but I wound up walking away from it all in disgust and confusion because I was bored by it, ultimately insulted and frustrated that I couldn’t even grasp pre-algebra, failing the same class three times in a row (and in two different universities.) I just couldn’t remember when to apply the rules.

I maintain my eagerness to know everything WHILE: continuously disappointing myself by asking obvious or ham-handed questions WHILE: understanding that I’m largely incapable of remembering or utilizing any of the information I’m exposed to. My failure with pre-Algebra is a template for the bigger picture; I just can’t remember how it all fits together. My brain isn’t wired correctly. I suspect I came from the factory with my forward sensor array firmly affixed to my exhaust port.

I try to make up for this shortcoming by making friends with people who know more than me and listening intently to everything they say in the hopes that some of it will stick in my head. I am often seen taking notes in a journal. “Wait, let me get this down…” Before I’ve had a chance to put Sharpie to the page, the concept has begun to fade. I devour documentaries and read anything and everything that catches my attention, hoping to feel my head catch fire. My entire identity is wrapped up in knowing, and in being ready for some invisible challenge that waits just around the corner, WHILE: I’m stuck trying to explain something I can’t properly define. Sometimes I feel that tomorrow is literally on the tip of my tongue.

I dream of owning my own house someday; an industrial space lined floor to ceiling with magnetic dry erase boards with which to capture and dissect every idea that strikes me. (Question: What’s the point of this beyond my own personal gratification?)

I don’t know the correct terminology for anything I try to explain. I forget the words. I constantly feel as though I’ve suffered some form of shock therapy and I’m struggling to remember how to solve the simple jigsaw puzzle I was working on before the treatment. I experience a genuine form of relief when, in the course of casual conversation, someone shares a shorthand term for a longer idea I’ve been carrying around in my head. It’s as though I’ve mentally traded the weight of one hundred tarnished pennies for the crisp efficiency of a dollar bill. (I clutch this shiny with both hands and flutter back to my crow’s nest where the bill gets carefully pinned to the Great Board in my brain at the business end of a length of bright red yarn and circled twice: THIS. MEANS. SOMETHING.)

Something of substance has lodged itself firmly in the windpipe of my thoughts, and it will take one hell of a Heimlich maneuver to dislodge it. Chakabuku. Peyote. LSD. Whatever. But in order to dislodge this psychic chicken bone, I have learned that I must be careful to speak to the right people; those who can help me understand the phenomenon, those who can guide and encourage me without dismissing the idea as foolishness, chiding me for my behavior or waving the whole thing aside as nonsense. Not everyone can, will want to, or will be able to help me.

The idea behaves like a swarm of ants; sometimes solid and sometimes liquid. Sometimes the notion behaves like the surface of a freshly frozen lake. If I speak to the wrong person, they may arrogantly wave aside my warnings and pleas not to stomp my concentration, striding brazenly out from the shore and marching across my barely grasped thoughts with their own gleeful interpretations but in an entirely wrong direction before plunging suddenly through the ice in a silent second. (That’s not where I was going with this. “Well, where were you going?” I don’t remember now.) The entire concept may vanish in an instant and take weeks to reform, and not necessarily in the same location. YOU FOUND IT, BUT IT HAS MOVED AGAIN.

I think maybe I’m afraid to admit that I’m not as smart as I’ve spent my Golden Ticket wishing I was, pretending I was, or reading in order to become. I never quite succeeded at being brilliant. Here I lived, part of the universe viewing itself subjectively, trapped in a 24-hour day just like the rest of you, trying to think my way out of this life-long paper bag, wondering what it all meant, trying to be content with just living, expressing myself in pop culture dialect, aching for something undeniably beautiful and trying to take my days in the manner in which they presented themselves, but all the while I wanted more. I just wanted a peek behind the curtain. I wanted it so bad.

(I’ll give you five bucks if you could kindly fit that last paragraph on my tombstone.)

Outside of being bitten by a radioactive spider, struck by lightning, visited by aliens, given a power ring, hailing from another planet or traveling back in time in a coke dealer’s daily driver, there’s just no way I’ll ever become the great man I truly wanted to be. If I’m lucky, consciousness really does recycle and I’ll come back around for a second pass, or a third. I know that’s tempting fate, but perhaps I’ll come back as a house cat and spend an easy decade in the lap of an art school girl.

If this is what it means to live stupid, if this is really all I’m capable of, I’ll take it. Better to spend a life asking questions and wondering aloud in this uneasy manner than to ignore the questions altogether. I will likely spend the rest of my days trying to properly explain myself, but the true and sorrowful conclusion here is that it won’t really matter if I succeed. What did I learn? What did I prove? Will it benefit anyone? Things are tough all over. No one cares about the Great Questions when they can’t pay the bills. Ahead in evolution, behind in the rent.

(Maybe that last sentence should go on my tombstone instead.) 


It was recently summarized in a Wired article that nerds (and by that association, low spectrum Aspy’s) tend to identify with Mr. Spock: “He was a genius, he didn’t understand emotion, and even if a girl liked him, he couldn’t really figure out what to do about it.” I’ve been lucky enough to have been loved by remarkable women who understood me, and I was definitely awed by them, but in my later years I’ve found that the longer I go without company, companionship, or contact the more protective I become of that absence, and the more I shy away from touch.

For the past three years I’ve felt separated from my body, like a man standing on his front lawn suddenly aware that he’s locked his keys inside his house but he can’t remember how to get back in. Without the foundation and familiarity of his home, his memory immediately begins to vanish. As the seconds tick, he begins to forget first whose house it is, then his name, and finally why he’s standing there. He knows the house was important somehow, but he just stares, first at the door, then at his hands, grasping at straws that refuse to be grasped until he forgets the straws altogether.

As it stands, my only physical experience comes from the woman who cuts my hair every two weeks. She’s bright, articulate, and attractive. We talk about music and the supernatural. She sometimes tells me things she claims she’s never confided to anyone before. I want to believe her. In preparation for shaving the back of my neck, she lays a steaming hot towel across my shoulders and squeezes hard, strong hands massaging, bearing down, kneading my neck like bread. She seems to take her time doing so. This drives all thought from my brain, and during these moments I fight to keep my expression fixed as the waves of pleasure shoot like Roman candles along my spine like unbottled genies or memories of love. I worry that if I show that I’m enjoying it I’ll somehow embarrass her, and I don’t want her to be weirded out.

This has been the extent of my relationships as of late.


6 thoughts on “Shades of Close Encounters: Mashed Potato Mountains and the Tears of Richard Dreyfuss

  1. I’m a bit surprised with this post. I didn’t expect these feelings to be kicking around in your head. But I guess it is difficult to see our own talents and genius. It would be nice to have a magic mirror that reflected back your true self- that told you how smart you really are, truly and independently – not skewed on some relative bell curve against others. You wouldn’t judge a bird on its ability to swim- how unfair to a creature meant to fly.

    I think it sounds like your academic canvas was presented in the wrong lights with clashing colours. That’s really not something you can work with.

    If we ever end up being neighbours, let’s go to the library and get an algebra book. I was fortunate enough that someone who could unlock the secret code of art, science and intuition laid my academic foundation. Learning and teaching are equal parts understanding and communication.

    I’m sorry you were not welcomed into the genius club, it’s not for lack of qualifications. And the arbitrary test scores that get you in won’t take you anywhere in the real world.

    It sounds like your brain is wired just as it should be. I’d question the coding on the inputs.

    Keep seeking. You’re almost there.

    Ps also happy to help answer any “how to use the GI Bill overseas” questions you may happen to have in the future…

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