On Intellect

I wish I was a super duper smart person.

I find myself drawn to intelligent people. I crave to be around them. I revel in their big words and sophisticated demeanor. I feel like if I could just be around geniuses all the time, maybe I could feed off their brains. (Not zombie like, more Death Eater like.  No… that one doesn’t work either. Dammit. See? A smart person would be quicker with an analogy. But you get my point.)

Intellect turns me on. It makes me happy.  I think that’s why most of my friends are incredibly bright beings, and their kindness is a pleasant bonus.

I think I get infatuated  by the certain power that occurs when someone is capable of knowing a great many number of things. Plus, it’s just plain fun to hear multiple syllables.

Rhetoric.  Caveat. Guano. These are all words that smart people have said around me that I have nodded to and later looked up. Feels good, don’t it? Except for when you realize one of these words means “bat poop.”

Now to be clear, in all of this I am simply talking about my love of brainpower, not snob power. There is a difference. In this blog, I am talking about people who win on Jeopardy and score high on their SATs, not people who scoff at public schools or have a sense of entitlement.

I want to be good at calculus. I want to find symbolism in art before people tell me about the symbolism in the art. I want to taste the oak.

It’s very Prince and the Pauper of me to be drawn to essential nerd-dome of high IQ stylings. It’s mostly because, and I hate to admit it, I have learned an awful truth in my adulthood.

I am not all that smart.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do fancy myself a logical, hard working person. I know I can be insightful. I can philosophize; I can greatly contribute to this world. I am someone of worth and I can have considerable depth. I am bright and capable and probably have the wherewithal to be in charge of something really really important. I’m not saying I’m a dummy, you guys.  But if I were to be really honest with myself and to others, the truth is evident, I am not all together that intelligent.

Case in point: When I graduated from Arizona State University in 2009 with the highest honor a university can give a graduate, I proceeded to write that fact on all my graduation BBQ invites. I then MAILED OUT said invites and only discovered AFTER the invites were sign, sealed, and delivered, that I had misspelled the highest honor a university can give a graduate.

I, Alison Tafel, had graduated Sumo Cum Laude.

As in: “Hi World. I am a Sumo Wrestler who graduated Cum Laude.” And that invite was mailed to about, oh, 50 of my closest friends and family who I was excited to brag to that I got to wear a gold rope thingy with my cap and gown as I took  my diploma from a school that has one of the highest acceptance rates in the country.

Yep. Alison Tafel. Sumo Cum Laude. Go Devils.

(For those who are curious, the correct spelling is Summa Cum Laude and it means “with very great honor.” At ASU you receive it when your GPA is above a 3.8, and mine was 3.9.)

I think that story really exemplifies the juxtaposition of my smarts. On the one end, I did work incredibly hard in college. I only got two B grades in the entire four years I was there, and before that I had graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA having never received lower than an A. I was in the Barrett Honors College while at ASU. I wrote and defended a thesis, successfully, and managed to work a part time job and perform in plays and weekly comedy shows. Conversely, (smart person word!) my job was waiting tables which I was terrible at (“Oh, you wanted ketchup? And you asked me five times already? And this isn’t even your bill?”), my thesis was about my opinion on comedy which is a rather subjective topic that would be impossible to prove definite (smart person phrase!) so nearly impossible not to pass, and my major was indeed a BA in Theatre (and to kick it down a few more notches it had an emphasis in Acting).

Though I will argue that acting is not something everyone can do and I did have a few fantastic professors who challenged me and worked me to the bone, I also had a heap of credits like “Movement to the Theater” wear I wore a leotard and quoted Beatles songs, and “Intro to Voice” where I lied on the floor pretending not to be hung over all the while repeating “read leather yellow leather.”**

(**Side Note: One of my required classes was “Intro to Experimental Theater” and I shit you not I did a performance piece with two other people where we brought our bikes into the classroom, flipped them upside-down, spun the wheels for 8 minutes straight — which was how long the “performance” assignment was supposed to be — hopped back on our bikes and pedaled away shouting “Weeeeee” and we got a fucking A!  Ah,  Dadaism.)

Needless to say, my degree ain’t curing cancer. Though it probably would portray cancer in a moving and, dare I say, provocative light.

I hold my own with smart people. I can insert key phrases and follow strings of logic if I pay really really close attention.  But, truly, it all feels I am just pretending to be one of them, and in fact I have been hiding behind this great disguise, hoping no one looks behind the green curtain to realize that I don’t have the slightest clue how to fucking spell Summa Cum Laude. Or definately.  Or seperate.

1. Sumo-gate 2009.

2. Having my cousin point out to me via Facebook that my blog titled “My Pitch To Aaron Sorkin” began with the phrase “Dear Aaron Sokin,” so right out of the gate in my FIRST SENTENCE I had a typo. God Dammit. Dammit all to hell.

3. When, in my first Honors College Course titled The Human Event that met seminar style once a week, the rest of the class actually read Heart of Darkness in ONE WEEK while I just read the SparkNotes. I thought, “There is no way anyone has the time to read an entire book in one week” and then I was sorely mistaken because everyone had and had highlighted and marked their personal copy as proof. I just watched Apocalypse Now.

4. The millionth time I realized I have again been wearing my underwear inside out for an entire day.

5. Thanksgiving morning 2012, when I somehow managed to BURN CINNAMON ROLLS. Seriously, you just put the rolls on the pan and bake. And somehow, in these very few steps, I ruined something. And it was on Thanksgiving, a day where you pay extra close attention to the food you put into an oven.

6. Every time I get De Niro, Hoffman, and Brando confused. And I know, Brando is way older than the other two but they all just fall into that same old black and white movie that I think Scorsese directed. (Same confusion goes for Mick Jagger/David Bowie, Nick Nolte/Gary Busey, Shiri Appleby/Jami Lynn Sigler, the latter who I met once and had to look up and clarify. Yep now I don’t remember).

7. When just now I watched a Ted Talk starring a 15 year old named Tavi Gevinson online. That bitch is 15 yo. What have I done with my life?

8. The time in 2008 when I was dogsitting, and a dog got sick and I was taking the clean up out to the dumpster and in doing so I locked myself out of the house and so then I proceeded to climb up the side of the house and pull out a screen to get in through the cracked open window only to have a neighbor come out and yell at me because he was wondering who this crazy was breaking into his neighbor’s house and then to finally get in and step in more dog mess everywhere and the woman never asked me to watch her dog again because I am pretty sure she blames me that the dog was sick. That was a time.

9. The fact that I will NEVER correctly use or understand the use of whom or who in a sentence. You can quiz me over and over again, and I will never get it right.

10. And finally when I first wrote Prince and the Pauper in this blog I wrote Princess and the Popper because I honestly thought that was the original fairy-tale story.

And you know something, I think it’s okay that I am not a genius. Though it took me time to resolve that realization, I think that handicap (and when I say handicap, I only mean that I wasn’t born with the god given gift of highly capable rational and judgmental  reasoning, not like I actually have I an ailment other than being entirely regular. I hope that is not insulting of the word handicap.) has made me bolder, bigger, faster, stronger. And yes, that is a second time I have quoted that exact Daft Punk lyric in a blog post.

I think my lack of easy intellect has kept me craving, because if one thing will ever remain true it’s that I will never stop trying to be smart. When I don’t know something, I don’t easily shrug my shoulders, say “Uh-oh-no” and give up. I google. I research. I ask questions. I find the answer. I read various pieces of literature. Sometimes scan but still. I do something about it until I find the answer that someone else probably already knew. And then I use that answer in a sentence.

It’s why I play computer trivia daily even though I am constantly getting third place. It’s why I ask my Spanish speaking desk partner to give me one Spanish word a day even when I can’t pronounce it worth shit. It’s why I friend you on facebook because you for some reason made an obscure pop culture reference that I don’t get and yet you have developed a fully functioning opinion on.

If I could eat your brains, I would.

I get self-conscious when I suspect others around me think I’m dumb. It riles me up. It makes me anxious. Indeed I have been known to cry. Because at this point, four years out of college, (JESUS CHRIST, FOUR YEARS OUT AND I AM STILL NEW FRESH FACED GIRL EVERYWHERE I GO) I can’t help but feel like by now it should be abundantly clear that I am smart at something.  Like when I mess up on a Staple’s order, I so badly want to say “yeah, I may have shipped those Post-It’s to New York, but I am a whiz kid when it comes to Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.”

(And P.S. SCREW YOU BRIAN TAFEL for jokingly wanting to exclude me from the Family Oscar Ballots because I have “an unfair advantage.” You want to win next year? THEN MOVE TO LA AND READ THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. I won fair and square. Because I know movies and I watch them and I read things and I is good at Oscar predicting. Let me have one thing in this ridiculously gifted family. Throw me a bone.)

But that’s the bitch about being partly stupid. You don’t get to be a master of things quite yet, or maybe even ever.

It doesn’t help that I want to be regarded as a fantastic cutting edge comedy writer and movingly real actor, as both vocations are entirely subjective and chronically up for debate. (Second time using ‘subjective’ and first time using ‘chronically’, gold stars for Ali!) See also: Careers that are really really hard to achieve in the first place.

And to quiet the readers who may disagree in my dumbness assessment (Mom) know that I am aware that there is more to being smart than using really big words and knowing lots of things. Besides having to inherit the ability to quantify information quickly, there are things known as “street smarts” and “social awareness” that a different kind of smart person can exude. There’s drive, motivation, problem solving, being personable, wit. Your ability to communicate and pick up cues all attribute to intellect, and I also believe people have the option to become smart as well as the option to remain stupid. There’s a choice in being uneducated and blah blah blah society should focus more on schools and blah blah blah.

But all of that blah blah blah seems to come crashing down on me when it appears that I am to not be trusted with the simplest tasks like updating the contact list for work. And I hate myself and I am envious of everyone around me that seems to grasp on to something that I don’t. Like excel sheets. Fuck excel sheets.

And I wonder, do smart people ever feel this way? Do they ever get riled or anxious or perplexed? Or is it a full circle-type thing where they feel uncomfortable around inane situations?

I don’t know. Like I said, I’m not that smart. Bright, sure. Promising, perhaps. Witty, hells yes.  But super smart? Hmmm.  Well, suffice it to say I have been trying my whole life to be. Maybe someday.

Until then, if you are discussing your past life of being a cheese monger in Italy while you were on a Fulbright and how now spend you days translating Georgian to English for dissertation papers all the while explaining the importance of union rights from your knowledge of that one time you were a lobbyist in DC, chances are I will want to eat your brain. *

Not like a zombie, but you know what I mean.

–          One L

*”This is an actual person I know. I am stoked to call her a new friend.”


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