Tuesday, November 18, 2008

There are different kinds of smart

Being called an intellectual is often thrown at people as an epithet. Think back to your school days. Was the “smartest” kid in class looked upon with respect and considered to be cool? My guess is “no”. Smart people are often the butt of jokes and the preferred target of bullies. Until they design a new software system and make more money in a three year period than the entire population of western Europe, excluding the Principality of Monaco (Prince Albert II is not only not in a can, the dude is stinking rich).
The definition of intelligence does change as the culture changes. Several years ago Howard Gardner, a Harvard psychologist who may have been beaten up as a child for being an egghead, put forth a theory he dubbed Multiple Intelligences. Professor Gardner listed seven kinds of intelligence. To boil down an entire career into a single sentence, different people are intelligent in different ways. Man, I did that quite easily and it didn’t take years of research and more money than Prince Albert II spends on yacht wax.
There are times I wish I had a different mode of intelligence than I have. I am about as useful around the house as a guy who likes to write eight hundred word humor columns for a newspaper is around the house. That was a crummy analogy. Maybe I don’t even have the linguistic intelligence I thought I had.
When I have a clogged drain I go down the street and enlist the help of my plumbing Zen Master, Warren, to get the water moving again. When I have computer issues I go to my computer whisperer Seth. Whenever I need help of an artistic nature I go to She of the Pen and Brush, Sarah. I do not feel bad about seeking their help. They have skills and are willing to share. The problem is I have no skill to pay them back.
Really, when will they possibly need to know such marvelous facts like 20% of all species of mammals are bats, the theme to the Batman television show starring Adam West was written by Neal Hefti who also wrote the soundtrack music to the film Lord Love a Duck starring Roddy McDowell, and if trying to traverse a large expanse of ice covered pavement it is best to imitate the way Roddy McDowell walked when performing in the Planet of the Apes movies (it really works, try it). That is the coin of the realm in my world. Pathetic isn’t it?
I was probably destined for this from an early age. When I got home from school in the afternoon I wanted to watch Merv Griffin or Mike Douglas on television. Many kids my age would have been playing in the backyard. Maybe building elaborate roads in the dirt or using a magnifying glass to immolate ants to pass the time. Others would be shooting baskets in the driveway or tossing the pigskin around the vacant lot. Not me.
One particular memory has me watching Merv and Red Skelton is a guest. He does a marvelous physical comedy routine which would not be considered politically correct these days about a guy advertising a brand of Gin and getting properly toasted as he drinks more and more of the product. I immediately went outside, turned on the hose to get a good supply of water, and proceeded to work for an hour or so to perfect the spit take.
This set of priorities stuck with me through my college years. My very first year at the University of Kansas I made sure my class schedule was constructed so I could walk home to my tiny apartment in the student slums in time to see the midday rerun of The Dick Van Dyke Show on KSHB, Channel 41. Reading St. Augustine and Machiavelli in my Western Civilization class could wait. I had to get my education on prat falls and bald jokes.
Fast forward to now. I am a 46 year-old school administrator who writes jokes in a notebook he carries most everywhere he goes. But that is not all. I am about to climb on a plane and fly out to Los Angeles to participate in a seminar. Is it a seminar about reaching severely at-risk students? Is it a seminar teaching me the latest methods for improving reading comprehension across the curriculum? Nope. I am spending loads of money to be locked into a hotel ballroom learning how to write sitcoms from one of the guys who wrote for Cheers.

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