Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Belonging to an Alien Species

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions,
perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.
Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."

-- Thoreau

Ever since I was 12 years old I have felt like I belonged to a different species. I've always felt human... well, mostly...but with maybe, oh, I don't know -- some sort of unusual DNA, perhaps like in The Island of Dr. Moreau.. That would explain things.

I probably felt this way when little, not that I really remember, what with every day in school being exactly the same, but my report cards (which I have saved) often had comments on them about how I was daydreaming, not paying attention, and not turning in my homework. School bored me. I wasn't "a good fit." Round pegs in square holes never are, even if you pound 'em real good.

Although the diagnosis did not exist during that time (just yelling), I would have been determined to have Attention Deficit Disorder without hyperactivity (why is there no Excruciatingly Boring Teacher Disorder?). These days, that means Ritalin, a drug related to cocaine. And in the past the diagnosis was often, "Minimal Brain Dysfunction," even though reseachers couldn't open your brain and look in there. One of my college girlfriends got that one, and oddly (I'm being ironic), she homeschooled her chillun.

Ritalin! Drugs for a normal condition! Or else, hey, let's try "brain damage"! Who woulda thunk it?

By the time I was 12 my IQ was 126, which is in the 95th percentile. Later, when I took the Myers-Briggs (MBTI), and the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, I found I was an INTJ: Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging. That's about one percent of the population.

The INTJ is often called the "Rational Mastermind," which to me sounds like one of Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Barsoom" novels. It's also known as the "System Builder." In my case, both are true, and my strongest traits are imagination, followed by reason. I can put both together if I concentrate long enough, and I don't even need drugs. That leads to creativity, or if strong enough, genius, which I've read defined as "a zigzag lightning in the brain that others have not." You think and imagine long enough, concentrate long enough, and boom! -- fireball. Little, big, and everything inbetween.

Even later, when I took the Aspie-quiz, which estimates the degree of Asperger's, I scored 122 out of 200 for Aspergers, and 92 out of 200 for non-Aspergers. Mixed -- fortunately. It could have been a lot worse, like maybe institutionalized worse! Ack! No, wait, I was institutionalized -- public school!

As a kid I was imaginative, and somewhat creative and artistic and weird, although never to myself, just the Muggles. I found that my imagination, logical and rational, allowed me to start with a premise and try different paths to see where they lead. Sometimes I would get so absorbed in thought my imaginary world would be more real than the "real" world -- and I put quotes to highlight the fact that imagination is a real world.

How in the world did I end up like this?

By the way, those of you who think they are "different" or "unusual," which many people say to claim they are "special" or even better than others, generally don't know what you are talking about. To be different is not what you think it is. It has its benefits, but it is also a burden. William Blake, the artist and poet, once wrote about being born "with a different face." I know what he means.

Most kids with "ADD" are boys with blond hair and blue eyes. Such things as autism and Asperger's are concentrated among the red-haired, especially males.

This is strange, isn't it? There is a theory which explains this; whether it is true or not, I don't know.

Some think that red and blond hair -- and there are there blonds and redheads in my family, including blond, blue-eyed me -- originated with the Neanderthals. (Click here) In short, I have Alley Oop genes.

Supposedly this accounts in large part for the way I am. Or as Thom Hartmann put it, people like me are Hunters in a Farmer's World.

Even if these theories are not completely true (and I think there is much truth in all of them), I still find it instructive to the extent to which misfits will go to understand why they are misfits. I guarantee you the guy who wrote the article about Neanderthals is a misfit, and very much so.

Unfortunately, the public schools are not set up for misfits. They're set up, if anything, to produce a standardized product, like Lego blocks, or zombies, or curdled milk.

If you don't fit in, school will try to hammer you on the top of your head so you do fit. Some people don't hammer so well. I was one of them. I aways felt like they were calling down the Firestorm of Conformity on me, followed by being run over by Garbage Truck of Boredom, which then backed up and ran me over again.

One of those who also didn't hammer so well was Robert Frost, the poet, who was dropped from school for daydreaming. What was he doing? Composing poems? If so, he turned out to be pretty good at it.

Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect, would get so lost in thought his uncle had to yell at him to get him back. Adam Smith, the Scottish economist and author of The Wealth of Nations, would go for walks at night and get so absorbed in thinking he once fell into a ditch. I've come close to that myself.

Nikola Tesla had such a strong imagination he could design a machine in his head and run it there to see if it worked or not. He didn't find it necessary to build it out there, in "reality."

In his autobiography My Inventions, he wrote, “Every night (and sometimes during the day), when alone, I would start out on my journeys -- see new places, cities and countries -- live there, meet people and make friendships and acquaintances and, however unbelievable, it is a fact that they were just as dear to me as those in actual life and not a bit less intense in their manifestations.

"This I did constantly until I was about seventeen when my thoughts turned seriously to invention. Then I observed to my delight that I could visualize with the greatest facility. I needed no models, drawings or experiments. I could picture them all as real in my mind.”

One of Thomas Edison's teachers told people he was "addled" and it wouldn't be worthwhile to keep him in school. Whenever I think of this great inventor I am reminded of a comment by David Yarian: "Imagination generates hope -- or more exactly, unleashes creative powers to transform reality into something beyond that which is currently visible."

Albert Einstein noted, totally correctly, "I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." This is a guy who rode a light beam, in his mind, to see what happened. How many people can do that?

Some have claimed that Einstein (and Thomas Jefferson and Isaac Newton) had Asperger's). Whether or not this is true, the fact remains that gifted children manifest symptoms of Asperger's, although there are some substantial differences that make the first "gifted" and the second "disordered." Myself, I consider "not gifted" and "disordered" to be the same thing.

In school, imaginative kids are accused -- and I repeat, "accused," as if they're guilty of something, and not even with a trial -- of daydreaming and not paying attention. That is exactly right. They're off building worlds in their heads. Pretty nifty ones, too, I can tell you.

Our schools are very good at identifying certain talented students, although they are not talents I'm interested in. Athletes especially, for one. Ambitious (but unimaginative, and excruciatingly boring) students who make good grades, for another. But kids who are imaginative? There is no place for them, except maybe in the hall or the principal's office, never mind the fact it's the imaginative ones who create, discover and invent. In fact, the first is a prerequisite for the last three. As for athletes and students who make good grades because they are good at rote memorization...like I said, I personally have no use for either of them, so go away, you bore me.

Why this animus against imagination? I've never understood it. It's not like they ever did anything to teachers except ignore them! But it exists. I suspect those who rebuke the imaginative feel they may not be able to function in the "real" world, or that being imaginative is unhealthy, that it will produce more Marquis de Sades or more serial killers or people who can't work in Dilbertized cubicles.

As long as what is imagined is positive and healthy, I guarantee them, they are wrong. And how can anyone use their imagination postively and healthily in a class full of kids, sitting in rows in desks?

The combination of reason, or thought, and imagination is what has created just about everything there is. As Francisco Goya put it, "Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels."

Education is supposed to be about identifying a student's strengths and talents and developing them. It's not about pouring knowledge into some tabula rasa empty bucket, but lighting a fire in the brain. The march/sit/march of school is not conducive to lighting any kind of fire -- especially not that zigzag lightning kind of fire.

Or, as William Marts put it, "A tremendous amount of good has manifested into this world from the positive imaginations we have that may start early in our youth."

I often wonder how many people have been lost because of the school system? Not everyone is so strong, or such a genius, that they can overcome the Harrison Bergeron handicaps placed on them at an early age.

People should go to school with their own kind, like fish with fish and fowl with fowl. You don't find fish up in the air with birds (not in this world), and you shouldn't find smart imaginative kids with dumb literal-minded ones. In real life, people associate with those they have common interests with. Forcing together kids who do not wish to be together isn't "socialization," it isn't "education": if anything, it's just plain ol' trauma.

If imaginative kids were encouraged to follow their interests, I believe we would have more polymaths, more inventions, more discoveries. Imagination strengthens your creative abilities. It is a great power that can change your life, and the world. This would not only benefit such people, but also society.

After all, imagination is the only known thing that travels faster than the speed of light -- it can zip through space and time in a flash. Let's see any -- yech, blech -- valedictorian do that!

“Deviation is necessary for progress to happen.”

1 comment:

CS McClellan/Catana said...

Hazel-eyed, brunette, ADD, teetering on the "normal"/Aspie border female here. Your school experience sounds just like mine. I daydremed my way through much of it. By high school, I always carried my current book with me to classes, and if the teacher forbade reading, I slept, or tried to. That could be why I have few memories of school, and most of those unpleasant. Nothing has changed.