Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Square Peg

The other day Gabriel and I had that rarest of commodities, a Saturday night all to ourselves. Paula was having a sleepover at a friend's house, and Isabel was spending the night at my in-laws.

We wanted to watch a movie, so we ventured out of the suburbs and went downtown to watch The Reader at the Angelika. I felt completely out of place with my suburban mommy uniform of sweats and polo shirt.

Inside the theather, the couple sitting in front of me looked like UH or possibly Rice U professors. It struck me a bit funny, because they were having quite a rapid and heated argument, but trying to do it sotto voce so as not to draw attention to themselves. It seemed like it started as a disagreement of an intellectual sort, but devolved into something personal quite quickly. The looks they shot at each other were priceless.

As amused as I was, I could not help but feel uncomfortable, not because I was witnessing a badly concealed marital spat, but because these people seemed to be above the kind of pedestrian concerns that occupy my thoughts these days. They were up in their ivory tower, passionately arguing their views. There was a time during my college years and in grad school, when I used to hang out with that kind of people.

There was a time when I aspired to be one of them, when the conversations in my circle of peers were laden with words ending in the suffix ism. Poetry readings with wine were a common ocurrence. To be anti-establishment and pro-independence was de rigeur. Everything was post or meta.

I loved that world and hated it at the same time. I loved it because it showed me that there is more to life than the basics. I hated its affected, pretentious nature, and the fact that I did not quite fit in it. I was not precious or militant enough. I did not have a goal of getting a PhD. I loved writing my fiction, but it wasn't a burning passion without which I would be dead. I loved all the things they supposedly frowned upon: fashion magazines, TV, blockbuster movies. And I had no freaking clue what to do with my life.

Ultimately, I drifted away from that circle as a fork on the road made me choose between work and grad school, and to earn a living I entered the business world from the bottom rungs of the clerical ladder. When confronted with the (apparent) rampant mediocrity and narrow-mindedness of the people I found myself working for, I consoled myself by thinking I was above it all; that I was smarter and better than them. How very petulant of me.


  1. I don't even have a high-school diploma but...I know what you mean. I used to read a lot... have nice conversations, and quite honestly I had given up on that ever happening again.

    Well, hoocoodanode, the reading and conversations are slowly coming back...

    It can happen.


  2. In many ways, intellectual social circles are just another sort of clique. Just as groups of superficial people will treat you like there's something wrong with you for not caring about fashion and gossip and look at you like you've grown a second head when you mention some "intellectual" activity you like, there are groups of people who will look down on you for being interested in anything they have arbitrarily decided "truly intelligent" people shouldn't bother with.

    I test in the ninety-ninth percentile on professionally administered intelligence tests. I can have a relaxing (for me, anyway) conversation about quantum physics and theories about black holes and tachyons. What am I doing with my life? Freelance graphics design, house and yardwork, and hoping our car won't need any work this year. What are my big concerns in life? Will I ever get to be a mother, am I really showing my husband how much I love him, and will I ever make bacalaitos as well as his grandmother did?

    After all... how smart can these smart people be if they still live according to the "Do it like we do, or you'll be doing it wrong" rule?

  3. I think I am too lazy to be an intellectual.

  4. Intellectual? Pffft, I'm not even sure what the word means. If that's a guy who's spent his entire life in Academia and knows Ayn Rand's Anthem by heart, then no, I'm not it and never will be. *Relief*

    More like a lower-middle class person who enjoys reading about Austrian Economics after a long hard day, as well as checking out the gowns worn at the Golden Globe...

  5. I can totally relate. I didn't fit in to intellectual circles in school, but I don't fit other places either. Ah well. I'm working at getting happy with myself, and that's all that counts.