Monday, January 17, 2011

Sux to be Smart

I'm brilliant.

This is not me blowing my own horn. Well maybe it is. But that doesn't change the fact that I am. That I went to the top school on an island with one of the toughest education systems in the world. And the hardest college to gain admission to in the US. (Coast Guard Academy, in case you wondered, edges out Princetown because it accepts so few students.)

Now, you'd think being this smart would be a perk. Sometimes. More often than not, it's a cage.

When I was 16, I tried studying with my neighbour for the CXC's we had in common. (CXC's='O' Levels like Harry Potter's OWLs without the magic, done after 5 years of secondary school education.) My neighbour was already repeating his 5th year, and option they give you if you don't do that well. But he didn't make any effort to be available to study, and even though his sexiness had influenced my decision more than his brain, I eventually got mad.

Me: You're not going to do very well if you don't do any work.
Neighbour: So what?
Me: Everybody's going to be disappointed in you.
Neighbour: No. Everybody's going to be disappointed in YOU if you don't do well. Noone expects anything of me. Whatever I eek out, they'll be happy with.

That was the first time I realised it. Being smart might be a curse.

Earlier this week, my mother and I had an argument. Nothing abnormal there- this is why I write YA, lol! The program that brought me to Japan has a 5 year max. I'm a 3rd year. So I'm going over my options. And I kind of miss the military. The Police Force is out due to my age; the Army/Coast Guard is out for the fact that I already quit once. lol. So I thought of the Fire Service.

My mother was up in arms. I'd be taking a job from someone else who doesn't have a degree and 5 languages and experience in 5 fields and yadda yadda- all true. But I think her problem is more this: I'm smart enough to do anything. If I was interested in accounts, I could be an accountant; if I gave half an udder about equations and reactions, I could be a nuclear physicist. Or I could be a doctor. Or a lawyer. Or a CEO.

You think being smart is freedom. It's not. You get your little box just like everyone else. Sure, maybe your box is prettier than the compartments the rest of the population is stuck in, but it's still a box. And it doesn't matter how pretty your location, if it's somewhere you don't want to be.


I thought of two ways to bring this back to writing.

1. Does your character fit in the box that society/their family/their friends think that character should be in?

If he or she does, does it cause any friction with anyone else? If they don't, how do they feel about it? How do they react? Do they try to suck it up and do what others want? Or do they push against the walls as hard as they can?

2. Sometimes you have to make people care about your particular problem.

I assure you that if I were to walk into a bar sobbing, "I'm too smart!" I'd get no sympathy at all. Meanwhile, if someone were to say, "My girl just dumped me," people would be buying that guy drinks.

There are certain things that we all empathise with: break-ups, grief, insecurity. Others not so much. But if your MC has a problem, you have to make others care. First an agent. Then an editor. And finally readers. Even if it's a problem they'd never considered before.

It's Monday. That's what's on my mind.


Natalie Aguirre said...

Just because you are smart doesn't mean you have to do a job you don't like. I am too and could have gotten a much better paying job as an attorney. But I wanted to do more consumer advocacy law and have more of a family life. I'm glad I did. As you sort through your choices, think of what you want to do because you spend a lot of time doing it. I'll enjoy watching your decision making.

Alleged Author said...

Ah yes, I totally agree about the character bit. I try to write characters who will fit into their "boxes." However, sometimes they love to break out of them and stomp all over the darn things!

Colene Murphy said...

Interesting. Really never considered smart people being shoved into little boxes. True though. Huh.

I wish there was a checklist or manual to tell you exactly HOW to make people sympathize. I always THINK I have pulled something off but don't and don't think I have and do. Ah well!

Marsha Sigman said...

Ohhh, the agony of expectations. If you are smart then more is expected of you. Especially in the case of

But if you aren't so smart, they just want to know you are doing your best.

I think being brilliant means you have more choices. Just remember what's important in your twenties is not what's important in say...your forties.

Skip all the grief and choose what makes you happy. Prestigious titles/positions and financial freedom won't always give you that and at the end of the day (or your life), the most important thing is that you were happy.

But I'm still pushing my son to be a