I have a secret passion for gifted studies. I’ve always been fascinated by the brain and education, but standing in a Barnes & Noble one day about ten years ago, waiting for my husband who was about to meet me for lunch, I found a coffee table book about giftedness. Having grown up in gifted programs, I’ve always been drawn to books on giftedness, as if it’s evidence of a secret club I once belonged to as a kid. You see, gifted programs end with high school, sometimes before, like the tree houses that say, “No girls allowed.” So evidence that it really did exist—this haven where there were others like me—is nostalgic. It’s nice.
But what I read in that coffee table book—hardly a deep analysis of giftedness—has changed my life. I knew that giftedness meant that I went to a special class like the special needs kids. I knew I went because I was smart in some kind of off-kilter way: I’d started school early and was always bored, but I was hardly the highest achiever in the class.
Beyond that, no one ever told me what it meant, this “gift.” We did logic puzzles once a week and extra work when we got back to the classroom. I loved it because it was a place I felt understood, and so it was worth the extra work, but other kids thought we were crazy to volunteer for such torture.
The book I skimmed at Barnes & Noble that day brought me to tears. On every page, it described every failure of my life in acute detail, as if it were an art book instead of a brag book for parents. This book knew already that it would take me seven years to finish my BA after transferring back and forth between nine schools and more majors than I can count. Instead of calling me a quitter, as my college guidance counselor did, it said I could do anything and was interested in everything. The book made it sound not so bad.
It described the way I would approach projects—with the vision and gusto of a person with clinical OCD—as if it had been there when I tried to paint the 8’x12’ mural of a street scene in France onto fabric for curtains for a closet in a single day, when I tried to build a life-size model of the Eiffel tower for an informational booth at church, when I decided my first sewing project would be an evening gown for a Christmas party the week of Calculus finals when I was nine months pregnant with my first baby.
And then it described the late nights and tears when my grand visions were realized for what they were: more failures, more lofty dreams. Dresses hemmed in duct tape, informational booths that everyone passes by, unfinished curtains and carpet stained in blue paint.
This book had seen inside my closet, too—all the unfinished projects, all the hobbies I have to maintain to keep the world more interesting. It knew that the world moved too slowly for me, that I hurt people with my impatience. But the book forgave me, because it knew that I was impatient with myself most of all.
The book knew that what I experience on the inside looks more like bipolar disorder than any kind of “gift”—there are the days when I can do anything, when I believe in my writing and my art and the education I am giving my kids. And there are the dark days. The book knew the statistics for suicide that I had always thought were just me.
The book knew that when I graduated from the gifted program and was thrust into real life, the odds were against me. It predicted the joblessness, frustration, and guilt, but it offered no advice. The book was written to parents. And so I stood in Barnes & Noble and tried not to cry. If only I had been told what the obstacles would be, I could have faced them better instead of being eaten up by the shame.
Because of that book—the name of which I don’t recall—I earned a master’s degree in two years, without changing majors or schools or adding on half a dozen minors. That degree has turned out to be almost as unprofitable as a liberal arts degree, but it represents a victory over myself, over my dark side. It’s a sign of normalcy that I can waive like a flag, even though my very self was the cost of that flag and lies buried beneath it.
The degree is in Education and was obtained so that I would never be unemployed again, a double whammy for a homeschooling mother in an economy that has put all of the local schools on a hiring freeze. I’d dreamed of an MFA in Creative Writing and a PhD in Literature so that I could hide in an ivory tower and think beautiful thoughts. Equally useless, perhaps, but if I’d known that that would be the case, I would have chosen the more beautiful path. Life is full of false starts for me, although I expect to have it figured out by the time my hair has lost its natural color.
But I told you that my passion for giftedness is secret. I have rarely told even a friend that I fall into these ranks, much less internet strangers, because I know the dissension wrapped around the word. People think that those who are gifted brag about this glamorous state or that their parents brag about them. They think that “giftedness” is an indictment of the rest of the world, that it is nothing more than academic prowess. In fact, giftedness does not always even mean success in school, and in practice, it looks much more like something one would medicate to make it go away rather than something someone would embrace, much less announce. One is more likely to look around for a limb to sever, another part to bury so that she a few more moments with the Normalcy flag for a party or other social obligation—anything big enough to hide the truth.
Tonight I am longing for the OCD eyes to give way so I can sleep, but instead I am sitting at my computer at 2:30 in the morning, surrounded by books and papers and filled with the irony of ideas and creativity and grief, wondering again if I can bury myself beneath a flag of normalcy or if the sacrifice is ever worth it.