Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

Clever is as clever does

I like that story about the Chinese Communist leader who, upon being asked what he thought of the French Revolution, replied "It's too early to tell yet". One advantage of the passing years--hardly a compensation for a slowed metabolism or hyper-sensitivity to caffeine, but some recompense generally--is the opportunity to see how people turn out. Woody Allen's "Annie Hall" has that wonderful scene in which all his childhood classmates describe their futures. In real life, too, one frequently learns what happens to people in high school, college and at the workplace. Sometimes what one learns is not the surprise that life should be, somehow.

People take different positions on the issue of how much other people can change. Some folks think nobody really changes after about age five or so. Others, including myself, think that people can and do change a fair bit of the time. Still, the "no change" folks might have a good argument, based on how the folks I know's lives turned out.

The poor fellow who played basketball well, liked to be "cool", drove a muscle-ish car, and neglected his education turned out pretty much according to the formbook. He married a very cute local girl, settled down near his hometown, and worked in retail until the cute but vapid girl he married ran off with the Baptist music director. I think one of the neglected realities of life is what a gothic life is lived by Baptist music directors at churches all over the south. When I was seventeen, I might have guessed the cool fellow's future; it's hard to be cool after thirty. At seventeen, he might have thought himself a clever fellow, but clever is as clever does.

It's sometimes a matter of goals. The character played by Albert Brooks in "Broadcast News", being beaten by his classmates for snide things he said as high school valedictorian during his graduation speech, shouts at his oppressors "You'll never make more than $ 19,000 dollars a year in your life!". The toughs halt a moment, reflect, and then one of them says "19,000. Pretty good". Then they resume their oppression.

The nice woman who was too bored in high school because she was meant for better things of course turns out to be the woman who runs off with a soldier she doesn't love to just to escape the small town. She learned, as people generally do, that large towns lived in with people you don't love, particularly on enlisted pay, are not that much more thrilling than small towns. She'd been far too clever for our small town. Her cleverness had made her too clever by half.

The procession of cleverness marched onward through my younger days,
like those folks in Masters' Spoon River Anthology, where everybody in the graveyard has some meaningful story to tell. The fellow who loved studying science and studying alcohol accepts a second rate degree in the former so that he can pursue the latter with a vengeance; you see, he's always been clever enough to drink with abandon and "get away with it". The woman so clever she could both succeed in school and date football players of course married a macho football player, who apparently promptly beat her. The fellow too clever to sit still for college now cleverly works retail while the world passes him by. The woman, one of many actually, so clever that she thought she was more elite than her coworkers now sits at home in mid-career, too clever to work with anyone else. The fellow so clever that he thought he could sell anything without trying, mysteriously stopped selling things when he stopped trying.

By contrast, people who thought they were not clever seem to come out differently and somehow "better". The woman who thought she was a simpleton in school studied assiduously, got her degree and took a nice job. She also thought she was really too plain to attract anyone cute, so she focused on finding someone nice and married a kind fellow. The man who thought he should work hard at the jobs he could obtain with his limited education and save his money rather than spend it now has been promoted to a job educated people usually hold and has a huge savings and no debt. The woman who never dreamed of escaping the small town got her degree from an ordinary university, married a worthy fellow she met in school, and now happily teaches school in the town she never really left.

I've built this construct carefully, and of course there are clever people who succeed (in the case of one moronically clever lawyer I know, maddeningly, as a rebuke of sort to Justice), as well as earnest, non-clever, hardworking people who get mired in failure.
But so often the attributes we feel are our crowning clevernesses
are our tragic flaws. I've also found that people who think they have to work hard at their dreams have a better run than people who imagine their talents should automatically permit them to achieve their goals.

I've always aligned myself with the clever, but lately I wonder if I should be re-aligning with the non-clever, good souls. They may not be the exotic spices I sometimes aspire to be, but they are, after all, the salt of the earth.
  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded