Sunday, May 6, 2007

Life at the other end of the IQ range

I just finished reading an advance copy of Lottery, by Patricia Wood. Lottery is a novel, but it's not just entertainment. It’s a beautifully written tale of human nature that led me to think of some of the people I’ve known in my own life. I recommend you go to Amazon and pre-order it, immediately.

http://www.amazon.com/Lottery-Patricia-Wood/dp/0399154493/ref=pd_bxgy_b_text_b/102-7890411-8326560


Lottery is the story of Perry, who’s slow. Not retarded, just slow. Perry wins the Washington state lottery and his life changes forever. Perry is not a fast thinker. He’s a methodical, careful thinker. But he doesn’t have to think about his feelings. And those are like all of ours, but they are rendered clearer by the lack Perry’s lack of “mental clutter.” In fact, you might say Perry is a giant, a genius, when it comes to understanding human nature.

Patricia’s book made me think of my own life, and my friends, and some of the people I’ve known over the years who are “slow,” or just “slower than me.”

Her book made me glad I was never one of those kids at school that called the slow ones, "retard!" But how could I? Thats what they said that about me. I was one of them, just smarter. And with less feelings, or so it seemed.

I remember the first time I realized I was smarter than someone else. I was thirteen years old, showing my grandmother what I’d learned about electronics. It hit me out of the blue: she did not understand what I was talking about at all. Somehow, I just knew: she was not quite as smart as me.

Suddenly, I felt sad, and scared. I was sad because she wasn’t as smart as me. I assumed that meant she would not be able to share in what I was doing. I felt scared, too, because she was the grownup I looked up to most of all, and she was supposed to be better than me. She was the one who was supposed to be smarter. I was just a kid.

As it turned out, my feelings were misplaced. My grandmother did share in what I did, and right up to the end of her life, she bragged about her John Elder to anyone who’d listen. And I didn’t look up to her any less.

As a grownup, I’ve written about what it’s like to be Aspergian, and I’ve written about the advantages of being the way I am. If you read my stories, you’ll find that one thing I never claim is any Aspergian advantage in finding happiness.

Like other highly intelligent Aspergians (there are a fair number of us) I have a lot going for me. I’m smart. I’m creative. I’m kind and gentle. I have a nice family and a successful business. With all that, some would say I have it made. But even with all those things, happiness and contentment continue to elude me.

I’ve written how I’m happier now than I was as a teenager, but that’s not saying much. True happiness and contentment are what you see looking into the eyes of a well-loved dog. Those pure feelings are seldom seen in humans. Why not? I don’t know about you, but I always second guess what I hear. Do they really mean that? Are they just trying to take advantage of me? What do they really want? I can never just accept things as they are.

And dogs can tell who likes them, and who doesn’t. They know it, almost instinctively. With all my brains, I still can’t figure that out half the time.

When I do a job, I never stop worrying. Will people like it? Did I make a mistake? What if people ridicule me for it? Even though I am confident in my technical skills, I am never able to sit back and enjoy my accomplishments.

I believe this worry, self doubt, and angst goes hand in hand with intelligence. The smarter you are, the more you realize all the myriad ways things can go wrong. Without that understanding, a dog is content to live his life day to day, something I can never do.

I felt a little sad at the end of her book, realizing Perry had found something I may never have, and there are real people just like him around me now. Knowing that makes my own advantages, such as they are, seem a little less wonderful.

I guess the grass always seems greener. It’s a powerful book, and I’m sure you’re all going to read about her this summer.

14 comments:

Holly Kennedy said...

I, too, was lucky enough to read an early ARC of LOTTERY and haven't stopped smiling since the book first sold in the U.S.

Pat is a dear friend and her heart is as pure as Perry's, so she truly deserves every ounce of success this story will inevitably bring her when it hits bookstores August 2nd.

ORION said...

This is so amazing of you!
I am so honored you enjoyed my book and I want to reiterate what a great read your book is!
Much Much Mahalo (thank you!)
Aloha nui loa

Mia King said...

Of course Pat beat me (grrr ...!).

John, I loved LOTTERY with all my heart and I know I'll love your book, too. I'm so glad you two were "paired" on Amazon so I could discover you, too. And your cover is wonderful.

Best of luck to you and may you have MUCH success with LOOK ME IN THE EYE!

with aloha,
Mia

Kim Stagliano said...

John, I love your analogy of contentment in the eyes of a well loved dog. I've read Lottery - in gally form no less! - it affected me deeply as a mother of kids who fall between you and Perry on the scale and yet have profound challenges. I blogged about my own new found contentment - sometimes it simply arrives seemingly out of the blue - but in reality, as a result of much hard work. I wish a healthy dose of it for you, friend. K

Bernita said...

It seems you have also written a book much like Lottery - in the sense that people who may not have the same degree of challenges may also empathize, sympathize and relate with/to the story - and be richer for it.
Thank you for stopping by my blog.

Trish Ryan said...

Thanks for the recommendation. And don't stop searching for the happiness thing, either (or believe the folks who'll tell you that you just need to change your definition of happy until you magically realize how perfectly happy-making your current life is). I suspect that this level of dissatisfaction is meant to drive us toward something.

And if that all sounds too New Agey, how about this instead: Smart people can be happy, too! :)

David L. McAfee said...

I have not read an ARC of LOTTERY (I'm in the minority in this group). But Pat emailed me a link to one on Ebay. :) I'm a'gonna try for it. Otherwise I'll have to wait until August. But I will be reading that story as soon as I get my grubby little fingers on it (I'll wash them first, ok, Pat?).

But, that's the cookie, right? And it crumbles... something, something... somehow... or... ah... words to that effect. But that's not the point.

The point is, John, that I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to your book, as well. Your insights here in this blog are inspiring. Frequently I find myself wishing I had more to say on my own blog. Keep it up, and you might make a thinking person out of me, yet.

I'm sure my wife will send you flowers for that...

Kanani said...

Dude,
Hi.
That's all. Say hi to Matty for me today.

Kanani said...

Aspergerians test all over the place when it comes to IQ tests. One kid I knew of tested from 76 to 130. Go figure. It all depended on how focused he was that day, what his mood was, whether or not he felt cornered.

John Elder Robison said...

Kanani, when I was younger studued those tests, and I could score 100 or 150 with a pretty good ability to figure out in advance what I'd do.

Now I don't score as high but I have a much broader and useful sort of intelligence.

John Elder Robison said...

David, I'm sure there will be reader copies of Look Me in the Eye on eBay 1st week of June. So be ready . . .

M. G. Tarquini said...

I'm glad you blog, John.

Drama Mama said...

I am salivating. I want Lottery now. My stubby little fingers couldn't get onto Amazon fast enough. Never mind Look Me In The Eye. That was preordered already. Thanks for the recommendation. You must keep us apprised of the must reads.
I'm curious - this yearning you are talking about? Is it for perfection? Inexplicable void? Validation?
I ask because I so sense it in my daughter and I am trying so hard to understand.

Thomma Lyn said...

LOTTERY sounds like an amazing book -- I can't wait to read it and LOOK ME IN THE EYE!

You've got a great blog here. I'll be back. And thanks for visiting mine!