This is a guest post, but the author chooses to remain anonymous. As a gifted adult, this resonates on so many levels. As a mother, raising a gifted child, I
see this in my own daughter.
For reasons which will become clear later, I’ve been researching giftedness.
I first developed an interest in the subject when I taught a kid who was on Ritalin, even though it was blatantly obvious to me that his problem was sheer boredom. His brain was so fast, neither his hands nor his tongue could keep up. He was wonderful to listen to, fascinating to watch, and an absolute pain in the backside in the classroom.
His writing – at the age of 9 – was as good as some novelists I’ve read. He never made a plan, never wrote a draught, rarely wrote legibly, but had enough of a command of literary conventions that he could flout them and get away with it every single time. He was, probably, the first truly gifted child I ever taught.
What I learnt is that ‘gifted’ does not mean ‘clever’.
I mean, sure, gifted people are often pretty clever – although it isn’t always apparent – but that’s not what gifted actually means. It’s more to do with how the mind works: a gifted mind never stops, never slows down, is constantly making connections, has a thirst for stimulation and a compulsion for creativity that can never be quelled.
It’s as much a curse as a gift.
In fact, like the boy I mentioned above, it’s a bit of a pain in the backside.
I know, because I’m gifted.
It has taken me years to acknowledge this. I remember it being mentioned as a possibility by teachers when I was a kid. I know that I had a reading age of 15 when I was 7. I know that my nickname at Cubs was ‘professor’. I know that I’ve always loved learning.
But I also know that I struggled with maths at secondary school, that I didn’t really pay attention during Transformational Grammar lectures at university, and that I’m not very good at learning German.
If I’m gifted, I always thought, why am I so thick?
It turns out that such feelings are not unusual amongst gifted people – and that’s because gifted does not mean clever. It’s something else completely.
If you still ‘follow’ me on Facebook (and after all the “funny things the twins said” and pictures of the same mountains day after day, I can understand why you might not), you’ll know that I enjoy writing.
Except I don’t. Writing brings me pleasure, for sure, but it is the pleasure of relief.
It is the pleasure of taking off a corset, or rubbing anaesthetic gel on a mouth ulcer. It feels fantastic, but it isn’t what most people would consider ‘enjoyment’.
When I have to write, I have to write, and I will not settle until I have written. It doesn’t matter whether it’s any good or not, it just has to be done: the words disgorged and scattered on a page so I can breathe again.
People tell me I have a great imagination.
I can weave a story out of thin air, furnish it with fantastic details that children will mention to me years later when they meet me in the street. For a primary school teacher it’s a wonderful gift.
And it is – until I have to get in a car.
Then, my imagination presents me with wonderfully vivid images of being crushed under the flat bed of the truck in front, of being thrown from the side window into a field, of being decapitated by steel bars, conscious for those last few seconds trying to work out why the tarmac is so close and why I can’t breathe or speak. Every single journey.
And don’t even get me started on what it’s like to fly, or get in a cable car, or walk along the edge of an alp. Every possible outcome is there, in bright technicolour, complete with smells and tastes and feelings. That’s what a great imagination does for you.
I know some of you think I’m a cynical old sod. This is the result of years of self-discipline.
Gifted people often have heightened degrees of empathy.
As a child, I struggled to keep my composure whenever I heard another child cry. In a nursery comic I once had, there was a picture of a little boy who had broken a vase. He was depicted sitting next to the shattered china, wailing his heart out.
I was never one to actually bother to learn the complete words to songs (it drives my wife up the wall!), but when my Mum played “Hey Jude” I would run and fetch the comic, open it to the page with the crying child, and leave it next to the radiogram speaker in the hope that Paul McCartney really could “make it better, better, better”.
I dreamt about having a picnic with Walter the Softie. I wept when my parents bought me a bike for Christmas because I hadn’t asked Father Christmas for one, which meant that some other child, somewhere in the world, hadn’t got the bike they had been waiting for.
Can you really blame me for wanting to dampen such crippling emotions?
Gifted people make connections.
We’re constantly building webs between nuggets of compulsively hoarded knowledge, sometimes so complicated that they are impossible to reproduce.
I am hopeless in political and philosophical arguments because, for all the fancy words in my vocabulary, I cannot find a way to explain what I can see.
I usually just don’t bother. Trust me, I’ve thought about it, but I’m just not clever enough to explain myself. I’m sorry. And I’m probably wrong anyway – nobody said the connections have to be rooted in reality!
A few of my older friends may have been a little surprised when I became a Christian.
Clever people don’t believe in all that nonsense, see. Well, apart from having had an actual, bona fide, damascene conversion, the rich symbolism and depth of Christian thought satisfies a strong need to find connections.
Even before my conversion, I found the simultaneous simplicity and complexity (in all its paradoxical beauty) very attractive. Now, as a believer, I cannot even begin to explain how beautiful it all is. Please see the previous paragraphs for details.
Being gifted is great, isn’t it?
Being gifted is great, except when I’m sitting at the unemployment office, wondering why I’m not a tech millionaire (I used to be great at programming, but I got bored…).
Being gifted is great, except at three in the morning when I’m contemplating the futility of making or building anything in the face of an inevitable end in the cold, pale nothingness of a dead universe (please refer to the previous paragraph).
Being gifted is great, except when I realise that our kids are probably gifted too, which might explain the vivid nightmares, and questions about death, and a worryingly early self-consciousness in social situations.
Being gifted is great, but it is so very, very exhausting.
And it doesn’t mean I’m clever.
Are you a gifted adult and/or raising a gifted child?