Where can I exchange this gift?

Interesting perspective on the “gift” of ADHD.  Is calling ADHD a gift akin to saying Hemmingway had the “gift” of alcoholism?

 

English: Gift ideas for men - wrapping paper e...

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shut me off

I’ve been waiting for tomorrow to arrive for awhile. Tomorrow I get the results from my testing last month. I went in for my testing on October 12, twenty-five days ago. It takes awhile to get an appointment at this place, and this is my third. (At the end of my first appointment, the doctor scheduled my testing herself, and then said I could go upstairs to the front desk to schedule the follow-up or call and schedule. Following my typical M.O., I did neither and waited until testing day to schedule it.)

I’m feeling really ambivalent about the coming diagnosis, or possible lack thereof. At my first consultation, I got a strong feeling that the doctor agreed with my idea of myself, that I have ADHD-PI. However, I got such mixed messages during testing that I’ve since doubted my own assessment. With good reason—I’ve had plenty of wrong ideas about myself before. If they decide that I don’t have ADHD, do I have to change the name of my blog? I’m sort of hoping for a clear yes, so I can get on with treatment. And blogging.

I didn’t do myself any favors by picking up an Alice Miller book we had sitting on the bookshelf, The Drama of the Gifted Child. I had forgotten we’d had this book, until reading another essay that mentioned it. Since I’d been reading about gifted adults, I thought I would give Alice another whirl. And oh, she had me going down the path of neurosis as the explanation again, back to the land of anxiety and depression, and long, complicated unraveling as the cure.

Most of the newer ADHD work talks about brain biology: poor pathways for executive function, problems with dopamine levels. Alice Miller, in this book primarily about anxiety and depression, is the other end of the spectrum, a good old fashioned Freudian. I started to get pulled in to Miller’s explanations about why gifted people struggle (people pleasing, weak sense of self, even grandiosity) but totally got turned off by the explanation: the mother screwed everything up, and the only way to set it right is to Rage Against the Mother. Furthermore, the level of certitude in the work is really frightening:

Experience has taught us that we have only one enduring weapon in our struggle against mental illness: the emotional discovery of the truth about the unique history of our childhood.

That’s the first sentence of the book. I am suspicious of anyone who has the “one true way” when it comes to human behavior. It’s something I’ve learned as a teacher: watch out for anyone who has the only way to teach properly—that person has other issues to work out (Miller would say he’s redirecting his maternal rage to students). For me, such certitude is a kind of sales talk right up there with fail-proof diets, guaranteed exercise regimens, and get-rich quick schemes. The One True Way is always a sort of snake oil to me.

After I kept reading, I got the strong feeling I was being drawn in to a conspiracy. Miller sets up a tautology, a circular argument, the same way conspiracy theorists do. Her basic premise is that people suffer depression because they repress and suppress negative events from their childhoods and the only way to gain freedom is to unearth these unsavory events to be rid of their control. To do otherwise is to remain in a state of self-deception.

So, if you argue against this model, (such as the “only way” part) you are, like the movie cliche, caught in the trap of defending your own sanity while stuck in the asylum. According to this line of thinking, people who don’t acknowledge the absolute primacy of childhood trauma in a person’s psyche must be repressing/suppressing their own childhood traumas and therefore prove the argument. She states this pretty clearly, also on the first page:

In order to become whole we must try, in a long process, to discover our own personal truth . . . If we choose instead to content ourselves with intellectual “wisdom,” we will remain in the sphere of illusion and self-deception.

Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with unearthing past traumas and facing down your demons. I think that’s quite healthy, in fact. However, this book (which is still popular, still being reprinted, as are most of her books) reinforces a simplistic view of depression, that we’re a blank slate when we’re born and our parents screwed us up. In fact, she states her definition of depression in a single sentence: “Depression consists of a denial of one’s own emotional reactions.” That’s it. No hedging, no qualification, it’s just about denial. If you don’t agree you are suffering the same denial.

How could this book be so weird? Well, two things are going on. First, it’s a translation from German, with it’s sturdy, declarative sentences. And second, the first edition of this book appeared in 1979. Think of all the advances we’ve made in understanding genetics, brain biology, and pharmaceuticals in the last 32 years. Prozac, the first of the new, revolutionary SSRI’s didn’t hit the U.S. market until 1987. (At least that’s what Wikipedia tells me.)

Even in “revised and updated” editions, the central thesis remains, and the book isn’t being sold as an historical document. It’s outdated pop psych. Curiously, Miller’s work was first recommended to me by my psychologist.

My objection is my own experience. The therapeutic work she’s talking about? Been there. Done that. Years of talking, uncovering, journaling, raging, accepting, even with the help of modern antidepressants. According to Miller, I should be cured by now.

In this book, there is no allowance for any sort of influence of genetics or brain wiring, not even “predilection.” In fact, she sets up a classic straw-man argument when she writes about another psychiatrist’s book that questioned why some people can endure horrible tragedies without apparent pychological damage whereas others seem to wilt at the slightest inconvenience. This other psychiatrist’s explanation? God’s grace.

She dismisses that outright, as you’d expect, but makes no mention that, God or not, there might be an inherited resilience that doesn’t come from one’s conditioning in childhood. I mean, the word “gifted” is in the title of the book. Where did this “gift” come from, if not God or genetics? If a gift can be independent of experience, something you’re born with, why not depression? Somehow, one’s self-deluded, selfish, and damaging parents managed to create this gift at the same time as screwing up absolutely everything else.

She uses the incident as an opportunity to rail against religious explanations and make a plea for religious leaders to “acknowledge and respect these simple psychological laws.” In my (admittedly layperson’s) reading of psychology, the only law is that there are no simple laws. Again, I’ll use the parallel of teaching; nothing does more damage to students than absolute certitude about how people learn, especially if that involves a simplistic, singular model, even if that model is a good one.

So I’ve begun to reconsider the years of work I did with my psychologist. It was enormously helpful, but eventually I plateaued. Since 2005 or so, I’ve been working on my own, making steady progress. She was wonderfully supportive, but I have to question her recommending Alice Miller (it was The Truth Will Set You Free, I think).

I’d have to say Miller is stuck looking at the mind from the story of psychoanalysis. Freudian stuff is fun to read. Writers and English majors love it, because it presents a compelling story, a never-ending source of conflict. Good stories are about conflict. But it is just one way to understand the mind.

Ultimately, Miller’s whole enterprise seems like when dentists tell you they can detect all your health problems by looking at your teeth, and optometrists say the same thing about the eyes, and chiropractors, the back. Seriously, my former chiropractor believed you could cure allergies by aligning the back. I went along with his story, just because I wanted to be able to get out of a chair without wincing. That, and he liked to call me “Professor,” with serious respect, even though I was only twenty five.

The human body is a greatly interconnected thing. Someone who oversimplifies it isn’t doing us any favors. The best book that looks at the whole landscape of depression is Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon. I say “landscape” because he calls his book, aptly, “an atlas of depression.” Surprisingly, Miller and Solomon come to the same conclusion:

The opposite of depression is not happiness but vitality. —Solomon

The true opposite of depression is neither gaiety nor absence of pain, but vitality. —Miller

So Miller gets one end of the argument right.

Well, that turned into a rant. I guess I wanted some distraction until bedtime, so I could stop ruminating about tomorrow and do something productive. I gave myself an hour to write, and it’s turned into two, so now I’ll finish with one last thought.

Another piece of evidence in favor of the ADHD diagnosis: I have to pay the water bill tomorrow, or else they’ll turn off our water on Tuesday. I know this for a fact; our water’s been turned off three times before. The best thing about it is they leave a little blue flag of shame in the front yard where the shutoff valve is to be able to find it in the afternoon after you’ve trudged down to City Hall with the rest of the delinquents. If you drive around Big Rapids on the second Tuesday of the month between 10:00 and 3:00, you can always see who hasn’t paid their water bill in three months. At least this month it won’t be me; I’ll have paid mine in two months and 29 days.

Valve

Clean Energy

Much of my writing here thus far has been of the lament/angst/ennui/maladaption sort.  When I prepared for my first meeting for evaluation, I had to fill out a long form about my health and personal history.  One of the first questions asked what I hoped to accomplish as a result of my visit.

I’ve been thinking today about what I imagine a more adaptive, less frustrating life must look like.  In my teens and twenties I spent a lot of time thinking about the golden era to come when I would figure everything out, find my thing, get my groove on, and arrive at my real life.  I imagined in order for this to happen, I would need to be married, have a house, have a career, a nice computer, a stylish-yet-practical car.  I have all those things, though not exactly the career I imagined, and don’t feel terribly different.

What I do want is clean energy of the mental sort.

I trust myself most completely in a clean energy state.  This is a state where I think clearly, I do things that at my core feel important and the right thing to do.  I don’t do things because I think my colleagues, my teachers, my parents, liberals, Marxists, students, a cool writer I just read, or poetry editors think I should.  They come from a place of positive energy, not grasping, cover-my-ass, make everyone happy, worrisome place.

I grew up being a people pleaser and often feeling conflicted.  I wanted to make my parents and teachers happy and at the same time have a lot of cool friends.  That’s a fundamental conflict.  To paraphrase P.T. Barnum, you can’t please all the people all of the time.

Conflictedness is a symptom of my “gift” of seeing things from many angles at once.  Thinking about the most basic decision about my teaching, for example, can produce anxiety.  Do I do what students want?  What I think is best for students?  What I think I can do without too much procrastination and worry?  What the promotion committee will find attractive? Some new-fangled idea that’s stimulating my need for novelty?  When you have awareness of other people’s reactions constantly and want to be liked, it is hard to do something unpopular.  When you work in higher education, someone will always criticize you for your work.

I think most of the time, I make such decisions in order to avoid failing and avoid criticism; I am worried about my image.

Likewise, when I write, I often feel that conflictedness.  My students are driven crazy sometimes by the conflicting advice they’ve heard about writing. Writing is so subjective, especially poetry, that I can hardly put a line together without imagining what three different teachers/writers/editors I’ve worked with would say to criticize it.

And the whole idea of creation, that whole Romantic “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” thing that we have Wordsworth to thank for, relies on the welling up of emotion to overcome inhibition of expression that seems a recipe for unhealthy mind, especially if you’re the inhibited sort.  I’ve written from that place many times before, and it is exhausting working myself up into that state in order to write (not exactly “spontaneous” if I have to work at it, right?).

Last night, for example, I got into a state fueled by stress, lack of sleep, and extra caffeine and Excedrin and became convinced that the way forward was to write an epic poem about the holographic principle set in virtual reality.  I still think it’s a pretty cool idea, but yesterday I was ready to devote the next year to writing it.

Better writing, and better thinking, come from a more clear-headed place.  The messy unconscious does have it’s place, but I’m interested in cutting out the vain, self-conscious, and ultimately self-loathing streak from my process.  It’s true that a little bit of self-questioning prevents one from being arrogant, but I’m off balance.

This morning I feel a bit more calm.  I had a relaxing morning.  Sent the kids to school, slept a little bit, and sat for meditation.  I arrived at my clean energy state.  I feel calm and focused, not mind-reeling, gonna spend three hours teaching myself about quantum mechanics while playing chess and drinking three Cokes kind of of energy.  Clean energy allows me to both keep the long view in perspective, not worry needlessly about my classes coming up this afternoon, and just to work on what’s most important, maybe while humming a tune.

It’s an elusive state, however.  It feels great once I’m here, but habit sends me worrying, sets my jaw to clenching, starts me on the path to either working frenetically or frenetically avoiding work, sets the negative self-talk in motion (“you should have done this earlier, why can’t you just do what you’re supposed to do, why can’t you just be a normal grown-up . . .”).

The opposing force of this clean energy, then, is mania, allowing my intellectual cravings and emotional grasping full rein over the day’s events.  It’s not clean energy because I feel somewhat dirty after the fact, somewhat used up and diminished, slightly embarrassed for having let my monkey mind rule the roost. I’m not advocating a sort of repression of that part of the self.  Try to tamp that down and it will find some other outlet.  Instead, when I am in a good state, I practice mindfulness from the Theravada tradition: acknowledge that part of mind, in a slightly bemused way, like “there you are, crazy Jon” and it settles down.  Mindfulness of emotion, for example, is the opposite of denial.  It is full acknowledgement of feelings and cravings and desire that arises seemingly from nowhere.  A meditative state is not an emotion-free state; it’s a place of observing the self.

I am no expert at meditation nor Buddhism.  My experience is just listening to podcasts, reading books, sporadic meditation practice on my own, occasionally attending a meditation session in Second Life (yes, virtual meditation is a real thing) and the five minutes of meditative breathing we do at the beginning and end of the yoga classes I go to.

As I started to wind down on this post, I checked my email, and received my daily dispatch from Tricycle.  It seemed to fit well, as the emails often do.

We Must Grow Weary of Craving

We’re stuck on feeling like a monkey stuck in a tar trap. A glob of tar is placed where a monkey will get its hand stuck and, in trying to pull free, the monkey gets its other hand, both feet, and eventually its mouth stuck, too. Consider this: Whatever we do, we end up stuck right here at feeling and craving. We can’t separate them out. We can’t wash them off. If we don’t grow weary of craving, we’re like the monkey stuck in the glob of tar, getting ourselves more and more trapped all the time.

http://www.tricycle.com/dharma-talk/glob-tar

That’s an awesome quote, but I don’t know why Buddhism is so anti-monkey.

Can I return it?

I remember the Kelly LeBrock Pantene commercial from the 80’s: “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.”  I was a teenager, so I thought, I could never hate you! I mean, have you seen Weird Science?

Recently, I’ve discovered a new body of research and yet another category I fit into: “gifted.”  A lot of the AD(H)D blogs I’ve been reading point to that area of research, and guess what?  It is another area of contention.  Can you be both gifted and AD(H)D?  It’s a simple question without simple answers, other than “it depends who you talk to.”

So, gifted.   I hadn’t heard that for awhile.  I used to go to these events in the fourth and fifth grade that were some sort of smart fair for “the gifted and talented.”  I remember going in order to lose at chess to a grown up, to play with lasers and holograms, to dissect a sheep’s brain.  The whole thing was weird and uncomfortable, because I didn’t know any of these people and wasn’t there long enough to figure out the social rules.

As I’ve written before, I stopped believing in my fundamental smartness after my first year of college.  But after my recent testing I started poking around the Mensa web site, and found out that I qualify for membership based on my ACT and GRE scores.  (ACT composite of 29 in 1988; GRE composite of 2010 in 1993.)  What caught my attention is that I thought I was getting dumber the longer I was in college, but my GRE scores are, related to IQ,  higher than the ACT score. In other words, I qualify more clearly with my GRE score.  Not exactly scientific, but the opposite of what I thought anyway.

Since then, I’ve been walking around with a spring in my step.  I am smart.  I want to tell strangers on the street: “You know, I qualify for Mensa.”  I don’t think my mailman cares too much about that.  I want to join Mensa so I can buy the t-shirt and the mug, so that people will whisper as I walk by “There goes Jon; he’s a two-percenter, you know.”

But, then I remember that it’s not been terribly useful to be so “smart. ” It further underscores my negative self talk: you are too smart to keep doing these dumb things.

Like what?  Like never finishing projects, not returning email, not paying bills on time, forgetting meetings and commitments, wasting time when there’s urgent work to do.  It’s not like I sit in my den of evil cackling away at the inferiority of the people sending me emails, projects, and bills.  I don’t think it’s any way beneath my intellect to do these things.  It’s quite the opposite.  I feel like I can’t do these mundane tasks that everyone else seems to be able to do just fine, so I must be dumb.  The days when I can be calmly productive seem liberating, so I definitely want to do these things, at least in the abstract.

Going through school was no easy matter as a “gifted” student. Anything less than an A seemed like a failure.  I endured endless teasing in the fifth grade for crying in class when I failed a little five-question quiz, the only such test I had ever failed.  I became competitive, and an annoying watchdog for any hint of unfairness in grading.  (Perhaps this quality is one reason I have trouble giving out grades: I imagine all my students are hovering out there, just waiting to pounce at the first sign of any inequity in my grading.)  Healthy competitiveness is okay, but there’s a streak of pride in me that always wants to win, that never wants to be wrong.  That’s why I continually play chess on the iPod on the easiest level.  It’s more fun for me to see how quickly I can beat it on imbecile setting than to risk losing (and thus be challenged to a better game) on a higher level.

In the fifth grade, my homeroom teacher, Mr. Packer, started giving us essay exams for social studies.  Everyone was terrified of these exams because we were used to multiple choice, objective exams, with maybe a short answer question once in awhile.

We got our first exam back, right before morning recess, no one looked happy, but I got an A.  Shayla, a tall, strong lass, asked me on the sidewalk on the way to the playground: “What did you get?”  When I told her, she looked offended, and starting venting to other people: “Jo-on here got an A!  Goody for Jo-on!”  It turned out I got the only A in the class.

Next, a chase ensued.  It started out as a joke: “Let’s get ‘im!”  Several people chased me around the playground.  But it turned into a Lord of the Flies moment: someone tackled me and I came up pushing and shoving and swung my jacket at someone else and the metal button whacked him in the nose and left a scrape.  The playground aides had to intervene.

The fifth grade established an oft-repeated pattern.  Lots of people despised me for doing well and took pleasure when I didn’t.  In the fifth grade, the playground social structure mattered to me way more than getting A’s.  I wanted to fit in with the dodgeball/football crowd.  Predictably, I got picked last.  One fall day, I actually caught a touchdown pass in the end zone (the fence along McDevitt Ave.).  The ball flew into my hands after a couple deflections, and there I was, winning the game.  However, a raging debate erupted because no one could remember which team I was on.  The bell rang, and everyone but me forgot about the game.

I went through school when “nerd” and “geek” did not have the counterculture hipness, the ironic distance that it does today.  (That was for skaters and stoners.)  I hated being the class nerd, but I was.  All the stigmata appeared: extreme gangliness, glasses, acne, no dating what so ever.  I was only a pocket protector away from being a total social outcast.  Some people called me “Gilbert,” after the Anthony Edwards character.  (By the way, can someone explain to me how the same actor can play Gilbert and Goose?)  I grew out of  my nerdiness a little bit, but had to find girlfriends at different schools or summer camp; everyone knew better in little old Vandercook Lake.

I do understand the human instinct for derision, the jealousy, the schadenfreude.  There are two groups of people I love to hate: dumb rich people and arrogant politicians.  I love this Republican primary season; I scan the news thinking “What dumb thing is Herman Cain going to say next?”  I had to turn off an episode of House Hunters because I resented the ditzy couple who were just suffering trying to pick out their $2 million vacation home.

So, gifted.  What. Does. That. Mean.  I have a gift.  I’m supposed to have gratitude.  A gift is something unearned, given.  A gift is something that’s supposed to be useful, that reflects the giver’s understanding of what the recipient wants or needs, what would give the person joy.  This gift, however, keeps giving me the finger.  I wake up most mornings thinking I have wasted so much time, that I have squandered my gift.  I could be writing great books, solving important problems, giving myself completely to my family and my job, and instead I poke around the internet, play with my iPod, take joy in the misfortune of the arrogant, think about great stories that I never write, totally avoid yardwork, and do a moderately good job teaching at a university few people have heard of.

My gift is incomplete. If my measurable smarts came with anywhere near equal motivation and focus it would be a gift indeed.  Instead I fit in the “gifted underachiever” category: lots of great ideas, lots of skills, lots of potential, little to show for it.  It is maddening.  I’m like a Steve Jobs who never got out of the garage.  My gift came without batteries, but it has a really cool picture on the box.

Please don’t hate me because I’m gifted.  It really is a burden.  I know, that’s like a movie star complaining that you just can’t find good sashimi in Milan any more, but we all have our battles.

Ph. Duh

I am the proud owner of two incomplete Ph.D.’s.  I did all the coursework for a Ph.D. in “critical studies in teaching English” at Michigan State and I am ABD (“all but dissertation”) in academic leadership in higher education at Western Michigan University.

There are three segments to most Ph.D. degrees: coursework, comprehensive exams, and the dissertation.  I’m pretty good with the coursework part.  I’m good at reading and discussing ideas in seminar (which comprised most of my coursework) and, although I always put the writing of the paper off until the last minute, I can crank out a pretty good seminar paper in a few days at the end.  They usually end up at 20 pages or so.

I find the reading and discussion that goes on at seminar invigorating.  The only trouble I have is keeping up with the reading.  Not that I can’t do the reading; I can read a novel in a day if I get hooked.  But if the reading gets too tedious, my interest wanes severely, and it is drudge work.  That, and writing the paper at the end.  I torture myself to get it done.

However, the comprehensive exams and dissertation involve more self-directed study, so, big surprise, I floundered.

In academia, the Ph.D. is a rite of passage and a sign of basic competence.  I started the Ph.D. so that I could get a tenure-track teaching job, and it worked: the fact that I had been accepted into the program at MSU was a positive factor during my interview process at Ferris State University.  (I have an MFA, which is supposed to be a terminal degree, although there are many Ph.D. programs in creative writing.)

I couldn’t do the comprehensive exam at MSU, though.  It involved a reading list of about 110 scholarly books and a long weekend of writing.  I couldn’t even get started on the reading list because it seemed impossible: I couldn’t even decide on a notetaking protocol.  So I quit,  just sort of faded from campus.

When I started my second Ph.D., some of the students in my group seemed like they belonged nowhere near graduate school.  They had trouble with basic concepts in the reading and even more trouble expressing themselves clearly.  They had simplistic models of how the world worked, and they often reacted to complexity with resistance and derision.  In fact, I could not believe I was in graduate school with professional adults who considered any slight reference to feminism as “male bashing.” It seemed like  Ph.D. lite, and I even considered the value of continuing past the first semester because the classes seemed so easy.

I continued for three main reasons:  to add “Ph.D.” after my name, to defer student loan payments, and to hopefully land an administrative job with a bigger salary to pay off said student loans.  If the administrative job didn’t turn out, I thought the Ph.D. would help my promotion process in my current job.

It turned out none of those things were enough to make me finish.  As part of some of the classes, we did extensive reflection and self evaluation.  I scored high on creativity and innovation and quite low on practical skills like “follow-through.”  That seemed kind of unbalanced for a career as an administrator.  I also realized my motivation for the whole degree was to run away from problems: defer student loan payments and stop having to grade papers.  And I got promoted without the Ph.D., because of my terminal degree.

In my studies I specialized in faculty development, which means helping faculty become better at what they do.  Being at a teaching institution (as opposed to a research institution), that meant teaching workshops.  I had done many workshops on teaching with technology, and enjoyed that.  However, when I talked about pedagogy I felt like an imposter.  In my teaching, I’ve always been good at coming up with ideas and structuring a course, and not so good at grading papers and getting photocopies done on time, etc. (ahem, follow-through).

Also, doing the workshops was not really the administrative part of faculty development.  The administrative part I experienced involved some significant battling of wills, underhandedness, selling principles short in the name of expediency, all things I despise.

So I got through the coursework and even the comprehensive exam and started on the path to dissertation, but with much lower motivation than when I started.  However, I had a golden opportunity: I had a dissertation topic  handed to me.  I got along with my dissertation chair very well.  She was becoming a strong player in the scholarly community.  She had national data from a grant project that needed additional analysis, and offered it to me as a dissertation topic.  This was timely and important work that would make my name in the field.  Her co-investigator on the research was a pioneer and luminary in the field.  Moreover, since I would be using existing data, I wouldn’t have to do any instrument design or data collection.

Despite some setbacks, then, I was on the fast track to becoming known in the field.  If I could just do the work.

I couldn’t.

I had some initial success at getting the proposal written, but then I got bogged down.  I couldn’t find the time to work on it.  Weeks turned into months.  A few months turned into a year and a half.  The longer I stalled, the harder it was to get anything productive done.  I thought about it all the time, but didn’t get any significant work done beyond the real progress I had made in the first two months.

I had plenty of support, so that was no excuse.  I took a dissertation seminar that my chair led.  When that finished, I sat in on another semester of seminar, which my chair graciously let me attend unofficially.

After awhile, my chair decided to move ahead with the data, and we looked to another topic.  But I saw the writing on the wall and officially abandoned my degree soon after that.

The irony is that some of the people I thought did not belong in graduate school at all had finished.  One woman who I thought would never have the capacity for a dissertation finished it quickly while working full time and while supporting her young son through cancer treatment.

I of course felt humbled and despondent about the experience.  My own idea of what a Ph.D. was changed.  It’s hard to admit to colleagues that I have abandoned at ABD stage and most likely will never finish.  Some of them see me differently now.

Getting a Ph.D. is not purely a measure of intelligence.  I know.  My ACT and GRE scores qualify me for membership in Mensa, which means I measure in the top 2% IQ in the nation.  Some of my fellow students who barely made the cutoff for GRE scores finished their Ph.D.’s in only three or four years.  But, I saw these students develop from workers into scholars, while I seemed to regress.

Indeed, I have felt like I’ve gotten dumber and dumber as the years have progressed.  I graduated from high school as a star student, ready to take on the world.  I performed poorly my first year of college.  I got through a BA and an MFA degree and somehow landed a teaching job at a state university, but have not stood out in any form.  I got award after award in high school, but nothing since.  My writing career has been met with rejection after rejection, which is normal, I’ve heard, but I don’t respond to it well.

Getting a Ph.D. requires intelligence and focus andpersistence, as does success in most fields.  I have no balance among those elements.  Once I latch on to something interesting, my hyperfocus kicks in, and I perform well.  Once something happens to diminish that interest, nothing, not even fear of shame or risk of losing my job or risk of going bankrupt from unpaid student loans, makes me finish it.

I’ve been reading the literature on gifted adults recently and think I fit in that category.  There are the gifted super achievers, who have their own issues, but I fit in the gifted underachiever category.  I had every predictor of success in high school, and have struggled to make my modest career.  My recent experience with cognitive testing has reminded me of the idea I had of myself one time: that I had strong potential and that I would do something important with my life.  My idea of “important” has changed, though.  I do important work in ways that differ from what I once imagined: help out struggling students, give advice to friends, be a good father and husband.

Despite all that I have, though, I have trouble feeling fulfilled, at least professionally.  Writing makes me feel fulfilled in that way.  Being a successful, full-time writer has been the dream I come back to consistently.  It’s not so much seeing my work in print, as the feedback I get.  I had a poem published in a broadside around Big Rapids by The Michigan Poet.  For a few weeks, I had all sorts of people say “Hey, I saw your poem at Pepper’s.  Neat!”  That, to me, is fulfilling.

So is blogging.  The handful of comments and likes have been helpful.  So please, comment.  My vanity will be restored for another day if you do . . .