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More on IQ


Readers who have been paying attention will have noticed my mid-week post of Sept. 17, when I came out as a sapiosexual.

That triggered a comment from my long-time friend Robert Malchman, and a response from me: you can see both here.

In another comment, another long-time friend asked the question, “What does IQ mean.” Apparently, my unconscious worked on that for a while, because I found myself with a recovered memory.

It was about 1964; I was 12, in 7th grade, when the school administered an IQ test. I was categorized as very gifted. It came as no surprise; I had been consistently weeks or months ahead of my peers in every class. The IQ figure was on my ‘jacket” or “cume file,” the manila folder with which each teacher was introduced to me until I graduated from high school. It set certain academic expectations.

[In fifth grade, after Mrs. Stephens gave us her diagnostic tests, she told me to my face, “You already know everything I am planning to teach this year. Out of respect for the other students, make a show of turning in the papers and taking the tests, but you have the run of the classroom to do whatever you want.” It was like self-administered Montessori. The least boring year of grade school.]

Thank God, my mother refused the school’s suggestion that I skip the grade. I was already the youngest person in the Beaumont class of 1966 because of my Sept. 17 birthday. Mom had been skipped two grades, and regretted the way it stunted her social adjustment. Thank you, Mom, for saving me from that.]

She sat me down for a talk. For a woman whose professional psych education consisted of Psych 1.01 and 1.02 at Portland State, a 28-year-old woman with a 12-year-old son, she had a lot of profound wisdom. She was also a teacher of “slow-track” high school English at the time.

“Pauli, this doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful or accomplished or happy. It’s just a measurement of how fast your brain works, and how strong it is when performing certain tasks. You have the tools; it is up to you what you do with them.”

She compared it to athletics. “You can measure how fast someone runs, or how strong they are by how much weight they can lift. But that doesn’t tell you if they’re going into the Olympics, because it is what they DO with the strength and speed that matters. How hard they work at it. How much they want it.”

I took her advice to heart: I literally never missed school, rarely missed a class (until senior year) and did homework every night and all weekend from 7th grade onwards. I missed a lot of family day trips on weekends, but I was admitted to MIT.

Then she gave me the most important advice I ever received on the subject of IQ. “Don’t tell your friends, even if they ask. When some adult pats you on the head [back when adults could do that without being arrested] and says ‘Aren’t you smart,’ say, ‘Yes, thank you.’ And whatever you do, never brag, never act superior, and never sneer at or belittle people whose brains aren’t as fast and strong as yours.” I specifically remember she didn’t say “as smart as you,” because she said there were different kinds of smart.

She picked the still-fresh example of a couple of New York Yankees baseball players, “Do you think Roger Maris or Mickey Mantle laugh at ballplayers who don’t perform as well as they do? No, I am sure they don’t.”

I boiled this advice down to “suffer fools gladly,” which turned out to be an excellent life lesson, given the average prevalence of fools at school and work and every other institution of society.

During my 11 years as a teacher, I made it a point, time and again, to call aside gifted students who mocked their less-gifted classmates. “Yes, you’re smart. You’re always going to be the smartest person in the room. If you want to get along in this life, keep it to yourself. Suffer fools gladly. It doesn’t cost you anything, and it neither makes them feel bad about themselves nor you.”

I taught one gifted, home-schooled student (his parents put him in public school starting in 8th grade to socialize him) who laughed out loud at others’ wrong answers to trivial questions. I had the talk with him. He seemed to listen, because he was smart enough to hear it. He was an otherwise quite pleasant young man. More than any other student, I hope he heard what I had to say and took it to heart, because I know if he did, it made his life better.

Sam Patch

Only a small handful of you have ever heard of Sam Patch, The Greatest Story Ever Told So Far, a musical tragedy I wrote in 1971, based on a short story by Michael Wildermuth, with music by him and Clark Smith.

I consider it the peak of my lifetime public creative fictional output—better than Captain Zommarr and the Galaxy Pirates, the New Eugene Oregon Show or Vernon Jones, Super-Scientific Detective (the novel and radio serial, now lost, that gave me carpal tunnel syndrome when I typed it on Mom’s portable computer at age 12). My memoirs are better, but they aren’t public. My poetry is better, but it isn’t fictional.

My wife recently noted, “a half-century is a long time to be obsessed with a radio play.” Well, not if you once believed “Broadway in 75 or die.” It has still never received a real-life performance, or even a staged reading, but if some amateur dramatic company were willing, I have the script, the lyrics, and could obtain a karaoke soundtrack. Royalty-free! In fact, there might be a generous donation involved.

Well, my point here is that, after 50 years, I found a freelancer on the Internet who was willing to “sweeten” the original musical soundtrack—adding horns and percussion to the original instrumentation of accordion, guitar and piano. I’ve always loved the music; now it takes my breath away. It’s fun, whether you’re listening for the first time, or were there at the inception.

My favorites: Why Jump and Pittsburgh, PA. If you can tell me why these things called hope and happiness exist, then you can ask me, why jump.

Music Note

If you already saw this at the top of the right-hand column, congratulations to you on your sharp eye. Otherwise, please let me draw your attention to the fact that I have once again paid a freelance musician to set  a love poem to music: Words of Love. My younger daughter says it is her favorite among my love songs. Let me say that making up the phrase “love medallion” in order to rhyme with the word “Italian” is an accomplishment of which I am (justifiably, I think) proud.

Martha Graham on “I’m Not Good Enough”

A dear, dear friend offered some coaching on my love songs; I did not react as well as I could have, and I suggested that perhaps I had no talent in this direction; that perhaps Holding My Heart and You Affect Me sounded more like Tom Lehrer parodies of love songs than love songs. Now, the fact is, I’d be honored beyond imagining if someone found my work reminiscent of Lehrer (or even Bennett Cerf). But this same faithful friend of a half century sent along a reading on the subject:

Martha: The Life and Work Of Martha Graham A Biography, by Agnes De Mille, 1991, p. 264.


The greatest thing [Graham] ever said to me was in 1943 after the opening of Oklahoma!, when I suddenly had unexpected, flamboyant success for a work I thought was only fairly good, after years of neglect for work I thought was fine. I was bewildered and worried that my entire scale of values was untrustworthy. I talked to Martha. I remember the conversation well. It was in a Schrafft's restaurant over a soda. I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be. Martha said to me, very quietly: "There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open ... No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others."

------end excerpt---------

People have spoken to me of my life force my entire life. When I was 12, people used to say I “lit up a room.” On more than one occasion I was invited to a college party because, “If you come, everyone will have more fun.”

Maybe I am actually an artist or on my way to becoming one. I guess if I block my muse, some potentially good work of mine “will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.” So, I’ll continue to let her mug me, and do the best I can to follow her dictates. I know some of you are enjoying this work. I am certain I am. That is probably all that matters. As with good sex, it’s better if we both enjoy it, but OK if only one of us does.

Writer’s Block


"Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead." -- Gene Fowler

I was reading The Most Of Nora Ephron when I came to her essay near the end on revision and how she writes. It made me want to come clean about my own writing habits.

I have never had Writers’ Block. Not once in 62 years of life, 52 of them as a writer. I have written approximately 10 million words for pay and countless millions more for my own amusement. I have written a novel (a terrible one called Vernon Jones, Super Scientific Detective, inspired by the Tom Swift books I loved as a kid; I was 12 when I wrote its 120 single-spaced pages. It has mercifully been lost to the ages), dozens of radio scripts, the book for a musical, hundred of wire service stories (“that’s not writing, that’s typing”), hundreds of local radio newscasts, hundreds of newspaper articles, numerous press releases, a published non-fiction book (Aspirin Therapy: Reducing Your Risk of Heart Disease, Walker and Co., New York, 1979) hundreds of scripts for television software reviews, thousands of articles about computer technology, and dozens of proto-podcasts. I wrote my last word as a professional in October, 2001. Since then I have written hundreds of thousands of words in my blog.

And in all that time, faced with all those blank sheets of paper (or, since 1975, blank computer screens), I have never once been “blocked.” I have never known the feeling Gene Fowler describes above, which is apparently quite common among professional writers, especially screenwriters and novelists. As I said, I’ve only written one novel and never written a screenplay, so maybe I’m just in the wrong line of work to have that experience. To tell you the truth, very few journalists I know suffer from Writers’ Block. You can’t. The tyranny of the deadline is relentless (I have included a quotation on that subject at the end of this essay). The kind of delicate flower who suffers from Writers’ Block does not usually last long in journalism.

In fact, my favorite quotation about my writing abilities comes from A.J. Liebling, a New Yorker writer, who said of himself, “I write better than anyone who writes faster and faster than anyone who writes better.” That’s me; the single most productive staff member of The Tech, Computer Systems News, Information Systems News and InformationWEEK. In fact, in August of 1985, I wrote one-third of IW.

I’ve always suspected I avoided block because my writing has always been “reality-based.” I don’t have to dream things up; I just report them. It doesn’t hurt that I type quickly, and think almost as quickly as I type.

Which brings me to the other point Ephron makes, about how revision improves writing. She came to this realization in her 20s. I have never come to it. I am working on a memoir with a coach, and that writing undergoes revisions. But otherwise, no, what you see is pretty much the first draft, and 90% of the time I am proud of it and happy with it. I did do a lot of revision in my early days as a journalist, but, like Ephron, it was mostly on the first paragraph, or the “lede” as journalists call it. Break the back of the lede and the rest of the story will fall into place. When I think of all the reams of paper I ran through before word processing… Now that there is no editor looking over my shoulder, now that I practicing a more discursive form of writing, I’m not sure I can do better than the stream of consciousness I type at about 40 words per minute. I enjoy writing it. I hope you enjoy reading it.


I was set to thinking about Bliss recently when I saw this in the New Yorker, in a review by Merve Emre:

Or as a character in Sigrid Nunez’s “What Are You Going Through” (Riverhead) says, “But after a certain age, that feeling—that pure bliss—doesn’t happen, it can’t happen.”

The dictionary definition of bliss is perfect happiness, great joy, with the added note, “a state of spiritual blessedness, typically that reached after death.”

I have lived in bliss twice, first at age 24 and then age 26. I no longer live in bliss but I have a lovely home in a close-in suburb. Is bliss strictly for the young? I can still see the state of bliss from my front porch. And I actually had a spiritual experience akin to bliss last week—while standing in line at Safeway.

Is Nunez right? I am not sure. Are you?

Track your Ballot

I hate short items outside of This and That, but this item is REALLY important. I got an email from a friend telling me that the state of California would tell me when my ballot was mailed, received, and counted. I signed up immediately. Turns out that the Internet knows of the same offer for Denver and Virginia. If you live in one of those places, sign up. If you know someone who lives there, tell them about it. If you know of other ballot trackers, let me know, and I will extend this item.

Extension 1

My MIT buddy Lee Giguere reports that New Hampshire offers absentee ballot tracking. And for purposes of getting an absentee ballot, concerns about Covid-19 qualify as a disability.

The Nature of Creativity

I paid $20 to watch a live interview of John Cleese by Judd Apatow on the subject of creativity, for a book Cleese is “touring” to support. It was fantastic and fascinating, and is still available, albeit recorded now. For me, the memorable exchange was about a muse/being in the zone. They agreed there was a universal reservoir of creativity, and that people such as Bob Dylan figured out how to attach a fire hose to it. At first, I thought perhaps I had attached a garden hose. On candid second though, I think I am using an eyedropper. But at least I get to be in the room next to the reservoir, a room Cleese says we can all enter.

About Acceptance

Tamara Levitt is the instructor on an iPhone app called "The Daily Calm," a 10-minute daily guided meditation and talk. Last week, she related a gem of a parable:

Traveler: “What kind of weather are we going to have today?”

Shepherd: “The kind of weather I like.”

Traveler: “How do you know it will be the kind of weather you like?”

Shepherd: “Having found out, sir, that I cannot always get what I like, I have learned to like what I get. So I am quite sure we will have the kind of weather I like.”
--Anthony de Mello

Seems like a vivid way to remind yourself to accept things as they are.

Sometimes artists stumble (I am sure unwittingly) upon truth; the Rolling Stones put it more obliquely:

"You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes,  you just might find you get what you need