Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Last night, I watched part of a TV show about J. Robert Oppenheimer, a man sometimes referred to as "the father of the atomic bomb." And as I watched, I could feel a whispering delight rise up -- to hear, even from a distance, about someone who charted a course and stayed the course. Oppenheimer was socially inept, egotistical, divorced from much of life. But he was a genius, with all the accolades and damnation that that can imply.

I guess a part of what I liked was to hear the tale of someone who grew up in his mind, loved his mind, believed in his mind, doubted his mind, but also had the courage or craziness to use his mind. Perhaps, given my upbringing and inevitable imprinting, I like to see the results the mind/intellect created for others. Given my experience, I think the victims of the intellect are everywhere as apparent as its beneficiaries.

And all this reminded me of a small news story I once read about a Kentucky (I think) town whose council rejected the notion of spending money to build and maintain a library. One councilman summed things up (approximately) this way: "I own one book and that's all I need." This egregious elevating of a narrowed mind was astounding in one sense. But it carried with it a clarity that I sometimes think is not that far away from the narrowness and cruelty of a well-versed intellect.

Oppenheimer was the beneficiary of both comfortable circumstances and a gifted mind. He prodded and pressed his own genius with a fierce determination. Not everyone has a similar set a gifts, but everyone has a mind. I'm not entirely sure where the courage comes from to start anywhere -- even with a single book in Kentucky -- and then follow the Yellow Brick Road.

Everyone begins in their own particular narrows and then rows towards the open ocean. The effort and determination to keep rowing is too much for many -- even those blessed with exceptional gifts -- and the desire to rest and nest is powerful and almost convincing. I'm a genius -- let me rest on those laurels. I have a single book and that is enough. I will rest on those laurels. I have a good job, a fine family, a bank account and a clothes closet... enough with this rowing shit! But it is all "almost convincing" because life does not stop or obey just because I decide to tie up at this dock or that. "Almost" is never quite satisfying because "almost" isn't "it," the ocean or goal or peace that beckons.

I guess everyone works out their own stuff in their own way ... rowing in the narrows, catching a brief glimpse of open ocean, rocked by the waves, warmed by the sun ... rowing, rowing, rowing.

Watching the show about Oppenheimer, one other thought asserted itself like an arrow in my associative mind: Be kind. It's the only thing that makes any useful sense, whatever the gifts or the lack thereof. Fake it if you have to (annoy the hell out of others with your oozing, imagined kindness), but while rowing with determination and skill and the inevitable laundry list of fuck-ups, learn to be kind.

Learn ... and never stop learning.

This, for my money, is genius.

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