"Lotus Opening" by L. Folk

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Benefits of Being Gifted: Transcending the Broken-Winged Bird

When I was in grade school I was tested for being "gifted".  I apparently failed the test because I was not eligible for the program.  My father believed they got it wrong.  But doesn't every father believe his kid is gifted?

Mrs. Osborne, a middle-aged Asian woman who lived down the street from us was the teacher of the gifted students.  I remember the spruce trees on her front lawn and her white Lincoln parked in the driveway.  Always I would pass that sprawling ranch house with its big picture window and the sprawling white car and the spruces and feel the dregs of my ineptitude.

I had befriended Eve Smarz; our mothers met at Lake Morskioko watching our younger sisters play in the sand.  Eve was in the gifted program and I regarded her as a special friend.  I don't mean that in any derogatory, sarcastic sense; I truly believed there was something exceptional about her and I longed to be near this thing.  Eve was imaginative and her imagination suited mine; we created boyfriends for ourselves, BJ from BJ and the Bear for me and Ponch from Chips for her.  We dreamed up romantic scenarios where BJ and Ponch rescued us from kidnappers.  We wrote detailed scripts of who would say what to whom and when to execute the much anticipated kiss.  Eve had long blond hair and a flat, round face.  When she ran, she was the mythical Atalanta, her head kept neatly to one plane, as if her strides were impeccably smooth.  Once I asked her what they did in the gifted class and she said they sat under their desks and pretended they were in space.  "Well that's dumb," I said.

I recently did some research on depression and creativity and ultimately found the article "Existential Depression in Gifted Individuals".  I read it and quickly recognized the symptoms.  The article had put a name to the vague, disconcerting thoughts and feelings I have felt more than once in my life.  The essay, written by someone by the name of James T. Webb, pinpointed existential concerns, specifically death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness, how death is "an inevitable occurrence", freedom brings insecurity due to "a lack of external structuring", isolation is experienced by everyone because "no matter how close we become to another person, a gap always remains and we are nonetheless alone".  Contemplation of the first three by an intuitive, pensive individual, especially one grappling with profound disappointment, ultimately results in the belief that life is meaningless and it's all downhill from there.

Most of us feel this way at some point in our lives, but the gifted feel it early on, in childhood and young adulthood and they feel it acutely.  Because they are astute, they see what life could be; because they are perceptive, they perceive how the world falls short.  The blend of idealism and a keen awareness of the deficiencies of life brings about frustration and disappointment.  Their anger is "directed at fate" and is therefore powerless.  This powerlessness brings upon depression, a less-than-concrete depression that is especially alienating.  Webb explains that gifted individuals quickly "discover that others, particularly of their age, do not share <existential> concerns, but instead are focused on more concrete issues and on fitting in with others' expectations."

Webb talks about the use of touch to establish a "physical connection"; this brings a thoughtful person out of her head and into the realm of physicality.  Often a gifted individual is prescribed "hugs" from friends and family.  In my early twenties I figured this out on my own.  I used sensuality as a drug for angst; it's an immediate fix but it can lead to heartache.  Eventually, with the right partner, you learn how to use it wisely.

Webb cites "bibliotherapy", or the research of other talented individuals and how they found success and meaning by creating structure in their lives.  Bibliotherapy is a means to understand "that choices are merely forks in the road of life, each of which can lead <the gifted> to their own sense of fulfillment and accomplishment".  Most recently I watched the movie Eat, Pray, Love, based on Elizabeth Gilbert's best selling memoir on her transcendence from depression and anxiety to spiritual enlightenment.  I had seen the movie before, but this time it made a deeper impression.  I recognized my anxious, adventurous, epicurean and spiritual sides in Ms. Gilbert and I took heart.  To me it said, "Keep tasting life; keep meditating; keep writing and you will be well."

Who exactly are "the gifted"?  They are not only the people with aptitude; they are the intuitive, the perceptive; their hallmark is one of sensibility rather than sense.  They are vulnerable.  They are creative. And it is imperative that these individuals "adopt the message of hope" and trust their creative powers to transcend existential depression and bring meaning to their lives.  Webb includes Langston Hughes poem on dreams:

Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die,
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams.
For if dreams go,
Life is a barren field
Covered in snow.