Sunday, October 21, 2012

Gifted Awareness

Gifted sounds so much better than depressed.  Or anxious.  Or whatever my latest shirk has labeled me.  Or I've labeled myself after a few hours obsessing on WebMD.

Wouldn't it be ironic if, instead of simply being depressed, or anxious, or blaming my struggles on posttraumatic stress disorder, I'm actually, well, gifted?

What's got me thinking is this article, "Giftedness As Asynchronous Development" by Stephanie S. Tolan, Tip Network News, Spring, 1994:

"It is vital to remember that giftedness (in childhood and beyond) is an internal reality, mental processing that is outside of norms. Achievement, as important as it is, is merely an expression of that mental processing.  Achievement may fluctuate depending on a student's immediate situation, his relationship with a particular teacher, the availability of courses of sufficient challenge and interest, even physical health. Giftedness does not depend on such variables. Whether or not it finds expression in achievement or unusual performance the internal difference remains.

"That internal difference is likely to include emotional intensity, unusual awareness and tolerance of complexity and paradox, and a potential for extraordinary moral development. During childhood and beyond these innate attributes may enhance or interfere with performance on various tasks, depending in part on how well they are recognized, understood and guided by the adults in the child's environment.

"The child who perceives typical rough and tumble competition on the playground as purposeless violence and connects that violence to persistent ethnic warfare on a global scale may become depressed and cynical about the future of humanity. He may withdraw and become a bitter, self-isolating loner. Or he may, instead, set himself the task of attempting to understand the roots of conflict, and commit himself to a life of peace-making and diplomacy." 

Wow, that sounds like me.  The bitter, self-isolating loner stuff during most of my formative years, but fortunately the attempting to understand the roots of conflict and peace-making part as my life progresses. 

Am I gifted?  Like a person who never knew they had ADD until adulthood, can a gifted brain go unrecognized for over forty years?  I feel obnoxious sharing such a question with the world, but maybe not so much if being gifted has a negative flip side.  It's OK to talk about how being unaware of my own giftedness has caused problems in my life.  It's not like I'm up here bragging, hey guys look how smart I am.  What I'm really saying is, oh, so that's why I've always felt like such an outsider.  Maybe my brain is not damaged or defective as some mental health practitioners (and pharmaceutical company ads) have told me.  It simply processes awareness and insight into things that interest me faster than the way most other people's brains react to new stimuli.  That's a fancy way of saying I absorb information quickly.

And if I am gifted, what do I do with that knowledge?  Maybe just feel better about myself.  I have to admit, I feel much better thinking hey, I'm weird because I'm smart, not because I'm damaged.  I can handle weird-smart.  I feel proudly part of nerdfighteria while watching John and Hank Green videos, but I never associated my love of the Greens with any sort of giftedness on my part.  That's kind of funny, really, if you think about it.  I was not self-aware enough to notice my proclivity toward "unusual awareness".

But I'm a middle-aged woman, so who cares if my odd behavior comes from being gifted or being neurotic?  Like so many things in life, it's probably somewhere in the middle.  It's not like I'm still in school, and that knowing I'm gifted would lead me to take classes that would enrich my natural talents.  But there's still time to mold Katie.

I found Tolan's article while reading this fantastic blog post about parenting a gifted child.  I hadn't been looking for information about raising a gifted child.  I'm just a fan of the blog Surrender, Dorothy and the latest post was about this topic.  It led to my doing more research about Tolan's work and gifted adults, which I'm glad I did.  I don't feel so stupid for being unaware of my own giftedness.  As Tolan states in this article:

"The experience of the gifted adult is the experience of an unusual consciousness, an extraordinary mind whose perceptions and judgments may be different enough to require an extraordinary courage. Large numbers of gifted adults, aware not only of their mental capacities but of the degree to which those capacities set them apart, understand this.

"For many, however, a complete honoring of the self must begin with discovering what sort of consciousness, what sort of mind they possess. That their own perceptions and judgments are unusual may have been obvious since childhood, but they may have spent their lives assuming that this difference was a deficit, a fault, even a defect of character or a sign of mental illness (Lovecky, 1986; Alvarado, 1989). Thinking independently may seem foolhardy or antisocial.

"Who am I? is a question they may need to ask themselves all over again because the answers devised in childhood and adolescence were inaccurate or incomplete (Silverman & Kearney, 1989; Tolan, 1992; Wallach, 1994)."

Asking such questions of myself is helpful for my own well being.  But even more importantly, such self-awareness could help me be a better parent for Katie so I might understand what she's going through.  I don't know if Katie is gifted or not.  I mean, of course I think she is, but there's nothing special about a mother thinking her child is special.  As Anne Tyler so simply and so beautifully expresses in her masterpiece Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant in the scene where Jenny has dinner with Mrs. Payson and her awkward, bumbling son Josiah, "Jenny had never thought about the fact that Josiah was somebody's son, some woman's greatest treasure."

Katie might very well be a Josiah or a Jenny.  No matter what, I can honestly say my heart will continue to burst with pride at whoever she is as long as she's true to herself.

Also, what child isn't gifted in his or her own way?  Everyone I know has special gifts.  

Part of the reason I never thought of myself as gifted is I'm surrounded by gifted people.  My mom, my siblings, my husband, my daughter.  People at the library where I work.  So I never thought of myself as being particularly intelligent   Intellectual, perhaps, but not remarkably intelligent.  There's a fine distinction.  The fact that I care about such a distinction probably has something to do with that gifted thing or whatever it is about me that propels me forward in life, insatiably curious and questioning.

Right now my six year old daughter is upstairs reading a book that is categorized as a 3rd grade and up reading level.  My husband is composing a song on the piano we've had just a few months even though he's never had a lesson.  I am taking a second stab at novel writing.  Well, not right this moment.  I'm procrastinating on my blog so it takes longer for me to finish the novel and face criticism of it because it's so important to me.  This is important to me too.  But it's easy.  I'm good at it.  I have a talent for narcissism and self-deprecating humor, so I'm a natural blogger.  But novel writing.  It's haaaaaaaaaaard.  It takes focus and energy and dedication.  If blogging is minute rice, novel writing is taking off your shoes and working the rice paddies. 

So, excuse me as I go slip off my shoes and set a good example for Katie, my greatest gift.