Tag Archives: learning

Defining Intelligence

I went to the dentist last week. I spent the usual hour with the hygienist and then the dentist breezed in to give me four or five minutes of exam, comment, teaching and friendly conversation. Thankfully, I don’t require more than this, as my teeth are in excellent shape. In the course of those few minutes, I used the term “permaculture,” and he asked me what it was. I gave him a brief answer, and on the way out the hygienist said I had a “high dental IQ.”

“She has a high IQ, period,” he responded as he left.

I almost got out of the chair and went after him to explain that I’m the dumb one in the family, and certainly don’t have a high IQ.

As I’ve gone about life since then, I’ve thought a lot about that interaction. I’ve also been feeling massively irritated, isolated and discouraged. This morning I woke out of a dream of being in a closet groping for my gun, my knife, even my Leatherman, absolutely incandescent with rage, because a man outside of the closet was having a dramatic and violent meltdown, intimidating everyone present because of something I’d said or done that he didn’t like.

I wasn’t intimidated. I was royally pissed off.

When I had my weapons assembled, I stormed out of the closet and came face-to-face with a clearly frightened woman who was wringing her hands and making excuses for the behavior of the yelling man. I screamed into her face that he could take his (blanking) opinions and shove them up his (blanking blank) and unsheathed my knife, not because of her, because of HIM.

I woke abruptly at that point and thought, I’m not depressed, I’m MAD!

Photo by Nicole Mason on Unsplash

While I showered and cooked breakfast I sifted through IQ and conformity and cultural and family rules, economic success and failure, work, invalidation and silencing and keeping myself small . I thought of how pressured I’ve always felt to toe the line, be blindly obedient, follow the rules, ask no questions and be normal. Normal, as in compliant, and refraining from challenging the multitude of life’s standard operating procedures that “everyone knows.” Normal, as in not daring to resist, persist, poke, peel away, uncover. Normal, as in never, NEVER expressing curiosity, a thought, an experience, a feeling or an opinion that might make someone uncomfortable. Normal, as in never admitting that the way we’re supposed to do things doesn’t always work for me, and frequently doesn’t appear to work for others, either. I slammed around the kitchen, turning all this over in my mind, letting the bacon burn, and finally pounced on a keystone piece to blog about.

What does it mean to be smart? Why do I feel like a lying imposter when someone makes a casual comment about my IQ? Why is IQ even a thing? Why does so much of my experience consist of “sit down and shut up!”?

Intelligence is defined on an internet search as “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” Please note the absence of any kind of test score in that definition. Likewise, there’s no mention of economic status, educational status or social status. Also, this definition says nothing about intelligence as a prerequisite for being a decent human being.

The definition takes me back to the playing field in which I wrote last week’s blog on work . Here again we have a simple definition for a word that’s positively staggering under assumptions and connotations.

Fine, then. I’ve explored what work means to me. What does intelligence mean to me?

Intelligence means the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn. Good learners do not sit down and shut up. We question, and we go on questioning until we’re satisfied with answers. We try things, make hideous mistakes, think about what went wrong and apply what we learned. We don’t do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. We exercise curiosity and imagination. We pay attention to what others say and do and how it all works out. We pay attention to how we feel and practice telling ourselves the truth about our experience. After a lot of years and scar tissue, we learn to doubt not only our own assertions, beliefs and stories, but everyone else’s as well. We practice being wrong. We become experts in flexible thinking. We adapt to new information.

We give up arguing with what is.

Intelligence endures criticism, judgement, abuse, taunts, threats, denial and contempt. It’s often punished, invalidated and invisible. Intelligence takes courage.

Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

Intelligence is power. It does not sit at the feet of any person, ideology, rule or authority and blindly worship. It retains the right to find out for itself, feel and express its own experience, define its own success, speak its truth in its own unique voice, and it remembers that each of us is limited to one and only one viewpoint in a world of billions of other people.

Intelligence is discerning the difference between the smell of my own shit and someone else’s.

For me, intelligence is a daily practice. It’s messy and disordered and fraught with feeling. It means that everything is an opportunity to learn something new. Everything is something to explore in my writing.

I have no idea what my IQ is, and I don’t much care. I’m sick and tired of all the family baggage I’ve carried around about who’s smart and who isn’t and how we all compare. Honestly. What am I, 10 years old? Enough, already.

I’m also fed up with being silenced, and in fact I’ve already refused to comply with that, as evidenced by this blog. I understand a lot of people don’t want to deal with uncomfortable questions. Too bad. Those folks are not going to be readers. It’s not my job to produce sugar-coated bullshit that can’t possibly threaten or disturb anyone.

So there it is. The practice of intelligence. My daily crime.

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

Get over it.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

 

 

 

 

Dancing Home

Last weekend I took my own advice and surrendered to the now of my life.  Two big, heavy wooden doors opened like wings and I came home to dance between them.

New England Barn

One of the dearest friends of my life introduced me (kicking and screaming all the way) to dance more than ten years ago.

“No,” I said, “I can’t do that.”

“No,” I said, “I don’t know how.”

But she, in her infinite female wisdom, nagged and niggled and poked and prodded until at last I agreed to try it.  Once.  Just to get her to shut up about it!

So I tried it and found myself there, waiting.  I rarely missed a dance for years and years afterward.  Ours was a small group of dancers, ebbing and flowing over the years, but the core group remained remarkably the same.  Sometimes there were only two of us.  It didn’t matter.  It was a safe place, a place to be with myself in candlelight, a place to be in my body without thought, shame or responsibility.  Everything happened at dance.  We raged, we sobbed, we hurt, we lay on the floor.  We shouted and clapped, farted, belched, giggled, played, pounded on the walls and danced until we drooled.  It’s one of the few places in my life where I’ve felt I belonged.

Leaving my dance group was the most painful loss when I left my old life and came to Maine.  I knew I could never replace it, but I hoped to find another place, another group, another dance.

The farmhouse I live in is more than a hundred years old and that means the ceilings are low.  I don’t need a lot of room to dance by myself, but I do need to be able to move freely.  I did dance a couple of times the first winter and spring I was here, but I had to make myself small so I didn’t scrape the ceiling with my hands and my mind was filled with what I’d left behind.  It was so painful I didn’t want to face it again.

In Colorado we danced in a yoga studio.  It was a beautiful space—clean, high ceilinged, wood floored.  Perfect.  Our little town was safe after dark, the studio was easily accessible, it was heated, there was a bathroom available and for most of us it was less than a five minute drive to get there.

Since I’ve come to Maine I’ve searched for a local group.  I’ve talked to several women about dance.  Some have been intrigued, but they’re busy, or they have partners, or we don’t live very close together, or there’s no place to get together and do it.  You know.

Here, the nearest town is twenty minutes away in good weather.  I’m sure there are places in town we might use, but I don’t know where.  Or who.  Or how.  I’m intimidated and overwhelmed and it seems ridiculous to try to find a suitable gathering place when there’s no dance group to use it.

So I stopped trying.  Too painful.  After all, now I have a partner to hang out with in the evenings.  I told myself I’d keep thinking about it, look for openings, and eventually, maybe, be able to start another group.  Or even find one.  One day.  When we had more money.  If we moved somewhere else.  If we had a better car that could actually deal with driving on winter nights.

But this summer there’s a lot of movement and change, not all of it comfortable.  I’m learning a lot.  I’m feeling a lot.  Writing is good, and so is swimming, but dance accesses something deeper.  I’ve known for a few weeks now I need to find a way to get back into those depths for my sake and for the sake of my loved ones.

So I decided to quit playing games with myself and figure this out.

Naturally, an old farmhouse in Maine comes equipped with a barn.  Ours is a total of New England barn in winterfour stories, a typical New England nineteenth century barn   There’s a bat colony in the top of it and it’s an apartment house for rodents.  It’s constructed of gorgeous beams and posts, high ceilings, huge blocks of stone in the foundation.  Windows look across the tops of the trees and over the river valley, most of them without glass now.  We have six cords of hardwood stored in the garage level and miscellaneous stuff on the top two floors.  The spirit of the building is in the bottom, though, which is accessed through two huge heavy wooden doors that are permanently propped open in the back of the building.  This area is mostly underground and the stone foundation can be clearly seen.  There are old pens and animal stalls built by hand from the plentiful wood here; not boards, but logs and saplings, rough cut.  The mowed area in front of this lower floor is not visible from house, driveway or road and is surrounded by trees.

So, I built a playlist of good music, a mix of old familiar dance tunes and some new discoveries.  I swept and raked, picked up trash and got rid of some impressive spider webs.  I found an old rusty tin can, filled it with dirt and stuck incense in it.  I put on a skirt and some jewelry, found a pair of light shoes I thought would work (I’ve always danced barefoot), grabbed a yoga mat to sit in the grass and stretch on and went to see what would happen.

They were all there, my dancers.  It seemed to me I could almost reach out and touch them.  They mingled with the ghosts of animals, long dead; generations of birds, now flown from empty nests in the rafters; and the dirty lace of old cobwebs.  My feet felt clumsy and heavy in shoes and it wasn’t night, but my body remembered how to move and my brain remembered how to lie down and rest.  The music swept me up, pushed me with sharp elbows and knees, shook me by the scruff of the neck, played with me and soothed me.  I danced with my expectations, my stories, my fears and limitations and loss.  I danced with my disappointment and grief and rage.  I threw down my rigidity, refusal and denial and danced in their blood.  I danced with the joy of coming back to myself.

I danced in an old barn, in a new life, but not alone.  The past is still with me, the dancers I knew green and supple in my memory.  The pain of change is not, after all, too great to bear.  I don’t need money.  I don’t need a better car.  I don’t need anything that hasn’t been here all along.  I don’t need to wait for anyone else or anything else.  I just needed to surrender to what is now.

So this one’s for you, my dear Bobbi; for you, Jill, in all your beautiful sensitivity; for you, Rena, who taught me so much about strength, courage and being real; and for you, Pat, who brought essential balance to our group and allowed us to dance with a playful small boy.

Half a world away, you all still honor my dance with your presence.

**************

The experience of dance is a hard thing to convey to someone who’s never done it.  I’ve written extensively about it, however, in my book.  Please see ‘The Hanged Man’ page for a new excerpt.

We based our dance practice in Colorado on the work of Gabrielle Roth, and I still follow this template.  Please see my web resource page for links.  Also, here’s a wonderful piece about the power of dance:  https://godsandradicals.org/2016/08/22/in-praise-of-the-dancing-body/

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

 

 

 

Consent

Last month I posted about our power and ability to say both yes and no to others.  This morning I’m thinking about another level of yes and no; that is the yes and no we say to life.  At this level, the term ‘consent’ is useful.  Consent means to “give permission for something to happen,” according to a 2-second search on Google.

Consent is a huge and complex topic and there’s a great deal of discussion about different aspects of it.  For the purposes of this blog, I’m using consent in the widest sense; the way in which we approach life.

Several interactions this week have made me think about the mysterious difference between people who consent to learn and grow and those who don’t.  When I think about my observations, and people I’ve known, it’s clear to me that the difference between these two kinds of people has nothing to do with age, sex, money, gender, education, employment, intellect or family.  It has nothing to do with the color of your skin or the God(s) you worship, or where on the planet you live, or what kind of horrors you might have endured.

I’m acquainted with a writer who sent me a piece in praise of stubbornness, a quality she admires (as do I) in herself and others because to her it means a determination to survive and do well, regardless of limitations, real and perceived.  (Thank you, A!)  We might mean the same thing by consent and stubbornness, or close to it.  I see the ability to consent to learning and growth, over and over, no matter how many times we’re knocked down and cut off, as a kind of stubbornness—a refusal to give up, to close down, to conform to something that doesn’t work for us.

Without even trying I can identify seven people in my life, past and present, who don’t consent to the experience of life, the flow, the dance, the mystery and uncertainty, the synchronicity and the billions of invitations that arise for exploration, connection, understanding, growing and being.

These folks are easy to spot.  They resist.  They argue with what is.  They deny, distract, fall into various addictions.  They don’t communicate well.  They care about winning, being right and power over.  They have rigid stories and expectations.  Everything that happens to them is a personal insult or a crisis.  They’re victims.  A good, deep question is a grave threat.  To my eyes, they look miserably unhappy.  They repeat the same patterns, over and over, dying a little more with each fruitless repetition.  They do not consent.  They refuse.

Every single one of the seven people I’m thinking of has had opportunities to learn, to grow, to change, to make different choices.  They all had people in their lives who loved them and had information, tools and skills that might have enriched them.  They all had people in their lives who valued them and wanted their contribution.  They each had at least one person in their life who would have done anything to support them in learning and growing, and that person was me.

Most of those relationships are behind me now, because I have this unforgiveable quality of consent.  You might say it’s my daily crime, in fact.  My life now is based on the why, the what if, the whose rule is that, the help me understand that.  My life is about teach me, show me, share with me and what do you think?  My life is about doing more of what works and letting the rest go.  People who refuse and people who consent invariably have friction, because their needs are opposite.  There’s just nowhere meaningful to go.

People who consent are not perfect or perfectly happy people.  On the contrary, their lives have been filled with mess and miscalculations, abuse, addictions and other painful experiences, but they’ve learned from everything and everyone.  People who consent don’t look at their lives with bitterness or frame things as mistakes.  They see teachers, opportunities and fascinating things learned and yet to learn.  People who consent are endlessly curious.  They’re always thinking about what they don’t know and questioning what they think they do know.  They’re always seeking the hidden thing.  They’re more likely to ask questions than proselytize or lay down the law.  They’re not interested in power games or being right or winning.  They seek to understand, to explore, to exercise choice, to manage their own power.  They can laugh at themselves.  They can and do say no, but they say it to protect their integrity and needs, not to shut out or control life.

People who consent choose happiness.  That’s the most important one for me.  I’m still reaching for that.  I’ve always been a person who consents, but I’ve also chosen to stay limited in many important ways.  As I’ve learned to discern between refusal and consent, I see that living life from a state of consent results in joy.  Again, it’s got nothing to do with age, beauty, money, status or any of the things that the culture says we’re defined by.  Joy, at the end of the day, is a simple thing, arising out of being at peace with this wild ride we call life.  Joy is consenting to surrender, consenting to feel and experience, consenting to feeling fear and doing it anyway, consenting to give up trying to control all the things we can’t control.  Joy is composed of tears, blood, loss and disappointment, pain and growth.  We already have it.  It’s here, sitting on your shoulder as you read this and mine as I write.

All we have to do is consent.

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted