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Ignorance is Bliss?

Last night I watched “House.” This is a religious observance for me, and it has long been my belief that Gregory and I are soul-mates destined to be together, regardless of the facts that I am married, and that he doesn’t so much exist. It would be a terrible relationship anyway, what with both of us tending towards the melancholy and sardonic; it’s been my observation that relationships work better when at least one of the parties is capable of a little joie de vivre.

Although the medical storyline is often predictable (“it’s TTP-it’s ALS-it’s lupus-it’s his kidney-it’s his spleen-it’s his lungs-let’s drill a hole in his brain-let’s remove his spleen-let’s break into his house and snoop”) that is not usually the aspect of the show that interests me. Mostly, I am interested in the characters, and enthralled that they are allowed much more latitude to change and grow than the more static types in the average hour-long drama. Last night, however, I was all about the case.

The situation, in brief, was that the Major Patient was a former genius who had been living a “regular” life for many years, including a job as a courier, and marriage to a woman of average intellect. In the course of his treatment for Mysterious Symptoms,Β  it was discovered that he had been “robo tripping” by ingesting cough syrup containing DXM, along with a little daily alcohol. He had been doing this not to get a buzz, but because the effects of the drug made him dumber, and therefore able to live happily with his ordinary job and his ordinary wife. After having the drug flushed from his system, he returned to drawing complex molecular structures, but was miserable because, in his natural state of genius, he could not love a wife with an IQ 91 points lower than his own. (He compared her, unfavorably, to “a Gibbon”). In the end, with House’s tacit blessing, Major Patient went with the cough syrup, the courier job, and the wife, choosing to shutter the part of his brain that offered unlimited potential for both achievement and suffering.

This story line stirred up an issue I have wrestled with for at least 30 years. I am not a genius (and my husband is, by no stretch of the imagination, a Gibbon), and I am unlikely ever to be diagramming molecular structures. I do, however, have intellect of a kind that seems to result in excess thinking that is rarely productive and often misery-inducing. I am not speaking here of mere worry, but of a brain crowded with cacophonous noise. This is not “Sam’s English grade is a ‘B;’ I wish it were an ‘A'” but “How can Sam not love reading like his father and I do? Don’t we set a good example? Didn’t we read to him enough when he was little? Will he ever enjoy reading? What kind of life can a person have without reading? Is there something I can do? No, wait, I have to let him be who he is. But maybe if I found the right book?” I don’t forget much, I tend to be obsessive and competitive, and I am often working and re-working ideas, disaster scenarios, and new menu ideas while obnoxiously calling out “Jeopardy” answers. My brain stops this jangling noise when I sleep, when I drink more than I can actually drink without getting sick, or, as I discovered recently, when I am taking Vicodin, Flexeril, and Valium at the same time. A legit and medically indicated chemical lobotomy, but a chemical lobotomy nonetheless.

So would I be happier if I were dumber? Leaving aside all collateral issues of socioeconomic consequences, would I be happier if I were living my life with a lower IQ. (Well, it couldn’t really be my life because I am married to a man who thought it was hot that I was smart, and I am the mother of a child whose favorite class is Advanced Math. I think this scenario only works if I am less intelligent and living somebody else’s life).

If my IQ were lowered just the right amount, I would likely lose the ability to write this blog, to do either of my jobs, or to read the book I’m reading with any real comprehension. My grades would have been lower (except in math, where there was no “lower”), I might not have been able to get through law school, and I would be less capable of making rapid connections and synthesizing facts and concepts. I would probably stop reading theology and literary criticism. I might watch the same things on TV, but be able to relax and enjoy them more without focusing rigidly to make sure no plot point passed me by. I might possibly accept things more readily rather than scheming frantically to fix, change, or otherwise re-cast reality in a way that it suited me better. I would undoubtedly be less judgmental, less analytical, and more at ease with myself and other people.

Or not. The problem with this experiment is that it’s nearly impossible to separate intellect from personality. I have “smart girl” neuroses, as do legions of women, and a lower IQ would not necessarily make me happier, just worried about a whole different set of things. The genius on “House”did not just lower his intellectual functioning by drinking cough syrup; he mellowed his harsh.

Intellect is not a personal attribute that can be sifted out from an individual’s history and wiring, from upbringing to emotional temperature. Even with an objective IQ score significantly south of the real deal, I might have become interested in theology and literature because I grew up in a household in which people were interested in, and talked about such things. Similarly, I might also be just as neurotic and hypersensitive as I am, perhaps about people thinking I was dumb, instead of thinking I was odd, or ugly. I just don’t encounter many people in my daily life who are worry-free, and some of the people I see must be of “average” intelligence or less; otherwise it’s not “average,” right?

I’ll never know. There is no cough medicine in the house, and it seems like poor judgment to run out and buy some in time to lower my IQ for Thanksgiving. (Although I might be happier as I mashed two kinds of potatoes and dissolved sugar for the cranberry sauce). My best guess is that ignorance is not bliss; it’s just all the same stuff with less compulsion to write in iambic pentameter or compose tone rows. Sanity, or at least a sunnier disposition and a more even keel might be bliss, but would mean the loss of all of the edge and darkness that make me who I am. Probably, we are all meant to be exactly who we are, and the work of our lives is to “accept the things we cannot change; have the courage to change the things we can; and possess the wisdom to know the difference.” Without cough syrup.

28 responses »

  1. I am glad I am not the only one who is in love with Greg House… and I enjoy your blog! thanks for making me smile!

    • I think there are lots of us. I would walk over Tom Cruise’s prone body to get to Hugh Laurie.

      Thanks for the compliment; if I made one person smile, I can happily go back to my life as a tortured non-genius. πŸ™‚

  2. Agreed. Accepting life as it is would make every day of so much nicer. Except of course for all the wrong, f*d up things that need fixing, and then for that I’m glad that you, me, and others spend lots of time spinning, thinking, and working on it. So onto cultivating that wisdom to know the difference.

    • I think it’s also really, really important to take the time to read the “Twilight” series, and see all of the movies. Aren’t you glad that we aren’t so smart that we eschew such pedestrian (and delicious) stuff?

      • Guilty pleasure–I’m rereading Eclipse…easier than the book my dad gave me “the God Delusion” which looks rather dense, but, as it was a gift, I’ll give it a go.

        I love how people can be really smart in one area, but, um, lacking, in others…math is really hard for me, foreign languages quite easy…go figure!

  3. “Soul-mates” are overrated anyway, as we know.

  4. Yes, very important to be able to enjoy all the delightful fluff in the world and not spend so much time analyzing it that the fun is drained out of it. I need to remind Ken of that every time I watch my silly TV shows.

  5. This very theme was also the subject of a Simpson’s episode. We find out that Homer is actually smart, but he’s an oaf because as a kid he shoved a crayon up his nose that impacted his brain. When the crayon is removed he becomes smart and bonds tightly with Lisa. He then decides that life as experienced by being smart is not enjoyable, so he has the crayon jammed back up his nose again.

    BTW, I like House but my favorite TV Doc is Doctor Cox from Scrubs.

    • My brother (who may rival your encyclopedic Simpson knowledge) has mentioned that episode – interesting that it’s such a widely-used theme, and that in our (small) random sampling, it’s better to be stupid….

  6. I just watched this episode on my DVR and found this site doing a search wondering all yhe same types of thoughts. I come from a family in which half are quite brilliant, but also a bit in their own worlds. Myself included. Best move I ever made was to make my Dr give me an ADHD med. Strattera specifically. I found I am just as smart, but without the frustration edge. I can be more true to my soul so-to-speak. I am more easy going. For instance I didn’t get mad at myself just now for ending a sentance with an adjective. But…I am still lonely with the IQ spread between me and my girlfriend. I can see why people would want to DXM.

    • Interesting…I am medicated for anxiety (this is not a big secret) and I find that, while it takes the edge off, it also blunts the high end of my emotions and ability to create. I think I may have a different kind of gift, though; I am by no means “brilliant,” but I am artistic. It is undoubtedly different from your experience.

      As for the loneliness, I have learned (and I’m guessing that I’m older than you are) that I benefit from a mix of people who push me intellectually, and people who don’t, but who are wonderful in other ways. I think we’re better off finding people who we can talk to about ideas and all things intellectual than using DMX to blunt those impulses, and it sounds like the Strattera is probably a good compromise.

  7. You made me smile as well, as you so often do. I honestly think you are my twin (I get to be the evil one!) sometimes. …there is no lower, LOL!!! I have the episode on tape, and now I really must pounce on it. After I query all my foodie friends for my T-giving menu.

    Thanks, Ann!

  8. I must say, after a really bad day (following a rare, but really good day) – this made me laugh – this – in particular:

    the effects of the drug made him dumber, and therefore able to live happily with his ordinary job and his ordinary wife. After having the drug flushed from his system, he returned to drawing complex molecular structures, but was miserable because, in his natural state of genius, he could not love a wife with an IQ 91 points lower than his own. (He compared her, unfavorably, to β€œa Gibbon”).

    So, I’m thinking I need to toss my stilettos (and my parental responsibilities?), find some Wiz of Oz flying monkeys, and drink red cough syrupy stuff with a little red wine added. Then I’ll be dumb, happy(er?), and while never having cared about complex molecular structures, I won’t care about the complexities of file structures, or the residential house of cards in which we live, or grammatical structures either for that matter.

    No doubt, infrastructures, superstructures, and organizational restructures would all fall to the wayside (Inn?) as well, leaving me “dumb”sturck(er) and again – happy(er).

    All from watching House, hmm? Damn. Shoulda (technical term) put the TV on I guess.

    You did make me smile…

    • Keep the stilletos; you’ll be having more fun if you’re dumber, and they may come in handy. Keep smiling, have some wine, de-structure, and threaten your children that if they come near you there will be blood on the moon. If you still aren’t happy, go for the cough syrup.

  9. For some strange reason, I think this is the sexiest post of your uninterrupted NaBlaPoMo–I bow before you. Don’t think we’re letting you off the hook in December….we’re not.

    • Hmmm. Sexiest…wonder why? Perhaps for the same reason that causes me to linger at the top of this post, even when I should scroll down and reply to comments?

      I may not want to be off the hook in December. Kind of loving this.

  10. just saw my error–please to correct: NaBloPoMo to above ^

  11. “may not want to be”
    (shakes head, mutters) “Masochist too…”

  12. Of course, I look at this from an autism perspective. This reminds me of a presentation I went to years ago. The presenter was a Dr. from U of M Hospital. His son has Aspergers. If you don’t know, one of the main differences between Aspergers and classic autism is IQ. His entire talk is about “who is better off?” The Aspergers or the Classically autistic? In the beginning he asks the audience and almost all vote for the Aspergers being *better off* by the end 95% vote for the classically autistic. In a quick summary the Aspergers being the more tortured genius type who know they don’t fit it with anyone, are the victim of more bullying and hate from their peers, friendless and know it. The classically autistic, and esp Daniel falls into this, is very very happy, thinks everyone loves him (although most everyone does πŸ™‚ has not a self conscious bone in his body and completely enjoys life to the fullest. This does gloss over the horrible sensory issues they deal with on a daily basis and the inability to take care of themselves in adult hood, but I have a feeling when he made the presentation his son was dealing with some serious bullying…which also ties into another post of yours…all an interesting concept. Again a brilliant post Ann. You will need to continue this in December so we aren’t all left feeling empty waiting for your posts πŸ™‚

    • That is really, really interesting, especially since I just finished reading :Look Me in the Eye.” And of course everybody loves Daniel; what’s not to love?

      Thanks for the encouragement. I don’t think I could stop now if I tried….

  13. Ann,

    Eric’s reply…….and I quote

    “I may not want to be off the hook in December. Kind of loving this.”

    “loving this”

    Out loud this time. Masochist!

  14. you are great man !!

    you making me SMILE



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