Thursday, April 21, 2016

We Can't All Be Geniuses. And That's OK.

Like every other Gen-Xer on my timeline (and a good many people from other generations), I'm a bit in shock to hear that Prince has died. His music was everywhere during my high school years, and even though I wasn't "supposed" to like it under the rules that governed coolness in my high school world (I was "mod" and we only liked "new wave," mostly British stuff) I loved it.

People are tweeting about how his music helped them through tough times, and how his example helped them embrace their own unique identities. I don't have any such stories, but I loved to dance to 1999 and Little Red Corvette, and I can still remember being blown away by Purple Rain.

He clearly was a genius, and he is gone too soon.

I've been thinking a lot about genius lately, perhaps prompted by my musical obsession of the moment, Hamilton. I think Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius, too. I'm using the word to mean "someone who has understood or created something amazing that no one else even realized was a possibility." I wish we had a better word for this, because I don't just mean "super smart" or "super talented."

I'm always humbled and a little discouraged when I come across genius like this. I don't think I'll ever create or understand something no one else even realized was a possibility. In my teens and twenties, I assumed that I just hadn't found the area in which I would shine. In my thirties, I realized that there was no area in which I'd be that kind of genius, and I consoled myself with stories like the one about the two guys who saved Shakespeare's work for posterity. Now, in my 40s, I think that not everyone gets to make that much of an impact on the world, and that's OK. You can tell I was starting to realize that at the end of that last post. Some of us- most of us, really- will just pass through, and no one outside of our immediate circle will be much changed by our having been here.

And that's OK. Really, it is.

I keep working on my projects, because they matter to me, and I want to accomplish my goals. I try not to worry about whether they will matter to anyone else, beyond the obvious fact that I want enough people to buy the things I make to allow me to live my comfortable life. If they don't, well, I guess I'll keep my day job, and keep trying.

The older I get, the more I think the most important thing in life is love and kindness. Love for family and friends, and kindness for everyone else. Not superficial kindness, but profound kindness. The kindness that accepts where other people are, not where I think they should be. The kindness that remembers everyone is important and has value, and that everyone is struggling along their own difficult path in life, even when I don't understand or can't really see the difficulties.

I haven't really figured out how to handle assholes in this paradigm, though. Maybe that's what I figure out in my 50s?

Anyway, I mourn the loss of Prince and his unique genius. From what I've read, it sounds like he was a good guy as well as a genius, and I mourn the loss of a good guy, too. The world needs more of those just as much as it needs the rare genius. We can't all be geniuses, but we can all try to be good, kind people. We can't all create something that helps ease the paths of people we've never met, but we can try to help ease the paths of the people we do meet. Surely, that is enough.


  1. I feel the way about Prince's death that I felt--and still feel--about David Bowie's. I liked much of their music, but I can't say that I was a passionate fan. I mean that not as criticism, but as a form of self-awareness. I didn't know all of their work. I never saw them in concert. I don't know very much about them as people.

    But in both cases, I was glad they were in the world. They each brought something no one else did. They made the opportunity for creativity seem as if it were always just around the corner.

    Prince's Super Bowl halftime show was one of my favorite performances of all time. He seemed strange, but strange in a way that was true to himself and not only didn't hurt others, but may well have helped them. He was one of the very few celebrities who I thought, "It would be interesting to meet him, and just be near him and see how his mind works." But at the same time, I admired the way he maintained his privacy.

    I'm really not a music person. I don't know a lot about music, and I am well aware that a great deal of what I like is not very good. But I know it's a loss to all of us that there will be no more music from Prince.

  2. Beautifully said. I was not a big Prince fan either but he definitely had that spark of something -- genius -- that very few people have/had.

  3. I wasn't a devotee of either David Bowie or Prince but I was touched by their deaths because they did have such a profound impact on so many lives, and of course I did enjoy their music.

    And I'm so happy to hear you think the same of LMM! I've indulged in a few delighted posts about him but was disappointed that hardly anyone else in my readership was interested at all in the genius that he's created. I'm reading the Hamiltome right now, when I can carve out an hour, and just immensely enjoying seeing how his mind worked and how hard he worked to make this happen.

    And on that note about genius, it was a funny thing that I grew up assuming that I was going to find my thing to be a genius about and it was simple as that. Like you, I'm realizing I may at best be highly competent at some skills but geniosity isn't in the cards. And I think in my 40s, I may learn to be ok with that too.


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