gray matter


I once took a course on logical thinking in school. I don’t really remember too much about it, except for what a friend reminded me were called “syllogisms”. It’s an equation of thought, ending with “therefore”, symbolized with a triangle, and the answer found by the deduction. I recently remembered it, and started using it again, when my doctor said that I was “very good” at using reason.

This, and what followed, was a big deal for me. A very big deal. It erased something I was taught to be true all my life about myself, and led me to embrace instead what people around me say: I am good at using reason.

The psychologist who was impressed at my ability to reason in one of the homework assignments he gave me, my boss who always remembered this flow chart I instinctively made in trying to refine my customer service, all my peers and people around me who always considered me to be a thinker, or alternatively, a teacher*… I used to ignore everything they said. I’d feel good about it, remember it, but only at arm’s length because I was the stupid one. The disappointing one. The one who wasn’t a scientist or ambitious in any way. I was the one who doodled and daydreamed, the one who watched cartoons and played video games, the one who always messed things up; what could I ever amount to? That’s not what an intellectual looks like, right?

*A/N: Seriously, everyone and their grandmother thought I was a teacher. Complete strangers would remark, “You’re a teacher, aren’t you?” When I tell them “no I’m not,” they commonly would say “You should be”, listing their reasons. Maybe…one day. It’s something I’m going to take another look at in any case.

I believed that I was just plain stupid so strongly that I ignored my decidedly not-stupid tendencies, like how I study things that I was afraid of to understand them better (and thus be less afraid), or how I think and write through my problems, even out of suicidal depression. I always believed “I don’t have a mind for science”, yet I was happily studying a big subject like modern cosmology (study of the universe), and binge-watch things like Minute Physics (highly recommended). I bet that if I didn’t recite, “I don’t have a mind for science” I would’ve done a lot better in school instead of almost failing each science course I took until college.

Maybe I wouldn’t have shut down whenever I got the wrong answer, or when my parents would swoop in and take over whatever project I’m working on through the night (or otherwise yell at me for not starting sooner as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy). Maybe I wouldn’t sob to myself, “I knew I was stupid. I knew I couldn’t do anything right.

I don’t have a lot of confidence…but then, maybe I do. “Confidence” comes from the Latin word “confideo” meaning “to believe”, or literally “with faith”. The people who taught me that I was stupid and can’t reason my way out of anything aren’t trustworthy, their argument therefore isn’t trustworthy, and therefore, I should believe in more trustworthy sources. I mentioned that I called my therapist “doctor” because he has a doctorate. He’s a very experienced thinker who is also creatively gifted, namely with music. He (used to?) teach as a professor, and he’s counseled all kinds of people. He also cares for me, and is honest with me. Therefore, his ability to gauge my ability to reason is more trustworthy, and therefore, I can take what he and all those other people (many being teachers and learners themselves) said with faith.

I, who can trust very little, managed to trust all these people that a whole identity I had for myself was a lie. That’s a big deal, a rare thing. I didn’t come here by myself, and that’s very okay; just makes me more grateful and less lonely. To share another part of my geekiness The Doctor from Doctor Who often described himself as lonely, being the smartest and most long-lived person than most everyone/everything else he encounters. Maybe that’s part of why he always travels with companions, to have someone to be grateful of, because they add something to his gifts, even if just their love and confidence in him.

I don’t really like acknowledging when things go right out of trauma-driven cynicism, and a concern for how others might feel, hearing me “brag” about something I accomplished. I’m sharing this on the chance that maybe those feelings are misplaced, that it would be something that inspires you instead. I know I can’t be good at everything (which is hard, because I really hate not being good at something). Unlike what people loved to say when I was growing up, I can’t be whatever I want to be, nor do whatever I want to do. I can do more than I thought I could, though. The evidence was all there, but I looked away.

If there’s something like that in your life, I’d advise another look. If nothing else, it beats the empty place it would otherwise occupy. It’s a very depressing place to be in.

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