Genius or Failure: TBD

I was inspired by last week’s New Yorker, the one with “Red Death on Wall Street” on the cover, no schadenfraude intended. Despite the nightmares in which I’m greeted by the Grim Reaper in Dennis Rodman hip-hop garb and I cry tears of blood, the Malcolm Gladwell article, “Late Bloomers,” gave me a bit of artistic hope.

It opens with an anecdote (warning: article spoiler) about this guy who quits his job as a lawyer with the dream we all know too well of being A Writer. He has little literary training, but is disciplined. He sells a few stories, and is obviously intelligent, having passed the bar and all. At this point in my reading, I start shaking my head and muttering obscenities. I’m having flashbacks to the Murakami article several months ago (culled from his new running memoir) in which he describes quitting his bar-owning lifestyle to become a best-selling prolific novelist because it “suited” him. I’m not sure if I’m revising Murakami here, but I basically understood his career path as an I-decided-to-be-a-writer-and-so-it-happened tale.

So, this lawyer sells some stories, then there’s a dark period, an unpublished novel, then something in Harper’s, a short story collection, then lots of awards. I’m envious and bitter and pretty sure I’m on the local bus to nowheresville, when Gladwell tells us the catch: the timeline. This lawyer guy’s rise took 18 years. Immediately, I felt buoyant.

The article explores our natural inclination to associate genuis with precocity, using examples like Ben Fountain (the lawyer and late bloomer) and Jonathon Saffron Foer (the precocious genius), as well as Picasso and Cezanne. It debunks some myths and introduces the concept of the “patron,” the person or people who fund the artist on the long walk to glory. I began to find that it helps me deal with my job if I consider my company my patron rather than my employer.

This is one of my favorite quotes: “On the road to great achievement, the late bloomer will resemble a failure: while the late bloomer is revising and despairing and changing course and slashing canvases to ribbons after months or years, what he or she produces will look like the kind of thing produced by the artist who will never bloom at all. Prodigies are easy. They advertise their genius from the get-go. Late bloomers are hard. They require forbearance and blind faith.”

I like the quote and the article because they give me the illusion of hope, offering a nod to the blind faith that is the antithesis to my logical constitution. It is one of last lines in the article that left me the most encouraged, “sometimes genuis is anything but rarefied; sometimes it’s just the thing that emerges after twenty years of working at your kitchen table.”

I have more rejections coming my way. More setbacks. More thoughts of failure. More crappy patrons. More ass sores from sitting in that damn desk chair. But someday, I tell you, some day…

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