Thursday, June 30, 2011

With an hour to go...

before I pick up my pal Penelope for our trip to the Mensa Annual Gathering in Portland, there's enough time to write a quick post about how excited I am about doing this.

I joined Mensa thirty years ago, when my mom, seeing how stupid I felt after the breakup of my marriage, urged me to try my luck and take an IQ test. In my capacity as a school counselor, I had just given my young nephew Joel an IQ test, which he'd blasted the lid off of, to enable him to join Mensa.

"You could do that too, you know," my mom said. "Don't you remember when you were in 7th grade and Mr. S called us in to talk to us about you? We didn't say much to you about it, but his message was that you were undoubtedly a gifted child and we needed to provide you with the best education we could manage. At that time, you tested in the 140 level. You're probably still there, even if you feel dumb." (Words paraphrased, obviously.)

So I thought about it and eventually enlisted my friend Arline, the school psychologist at the junior high where I worked, to give me the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS), figuring that if my brain had deteriorated, as I was afraid it might have, at least she was sworn to confidentiality and nobody would have to know.

But there I was, still, in that range, whether I felt stupid or not. And I sent in my test results, certified by a qualified psychologist, and was duly accepted into Mensa, the high IQ society.

I dithered for months, wondering if I had made a huge mistake. I was afraid to tell people, for fear they'd think I was bragging, for fear of being labeled a brainiac (which I certainly didn't feel like), for fear of being put down as someone who thought overly highly of myself. What good was it to belong to Mensa if I wasn't comfortable telling people?

And then I went to my first meeting of the Denver group, a gathering in a buffet restaurant before a monthly general meeting on some topic. It was like walking into a comfortable, casual home with people who liked me immediately, understood and laughed at my jokes, told their own esoteric funny stories, reveled in punny humor, and weren't the least bit stuck on themselves because of their high intelligence.

Over the years since then, I've honed my leadership skills as an officer in the Denver group (if leading UUs is like herding cats, try Mensans!), spent a few years working with gifted underachieving adolescents in schools, and generally having a blast most (not all) of the time. I got my first writing-for-publication experience writing monthly columns for the Matrix, Denver Mensa's newsletter; I got my first conflict reduction experience as LocSec/President of Denver Mensa for several years; I found some of my fondest friends and lovers in the group (fond, not necessarily normal). And I also got temporarily disillusioned and dropped out for a few years.

Re-entering Mensa when I came back to Oregon in 1999 put me in a whole different Mensa milieu, fun but not as demanding as my earlier leadership experience. And moving up to this area meant I became a member of the Western Washington Mensa group, where friend Richard and I started the Whidbey Island "Thank Goodness It's Friday" second Friday Happy Hour, alternating between Freeland's China City bar and the San Remo Grill in Oak Harbor.

I haven't been to an AG (Annual Gathering) since at least 1991---twenty years. And in scanning the roster of registrants, I'm aware that I will only know a handful of attendees at the gathering. But I believe that there will be the same high spirits, stimulating presentations, and convivial shmooze sessions that have always characterized an AG for me.

So there---I'm out of the closet on this. I am a smart person, even though I don't act like it sometimes. I am not vain about it; my parents and brother and sister are also smart. And then there's Joel! My son became a Mensan when he was old enough to take a junior high IQ test. My ex-husband is also eligible. It's pure luck on my part to be smart and I have a responsibility to be humble about it and use it well.

I have noticed that as I got more and more involved in ministry, my interests changed and shifted and I was less interested in what Mensa was doing. I have spent the past twenty years immersed in ministry, with its search for meaning rather than information. But there's always been a little spark of curiosity in me about science and behavior patterns and human development---not just what they mean in isolation but in relationship to my vocation. And if IQ has had anything to do with ministry, I hope it has been to be intelligent about my relationships, to curb my weirder responses that are an attempt to be funny, and to offer understanding and comfort to others who often offend because they are "too smart for their own good".

In fact, I once thought I might write a book with that title, about what it's like to be a gifted kid grown into a gifted adult, to go from obnoxiously smart to more socially acceptable intelligence. It's been a journey that has had its ups and downs. I still do dumb things occasionally and, even as I smack my forehead in frustration, I still know that I am a wiser person, due in large part to my life experiences.

Mensa is NOT a place where people sit around and stroke their egos. At least I've never seen that happen. Mostly I see people who are blossoming in the accepting atmosphere of a place where they are understood and appreciated for their weird humor, eccentric interests, and creative ideas. If you feel a little off-kilter sometimes in a world that doesn't see things the way you do, consider visiting a Mensa meeting and see what you think. You might find a new home.


Miss Kitty said...

Wow! What a cool group, and what a sweet story.

Pixie and I supposedly tested very high on IQ stuff when we were kids. Our dad had a psychologist in D2U City administer the tests; funny, but we never found out how we did. I don't really want to think about why he had us tested; we were both already in the "gifted" program at school. But the test day came and went, and Pixie and I forgot completely about it. There was plenty of other high-priority crap going on in our lives.

Fast-forward 20+ years. After my divorce in my late 20s, I dated a fellow whom I'll call John. His friend at work was married to the daughter of our longtime nanny. John called me up one day and said, "Why didn't you tell me you were a genius?" I said, "Whaaaaa?" He replied, "Kevin says according to his mother-in-law, you and Pixie blew the Genius Test off the chart, highest score the shrink had ever seen with kids yall's age."

I still don't know what it all means.

ms. kitty said...

One of the presentations at the AG is entitled "Help Me, I'm Gifted: the Hidden Life of Smart People" and is about what it means to be a gifted adult in America in 2011, through discussion of some of the myths that surround high intelligence. One of my reasons for not being more open about my Mensa membership is that I don't know what people think "high intelligence" means. Like Kevin, people often think it means "genius" and God knows I'm not a genius in the typical way.

Just looking around me at the other attendees, I can see a lot of folks who would be labeled "eccentric" and "weird" rather than smart; they are hugely overweight, illmannered, bombastic, off-kilter---and interesting!

The minds in these folks are unusual in the ways they process input. I pick that up from both you and Pixie, though you don't come across as eccentric or weird. (Or fat, rude, etc., either!)

Mensa is home to really nice smart people and really hard-to-stomach smart people. You kinda take the bitter with the sweet, but when I've taken the time to get to know the true oddballs, it's been very interesting!

You can visit a Mensa gathering near you without being a member; most chapters welcome visitors at their open events, like a monthly general meeting. You can sample it and see if you feel like you fit.

I don't know what your local GA group is like; I did attend an Annual Gathering in Atlanta years ago and had fun, but that's not a guarantee of the flavor of the local group.

Do it when Pixie comes to visit sometime; if it works, you'll have fun. If it doesn't you'll have lots to talk about!

Miss Kitty said...

Hmmm, thanks for the info, Ms. K. I don't know how I would do on any sort of IQ test these days--especially since I know what the test is for; back then, I was young and blissfully unaware, and just happy to have the day off from the utter boredom that was school. :-)

I'm president of a writer's convention, and your description of the Mensa attendees sounds a whole lot like the strange but ultimately sweet group on our Steering Committee. Don't know what that means, either, but there it is. Between Pixie and me, I'm the more socially awkward one, but we're indeed both sensitive and eccentric. :-)


ms. kitty said...

Actually, you might not have to take the test----lots of people get in on scores like SATs GREs, ASVABs, etc.

But you sound like you've got your very own little bunch of sweet eccentrics to deal with!

Thanks for the hugs---back atcha, dear one!