A question my mother would ask me often was “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”
I’m smart, witty, have a great memory, integrate new information very quickly (learn wicked fast) and offer possible solutions that deliver a new viewpoint on shared problems.
In other words, I’m not only fun to play with, I also am a valuable asset to the team, even if I am idiosyncratic, intellectual and creative. Truth be told, I’m probably more valuable because of those reasons, offering a whole heapload of diverse thinking in one package.
“You know how to charm an audience,” Performance Guy told me after seeing me in a meeting. I know how to read people and meet them where they are, that’s true.
Much of that skill, though, is a skill of modulation. I need to synchronize my speed to the room, need to actively filter what I offer so I don’t overload the audience, need to shape my communication to their context. My charming is about reading the audience, not about just being myself, about concocting a performance that delivers rather than just letting myself rip.
The challenge with making art is always the mix of flow and polish.
My sister makes prints, Performance Guy does Improv Comedy, and I write but we all know that if we are too stifled, not fluid enough, then our art will also be stilted and awkward. Usually if my writing isn’t flowing well, I toss it away and start again rather than trying to hammer a draft into submission. We all have to work with the medium, not torture it.
That ability to be fluid, though, comes out of a mastery, an ability to control the process in conscious ways that consider the technical needs and the considerations of the audience. Just throwing shit doesn’t make quality work, but forcing the work like grinding sausage doesn’t make engaging, full of life work.
I write by finding the voice, but I also write by polishing the work, changing a word here or there to intensify meaning, to make the text more supple and beautiful.
The question, though, the question that Performance Guy asks me is a variant of the question my mother would ask me, “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”
“You are so sharp, with so much to give, so charming,” he says, “and we here find your work very valuable, why can’t you find some organization, someone who will reward you for your contributions?”
Work is my salvation, my joy. To me, work is love. I wrote in “What You Need To Know About My Transgender” that I understand my own transgender nature in the context of work, about the work I need to do in the world. I still tear up when I hear Mac McAnally’s song “It’s My Job.”
TBB thinks it’s that damn Trans-Wall she knows so well that is the big limiting factor. Between wasting my most productive years, leaving me hurt and sensitized rather than confident and potent, and blocking off much of the audience, well, that’s a tough barrier to cross.
As a “too-person” I hit a number of those walls in the world. My intellectualism, my intensity, my memory, my insight all mean that when you need someone at your side in a fight I’m great, but when you want to pull a bit of slight-of-hand, a bit of jiggery-pokery, you’d rather have me out of the picture.
To put it another way, if you are committed to healing, to improvement, I’m great to be around, but if you prefer comfort and ease, well, I’m too challenging to have about.
How do I handle this? I modulate. I turn myself down, read the room, go invisible, play guerrilla. I have learned the tricks to slipping my views in with a bit of sugar so they go down better, have learned to affirm and flatter before I enlighten and reveal.
The trick is simple. I read other people’s worlds and then slip into them, modulated with the power of thought and the techniques of performance. It lets me be effective, but it also leaves me wary and tired, always having to be doing the translation and limiting.
Now, the smarter people are, the easier it is to connect with them. When I was with my mother in the hospital she thought I was there because I liked dealing with smart people. While fast thinkers, professionals who know how to do teamwork are more fun than those without those skills, I was there to take care of her, was there from love and duty.
Maybe you have figured out the limits of this modulation technique. What is too much attenuation? How much limiting is too much limiting? How much compartmentalization is too much? Isn’t trans just too fucking much for the world? I have certainly found it too much for many rooms I have been in, rooms where nobody got the joke.
TBB understands the Trans-Wall. I understand the limits of the Potential Partner Pool, the PPP. If you are 18, fit, gorgeous and not too smart, everyone loves you. But the farther you get away from that baseline, the smaller your PPP is. Hell, once that same 18 year old hits 40, they will have a lot fewer admirers, and that’s just age. Add intellect, healing, queerness, health and so on, and your PPP gets small.
There is no one, not even me, who doesn’t think there are people out there who value what I have to offer. The challenge, though, is the number of people who would value it — the PPP — and the limits of my own resilience, enthusiasm and robustness. I’m not 30, fit and vigorous anymore. I’m not naive and trusting anymore, if ever I was. My fire is well banked, down to embers and ashes.
I know that relationships are relationships, and I know the basic tricks of attraction. People like other people who can play the roles they have written in their head. Sure, smarter people enjoy a greater amount of surprise and challenge, finding delight in a bit of that, but they have limited energy, lots of work to do. A great exotic restaurant is fun once in a while, but comfort food is what most usually want.
I suspect that’s the reason this blog never hasn’t gotten much of an audience in the last eight and a quarter years. The diet here is variable and intense, not mostly familiar, easy and comforting. The counter tells me I’m already at almost 1100 words and I know that means of the few people who start this entry, most will be gone by now, no matter that I am expressing myself as concisely and gracefully as I know how.
“If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” “If you can charm an audience, why don’t you have an audience?”
Learning to live outside the conventions and expectations of society has a price and has a power.
I know how to offer the divine surprise, the question that opens walls and makes connections you haven’t seen before. Few people though, are looking for the divine surprise, because it’s not something you can schedule or shop for.
And while some people understand the value of the divine surprise, wanting and needing new perspectives and techniques, most want comfort, clear rules, defined patterns and easy conventions. Even the best only want divine surprise in small doses, little pills of enlightenment.
I learned this, and that’s why I learned to modulate. Only give them what they can handle.
The problem with that technique is that it leaves me cloaked, never let me shine like a beacon in the world.
If I never shine like a beacon, I never draw those who want, need and love divine surprise in their lives. I never draw my audience to me, never build my own space, never am the attraction that hold inside. I cede to the Trans-Wall, never appear to the wider audience, taking their shit, so the people in my small PPP find me.
“If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”
One answer is that I modulate the riches inside of me that I share with the world, that divine surprise that brings delight and enlightenment.
For me, the challenge is the return of the gift.
I have stumbled, searched and found enlightenment, done service and growth, found my own prana.
What I have not done is to blissfully bring that gift back into our shared world in a way that opens doors, makes connections and multiplies joy.
If the world wanted what I had to offer, they would have it already. My lesson is simple: the only way out of hell is through. You have to dive into the blood, sweat, tears and shit you have created in order to learn to find the light in your life. There has got to be a pony in here someplace, as the old punch line goes.
This is where the divine surprise exists, not in conventional thinking but in what we are told is shit to be hidden. Our divinity is not in how we follow the rules, our divinity is in how we follow our hearts.
The lesson of transpeople is the archetypal lesson that we need to break loose of convention, slay the dragon with “Thou Shalt” on every scale, before we can move beyond expectations of fear to actions of love.
That lesson doesn’t fit anywhere on a job application. That lesson, though, can be valued and cherished by those ready to open their eyes and see in a new way.
“If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”
One answer has to be because have been boxed into playing by other people’s rules, pounded into learning to modulate rather than to shine.
I have tended those I love, modulating myself down too much. When your own family doesn’t understand the costs and requirements of being rich, the obligation to break the rules and shine, they can’t affirm those choices. Like so many, they want the reward without having to pay the price of acting boldly and visibly, moving beyond convention and comfort and shattering polite expectations.
My brilliance — my smart — comes not from something that fits on a resume, my brilliance comes from the divine surprise of transcending it. And the only way get rich from it is to make it visible in the world is to make it visible in the world.
And that, at this stage in my life, when I live in the mindset of scarcity, seems like a very heavy lift indeed.