Samantha Garvey, a high school senior in New York, became famous after she was selected as a semifinalist in a national search for scientific talent. Her fame did not result from claiming the $100,000 prize; for in the end she did not win the contest. She was recognized for doing meaningful research, but she became famous because she was homeless while doing it. After her parents were injured in a car accident they were evicted from their home for failing to pay the rent. On New Year's Day of this year the whole family was forced to move into a homeless shelter.
Samantha's genius for science became widely known at the same time that her personal life had turned upside down. Her research involved mussels that resided inside their ribbed shells in nearby salt marshes. The lives of the mussels became endangered when Asian crabs invaded the local environment. Samantha's research showed that the mussels dwelling closest to the danger developed thicker shells to avoid being crushed and eaten. While adding to the idea that a species can respond quickly and surprisingly to threatening circumstances, Samantha's research also seemed a metaphor for her own life. A person's natural genius often tries to come to the surface when they feel threatened or are already in deep trouble.
Publication of the story of a young student carrying on marine experiments while being homeless quickly brought help and protection from many sources. Her family received a rent-subsidized home and Samantha was given a college scholarship and a science internship. Recognition of her natural gift for science saved the family from the downward spiral of homelessness at the same time as it revealed the nature of her life work. The genius in a person tries to surface amidst the identity struggles of youth and the deepest meaning of education refers to recognizing and leading out the natural talents and inherent gifts in each person.
Genius involves deeply subjective qualities and an inner pattern that marks each person as unique in some way and genius tries to leave that mark on the world. Since the genius in a person is ageless it can awaken at almost any age. It can manifest early as in the case of a child prodigy; yet it can also surface much later in the course of life. Prodigy refers to a "sign or portent" and genius has a way of appearing amidst signs and portents that point to the wonder and mystery of right under the skin of human life.
Ion Barladeanu was already in his 60s when his genius came to the surface and began to be revealed to the world. Ion had been impoverished for over 20 years following the fall of the Communist government in Bucharest. He often survived on scraps and his home consisted of a torn mattress set in the corner of a garbage room in a block of broken down flats. He was combing through a huge pile of garbage when he happened to mention to a fellow scavenger that he made art from magazine and newspaper scraps he found in the refuse. Until that day no one had seen his unique artwork that rose from the rubble of history and from the literal scraps of life.
Genius has its own way and its own timing. The other fellow happened to be a starving artist as well; he knew a gallery owner and both of them knew the work of a genius as soon as they saw Barladeanu's works. The elegant collages employed magazine pictures and newspaper reports to wryly depict the turmoil of Romania and the plight of its people under the Ceausescu dictatorship. Once his genius was revealed the artist received his first exhibition, an entire flat to live in and a brand new set of dentures.
Recently Ion became the subject of a documentary for HBO Central Europe. In an interview he speaks about his newfound fame and the inner aspects of his genius: "I feel as if I have been born again. A pauper can become a prince. But he can go back to being a pauper too." He states that he will make art regardless of success or failure in the eyes of others. "If I were reincarnated in another life I would still be making collages," he says in his Romanian street slang, "it fulfills me."
An old Greek word for happiness translates as having a satisfied genius. Recognizing and following the promptings of one's inner-genius can be one of the most fulfilling experiences of life even if all else has been reduced to garbage and scraps. Genius rises from hidden depths, it often surfaces in the midst of trouble and it is always the expression of something unique and meaningful in a person. When the world around us seems about to collapse the inner pattern of genius is often moving closer to the surface and trying to become known. Genius grows and glows brighter when it is recognized by its host and when it is acknowledged by others.
People have attempted to measure genius and some argue that only those with an IQ over 140 can be considered to be a genius. Older ideas suggest that threads of genius are present in everyone, but only become visible when something creative or meaningful is attempted. More than raw talent or simple ability, genius gives a person their unique way of viewing the world. The inner genius holds the keys to understanding the innate style and implicit purpose set within each life.
Unfortunately, modern mass culture and modern education tend to obscure and ignore natural genius while promoting a massive sameness amongst its citizens. Genius is part of the essence of a person; it is the spirit that is already there, hidden inside when a person is born. It can be denied, but cannot simply disappear. Everyone wants to be seen as special because at the level of inner genius everyone is special. Each has some gift to give and each has a unique way of delivering it. Fulfillment involves the recognition and expression of the inner spirit and natural genius that enters the world with each person born.
Young or old, natural scientist, creative artist or born leader, the genius in a person tries to become known throughout one's life. In a culture with a large proportion of aging people and many living to a ripe old age, there can be a renaissance of individual genius. There can be a greater sense of fulfillment; not from hoarding material wealth, but from having those "old enough to know better" risk living closer to the genuine purpose of their lives. When the older folks find elements of meaning and purpose the younger folks will learn more readily of their own genius natures. Genius fosters genius.
Meanwhile, it has become common for people to desire fame; everyone wanting their 15 minutes of being seen by everyone else. Fame has come to mean being seen and known by a huge number of people; yet the older meaning of fame was more about being "known well" than simply being well known. The deeper sense of being famous meant "to be seen standing with one's genius revealed." Genuine fame celebrates the mysterious genius of human life that is unique and gifted in each case. When seen from the level of inner fulfillment each person is genius in some way and here to give something unique that would not otherwise exist in this world.
The next installment in this series on genius will focus on The Genius Zone.
Follow Michael Meade, D.H.L. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/M_Meade_Mosaic