egoism, intellectuals, intelligence, learning, mom, Ohio State, sister, Susie, work
I am not an intellectual! There, it is. Right out there in an in-your-face kind of way. I don’t know why this has bubbled up in me now, today, this week. I didn’t have any warnings that I was thinking about intellectualism. But when I sat down to write this blog those were the first words out of my fingers. Must be a reason, eh? Maybe it was triggered by overhearing Ronald — the Tik Talk Cafe Intellectual-in-Residence — expounding on something or the other in the cafe last week. Most times when he talks I have absolutely no idea what the hell he is talking about. I’m not stupid — he’s just dense. I told him one time that I didn’t understand a word that he said to me and, anyway, I wasn’t interested. This did not phase him in the least bit. No — he just kept on talking like I wasn’t there, delighting in obscure references in Arabic texts. I have found that reaction is a common characteristic of some — not all — intellectuals. They don’t really need an audience — just air space.
There was a time when I sincerely, heartily wished that I, Annie Eyerman, could be a member of this elite group. It was that early exposure to academics at Ohio State that did it. There I was smack dab in the middle of those halls of learning, surrounded by hundreds (thousands?) of THINKING PEOPLE. I was convinced that they walked, talked and, I’m sure, peed differently from me and the folks I hung out with. Oh, I thought, how wonderful they are! How smart and clever — surely, they have all the answers. I so wanted to be one of them! Ok, I was a very impressionable 17-year-old at the time. Before I started working in the History Department as a Clerk Typist I, I hadn’t heard of a Ph.D or a Masters (except from movies about slavery in the South), let alone met one. For that matter, I had never met anyone who spoke French or could read Arabic or had written a book. I was Ga-Ga.
I started questioning everything. My mother was not impressed and told me, on a regular basis, that I asked too many questions. I would answer her, “How will I find the answers if I don’t ask the questions?” I thought that was a very deep and wise thing to say — she thought I was being a smart aleck. My sister Susie (she worked in Microbiology) and I started taking classes on our lunch hour — they were free for us underpaid State employees. I guess the authorities (all academics) wanted us to hone our skills to keep up the academic calibre of the university — even for “offies”. We surprised ourselves with how well we did. “A’s”! We got A’s and praise from people who had letters behind their names. Wasn’t that a sign of budding intellectualism?
A group of instructors in the history department — all guys there weren’t a lot of women in 1965 — took my education under their wings. I thought they did it because I was smart — they really just wanted a mascot and someone impressionable enough to glow in their presence My sister never had this problem with the scientists across the way. Hmmm? But, I have to confess, I liked being included in their lunch hour talks and nighttime parties. When I got excited about things like Ohio State winning a game — they’d say to me, very seriously, “Annie, there are big things and there are little things. Football and basketball are definitely little things.” It made me embarrassed of my ignorance and a little sad. At the time, I never really appreciated the snobbishness and condescension of those kinds of remarks.
Was I really that naive? You bet! To test it — and me — even more, what do I do? I move to Washington, D.C. — the pulsing centre of Egoism. Not only that, I went to work for one of those same instructors! I didn’t have a chance. And as if that wasn’t enough to have me questioning my confidence and intelligence on a daily basis, then living in D.C. would do the trick. The city abounded with more egoist per square inch than anywhere else in the great USofA. Besides academics there were politicians, lawyers, lobbyists, enough university graduates to inhabit a medium sized country and all those staffers who, when I’d meet them at a party, would say arrogantly, “I work on The Hill.” To hold my own in the midst of all that brilliance, I did the obvious thing — I went and took more classes! But it wasn’t enough, no siree, my fledgling confidence in my intelligence didn’t get off the ground before I met the ex-ex. He didn’t have the pedigree of those Ohio State instructors but made up for it with his Big “E” ego. I truly believe I was a glutton for intellectual punishment!
Nine years later, and back in D.C. I did what I always did to recoup — I went back in school again. Class by class, course by course, grade by grade I finished that degree I started in 1965. So it took me 28 years — so what! Then, as if to test my budding belief in my intelligence, I marry the murmuring ex-husband — another one of those same instructors from those days at Ohio State! What was I thinking? Nothing of my encounters with intellectual snobs prepared me for him. Dinner parties turned into lectures on total warfare and obscure philosophers. It’s hard to have a good laugh at dinner with Sherman marching through the South burning all the crops, and Ludwig Wittgenstein doing whatever he did. I was unhappy. I never really measured up in the murmuring-ex-husbands eyes until I had a few more letters behind my name and had published a book. Then, only then, he said to me: “Annie, you are an intellectual!” I had finally passed all his tests that he started giving me way back in Ohio. I said, no thank you, and took my intelligent self elsewhere.