Last night I was reading Joyce Carol Oates’s review of the poet Sylvia Plath’s unabridged diary and she observes of Plath that her precocity as a young writer (Plath died of suicide at 30) was clearly not the same thing as maturity, and goes on to say that precocity might in fact be a hindrance against maturation.
Also last night, over dinner with my dad, we were talking about the storied interview processes at Microsoft and Facebook for people who wanna work there. The puzzles, word games, etc. Stuff that’s meant to get a sense for the candidate’s problem-solving abilities, their general intelligence.
We speculated, though, on how that might work out in terms of corporate culture, office morale; the fact that even one genius in the room, as exemplified by even just Walter Isaacson’s biographies of folks like Einstein and Steve Jobs, that lone genius in the room is something of a dervish. Needs to be monitored and deferred to. The genius is crutinous and aloof, exacting and indifferent.
So what must it be like to have four geniuses not only under a single roof, but working on a single project? And it does make sense—this is just conjecture on my part—that a young genius, whether of music or math or art, would get so consumed in their work that they wouldn’t socialize like the rest of us. They aren’t tempered by the everyday humblings of social and societal and professional rejection, failure, disappointment. I’m thinking, too, of little shit like when Isaacson went and interviewed Bill Gates for a TIME Magazine profile, hung out in Gates’s office, and while Gates was pulling beverages out of his little fridge, consuming them in succession, he was talking so fluently, was so immersed in his train of thought, it seemed not to occur to him that his guest (Isaacson) might like a beverage as well (unless it was some kind of power move to keep the reporter thirsty and eyeing the soda).
Anyway. It’s easy to see how precocity might be estranging for a person. At the English department where I work, in a local college, we had a twelve-year-old girl come in with a backpack that seemed larger than she was. The girl was registering for college courses she’d be taking in the fall. Again: twelve years old. Remarkable to see, and she flashed brilliance in even the most trivial bits of soft-spoken conversation, but she was there in the company of her mom—not in the average way that a kid is accompanied by her mom (general supervision, protection, discipline); her mom seemed to be sitting by as like an agent. Gently helping to coordinate classes, and to translate her daughter’s murmured requests into something with a little more vocal projection. Was occasionally touching her daughter’s knee and encouraging eye contact with the advisor.
So if you’ve got four or twelve geniuses under a single roof, working on a single project, how might they interact? Would they commit little blunders like the Gates thing of bringing soda just for themselves? If so, would the others be incensed to’ve not been considered? I tend to assume that geniuses are also workaholics, that they get into a profound flowstate with whatever they’re working on and that the hours just kind of evaporate. If that’s the case, and not just a misconception on my part, do you have an office fulla geniuses all looking up in unanimous awe from their desks to find that the sun is rising?
But what then is maturity? I guess a savviness about other people, a sense of perspective about one’s smallness in the world. Consideration. Generosity. Resilience.
Then I ask myself: would you rather be notably mature (Obama comes to mind as a portrait of maturity and poise), or aloof but brilliant (Steve Jobs, and his casual cruelty, come to mind)? Both are clearly very intelligent dudes, both utilized their skillsets to achieve phenomenal success. I guess the question is which one rests easier at night? Which one falls into a warmer support system?