If you haven’t already figured it out from following this blog, I like to think I’m pretty smart. But once in a while I run into someone who’s so intelligent it reminds me of where I really rank on the IQ totem pole.
Usually this person is not trying to make me feel stupid—she’s just being herself and after a minute or two I realize I have to be careful what I say, lest I expose my inner moron. That’s pretty much what happened when I had the opportunity to interview Gretchen E. Henderson, author of four books, including the much-honored The House Enters the Street, for Delphi Quarterly. Over the past couple of months we’ve emailed back and forth to conduct the interview, in which I tried to develop an understanding of what is a complicated and non-traditional book, an interdisciplinary endeavor that wraps a series of story threads around experiments in language and music. The “glue” that holds the various parts of the book together is a 1910 painting by Umberto Boccioni, titled “The Street Enters the House.” You still with me?
It’s a fairly in depth and far-ranging interview, and if you read it you’ll quickly see that after her first answer I’m just barely hangin’ in there, trying to think of something to ask that’s worthy of her novel and her intellect. Several of my questions, in retrospect, sound like the kind of leading query offered up by a “60 Minutes” reporter, with an answer built in to try to direct her into a discussion I have half a chance of understanding. But notice the shrewd replies—a gentle refutation of my logic before she talks about what was really going on while she wrote the book.
Gretchen’s answers also reveal a lifetime of study and thought devoted to the arts. This is a person who I’d bet never wasted time watching reruns of “Gilligan’s Island” when she was a kid, let alone “60 Minutes.”
And there, of course, lies part of the difference—if my parents hadn’t let me watch Gilligan, if they’d forced me to study and not let me give up music lessons, then maybe I’d be able to write and converse at something approaching Gretchen’s level—or maybe not. Education doesn’t always dictate intelligence.
It is funny, though, how many people float through life thinking they’re the smartest kid on the block, and how their opinions make so much more sense than the people who disagree. I would suggest they spend a couple of hours with someone like Gretchen to get a better perspective on what intelligence really is. Personally, I’m glad to have had the opportunity to have met her and spend a little time talking. It’s actually good to feel stupid once in a while—it lets a little air out of the ego and helps me realize how much room there still is to grow.
 Although, how smart can I be? I chose to be a writer…
 Catch a segment with Leslie Stahl and you’ll see what I mean. It’s annoying and it’s not very good journalism.
 But at least I was smart enough not to ask her about that.
 If you doubt that, visit your local Tea Party chapter.