True Genius

by Jennifer Paros

“Since you are like no other human being ever created since the beginning of time, you are incomparable.”

~ Brenda Ueland           

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2009

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2009

In a featurette for Spike Jonze’s movie of Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak praises the director’s adaptation of his children’s book and makes a point of saying of Jonze, “He’s not afraid of himself.  He’s a real artist that lets it come through the work.  So, he’s touched me very much …” 

There is something magnificent about seeing someone fully and honestly express himself through his work.  In fact, we often stand and cheer when this pure, unselfconscious moment occurs – the power and the grace of it being evident to most, if not all. Often we refer to it as “talent” or “being gifted,” and explain it as a moment given the person due to genetics, luck or training. 

But the truth is the genius of those moments is not the product of an ability the person holds.  Each of us is sitting on a treasure chest of goods waiting to be revealed and shared with the world, and it is the revelation or bringing forth of that content (that everyone has) that so moves us and leads us to use words like “genius” and “talent”.  The talent is in the bringing forth of who we really are and what we have to offer, not in some mastered ability or technique.  

Although technique, ability, and skill are of tremendous use, it is misleading and can be discouraging to act as though they are what genius and being gifted are about.  It is never skill that brings us to our feet cheering; it is the authentic power the person is allowing to come through them at the moment.  Skill level is, in some ways, measurable and comparable, but the disclosure of each person’s unique energy remains the determining factor in the issue of who shines at any given moment. 

“The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.”

~ Carl Gustav Jung           

Yet even with each of us being born with this genius within, so many fear, as Jung said, embracing ourselves completely.  And we fear it because of our habit of comparison and trying to view our worth from the outside-in. 

After graduating college with a degree in fiction writing and some studio art, I eventually decided to apply to art school to continue studying drawing and painting. However, I was nervous about my abilities.  As a kid, my efforts at drawing never really wowed anyone.  I did not have any innate sensibility for making things look like what they were supposed to look like.  My apples only implied apple; my people only indicated person. So, although I loved drawing, I held the idea that I wasn’t actually someone who could draw

When I sat down with the head of the art department to discuss my course load and he suggested more advanced classes than I’d planned, I hemmed and hawed, explaining my doubts, to which he responded: 

“Well, if you get in there and find everyone is a little Picasso – you can always transfer out!” 

I laughed in uncertain agreement and left.  

And when I got into those classes, I don’t remember ever giving my original concerns a second thought.   I did not find myself diminished by anyone’s genius.  Clearly, there were students with greater facility for rendering, but we were all learning and this was an opportunity to increase our abilities so we could better communicate what was unique to each of us. 

Although skills may be comparable, each person’s particular gift is not.  And in the end “good” is what you like and cannot be sent out to the lab for verification. Our gifts are intended to be different; they ARE different and the difference is part of their value and the way we each can make a difference in the world. 

Accepting ourselves completely may seem terrifying, as Jung put it, because we fear that what we are will not turn out to be good enough.  But the only way to bring forth the piece of life uniquely flowing through us is to accept all of what we are-- implied apples, indicated persons, and all.             

So let each of us be unafraid of ourselves, for the sharing of who we are is our true genius, our greatest gift, and our most impressive talent. 

Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle.

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