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Life as a Mensan (or how I earned the wrath of Don Imus)

Views: 3,936
Added: Wed. Jul 29, 2009 8:16am


I got so many comments (on twitter) from yesterday's blog that I decided to expand a little and tell you why I decided to join and how I completely disgraced myself and learned humility. It will have to be quick, though, since I really have to get some work done today.

I always knew I was smart. Teachers favored me, I finished my homework while the teacher was still teaching the class how to do whatever it was, I aced tests without study, and my hobbies were cerebral. I had a salt-water tank for a while with things like nudibranchs, octopi and sea urchins. They weren't pretty, they were interesting. School was effortless. I didn't consider myself smart, exactly, I thought I was lucky. I have the ability to put things together and come to a conclusion that makes sense, and my brain works well under pressure, which is probably the core difference - that I can think when I'm stressed out. But not tired. When I'm tired, my brain shuts down. I think that's probably the reason a lot of kids fail tests. They don't have confidence, so they can't sleep, causing a brain meltdown. In 6th grade I was singled out to take an IQ test for a new gifted program and that proved to be a great experience. It was guided, but not taught. eight kids of varying age from 11 to 17 were taken from regular classes and sent to a huge room that was essentially an eclectic library, full of books and experiences. We built a darkroom and developed our own pictures, created boats made of cardboard and had to figure out how to keep them afloat for a race, etc. We were allowed to do anything we wanted to do as long as there was some result at the end. I once convinced everyone we could figure out what the triggers were to identify mass murderers by studying commonalities. We divided into teams and studied everything from childhood to environment to the personality of their parents. They all had domineering mothers. That's all I remember from the report, aside from the title: How to grow a mass murderer in ten easy steps. 

In my early twenties, I met a Mensan who encouraged me to take the test. I was flattered, but at first said no way. I thought, like most people do, that it would be a bunch of dry, boring old men, getting together to play chess and talk about things I could never understand. I never fooled myself about the quality of my education or my intelligence. I struggle with complex mathematical concepts. My thing is words, plus an endless fascination with marine biology. So I really didn't think I'd qualify just because I could trade clever repartee, and had a raging misconception of what Mensa was. No reason to join. I forgot about it for a while. Then, just before I moved to Orlando, Playboy did a feature called "The Women of Mensa" and one of the women was a member of the Orlando group. This was clearly not a boring old man. She talked about the group, and it sounded interesting. I took the test and qualified. It did not prove to be boring old men discussing boring things.

About the test, there's no pass or fail, there's just a demarcation line. I don't know what my exact IQ is, because I've taken a lot of tests and each scores differently. Men traditionally do better on certain types of tests, women on other types. If I remember correctly, I scored better on the tests that men usually do better on. So my IQ might be 145 and it might be 160, or it might fall somewhere in the middle. Depends on the test, how it's scored, and whether it has questions I would not know the answer to...the pitfall of all tests. One question that lowered my score was a simple "this is to that as this is to what?" style. Thing is, the question had to do with power, so it was something along the lines of gasoline is to car as _____ is to power plant. Here in Florida, where I've been all my life, we have nuclear power. I've never seen a coal bin. Looked like a dumpster to me. I don't remember what I chose, but it wasn't the dumpster. And that, in a nutshell, is why IQ tests are often a center of controversy.

Which brings me to how I disgraced myself. When I was still in my twenties and new to Mensa, our group had an argumentative and abrasive member who made it his business to attack the validity of the tests at every turn. He seemed to be arguing that the tests are invalid so half of us shouldn't be here. Since he was arrogant and pompous, I always assumed that he considered himself in the better half. Generally speaking, I always wondered how I managed to get in. Yes, I knew I was smart, but genius? I have come to think since that genius is something different than what I am. Maybe the definition of genius should be amended to include application and education, because what good is genius when your life is laundry and tuna casserole? I am not genuis because I could not find a way to use it. But I still don't question the validity of the tests. I was the smartest kid in class every year of my life. So if genius is the ability to learn, I'm in. If it's the ability to apply, maybe someday I will come into my own.

As usual, I digress. This member, who moved away long ago and whose name I have forgotten, wrote letters about the invalidity of the tests to our local newsletter, the Flame. After two or three of these letters, I wrote a scathing rebuttal. It was arrogant, assumptive, and dead wrong. I believe I said something about average IQ of "carrot" and if he didn't believe in IQ tests, he was welcome to find another way of determining whether we are smarter than the public. Perhaps a clipboard and a series of eighth grade questions, asked at Mensa meetings and repeated to shoppers at the grocery store. There may have been reference to a pocket protector. I have something of a temper. The Flame staff thought it was funny and published it. It really was meant to be funny and sarcastic, not nearly as insulting as it sounded...anyone who knows me would know that. Don Imus doesn't know me. Somehow he got the newsletter, and I, and Mensa, got roasted. I didn't even know who he was at the time and to this day have never heard his show, but my friends assure me it was not pretty. While the newsletters were public record, it's unlikely that Imus had a staff reading every newsletter for every Mensa chapter. Somebody in my chapter sold me out. I can guess who that might have been. That pocket protector remark probably struck a nerve. 

Now, more than twenty years later, less impressed with myself and my gigantic Mensa brain, I get what he was trying to say, and on some level I agree. If he hadn't been so obnoxious about it, I might have understood then, but it's hard to say because I was still pretty amazed that I qualified and a little touchy about the insinuation that I didn't belong.



  • Posted 2:01pm July 29th, 2009
    LOL! I'm harmless, trust me. It was a short road to get beyond the egotism of youth, but today I find value and interest in nearly everyone I meet...because everyone brings something to the table.

    I think my blog posts earn few comments because many come here from twitter and don't have accounts. If comments were open to those without accounts, I'd probably draw a lot of fire



  • Posted 1:20pm July 29th, 2009
    I would believe that after reading this, most are afraid to comment.  Just as I started to think you were friendly and just blogging, your attitude turned me around to think...oh, my, I wouldn't want to tangle with this woman.  Your blog was interesting and completely kept me reading til the end...and I hope you write more so we can get to know you better.



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