"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Emotional Intelligence–The Story Of A Musical Genius Who Couldn’t Figure Out What’s What

Connor Bledsoe never missed a beat – nor a bar, measure, or note. How was it, then, that he missed everything else? The arched eyebrow that said he was going over the top; the wrinkled brow which told him he story was implausible and dragging on terribly; or the sweet look that cried, “I’m available”?

“God gave him much musical talent but left him tone deaf to everything else. What would Paul have made of that?”

Brent Calloway was reading and studying the Bible for the first time and was especially fascinated by the Pauline epistles. Paul was trying to figure out how to place Christ within the context of the Old Testament while at the same time carving out a niche for his new religion.  It still was all in a muddle.  What happened to sin between Adam and Moses, for example? or between Moses and Christ? and in particular between Christ and now?  More perplexing, did Mosaic Law create sin? And if so, who was responsible for doing something about it? Was Jewish atonement the same thing as Christian penance? And if so, wouldn’t God whether Old Testament or New Testament accept Jewish prayers?

It was not at all pretentious for Brent to couch his question about Connor Bledsoe in such a Biblical way.  By the time he got to Malachi, he thought that he had sorted out God’s intentions, but when he finally made it to the heart of the New Testament, he was more confused than ever.  “It’s a good thing I finally got around to the Bible”, he said.  “Now I understand the doctrinal reasons why people piss on each other.”

We both agreed that God is anything but consistent,so the fact that genius could exist in an otherwise clueless human being would have to remain a conundrum.  Yet one would have thought that Connor’s highly attenuated and refined musical sensibilities would have some carryover.  He could sit in a Spring garden and compose an orchestral work for flutes and bells in his head; or a quartet with late August cicadas.  He heard rhythmical patterns in dripping faucets, squeaking doors, wooden bridges, and car engines.  He implicitly understood tempo, timbre, and brightness.  However, none of this intuition, sensitivity, and environmental awareness conveyed.  Not even one musical ability – perfect pitch, for example – could be applied to anything else. Like picking up on the slight tremolo in a woman’s voice when she is hesitant or aroused. 

Connor was a good student, especially in math; but always flunked any assignment that required some level of intuition or emotional empathy.  Literature was the absolute worst, for no matter how much the teacher urged, suggested, and prodded, he could never understand why Clyde murdered Roberta; why Laura played with her glass menagerie; why Hamlet couldn’t make up his mind; or why Frank Bascombe was always so depressed. 

He was so retarded in his emotional development that when given drawing paper and a box of crayons in kindergarten, he just sat there. He couldn’t imagine a tree, a bird, a bicycle tire, or a boat.  He couldn’t even imagine scrawling inside and outside the lines like everyone else.

Celestial motion, the table of elements, Newton, and even bits of Einstein were easy for him to understand, but if the subject strayed off the here and now, he was lost.  In fact he was stymied once the got to Planck and Heisenberg.  Uncertainty flummoxed him.  How could you know how fast a particle was moving but not know where it was? Moving targets were not for him.

Mood swings in women were even more baffling.  How could his sister Joan be bawling her eyes out one minute, and eating an ice cream cone the next?  Why did his mother bang the pot lid in the sink, pull the shades down in the den and stay in the dark for an hour and then greet the milkman like a young maid?

Connor’s mother worried about him and wondered what would become of this clueless boy she had brought into the world.  She mothered him terribly, so he emerged from childhood and adolescence not only deaf to innuendo but pampered and spoiled. His mother had acted as his social translator for so long, that even if he did have some inner resources or some embryonic antennae that would eventually pop out on his forehead and help him negotiate the world, he wouldn’t know what to do with them. 

Work and women, those were his big challenges.  His mother thought that he should pursue an academic career.  The Ivory Tower was one of the few places left in which one could be totally isolated from the real world and remain ignorant of what anyone else was about.  Of course there was the monastery.  There you had to parse the verses of Job, Matthew, and Paul, but you never had to second guess God or Jesus.  They said what they meant, especially the Old Testament patriarch who said, “If you sin, you die”.  No, the monastery was definitely not for her son; but a place at a reputable university might be.

However, Connor’s mother had no idea how Byzantine the halls of academe were.  If you didn’t have your wits about you, you would be caught in an unsuspected trap and left for the lions and the wolves.  She had heard about the mean-spirited and intellectually jealous professors at Duke, but thought that they were confined to the liberal arts.  A friend of hers related the story of Doris Flacker, an Assistant Professor on a tenure track in the Department of Comparative Literature who got into an academic dogfight so vicious that both she and her adversary were asked to leave.  Any outsider would have thought nothing of the doctrinal dispute over St. Anthony between two ranking feminists.

To many women, St. Anthony was a hero because he gave women the credit they were due at a time when they were demeaned and kept as chattel.  Men viewed women as a snare and temptation; but Anthony viewed them as human beings.

“Pure as he was”, said a prelate from Padua, Anthony’s birthplace, “Anthony blamed any lustful feelings not on the woman who induced them but on the man who fantasized over and sometimes acted on them.”

While this conviction of Anthony’s should have provided the common ground on which Doris Flacker and her colleague could agree, they fought to the end over the idea of purity, Anthony’s presumed homosexuality, his obvious Oedipal feelings for his mother, and despite what the Gospels said, his totally demeaning and ignorant view of women.

Connor did in fact get accepted by the Duke Department of Socio-Engineering, a new field of study which applied rigorous scientific method to the development of socially progressive programs.  Connor’s mother thought the offer perfect. He would be given the problem – rape on campus, for example – and he would be asked only to devise scientifically based, logical algorithms to address it. He would not have to think about actual woman, actual rape, or actual male-female interactions.

Ironically, one of the first tasks he had was to do a linguistic analysis of the words ‘rape’, ‘assault’, ‘violation’ and the like; to disaggregate and deconstruct them on the basis of historical imperatives; and chart out, based on usage, the most potent linguistic center to the campus anti-rape movement.

Needless to say, he was blindsided by attacks from every quarter.  At Duke facts were far less important than interpretation, meaning, and ‘signifiers’.  When pressed by his female colleagues to defend himself and articulate his own thoughts on women and their savage repression by men, he could only stare at them just like he did at the blank paper and box of crayons in kindergarten.  He had no idea what they were talking about; and he was let go.

Image result for duke university logo

One might wonder why Connor Bledsoe didn’t simply become a musician.  Had he not been born with ‘two left hands’, as his mother jokingly referred to his lack of small muscle coordination, he might well have become a concert pianist or flautist.  Unfortunately all the music that he heard every day and all the sonatas and concertos he heard in his head had to remain there.  It was another of God’s cruel tricks, said his mother.  For all is ability, he ended up as a low-end computer programmer.  “Computers are stupid”, said another friend of hers.  “No insight, emotional intelligence, or intuition.  Connor will do just fine.”

The second obstacle to a happy life for Connor was women.  He never understood his mother or his sister, and women simply baffled him no matter how hard he tried to decipher their moods and meaning.  Men were less of a puzzle.  They seemed to say pretty much what they were thinking; but women could just as easily say one thing and mean another.  Figuring out what they really meant was impossible.  He so often said the wrong thing that he was shunned and exiled; and when he actually figured out what the right thing was, he was too nervous to open his mouth.

He married Fern Lambert who, although not simpleminded in neuro-psychological sense, was as practical, transparent, and uncomplicated as any woman God ever created.  She said what she meant, and she rarely spoke unless it was about the drapes, the clogged toilet, or the IRS.  Sex was perfunctory for both partners and eventually they gave it up entirely.

Despite all his reverses, Connor Bledsoe was a happy man.  Every day as he stepped into his garden, the symphonies began.  The Spanish, Thai, and Ibo he heard on his way to work were violins, trumpets, and timpani.  On construction sites he heard African drums.  On the subway he heard John Cage and Benjamin Britten.

“I still don’t get it”, said Brent Calloway. “Does God play jokes on us all the time? Connor Bledsoe is such a klutz; but what I wouldn’t give to hear what goes on in his head.”

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