Wednesday, December 29, 2004


Captured By An Obituary

Ardent Author, Activist, Critic Dies at 71: "'I read it through almost at a run,' she said. 'After finishing the last page, I was so reluctant to be separated from the book that I started back at the beginning and, to hold myself to the pace the book merited, reread it aloud, a chapter each night.'"

Admittedly, Susan Sontag is no one I would normally have much feeling for given her politics. Her obituary reminded me though that intellect such as she was blessed with is rare and should be recognized. I should give deserved kudos to whoever wrote this obit, as it captures more than what she was known for, and may just capture the essence of a woman who clearly had a long and outspoken life.
In my deep obsession with intellect, I read in this passage above what has always been a hint at a person's true intellect. In much the way my Mother, Father and even Jackie Kennedy's love of books implies a certain intellectual curiosity, her description of the letdown of ending a great book speaks volumes to me. As a kid, I always desired that kind of love for books, and even now wish I had it. I found myself jealous of kids who could sit quietly in the corner with no need to be social, reading as if no one were in the room. I always saw those kids and knew that if they followed the right path, they would do amazing things. I look for those qualities in people now.
Intellect makes me passionate and emotional. Yesterday, when trying to describe one of my clients to another, I got choked up while imparting that this company has been so blessed as to be able to assemble such an amazing group of people. They have the child prodigy-turned amazing engineer, the world-renowned CEO, and the rest of the collection of people that make a company culture of brilliance and vision. I suppose vision is what sets a child prodigy apart from just any MENSA.
A few years ago, early on in my career, a very kind CEO agreed to have lunch with me. As we sat eating sushi, he tried to explain in as elementary a way as he could what his company was doing. It had already registered by this time that many of the tech companies that I was targetting were led by engineers who were so enthralled by coding, such that very little of what they spent their time on had any to do with the future. I asked him about his 'vision'. He explained in a calmly impassioned way that he had very detailed five and ten year plans, that he could see just how this product could be used and improved, and most importantly wanted to use it for great things. Similarly, the aforementioned child prodigy mentioned in our meeting that with their product, he wanted to change the world. One of his co-workers tried to blunt that by saying that they were just trying to develop a good product to which he replied, "No, we are trying to change the world.". I am supposed to be jaded to such talk, but I could feel his excitement wrap me like a fur coat, and from then on I have worked furiously for that company in hopes, maybe only, to just impress them half as much as they impressed me. A great mind is little without vision and these folks had it.
Part of my fascination is jealousy. As a kid, I was runner-up for advanced learning in elementary school. I am certain that the kids that beat me out are all doing fabulously in their chosen fields. In high school, I took some advanced placement, but was kicked out of AP English for having too low a grade. In college, I was kicked out of business school, but now run a relatively successful business (so take that, University of Cincinnati). I guess I have always been just out of reach of the kind of intellect that my father, mother, brothers, uncles, and grandparents have. Both of my parents with Master's degrees, both brothers with two degrees, grandfather with a JD, and a grandmother who does not have degrees, but could eat most people's lunch intellectually. These models have given me a sense of how important intellect is, and I just thrive on it.
So again, while Sontag might not have been the kind of woman I could calmly talk politics with (as I may have had to call her crazy), her deep intellectual prowess tells me I would have admired her intensely.

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