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Confessions of a Brainy Babe

photo by Rimas ZailskasBrainy girls get mixed messages in our culture. A brilliant, take-control kind of guy like Donald Trump is seen as a leader, while a woman with similar qualities—say, Martha Stewart—is often characterized as a bitch. Even in our egalitarian society, young women are encouraged to play down their mental faculties in order to snare the man of their dreams. Don’t overshadow him, honey. Let him think all the great ideas are his.

I know. I’m one of those gals, and I spent quite a few years hiding my light under a bushel. It was something of a romantic survival tactic; despite their initial fascination with my intellectual agility, most of my paramours were eventually undone by the fact that I’m certainly not a dim bulb. Trust me—in certain situations, keen powers of observation and an ability to extrapolate can turn into a liability.

So it seemed like a great opportunity for personal validation when—at the tail end of a very long-term relationship in which my smarts were definitely an issue—I discovered that there are people out there who actually celebrate the cerebral: Mensa, the International High I.Q. Society.

Mensa is at once highly exclusive and quite inclusive. The only requirement for membership is that the applicant scores in the top two percent of the general population on a standardized intelligence test. Its members include rocket scientists and taxi drivers, CEOs and homemakers who range in age from 2 to 106. Apolitical and nonsectarian, its sole purpose is to provide a forum for people who enjoy using their brains.

Admittedly, I also found the organization’s demographic odds rather charming: membership in American Mensa is 65 percent male and 35 percent female (although I attribute this to the female reluctance to be branded an "egghead" rather than any disparity in the gender distribution of intelligence). Two to one. Hmm. I learned that the local chapter, French Broad Mensa, offers biannual qualification testing. I decided it was time to put up or shut up. I registered for their autumn session.

On a rainy Saturday, I found myself in the library on Merrimon Avenue in Asheville, sitting for a proctored test among a motley crew (who would have thought that potential geniuses looked so…normal?). Frankly, I was a bit nervous. I’ve never considered myself to be particularly academically gifted, though I’ve always managed to do well on exams. Still, timed tests make my palms sweat.

My fears were soon dispelled, however. The questions are designed to measure how you think rather than what you know: relationship among objects; discernment of patterns; retention of information. And, yes, powers of observation and the ability to extrapolate. When I put down my pencil, I felt elated.

Sure enough, a few weeks later, an invitation to join the ranks of "the elite" arrived in my mailbox. Did it change anything? Yes and no. I was technically no different, but an aspect of myself that had long been sublimated was now being acknowledged, officially and independently. For the first time in my life, I owned it: I’m really bright, and that’s really cool.

Hanging with the local Mensans proved to be affirming, if not life altering—just a bunch of regular folks who use multi-syllabic words with gleeful abandon and actually catch most of your obscure references. At potluck dinners and team Trivial Pursuit, I found myself relaxing. I didn’t have to edit myself.

And while I didn’t find my soul mate at the Mensa gatherings, knowing that I was a card-carrying "smart person" empowered me to be more selective in my choice of dates with civilians. It became something of an acid test: this is who I am, sugar. Deal with it.

But how to introduce the matter in the world at large? Offer a secret handshake? Sport one of the trademark lapel pins that are offered on the Mensa website? Present potential suitors with a CV? No…I had to be far subtler.

Finally, on an early date with a promising prospect—a charming Ivy Leaguer with multiple graduate degrees—I insisted on paying for our drinks, opened my wallet and (oops) artfully allowed my Mensa membership card to flutter to the tabletop like the proverbial handkerchief.

"You dropped this," he said, offering it back with barely a glance. So much for my clever ploy. But then he took both my hands in his and gazed intently into my eyes. "So, tell me," he purred, with a sly little smile, "is light a particle or a wave?" And this smart-assed Mensa babe found herself struck dumb with love.

For more information about the French Broad Mensa chapter or its activities, go to frenchbroad.us.mensa.org. If you’re interesting in taking the qualification test, contact testing coordinator Wayne Stanko at 828-253-8781 or wstanko@charter.net.

Posted on Saturday, September 19, 2009 at 09:11PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

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