by Matt Sinclair
This week, the MacArthur Foundation announced its annual cohort of fellows who do amazing things, often in areas that are far afield from most people's day-to-day life. You probably know them as winners of the "MacArthur genius grants," and they probably know themselves as incredibly fortunate and I wouldn't be surprised if most of them think they are unworthy of such accolades. They're just doing what they love doing.
I have met at least one of these geniuses. I had no idea who the man was who stopped me on the sidewalk in Pittsburgh back in 2006 or '07. He'd either seen my name tag dangling from a string around my neck or just figured a guy in a suit was heading to the same conference center he was aiming for. Regardless, he asked if I was heading to the conference on philanthropy and I said yes.
We walked and talked together. He was a documentary film maker and he'd been invited to discuss some of his recent work, which had been funded by a foundation. To be honest, I don't remember most of what we discussed. He was simply an articulate, interesting person I met at a conference.
In September of that year, while editing a piece on the MacArthur Fellows, I happened to see his face among the previous winners. His name is Stanley Nelson, and he never mentioned the prize. Even now, I'm amazed to discover that I've seen and been impressed with his work after meeting him without remembering who he is and that our paths briefly intersected.
What does a chance meeting with a person I've not spoken to again have to do with writing? Probably nNothing in and of itself, but everything when you get down to how we write.
Originally, a person wasn't "a genius." Rather, it describes the guiding spirit who instills those leaps of insight that characterize certain individuals. A person has a genius -- at least that's how it used to be described centuries ago. Writers call it their muse. I suspect "agnostic" writers call it the product of their hard work. Call it what you will.
The most amazing people I've met have all had at least one thing in common: they had a vision of what they wanted to accomplish with their life and put their all into making that vision appear. Writers. Painters. Doctors. Lawyers. It really doesn't matter what they do for a living; who they are and what they do imbues nearly every aspect of their lives.
And what of the rest of us, those who have not yet caught the eye of the secret nominators of people with genius? Well, I for one will keep writing. I don't know how else to approach life any other way. How about you?