Monday, August 18, 2008

Emotional Intelligence

I had the opportunity to enjoy some infrequent down time today at work while a computer glitch was worked out and took the opportunity to continue my research.

The are my notes from Emotional Intelligence: Why it can Matter More than IQ by Daniel Goleman. (Tagline: "The Ground-breaking Book that Redefines what it Means to be Smart")

I picked up this book at the library in the psychology section more or less on a whim since they didn't have the parapsychology resources I thought I'd need. I was hoping it would perhaps give me some insight as to why Claire is so much smarter than my genius David. I had thought at first that Claire's IQ was higher than David's, but that seems stupid because he is such a meteoric genius and she's a bit of a chronic underachiever. Also, I couldn't think of any reason why Claire's IQ should be tested, and she is not nearly self-interested enough to want to test it herself. But this Emotional Intelligence book has turned out to be immensely helpful. Almost as soon as I cracked it open, I had solved the problem of Claire being smarter but less intelligent than David. She simply has a very high emotional intelligence. Several studies are outlined in the book that support my thinking on the matter, and I was reminded of a study done with small children involving gummy bears and delayed gratification. The children who were able to put off eating the gummy bear the longest were inexplicably more successful later in life, specifically having scored higher on their SATs despite having median IQ's. Subsequent reading in Emotional Intelligence identifies the study's earliest incarnation to be the "Marshmallow Test".

But the real surprise of Emotional Intelligence has been how it has assisted me in understanding more about David. I had mentioned that he was to be cold and clinical, emotionally stunted by his mental brilliance and accelerated academic education, but I hadn't mentioned that he is absolutely in love with Claire. Before we even meet Claire we know that he's in love with her. I had been having a hard time reconciling this aspect of David's character, though. Despite his teenage hormones, how can he be so infatuated without there being an emotional base for his attachment? It didn't seem to make sense. But I did know that David hates a mystery, which
is perhaps why he was so drawn to the study of the mind in the first place.

Ruminating on this seeming dichotomy, I found two extremely helpful passages in Emotional Intelligence. One describes the characteristics of high IQ males as being:
"typified - no surprise - by a wide range of intellectual interests and abilities. He is ambitious and productive,predictable and dogged, and untroubled by concerns about himself. He also tends to be critical and condescending, fastidious and inhibited, uneasy with sexuality and sensual experience, unexpressive and detached, and emotionally bland and cold."
This passage seems to describe David fairly accurately. Having it laid out in black and white brings him into sharper focus for me. But the real 'wow moment' came a few pages later when the psychological condition of alexithymia was defined. Alexithymics lack words to quantify and categorize their emotions. They cannot easily express emotion because they cannot recognize it. They do not lack the emotional responses themselves, and can easily identify the bodily sensations associated with emotional responses, though they are unable to identify the cause as being an emotional one. When asked, David could likely describe the symptoms of his infatuation (fluttering in his stomach, increased pulse and respiration, sweaty palms, etc.) without being able to identify it as lust or anxiety stemming from physical attraction. He is bewildered by his response to Claire, and is so drawn to her because of this mystery. I have a vision of him sitting in the café where Claire works, watching her roll silverware into napkins. The sun catches her hair; he draws in a sharp breath and starts counting his heartbeats, noting the slight acceleration with complete dispassion. Perhaps he somaticizes this physical response and considers making an appointment with a cardiologist. To somaticize something is roughly the opposite as romanticizing it. It is the process of mistaking an emotional ache for a physical one.

Along with trying to reconcile the fact that David was to be emotionally flat but also inexplicably in love with Claire, I had decided that despite his strong ambition, he was having a hard time deciding what to do with his life, with his intellectual gifts and abilities, now that he was of an age to make his own decisions instead of having them dictated to him. Alexithymia covers this as well as alexithymics seem to have trouble assigning values to their options. Every option remains neutral in their eyes. They are devoid of personal preference and can argue for and against every possibility. David is an excellent debater, but cannot so much as choose a favorite sandwich from the menu, hence his habit of picking the next item down on the menu every day. See? I had given David all of these attributes without having a name for his unique condition or even an understanding of it. I must be smarter than I think I am. Though I'm beginning to have more sympathy with Orson Scott Card, he having created a cast of undeniably brilliant children to populate his Ender Series and Shadow Series. It's hard not being smarter than your protagonist, having to constantly struggle to out-think him and fill his head with genuine brilliance!

But now the problem is to somehow integrate this knowledge of the inner workings of my characters' brains into the narrative. Since this is to be first person narration, is it wise for both David and Claire to have so much insight into their own minds? Self-awareness is an excellent attribute, but will it be believable to a reader? I know that I wanted to impart some sort
of valuable life lesson throughout the story, but have been unsure what that lesson should be. I was hoping it would assert itself in some way in the narrative. Could it be, now, that I'm being led to present self-knowledge as a virtue and to teach my reader (through the disclosure of various developmental and cognitive studies that aren't normally encountered in
fiction) strategies to foster such self-awareness and what courses to avoid? This deserves some serious thought. It would certainly be a provocative subject for the reader making the high school to college transition, and that is, after all, my target audience.

Meanwhile, I am rethinking the POV. I might try reading through what I've written already in a third person omniscient to see how I like it. I doubt I will. I may break out my "Character and Viewpoint" textbook by Orson Scott Card and peruse it for inspiration.

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