Intelligence can be measured in many ways, but two types of knowledge stand out. There are the traditional “book smarts” which many highly educated people possess, and there are the conventional “street smarts” that people with more real-world experience often have. Although the stuff of life–the fast-paced, fleeting raucous of everyday existence–is often a poet’s field of study, most writers (of all persuasions) tend to engage in go-nowhere cerebral exercises. Chris Truman–the Great Internalizer–was no exception.
As a child, his scholastic abilities were plenty, and Truman soon found himself plucked from the teeming mass of his “average” peers and placed into elite-filled, “advanced” courses. From the very beginning, he felt out of place–after all, smart little boys are far down on the Coolness Spectrum, even in grammar school.
Other factors contributed to his alienation. Truman’s overactive brain prevented his underwhelming body from excelling in sports, the arena in which boys prove the extent of their God-given boy-ness. Pen and paper–not baseball bat or hockey stick–were his favorite tools. Despite the lavish praise he received from his teachers for scoring high marks on his weekly spelling tests, Truman was an outsider dying for recognition from his peers, who hit home runs and scored goals with ease while he looked on from the sidelines–awed and disgusted at once.
But Truman’s troubles went beyond simply being a nerd. A few deeply disturbed classmates–struggling to complete their work in rudimentary courses–took out their frustrations on him. They mocked him for answering a teacher’s question correctly in class. They copied off his papers in language arts. And math. And science. Bitter about their own misfortunes and intellectual shortcomings, they beat Truman down–not physically–but mentally.
Thus scholastic success, like many things in Truman’s life, presented the poet with a paradox. That he valued achieving good grades and learning as much (for his young age) as he could–these were undeniable truths. That his intelligence soon found itself equated with abuse by his less-than-talented, jealous peers–this, too, he could not refute. It was a contradiction that Truman, as he approached college, would carry with him–zipped up safely in his trusty backpack, along with heavy textbooks, cheap click-pens and scribbled lecture notes.