I was probably in the 10th grade when it hit me. We were all gathering in the gymnasium for some assembly, and as I sat down, I thought a thought I’d never thought before: I’m average.
This is a bit of a hard knock for a fifteen year old to take. It’s like David Foster Wallace said: “…Everything in my own immediate experience
supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the
realist, most vivid and important person in existence.” Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be lucky enough to stumble across “This is Water” for about another year or so. I needed to contend with this cognitive dissonance on my own.
On one hand, I had the deep rooted belief we all have, that I was the center of the universe, and everyone else was just a secondary or tertiary character in my story. The rest of the world was just background noise while I lived my very important life. I was clearly more intelligent, more creative, more alive than anyone else.
On the other hand, there were two schools of thought. First, comes science. The Sun formed from a cloud of dust on the outer edge of an ordinary galaxy’s arm. 99.9% of the mass in our solar system is in the Sun. Jupiter takes up about 2/3rds of the mass leftover from the Sun’s formation. That leaves about .033…% of the mass of the solar system shared between seven other plants, the comets, asteroids, and leftover dust that make up our little corner of the universe. Even without factoring in the size and scope of the universe and considering how little mass our Solar System really has when you compare it to an infinite universe, the collection of atoms we call Mikaela is pretty unimportant. So is everything else, and there’s nothing to be done about it.
That prospect would have been bleak, if it weren’t for the humanities. Kurt Vonnegut wrote: “The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable.” Poetry, more than anything else, gave me the conclusion I would come to after a many-years-long existential crisis – that if nothing in this world matters because in 4.5 billion years the Sun will incinerate the Earth this is all for naught, then the things we decider matter, matter.
So I realized, with joy, that being average meant something marvelous: I would never be alone. Absolutely everything I’d ever thought or done had, at some point, been thought of or done by someone else. No bad mood can stay when it’s rendered incapable of making you feel alone. And what’s more, the qualities you enjoy about the people around you exist in every human being. Grind up all the continents, send them back to the lab, and the results will say “granite.” Grind up all of humanity, send it off to the lab, and the results will say “decent person.” We’re all better than the average in some ways, worse than the average in others, and perfectly average in still more ways. Collectively, we balance the scales.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, not so much in the context of my intelligence as I did in high school, but in the context of my creativity. It seems everyone around me is more inspired, more talented, more invested in the art they create. I don’t write spectacularly well, I don’t understand what someone means when they talk about the “composition” of a photograph (thank god I’m not a photographer), I can’t draw or play an instrument or sing. My creativity seems second best.
Nevertheless, I enjoy sunsets. I enjoy pressing my ear to the railroad tracks and hearing a train coming. I enjoy most of the books I read. I enjoy learning about pretty much anything. I enjoy this world, even if it seems extraordinary (within the context of a conscious decision to decide that this earth matters) and I am nothing more than a passenger along for the ride. So it doesn’t matter if I can create something with skill. It matters that I enjoy creating something.
Right now, at least, happiness in life is about striking a compromise between big picture realism (none of this matters, nothing is unique, we’re all average); big picture optimism (none of it matters, nothing is unique, so we never have to feel lonely); small picture realism (my art doesn’t hold a flame to what other people create); and small picture optimism (who cares if my art sucks, I like making it). Being average is one of the best things that ever happened to me.