Understanding Very Smart People

(Author’s note: I wrote this in response to an article that was posted on Facebook in June of 2017. It came up in “Memories” today and I decided to touch it up a bit and post it here.)

This “Understanding Very Very Smart People” thing came across my Facebook feed a couple of times today, then again in an IM conversation this evening when I was asked what I thought of it. Setting aside the fact that saying things like “very very” is, well, wrong, my answer was that I didn’t think it was helpful at all. I got to thinking about what the authors should have talked about, and eventually I decided to write my own version.

Does what I’m about to say represent absolute truth? Of course not. It’s a personal perspective, filled with personal observations and experiences that might not be the same as the readers. I’ll be interested to hear what other people think of my answer to….

Understanding Very V̶e̶r̶y̶ Smart People

  1. Assume they are waiting for you to catch up.

Studies have found that there is a clear correlation between the speed at which people think and their IQ. Very smart people tend to process information and reach conclusions faster. In turn studies link this trait to feelings of frustration and irritation. They are literally done before most people have hit the last turn.

This is where very smart people get themselves into trouble. IQ is far from the only form of intellect. EQ, or what some call psychological intelligence, is just as important. People who are have very high IQs and low EQs will say things like “Come on, it’s not hard, what are you stupid?”  At this point they are waiting for the other person to just agree with them so they can move on.

If IQ and EQ are in the same range the response can go from “Hurry up” to “Don’t worry you’ll figure it out later” to “What do you think?” Yes, it is more complex than that, but we don’t have all day.

How to deal with it

Keep in mind that they really don’t understand why other people find these things hard. For example, I do not have a math brain. My friend Mark does. When something comes up where math is required I don’t try to keep up with him. In turn Mark does not taunt me about not having a math brain.

  1. Assume that they will not take being wrong well

The thing is that very smart people are used to being right, because they usually are. The downside to this is that not everything that crosses their path is going to get their full attention, and THEY WON’T NOTICE. When it becomes clear that they missed something they are likely to evidence some frustration which can come in various forms.

Angry with themselves – I’m so stupid. Stupid and arrogant. Stupid, arrogant and insensitive. Etc., etc.

Angry with the messenger – What the hell do you know about it? You’re just saying that because you can’t handle the BLAH BLAH BLAH.

Crushed by self-doubt – If I was wrong about that what else have I been wrong about? Maybe I’m just too dumb to know I’m dumb. Maybe everybody else is smarter than me and… oh god why can’t I do anything right.

How to deal with it

Depending on the person and their response you might consider just not dealing with it. Just give them the correction and ignore whatever comes next.

  1. Assume they will over explain everything and hence be crappy at small talk.

Being very smart means being right, and being right means accounting for all the nuances and exceptions, and accounting for all that means understanding a lot of stuff about a lot of other stuff. All of which is to say that very smart people won’t think they have explained a thing until they have explained all the things that are connected to it. This is why when you ask them some simple social question like “How was your day?” they start by telling you about the products that their company makes, about how those products interact with other products, and about how they spent six hours trying to fix a thing because the people who built it didn’t know what they were doing and that made them upset so they snapped at their significant other and got in a big fight.

How to deal with it.

Ask them to stop. Most very smart people know that they tend to go on a bit. I will say “I need you to stop now because I want to talk about something else.” This works pretty well.

  1. Assume they will point out insignificant differences

Many very smart people have a hard time ignoring minor errors or omissions. Someone is telling a story about something and in response the very smart person is correcting verb tenses, pointing out that the person’s name is Jim, not Jeff, and generally being a pain in the ass. This is because to very smart people if Any Part of it is WRONG, it’s all WRONG.

How to deal with it

Depending on the person and the situation it might be best to simply state that, in this case, not all of the details are not important. Personally, I tend to say, “I don’t care” and move on. But whatever you do try to remember that all those little corrections really don’t have anything to do with how the very smart person feels about you, it’s just excess attention to unnecessary detail.

  1. Assume they are always a little bit irritated, depressed, and anxious, because they are.

Being very smart has very few actual benefits. Studies show that high IQ is a much worse indicator of future success than a similarly high EQ. In the end, while having a high IQ makes some things easier, it also brings into sharp focus many things that are unpleasant to have to live with. The so called “big questions,” time, sex, love and death are all tough concepts and the very smart person knows this from a younger age than is generally psychologically good for them.

How to deal with it

You can’t, don’t try. Thousands of years of written human history and the truly hard questions are still truly hard. You have your own hardships, don’t try to take on someone else’s.

  1. Assume they are horrid at something, because they are.

Sometimes very smart people will focus on being very smart and ignore other parts of the human experience. Eventually they can come to believe that if they don’t get it it doesn’t exist.

More often very smart people will make decisions (often at too young an age) that this or that is simply not important, and from then on they will just ignore it. Then, because their very smart, they will rationalize that decision. All all humans do, very smart people are just a bit better at it than most. This makes trying to convince a very smart person to re-examine something they have previously dismissed very difficult.

But no matter how smart  a very smart person is they will still forget their keys, take the wrong turn, underestimate the amount of time it will take to get to the party and forget people’s names, just like everyone else.

Not Dead Yet…

Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

Well, actually there have been no reports of my death, in fact there’s been no news of me, at least no news here, for a very long time. It’s not that things haven’t been happening, it’s that most of what has been happening has either been political, social, or personal, none of which is easy to write about.

The one thing I can say with confidence is that life keeps changing. For a very long time I didn’t feel like I had the energy to write much at all for public consumption. It’s not that I don’t have things to say, or that writing was too much work. It’s that many of the things I want to say are politically, socially, or emotionally charged, and the though of having to defend those things leaves me feeling agitated and weary.

I have the sense that as my living situation changes I may find that I have the energy to take on some of those topics, but I’m not there yet, and so I’m lying low, avoiding the stress of conflict and saving my spoons for things that are more required for my day to day sanity. In the coming weeks and months we’ll see what happens.

One of These Things is Not Like the Others

I received a Court Baronage on September 9th, 2005. That was the day that Caid made its first Kingdom Bard. I was not expecting to become a Baron that day. I was not displeased, but the message was not lost on me, or my wife, or my friends.

I was never going to be a Laurel for Bardic Arts. The times had changed, and my contribution to the kingdom and the SCA, valued though it was, did not meet the authenticity requirements for peerage. The Court Baronage was my consolation prize for 20 years of music, service to the SCA and to the bardic community.

Still, it wasn’t a bad prize. The title of Baron is popular in the SCA, in large part because it’s actually a period title, secondarily because it is still, relatively, uncommon. My wife is a Laurel, but she goes by Baroness. Master/Mistress is a craftsman’s title, not a noble title, and a number of Laurels and Pelicans I know don’t use it if they have recourse to Baron or Baroness.

And that’s how I’m Baron Thomas Bordeaux.

A little less than a year later I became Baron of Lyondermer. That came with a lot of changes. My own arms went in the closet and were replaced by the Arms of Lyonderme. My surname went away and was replaced by “Baron Lyondemere.” Sometimes my entire name was replaced by “Your Excellency Lyondemere.” None of these changes were unexpected. From that day until the day I stepped down my own goals and interests, as well as my choices about what events I’d go to, how I would spend my time there, and who I would spend that time with, would be dictated by the requirements of the Barony I served and the Crown I represented.

I was Baron of Lyondemere for the next three years. When I stepped down I returned the Baronial Arms, the title, the Coronette and the Throne to the Crown, who in turn vested those rights and responsibilities in my successor. I did not become a Court Baron because I had served as a Landed Baron. I became a Court Baron because I wasn’t worthy of a Peerage. For my three years of service as Baron of Lyondemere I received a polite thank you from the Crown.

So let’s dispense with the biggest objection I hear to giving former Territorial Barons and Baronesses a title other than Court Baronage. My contribution is not cheepened because I share the title of Court Baron with people who were never territorial leaders. My contribution to the Barony, and the Kingdom I served, was effectively unrewarded because I was already a Court Baron and a Court Baronage is does not reflect the level of service that position required or the amount of work it took to do the job well.

There has been for sometime a discussion about changing the title for former Territorial Barons and Baroness to something other than Baron. Marquis has been suggested, but it’s not the title that’s the cause of disagreement. The thing that’s got people talking is the idea of making any distinction at all between those who hold a Court Baronage for service as a Territorial, and everyone else who holds that title.

When the Crown decided to bestow an award they are subject to a few criteria.

  1. The person receiving the award must be a member of the Kingdom that the Crown is reigning over
  2. If the award is a peerage the Crown required to consult with the peerage order.
  3. Depending on the award and the Kingdom the Crown may also be required to consult with non-peerage polling orders.

Assuming for a moment that the first condition is true, and the second and third are false, the Crown is free to act on their “whim” should they chose to. The most common award that meets these criteria is the Award of Arms, which is generally accompanied by the title “Lord” or “Lady,” though culturally equal titles (i.e. “Don”) are not uncommon.

It’s clear that Court Baronage is also falls in this category. The Crown may, at their desecration, award the title to anyone they please, for any reason that they like.

The process for creating a Territorial Baron or Baroness is significantly more demanding.

  1. It is expected in many Kingdoms that the populace will be presented with a number of candidates, though it is often the case that there are only one or two.
  2. The candidate(s) that the Barony selects must be acceptable to the Crown.
  3. The populace must be polled regarding their support for the candidates, and the Crown is forbidden by Corpora from installing a Baron or Baroness in the face of “significant” objection of the Baronies populace.

Here is the first of many major differences between the Court Baronage and the Territorial Baronage. The former is an award given at the Crowns sole discretion. The latter is a job which the Crown is forbidden by law from giving on a “whim.”

At this point a reasonable person might stop trying to compare the two, and some reasonable people might begin to ask themselves how it came to be that a person whom an individual Crown favored for their own reasons, and a person who served multiple Crowns as a territorial leader for years came to have the same title at all?

Part of the answer lies in the fact that for the first 15 – 20 years of its existence a Territorial Baronage was effectively for life. There was no expectation that a Territorial Baron or Baroness would ever step down, and no mechanism for removal. Eventually this lead to predictable problems. But even in the face of strong agitation from the populace Crowns found it socially and politically difficult to force a Territorial Baron or Baroness to step down. Once it became clear that something had to be done there was a secondary issue. How to recognize the service of the soon to be former Territorial Baron or Baroness?

The answer, for several reasons, was the Court Baronage.

  1. It already existed which is good because creating new awards is hard.
  2. It required no changes in kingdom law which is good because changing kingdom law is hard.
  3. It is given at the sole discretion of the Crown, meaning no objections need be considered.
  4. It allowed the former Territorial to retain the title of Baron which helped ease the pain of being told to step down.

Taken together these qualities made the Court Baronage the easiest solution to a difficult problem, and there few things we like better than easy solutions. At the time no one anticipated that there would be a new batch of former Territorials, who had been installed after the populace was polled, served their three or five year terms with honor, and would feel that their service was effectively erased in the public sphere when they were handed the same title the Crown could (and had) give their Dad or their best drinking buddy.

This, in essence, is the heart of the current dispute. The title of Court Baron or Baroness does not acknowledge service. It may be given for service, or it may be given because the Crown thinks you’re funny, but nothing about the Court Baronage says “The holder of this title served their Kingdom.”

Which brings me to the most glaring error in the article that provoked me to write this essay. The idea that Territorial Barons and Baroness are unquietly rewarded for their service by retaining the title of Baron or Baroness after they step down. The author states:

Now, when a King and Queen of an SCA kingdom step down at the end of their reign, they cease to hold that title and the style of “Your Majesty,” and instead receive the permanent but lesser rank of Count and Countess, or (if they’re slow learners) Duke and Duchess. Likewise, when a Territorial Prince and Princess relinquish their roles, they lose their title and the style of “Your Highness” and assume the lesser station of a Viscount and Viscountess.

But such is not the case for a former Territorial Baron and Baroness. Unlike their Royal counterparts, the heads of Baronies don’t take a lesser title upon retirement, but instead retain in perpetuity the same rank, title, and stylization they’d held for the past several years: Baron and Baroness. This lateral transfer from temporary role to permanent rank is unique in the SCA, and is an honor that even the most successful Crown cannot receive. The idea that a Court Barony is insufficient to recognize Former Territorial Baronage simply does not hold up on its own.

It is hard to ignore the unsupported conclusion that the contents of these two paragraphs show that “The idea that a Court Barony is insufficient to recognize a Former Territorial Baronages simply does not hold up on its own.” and it becomes much harder when you realize that the author has, in fact, presented a clear and compelling reason for making a distinction.

“…when a King and Queen of an SCA kingdom step down at the end of their reign, they cease to hold that title and the style of “Your Majesty,” and instead receive the permanent but lesser rank of Count and Countess, or … Duke and Duchess.”

This is, of course, absolutely correct;  Every single Viscount, Viscountess, Count, Countess, Duke, or Duchess was a Territorial leader!

Everyone that hold the “lesser” rank of Count, Countess, Duke, or Dutches has previously been King or Queen. There are no Counts for six months of sewing for the Crown. There are no Dukes for being a fun person to hang out with, no one has ever been awarded the title of Duchess because they did a great job during their two years as a kingdom officer.

Let me be very clear. Every single one of the people I just described deserves to be recognized for their service, and it is the Crowns job to determine how. Some of them may deserve a Court Barony, some may deserve an Augmentation of Arms, and some of them may deserve a Sigile. But none of them did anything comparable to the job of a Territorial Baron or Baroness. And the truth is that most of them would not take the job of a Territorial Baron or Baroness if it were offered to them.


Your days are taken up with the needs of the barony. Your event attendance is determined by the requirements of the Crown, the expectation of the other territorial groups, and the need to support your populace in their activities. Your time at events is not your own, you have little or no discretion in who you spend your day with because you’re on stage and these are your people. All of them, but especially the poorly socialized, the new people trying to learn their way around, are looking to you. You are their community, you are their support network, you are their Baron or Baroness and it’s your job to look out for them, smooth out the rough spots, and do what you can to help them have as good a time as possible.

You spend the nights you’re not in meetings writing letters of recommendation, trying to solve scheduling and logistical problems, and fielding questions about who in your area might be a good candidate for Royal Court

But the most difficult part of the job is that someone always hates you. Some because they believe they should be in charge, some because they distrust anyone in the public eye, some because they think you’re holding them back, and some because they liked the old Baron and Baroness and you’ll never measure up. This is the part of the job that kills people, and it’s the reason that so many former Territorial Barons and Baronesses leave the SCA after they step down. This is why I tell people who are considering service as a Territorial leader that “It’s the best job that will ever break your heart.”

The term of office averages for a Territorial Baron or Baroness  is three years, which is a year longer than a Kingdom Officer’s warrant, and six times longer than the Crown or any member of Their Court serves. Even in those kingdoms where Crown is fought in the weeks right after Coronation the Territorial Baronage servers at least three times longer. Oh, and if you’re not doing the job, or if you screw up, you can be fired.

In my opinion it’s well past time for this situation to be addressed and corrected. It’s time to admit that a Court Baronary is not an appropriate way to acknowledge the service of Territorial Barons and Baronesses, and instead treat them like we do the all other former territorial leaders, with a title that reflects their specific service.


Thoughts on “Ban the Fencers”

“Simply put, We are banning fencing throughout the Kingdom of the West. This is a carefully considered decision on Our part, and We understand that some may feel slighted or offended. Understand in return that, while We apologize for any hurt feelings, We do not apologize for this action. Fencing has never been an integral part of how the West Kingdom plays S.C.A., and after many years of inconsistent handling of this issue, it is time to resolve it. We have heard the argument that there was some fencing in Europe prior to 1600. Even so We feel most strongly that emulating the practices of street thugs of that era is not appropriate in a chivalric, medieval society of ladies and gentlemen.”

It was that last sentence that really got me.

“Even so We feel most strongly that emulating the practices of street thugs of that era is not appropriate in a chivalric, medieval society of ladies and gentlemen.”

I posted “Ban the Fencers” to rec.org.sca on Sept. 17th, 1996.

There’s a long tradition of political satire in SCA bardic music. “Weapons at the Door” by Ioseph of Locksley is perhaps most widely known, but there are a host of others. The best of them all have one thing in common, and the best summary I’ve ever heard for this common trait comes from my friend (and my laurel) Owen Alun.

Treason must be true.

Treason must be obvious.

Treason must be preferable.

“Ban the Fencers” was written with a very strict set of criteria. Everything had to have happened in front of me,  or to me directly. Nothing could be second hand. No proper names, and no uniquely individual practices could be included. I wrote it over the course of an afternoon and showed it to Angelina when she got home. She was amused, but also worried about the consequences. In truth I was concerned about losing friends, and justifiably so, because to some people from the West, “Ban the Fencers” was treason.

In the end I did lose one friend, a knight and a writer whom I’d known and respected for several years was staying with us while on vacation. I told her that I’d written a piece of political satire about the West’s fencing ban, and I played it for her in my living room. She called it a “vicious hit piece” that I should be ashamed of. Her companion called it “an unfair attack on an entire kingdom.” Neither of them ever spoke to me again, and that makes me sad.

But I stand by what I wrote.“Ban the Fencers” did was it was designed to do. It showed the absurdity of the ban and the attitudes it was based in, and I think it forced a change in the conversation about fencing in the West.

Almost 23 years later everything about fencing has changed.  We have Masters of Defence (I still think they should be knights, but that’s a whole different argument) and a lot of people who were vocally opposed to fencing in the SCA in 1996 are authorized and fighting rapier throughout the Known Word.

The West has changed too. Like the rest of society, both in the modern world and the Current Middle Ages, some things that were ignored are no longer tolerated. We’ve all grown older, with any luck wiser. We are still learning to be more inclusive, and we need to do a much better job supporting women and non-men in our activities.

The Trials and Tribulations of a Newsletter…

Image result for head deskWhen I was setting up the reward tiers for my supports at patreon.com on of the things I included in every one of them was a newsletter. Not only did it seem to me that this would be something I would have fun doing, but I thought it would be easy.

Sadly I was mistaken. After some research I settled on MailChimp for the creation and distribution of the newsletter. MailChimp gets good reviews and it’s free if you have less than 2000 subscribers. Really, it seems like just what I was looking for. Of course, if that were the case my newsletter would have gone out as I intended.

I’m not actually sure what happened, but after futzing around here and there as I learned my way around the system I was suddenly confronted with an ominous message.

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Well, that’s not good.

I checked the terms of service….

  • selling porn?
  • Sending spam?
  • Incitement?

Nope, none of that. In fact as far as I can tell I didn’t do anything. I’m not sure what their automated system thought I was trying to do, but since I only have 13 subscribers, and all I’d managed to do so far was make a “Welcome to My Newsletter” message I don’t actually believe it’s possible that I committed any violation at all.

I didn’t hear from them today, so I sent a follow message. All I can do at the moment is wait for human to review the situation and unlock my account.

Pennsic – First Thoughts

Image result for rain at pennsic warOwen has a saying “Only Pennsic is worth the trouble that only Pennsic requires.” For me the jury is still out on the “worth” question. That’s not because it’s not a great event, it is a fantastic event, but it did more or less kick my ass back and forth from the food court to the merchant area and back to camp again, multiple times.

I don’t want to make this post about my physical challenges, or about my anxiety, but I will say that two weeks in a tent, in Western Pennsylvania, in the middle of summer, is something that I will not essay lightly again. I was utterly unprepared for the heat, the humidity, and the walking.

I met a number of very fine bards, and got to see other old friends, some of which I haven’t seen in years. Musically I was on top of my game, very few unforced errors, good state presence, and receptive audiences. Perhaps the standout bardic moment for me was performing “The Lost Crusade” with Cantore Borealis, the choir group that Mistress Orlaith leads at Pennsic.


Pennsic: Calontir Bardic

We arrived on Saturday, in the early evening, and set up most of our stuff in the dark. This is not as big a deal as it once was, we’re all old hands at this part. Sunday was spent fine tuning the details, picking up things in town and such. On Monday morning I was dressed and ready to do stuff.

The “stuff” we were doing was Calontir Bardic on Monday night, 9 PM. It’s a big circle, I’m told that it’s traditionally the first (or perhaps just the first big) bardic circle of the event. I’d say there were between 30 and fifty people there, and except for the part where it started raining (it had been doing so on and off all day) a good time was had by all.

I played twice, once when the circle came to me, once on request. The first song was Tinker’s Minstrel, which went by without a hitch. The request song was I’m a Duke and You’re Not, in which I swapped the second and third verse, but in that piece it’s not really all that important.

Overall I’d say it went well, though I was constantly concerned about the weather and my guitar. When it actually started raining consistently I opted out, Arwa and I loaded our things in the wagon and went back to our encampment.

Pennsic Panic!

Related image Tomorrow, 10:30 AM my friends and I are leaving for Pennsic 47. I have so much packing still to do! I know that, regardless of what I forget everything will be alright, it’s not like my life depends on any of this stuff, but I’m still stressing about it. I have an incredibly long and detailed list, and I’m doing a good job of packing things neatly and not using more space than I need, but still I find myself wondering what stupid mistake I’m making. Of course something is always bound to be forgotten, and I’ll only remember what that is when I’m on the road somewhere in Ohio.