The heartstopping beauty of a genius at work

From Tom Brady to Velazquez to Virginia Woolf, the innate human capacity for genius and the witnesses to its expression, is endlessly beautiful.


I realised something important over the past few days.

My mind was a little addled, my head overwhelmed, my email inbox overflowing in that intangible but all too real digital way, and various projects full of undone to-dos.

It’s only the third week of January, but I needed a break. To put it more accurately, my head needed a break. My brain had been in overdrive since the Christmas holidays, thinking of the ways to keep all the plates spinning and avoid any breakage and move forward into 2019 and beyond on the right path. (Because I had spent too many years drifting aimlessly down the wrong ones…)

I started thinking about movies. In the past the cinema was often the break my head needed when the overwhelm rose up around me.

Not any film, though.

There’s a huge problem with movies right now, which the excellent short video essayist The Nerdwriter talks about in his YouTube video, The Epidemic of Passable Movies. (Aside: the Nerdwriter is great for thought-provoking 10-minute diversions into pop culture and the arts — some favourites: how Emily Dickinson writes a poem, how Donald Trump answers a question, the psychological phenomenon of being in a state of flow)

But every so often, for whatever reason, through some collective wizardry and alchemy in direction and writing and editing and performance, a film lands that delivers exactly what I need it to. (Everyone’s different: you will likely have some category or subset of movies or art or books that delivers just for you.)

And I realised this.

The movies that speak to me, the movies that uplift me and connect with me in a way that stays with me for decades, are almost always about the concept or character of genius.

I loved Shine, but I listened to film reviewers who told me that Geoffrey Rush’s standout performance was the most notable factor.

I loved Good Will Hunting, but I told myself it was the perfectly pitched script and the origin story of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck that did it.

I loved The Hours, but I thought it was the four interweaving storylines that grabbed me.

What I think now, though, is that genius is the common denominator.

It’s genius that lights me up.  It’s genius that resonates with me at a level much deeper than basic understanding. It’s genius that makes me appreciate the time spent standing in front of a Velazquez in Madrid, or Tom Brady to Julian Edelman at 3rd down and 10 in overtime, or Leo Messi’s two-touch-control-and-goal at the World Cup.

And here’s what I really think about genius.

Genius is about way more than just the small handful of people who excel at the level of greatest of all time.

We all have our own individual genius.

It is born within us, and the best we can do is channel it and allow its expression. The paradox of genius is that it’s absolutely of the self, but it is designed to be witnessed by others.

So many of us take our genius to the grave, because we cannot find a way to express it, and that saddens me greatly.

We do that because we’re afraid of failing.

Or we’re afraid of being judged.

Or we’re afraid of succeeding.

That fear is to be recognised, welcomed and challenged.

We must try to meet fear, greet it, and defeat it.

It starts here.