The Genius Factor

(selections from James Fenton and Richard Locke)


Though it seems more prevalent in East Asian cultures, there are signs of it everywhere. It’s no longer admirable to be an intelligent or talented individual. Instead, there’s a mass interest in the one-in-a-million prodigy. It’s something of a “genius factor.” It started out as a kind of intrigue (on TV or online videos) and turned into a demand. Now a skilled pianist doesn’t have the same allure as an equally masterful twelve-year-old. It’s made me think of my age more often than I’d like to admit.


I’m almost conditioned to be impatient. Instead of wanting to take the time to learn, I’m fastened on being good now. Every year, it gets worse. It’s the desperation. I didn’t just want to be champion writer; I wanted the genius factor that comes with being young at the same time. Looking outside of myself, at the viral speed of Internet interests, I thought that that was the only way someone else could care. And I wouldn’t blame them for it.




Even I was convinced—what do I have to say ten years later that I couldn’t somehow torture out of myself now? After all, what is the writer without her hard-won readers? But each year passes easily and without incident. I don’t think I’m a one-in-a-million or that I can glean the genius factor from my very ordinary soul. I suppose coming to such an understanding is in itself admirable, if not to anyone else but me.

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  1. Ken Fees (@kenfees)

    Perhaps you really are a genius, for you seem to be able to condense what ails so many of us into a couple of short paragraphs, and make us realize how foolish we are for expecting tomorrow’s hare-earned wisdom to appear before its time.
    Beautiful piece, Ms. Koh. Thank you.

    • angelaejkoh

      Thanks for coming by, Ken. That’s definitely what I hoped to get across. I was thinking, if I do this blogging thing long enough, one of my posts are bound to be clear!

      Thanks again, Ken!

  2. Cheryl Chen

    Sometimes we feel the pressure to be unforgettable to the world. I am encouraged by the fact that nothing I do on this world for myself will be eternal. Only what I do for others can last. If I were to leave this world with any sort of mark, I want it to be a sign that I stood for God and the ones He loves and not for myself.

    • angelaejkoh

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Cheryl. Doing for others is definitely important–I don’t know why it’s taking me so long to get to that point!

      I am truly the conceited writer, through and through. Hopefully, we’ll see that change. Any day now…

  3. Robert Szeles

    Genius Shmenius! Angela, any more, I’m just happy to read something where the writer knows how to put a sentence together intelligibly. Seriously. It’s ironic that our culture demands this when so few people are excellent, or even competent, at what they do. (I think it’s a product of movie and TV stardom for the very few and Americans tendency to be lazy and watch someone else do something and excuse themselves from the effort by saying they weren’t born with talent).

    I’m so happy when I come upon a writer who is just solid. The idea of genius and masterpiece is so overemphasized. Even the books that are supposed to be masterpieces (and the authors that are supposed to be geniuses) are flawed. It’s part of being human.

    The goal should be to work toward integrity, honesty and excellence in your field — and yes, this takes TIME. Western culture is always at a rush, wanting something for nothing, wanting it NOW. But that doesn’t give happiness, peace or the self-knowledge that comes from dedication and devotion to something.

    Thanks for your thought-provoking blog. Keep writing and putting it out there. Many great artists were not recognized in their time. As artists, we must accept this possibility, do all we can to see that our work is recognized and be grateful if each day we can get up and do the work we know we were meant to do.


    • angelaejkoh

      Dear Robert,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to write this out. It was a refreshing read! I’m sorry it took a while for me to get back to you. It’s been one of those weeks where I can hardly come up for air.

      “Even the books that are supposed to be masterpieces (and the authors that are supposed to be geniuses) are flawed” — I’m so glad someone came out and said it. They do have their flaws –even giants like Orwell or Nabokov –but their works also have incredible value and it’s a combination of those things that creates the individual’s voice or hand print so to speak. They’re not superhuman as you say, though it takes some convincing…

      I’m on board with integrity, and of course the veracity in writing. I suppose I’m on the fence about having one’s work recognized beyond their lifetime. Maybe I want to fight that notion because it goes along with a sense of abdication as if writers don’t have the means to properly promote themselves or shouldn’t feel they deserve recognition. Or maybe I’m wrong and it’ll take a few decrepit years for that to sink in. Haha!

      Thanks again, Robert!

      • Robert Szeles

        Good god, no worries at all Angela. I had 100 freaking emails in my inbox this morning.

        Thanks for your reply. So nice to hear a rational voice.

        Don’t misunderstand, I think artists SHOULD be recognized for the hard work of developing their talent and contributing something meaningful to the world. I surely would like to be. I mean, if it pays my living expenses and I can keep working, that’s fantastic. Anything else is icing on the cake.

        I’m re-reading The Great Gatsby. It’s fantastic of course, but it’s not my favorite book. I find it depressing, which I think it’s supposed to be. And in the first couple chapters, there are some metaphors that are so overwritten that I was pulled out of the story. Ha. Listen to me, criticizing Fitzgerald. But that’s just my opinion and it doesn’t take away from the brilliance. The brilliance comes from expression of human experience with style and grace and honesty and skill, not from technical perfection.

        Well, stay in touch. Looking forward to reading more. And please stop by my blog, Sex and the Single Author, when you have a chance. I need more company there, especially from attractive intelligent female writers. :)


  4. Earl Vaughn

    This was truly an interesting piece from the perspective of an aging baby boomer.

    When I was growing up on a Georgia farm in the fifties and sixties, my parents were so consumed with earning a living that the only pressure I felt was to learn a craft that would support myself and my family. Writing would not have been considered such as craft. It’s only in recent years that I’ve been able consider such a thing. Things look very different from where I’m standing now than they did in those years.

    I worry about the long term effect of growing up under the pressure you describe, Angela. Every week or so I tell my son, “These are the good old days. Take some time to relax and smell the roses.” I’m tempted to tell you the same thing.

    I enjoy your writing very much.

      • Robert Szeles

        Angela, I’ve found how important it is to take days off with no pressure. Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) talks about going by yourself on an artist’s date once a week. You do nothing connected with creativity, just go where you want, let your my play and enjoy yourself. Not only does that prevent burnout, but ironically, it makes the time we are working far more inspired and productive. Our soul/subconscious needs freedom to tap into the well of creativity within us (or wherever it is). Children do that effortlessly. As we grow older, the world tries to beat it out of us. Money, fame, worldly success (usually meaning money and fame/recognition). The challenge as an artist in our type of culture is to remain free inside while doing your best to achieve some recognition and make a living. It’s a difficult balance. Best wishes to you with it…


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