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Conjuring Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell just told me I should keep writing.

Well, not exactly.

In desperation a couple weeks ago, I realized that I was in need of wisdom. Could someone, anyone, of sound mind please explain, among other things, how we arrived at this place in political history, how Palin be could be happening to us, what all this says about us as a people? For a moment, I had the misguided idea that one could impose logic on the illogical.

Who better than Malcolm Gladwell to unravel a mystery, I decided? I pictured his characteristic thesis that, on the surface, would have an obvious answer. But as the mystery unfolded, unexpected answers would emerge. I did what any desperate person would do. I stalked him.

Well, not exactly. But I did go to the New Yorker website, where Gladwell is a regular contributor, in the hopes of finding that he’d expounded on this very subject. I imagined I might breathe a sigh of relief to know that, even if people shout racist epithets in public, Gladwell would have taken the edge off by presenting an idea that I could live with. The idea, mind you, not the racist epithets.

What I found was that he hadn’t written a column since May of this year. Then I want to his own website and looked at his blog, only to find that he hadn’t written a post since March of this year. A writer like Gladwell? I became worried.

So I emailed him. My email must have sounded like he should keep his finger on the pulse of my fears about society, and that he’d shirked his duty. A few days later, my heart skipped a beat when I checked email and found his name in the inbox.

For a nerd, this is a bit like not wanting to wash your cheek for a week because your crush just kissed it. I’ll admit that the reply was not, indeed, written by Gladwell himself, but by an assistant. Still, I like to believe that when she said Gladwell thanked me for my “kind email” and that he “really appreciates you taking the time to inquire about him,” that she was telling the truth. She told me that he has a new book coming out in mid November.

Ah. Makes sense. I could live with that.

Imagine my surprise then, when I logged on to the New Yorker today, and lo and behold, there was a new column from Gladwell, the first in four months. Better yet, the column, titled “Late Bloomers,” questions the notion that genius is equated with precocity. He builds a case for exhibiting genius late in life based on repeated effort, and not so much from luck being born a prodigy. Thank goodness for that.

Gladwell says at one point, “…sometimes genius is anything but rarefied; sometimes it’s just the thing that emerges after twenty years of working at your kitchen table.”

Given my nascent attempt at writing at the ripe age of 42, I decided I’d conjured Malcolm Gladwell at just the right time. I’ll pretend he was sending a secret message my way and that he just didn’t have time to email me personally.


  1. Anne Kerns says:

    Hi Jane,
    I saw a design comment you wrote on LinkedIn, and your name was familiar. I believe we met years ago when you lived in Kensington, for something to do with AIGA. Anyway, LI lead me here and I just wanted to say hello, and nice writing! I totally buy into the idea that genius can come from persistence… I’ll check out that article.

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