I’m a rocket scientist. But I don’t say that to imply that I’m the genius in the title. I say that because it is why I live in Huntsville, Alabama. We build rockets here. Design them, really. It is where Werner von Braun and his German rocket scientists came after World War II. Dr. von Braun and his team were the guys who designed and built the V2 during World War II and used those skills and knowledge to put man on the moon. Public perception of the German rocket scientists is behind the phrase, “It isn’t rocket science.”
I occasionally still run into people who worked with Dr. von Brain and his team. Engineers who recall the heady days of Apollo when science mattered. When they speak of Dr. von Braun there is a reverence in their bearing. All who worked with him knew they were in the presence of genius. Not TV genius, where the genius isn’t that impressive because it was written by writers who aren’t. Actual, honest-to-God genius. They say, “Talent hits a target that no one else can hit. Genius hits a target that no one else can see.” That kind of genius. von Braun was on a different level. I’m jealous of those people who got to work with him. Those people who got to work with genius.
Instinctively we understand the power of genius and we go through our lives wanting to be close to it. To be close to brilliance. We want to study real estate under Donald Trump. Study physics under Stephen Hawking. Have Michael Schmacher teach us how to drive. Or Jaques Cousteau teach us how to dive. And who wouldn’t want to be on the set of Lord of the Rings with Peter Jackson. Be the Rogers to Hammerstein, or the Fred Astair to Ginger Rogers- after all, she did everything he did wearing a dress and high heels. Brilliance, we get it, most of us don’t have it, and the best we can imagine is getting to work with it.
I haven’t had the opportunity to work with a genius in my engineering career. One guy came close and, in different times, might have been. But this is now. Huntsville, and places like it, are all driven by politics these days. We can’t get anything done because the government is fighting with itself. Or some slimy contractor is out to steal everything for themselves. I’m going through this at the moment and I can tell you it is highly counterproductive. There are no geniuses left doing government work. They all went to the private sector long ago.
Rocket science isn’t the only thing I do. I also write. Now I can turn a sentence well enough. Spin a plot. And most importantly, attach my butt to the seat of a chair long enough to finish a book. Nevertheless, I’m no literary genius. However, I do get to work with one. She’d tell you she’s not – just as Dr. von Braun would tell you that he wasn’t. Stephen Hawking might tell you he was but you wouldn’t be able to understand him, and honestly, what else does the guy have? But she is a genius and it is a huge privilege to get to work with her. I try to learn what she does, but that’s the thing about genius, you can’t learn it. Either you have it or you don’t. I am of course talking about Terri-Lynne Smiles, the writer.
Terri-Lynne Smiles is a literary genius, and if you haven’t read any of her work, you should. Now it’s not the kind of work written by someone who thinks they are a genius. We’ve all seen that kind of stuff, trying very, very hard to look intelligent. It’s usually indecipherable, which is supposed to mean we can’t understand it because it is over our heads. The truth is, we can’t understand it because it sucks. Terri doesn’t write like that. Even in blog posts and emails it is… transcendent. Terri writes the way Bo Jackson played football. It is beautiful, and elegant, and relatable. She makes it look simple, like it is something anyone could do. But it isn’t. Just try to move a soccer ball like Lionel Messi. You can’t do it. Try to write like Terri-Lynne Smiles. You can’t do it.
It’s funny, those engineers who worked with von Braun never say, “I wish I was Werner von Braun.” Indeed, once you’ve worked with genius you don’t generally respond by saying, “I wish I was a genius, too.” When you’ve been around genius you are just thankful for the opportunity to be around them. To learn from them. One doesn’t bask in their presence because genius doesn’t tolerate basking. Genius demands action, and we don’t mind because it is genius. That’s Terri. I’m just thankful to be around her even if I can’t actually learn to do what she does. And if you want to be around that genius, I suggest you get a copy of her debut novel, Foreseen, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. I just hope you’re willing to give up a couple of nights of sleep, because that’s what you’ll be doing until you finish this book.