Friday, January 17, 2014

A Love Letter to Clever

Dear clever,

You are just a great word, did you know that?  Ticklish and vague, with a hint of spiritual association that slides across the spectrum of emotion.  We know what you are, but we don't all agree on you.  You're so fucking...subjective.

Say 'cle' over and over. kleklekleklekleklekleklekleklekleklekle.  It feels like pieces falling into place, like a Rube Goldberg device at the climax of brewing a pot of coffee, or clanking gears of an astronomical clock. 

Say 'ver' over and over.  verververververververververververver.  It sounds like beginnings.  A throttle, an engine, an action about to occur. 

Clever holds the promise of the truly awesome discoveries to come.

But there's a darkness to you, clever.

There's a darkness to "smart" as well, but that darkness is leaking out of a word that masks itself with a sharp bite and sudden stings.  Smart is painful.  And honestly, clever is just more phonetically pleasing (see sentences five through ten, thank you), and that's why I love it more. 

Clever can be negative, as if someone is a wee bit too mentally nimble for their own good.  Should there really be such a thing as too clever?  Too good at cleverness?  We don't say a person is "too good" at basketball or painting or playing the violin.  I mean, we do, but it's figurative, like "OMG, that Picasso guy is just tooooo good."  We don't insinuate their talents are for evil. 

Cleverness, though, is slightly off-balance, elite, cunning, darkly and knowingly smart.  Wisdom is honest, cleverness involves manipulation.  It implies a confidence in ability that makes people somewhat uncomfortable.  Then again, anyone who is not overconfident in their ability to play violin probably shouldn't compete in the International Tchaikovsky Competition, anyone who is not overconfident in their athleticism shouldn't start on the Bulls.  But a violinist has clever fingers, and a basketball star has clever hands.  As long as their main trait is something other than cleverness we revere them.

So why do I (we? is this just me?) associate "clever" with a bit of wile? And why do I like the idea of being clever more than being intelligent because of it?


adjective, clev·er·er, clev·er·est
  1. mentally bright; having sharp or quick intelligence; able.
  2. superficially skillful, witty, or original in character or construction; facile; It was an musing, clever play, but of no lasting value. 
  3. showing inventiveness or originality; ingenious: His clever device was the first to solve the problem. 
  4. adroit with the hands or body; dexterous or nimble. 
  5. Older Use
    • suitable; convenient; satisfactory
    • Good-natured
    • handsome
    • in good health
etymology: From East Anglian dialectal English cliver ("expert at seizing"), from Middle English cliver ("tenacious"), perhaps from Old English clifer, clibbor ("clinging"), or perhaps from East Frisian (compare Saterland Frisian kluftich), or dialectal Norwegian klover ("ready, skillful"); possibly influenced by Old English clifer ("claw, hand"). Related to cleave.

By the way, for some reason I read "cliver" as an expression unto itself, like cockney Michael Caine is bent over and sneering into my ear: "Fink yore cloiver, down' you? Wehw brayns is a bit more ven 'at, love."

Of course, dear clever, I don't want to associate with the superficiality represented in definition two, but we can't just ignore it.  I'm superficial all the time: I automatically assume anyone that's too pretty is a jackass.

Oh, see what I just did there?  Colon parentheses.

I love the idea of cleverness being rooted in clinging tenacity and the ability to the dissection of an idea, splitting it in two and trying to sew the thought back together again in as many ways as possible. Taking the concept of cleverness and just ripping it to shreds for the goddamn sheer joy of destruction, and building it back up again for the sheer joy of creation. Destroy and create, vicious cycles of mentality, playing God.

God, by the way, is very clever.  Dexterity is clever.  Intuition is clever.  Clothing is clever. Dogs are clever. TV shows are clever, velociraptors are clever, sometimes, I think, I am clever.  As long as you'll have me, dear clever.  Will you have me?  Of course you will, I demand it.  I've always valued clever above nearly all else.  A clever person can make anything interesting.  With a little manipulation, of course.  It's the inventiveness that I love about it.

And I don't just mean "life hacks," like when you lather the old tiny sliver of soap on the fresh, sparkly bar of soap thus creating one piece of soap and eliminating that pesky little leftover guy (Someone took a picture of this and posted it on the internet?  And then someone shared it?  MILLIONS OF PEOPLE SHARED THIS?  Haven't you been doing that since you were a child? You haven't? What? No seriously, what?)

Cleverness involves not accepting things at face value, but most importantly, it involves knowing a reason.  Some things are unknowable, but I know there's a reason for loving people/things that are clever: because they value what I value in myself.

Whoa, that totally goes back to dogs.

I was raised to value cleverness.  Oddly, I think I was raised to do what I believed was right to the detriment of reputation and people's perceptions of me, but I think that's a good thing.  I think we should fight for what we believe, and we should have a reason to believe something. Cleverness is what gives me that reason.  Perhaps it might involve stretching things a bit, sometimes I'm missing a point here and there.  But if I'm clever enough I can provide a complete presentation in my brain.  To myself.

I love clever because I love the process of figuring out the why and how.  But most importantly, I love trying to figure it out more than actually figuring it out.  The conclusion is boring, usually.  The process is what makes it fun.

Honestly, I thought I might have arrived at something more meaningful by now.  Writing about clever.  I guess we'll see where the next one takes me. 



Kono said...

Cue Clever Trevor by Ian Dury and the Blockheads...

Rassles said...

Hi, Kono.

jon said...

Yeah, clever. I love clever too. Clever is the unexpected neural pathway, the practical funny, a devious bit of maneuvering. It has balance, both good and evil, and it's quick.

You've written a brilliant letter.

But as the fox says, "Joff-tchoff-tchoff-tchoffo-tchoffo-tchoff! Joff-tchoff-tchoff-tchoffo-tchoffo-tchoff!Joff-tchoff-tchoff-tchoffo-tchoffo-tchoff!"