The Potential For Genius

[The man of] talent is like the marksman who hits a target that others cannot reach; [the] genius is like the marksman who hits a target…[the] others cannot even see.


In the musical version of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, when Peter tells Wendy she’s “just too grown-up” to return to Neverland, what he really means is that she’s lost her artist’s soul. In our society, most of us lose this soul, while as children we have it naturally and are encouraged to have it. Peter Pan is the Eternal Artist, the God and Goddess, the genius. He flies high above the world, defying even gravity. He teaches others to fly, but they have to believe in magic, in fairies – in themselves – in order to do so.

Peter Pan is profoundly lonely. Most other children grow up and join society; they learn to conform to the sensible ways of adults. When Captain Hook asks, “Pan, what art thou?” Peter proclaims: “I am youth! I am joy! I am freedom!” He is truly mythic, representing the Great God Pan in human form. He alone knows the way to Neverland, which is the secret Magic Circle, beyond all time and space.

Sometimes when flying within my own Magic Circle, I experience an intense déjà vu of when I was a boy, dancing around our dark basement to the fantasy music of Peter Pan with only a flashlight for the stars. I may have been Peter then, but I’m certainly Pan now!

Which leads us to the delicate and controversial subject of genius. At the climax of Ionesco’s play, Rhinoceros, when everyone else in the world has turned into the animal of the title, the hero Berenger unlocks his liquor cabinet and surrenders to his favorite bottle of brandy. As a testament to his individuality, he faces the audience and toasts: “I’m the last man left, and I’m staying that way until the end. I’m not capitulating!” And he drinks as the curtain falls.

What is being said here about the artist, the individual, the genius? Well, for one thing, that it ain’t easy! Stella Adler, the great acting teacher, used to say, “Never psychoanalyze the artist.” What she meant was: don’t label him (or her) an alcoholic, a narcissist, an obsessive-compulsive. The life of the artist, the genius, is the struggle to triumph over the confines – and cruelty – of society; and to do so at all cost. How can we judge the life of a “sensitive” genius like Tennessee Williams, Kurt Cobain or Sarah Kane, the late English playwright, by saying that their excesses led them to their doom? Or how can we condemn the life of a “brutal” genius like Picasso, Wagner or Crowley, when they fought to leave us such great bodies of work?

In Surviving Picasso, the Merchant/Ivory film, Anthony Hopkins struts across the screen like Shaw’s Superman, like Crowley’s Man of Will. Beyond morality, Hopkins’ Picasso is one with art. To do, to will, to paint. And to make love! Nietzsche said, “Whatever is done from love always occurs beyond good and evil.” This is the driving force of the artist.

Prejudice, incidentally, is the opposite of art. It’s a narrowing of the higher faculties. There’s “positive” prejudice: the maitre d’ at La Goulue restaurant said, “We have the best frites in New York.” (Which perhaps was true.) And there’s “negative” prejudice: the subtle bigotry of racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia.

Prejudice always stems from a narrow way of seeing. “You’ve got to be carefully taught,” wrote Oscar Hammerstein. Art, on the other hand, comes from an opening of consciousness – beyond mind, beyond judgment – and beyond fear or jealousy, which is what prejudice is really about.

Great art calls to us to be bigger than ourselves. That’s why the art of a nation is the soul of a nation. And art will always beckon to us to rise above our prejudices – to see the world from a higher perspective, a perspective of love (Ace of Cups) over fear or cruelty (Nine of Swords).

The genius is the individual who brings this art to the world.

The Age of Aquarius, the astrological sign of genius, has finally begun to bloom. At last, we are no longer “dawning.” What does this mean? Well, first of all, it means that the religions of the former Piscean Age, founded on sin and archaic laws, have become passé. It’s time to celebrate the new spirituality, where religion and science converge. Einstein said, “Science without religion is blind; religion without science is lame.” He was obviously ahead of his time. The religions of the Piscean Age negated science; the religions of the Aquarian Age will confirm science. And the genius will triumph as his own God.

More and more, scientists and physicists acknowledge what ancient religions always knew about magic and psychic phenomena. The relationship between spirit and matter, between the psychic and the mundane, is being recognized as something tangible and scientific. We’re beginning to realize that we are the masters, that God is not an all-powerful bearded man in heaven, but instead a power within each one of us. Yes, there’s a “cosmic energy” that you could call God, but what’s significant is the magical link that every human being can make with this energy.

From personal experience, I can assure you, it’s real. It’s exciting. It’s the way we’re going. Now I’m an Aquarius, so why take my word for it? All I can say is you’ll see: we’re finally in the Aquarian Age – let’s wake up to reality!

Once I attended a performance of Philip Glass’s The Voyage at the Metropolitan Opera. I’ve always considered Philip Glass, the Aquarian composer, to be a visionary artist. And his iconoclastic opera got me thinking about the nature of genius. So without further introduction, here are some ideas on GENIUS VERSUS SOCIETY:

We all have the potential for genius.

A genius is someone who succeeds in making contact with his/her higher self, Higher Genius, or Holy Guardian Angel.

A person who is in touch with his/her genius is totally individual.

Stella Adler, also an Aquarius, made her students promise to take all “indication” out of their work. Indication in acting or any art form is the hinting at genius, copying it without experiencing it.

If one is not expressing his genius, his individuality, then his expression, in art or in life, comes out as cliché.

The alternative to genius is society, the middle class.

“The artist is the highest class,” Stella used to say.

Society is threatened by the genius, though greatly enriched by him/her.

Society insists on conformity and is therefore the greatest enemy of the genius.

The genius tears down society.

The number of genius, the number of Aquarius, the number of magical power.

It suddenly occurs to me that I’d better address the subject of how the author views himself in this area, lest he be accused of having secret (or overt) hubris beyond belief. Let me try to be as honest as I can about this. Years ago, someone said that my eyes see more than they can handle. I think this was true at the time. And although I can be so thick in some ways, I was told by the best psychic I ever met, the late Clifford Bias, that I’m “near genius” and “the best attitude is to kid about it,” otherwise I might be considered a “conceited ass.”

Thinking this was good advice, I tried to take myself less seriously, but it took a long time to develop a sense of humor about myself. Once, while chauffeuring Jackie Onassis, I found her lost umbrella on Madison Avenue. “You’re a genius!” she cooed. That was during my acting days; but more recently, at least two people have told me that I have a genius for reading the cards.

This may be true, but I really think it’s the work that counts. People don’t realize the work I do at night to be able to read their cards in the day. The discipline I have in my daily life is more than most people I know. “A” was never good enough for me; it had to be “A-plus.” Maybe I was trying to please my father or my mother or whatever; but for me the “plus” was always the magic, like the glitter on a magical candle: not at all necessary, but oh, so dazzling. I worked for the “plus.”

When I’m writing, I work all day and all night. It’s an intense, grueling process: the work just takes over, like a fever. Sometimes I wake up with my latest chapter in bed in the morning. My work is my lover; I’m devoted to my work. I’ve always been this way: I have to give the very best that’s in me.

Whether this makes me a genius or not, I don’t know. But I do know what Irene Bertuzzi, a flamboyant palm reader in Italy, told me when I was 17: “Your life line and your work line intersect: your life and your work are one. Your father goes to the office and leaves his work at the end of the day. But you, Jimmy (my childhood name) – you will succeed! Because you can do it! You have it in you! But you will have to go through so much pain first…because you are so sensitive: I can see it in your eyes.”

That was the summer of 1970: Porto Santo Stefano, Italy. They were playing Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” – and I was about to be a senior in high school. I thought the sensitivity in my eyes would make me a famous actor; little did I realize that it would be the way I’d make my living: a “sensitive” is another word for a “psychic.”

I’ve tried to be honest about how I personally relate to the subject of genius. So now we can proceed, finally, and focus on you: the person with the potential for something great.

The first principle on my eleven-point list was “We all have the potential for genius.” OK, I’ve said it; but now you’ve got to do the work.

In his excellent book, Young Nietzsche: Becoming a Genius, Carl Pletsch asserts that geniuses are made, not born. I tend to agree. Pletsch says: “In his struggle to please Wagner, Nietzsche discovered his own creativity and learned many of the psychological characteristics of genius: audacity, narcissism, and single-mindedness. Eventually he would be able to practice these virtues of genius.”

Are you ready to practice the “virtues of genius?” Not if you believe in a “selfless” philosophy or religion. There’s no mincing words here: to be a genius, to accomplish something extraordinary, you’ve got to practice “selfishness.” Let’s not obliterate the self, the ego, too quickly on our spiritual paths. If we sit around meditating on a mountain somewhere, we might attain the Buddhist “no mind,” but we certainly won’t design that palatial estate, erect that superlative sculpture, or shoot the film that will influence people around the world.

The choice is yours; this is not an article about enlightenment. This is an article about achievement. Are you ready to achieve something in your life? If so, you have to figure out what that is. And then you’ve got to fight for it!

If you choose what Crowley calls your “True Will,” then the doors of life will open fairly quickly and naturally on your chosen path. It’s amazing how the universe helps us when we’re doing the “right thing,” and how it socks us in the jaw when we’re not. (See the movie Run Lola Run.)

So first you need to discover where your potential for genius lies. It may not be where you think it is. The espresso maker at Caffé Sha Sha years ago was obviously unhappy with his job. His coffee wasn’t the greatest, but every Friday, when he purchased the flowers for the weekend, his floral arrangements were unbelievable. I tried to encourage him to do this kind of work for a living, but he wasn’t interested. Some people just love to be miserable.

Has anyone ever told you that you have a genius for something? A genius for flowers, or a genius for people, or a genius for cars or for picking out the best hat? Comments like these are clues that we probably do have genius in these areas. And I believe that we all need to get in touch with the genius part of ourselves, to begin utilizing it 150%, and to make a lot of money doing it! Unless you prefer to meditate on top of a mountain – and maybe that’s your True Will, which is fine.

But whatever your will in life is – get to it, get on it, and get going! If you choose the mountain, then go find it and stop dreaming about it. But if you choose the work, if you choose greatness, if you choose any of the arts – it’s got to be the number one choice in your life. There’s simply no compromise with this: genius is something you work for. You can’t have it two ways; as I tried to tell a friend, choose either the New Jersey family life or a great career in the theatre – but “You can’t have both, dahling,” as Stella often reminded us. There are exceptions, of course, but they’re exceedingly rare.

Are you ready to take the leap and pursue something magnificent in your life? You’ve got to do it with your blood, your guts – every ounce of your being. And there’s no guarantee that you’ll ever “make it.” The only guarantee is that you’ll discover who you are.

At the climax of Peter Pan, Tiger Lilly decrees: “Peter Pan is the sun and the moon and the stars! Peter Pan is the love of delight! Peter Pan is the bravest and strongest of all boys!” And Peter answers, “Yes, I know. I don’t say it to boast – it’s because I cannot tell a lie.”

The genius doesn’t need to lie; his life and work tell the truth.

Kyler James is the author of the novel, The Secret of the Red Truck, which made Dennis Cooper’s favorites list for 2014 and sold out repeatedly in New York City bookstores. A former actor and NYU graduate (studied with Stella Adler), Kyler started reading Tarot cards on film sets and has been a professional psychic for thirty years, amazing people (and animals) with his talents. He has written columns and short stories for a number of magazines and is known for being “The Wizard of Washington Square” when the weather succumbs to his will. Kyler’s newly published novel, MERCURY’S CHOICE, is currently available at Amazon, Strand Bookstore and McNally Jackson in NYC.

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