It’s a blessing and a burden to be a genius. I wouldn’t know. My English teacher in high school told us that Vladimir Nabokov wrote a book by handwriting every single sentence— or every single word, I can’t remember— on individual note cards, then shuffled the note cards around until he was satisfied with the story. He was also gifted with a healthy dose of synesthesia. He saw the number five in the color red. His wife, who also had synesthesia, had a son with Nabokov and the son’s synesthesia consisted of secondary colors that were a mix of his parents’—so I guess even synesthesia obeys the color wheel. I’m just Emily. I’m a vegetarian and sometimes what I draw can be recognized as shapes. I like tessellations, alliterations and word patterns. I’m a young soul and some days it feels as though my shadow is casting me.
Perhaps one of the only areas where Nabokov and I share common ground is our mutual interest in butterflies. Or perhaps it’s just the word, “lepidopterist.” In Kindergarten, our entire class was taken to an old mountain man’s house in the middle of the forest called Gnome Countryside because he led groups on hiking trails where he had constructed mini habitats along the sides of the rock ledges and explained that gnomes lived in them, but we probably wouldn’t see any because these little people are nocturnal, you see. And I totally bought into it until second grade when I found out Santa wasn’t real and neither were gnomes and Easter Island isn’t where Easter bunnies hung out, it’s actually just an island with rocks that have faces.
Before leaving to go on the hike, he sat all of us down in a room to explain things like how when we breathe out the plants breathe in. He asked my class if anyone knew what we wanted to be when we grew up and my hand shot into the air because my dad had been reading aloud to me a book of careers before bed and every week I discarded my extensive previous planning to pursue a new career path- a pattern I still follow to this day. Gnome Man called on me and I told him I wanted to be a lepidopterist. In the book my dad read, the word lepidopterist was described as a “butterfly expert.” Frolicking through fields of butterflies for a career sounded (and still sounds) more than appealing to me. But when I said it the other kids looked at me weird and my mom, who was chaperoning, guffawed in the back of the room. Gnome man stared blankly, then said he never heard that one before.
I wonder when Nabokov decided he wanted to be a lepidopterist. And a chess composer. And a writer with his first nine books written in Russian before moving on to English prose just because why not? He was Vladimir Nabokov and he did as he pleased. English was his second language and he still knew way more words than I ever will. In the second grade, there was a class spelling bee and even though I was good at spelling I became overcome with nervousness and misspelled the word “failure.” I know how to spell failure now, as well as many other words. But not as many as Nabokov. I don’t even speak another language- I dabbled in Spanish and French and then three years of Latin just for fun. But what is the only phrase that I can remember in Latin? “Nihil declarandum.” What does it mean? “I have nothing to say.”