Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim

 

In a recently published book Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1988) with attendant comments, principles, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes by Stephen Sondheim the prolific Broadway composer of legendary shows including: “Gypsy”, “West Side Story”, “Sweeney Todd”, “Follies”, and his more recent works, “Passion”, “Into the Woods”, “Assassins”, “Sunday in the Park With George” and others. The book details shows up until “Sweeney Todd” and the failed musical “Merrily We Roll Along.” In addition to the lyrics, he discusses his comments on how the shows came to be, why certain decisions were made and his reactions to the Musical Theatre’s positives and negatives. For instance Sondheim takes issue with earlier lyricists having all performers in a company number sing the same lines, where as he asks, were they thinking the same thoughts? One of his examples is Oscar Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma.” He is very insightful in his discussions and comments. We see his handwritten notes, typed pages and photographs from the productions. A new volume Look Ma, I Made a Hat is in the works discussing his later works.

It strikes me reading the book that Sondheim is definitely gifted and maybe a genius in his own right. Here is a man with his love for complexity, who is not very demanding and not easily satisfied. In many ways other writers work, for instance “Oklahoma” and others the music and story are far more simple and less complex. Compare it to “Sweeney Todd”, or “Into the Woods,” which are far deeper, more complex with characters with far more complexity. Like many gifted people, Sondheim exhibits divergent thinking which leads his work and the work he chooses into darker places. For instance “Assassins” is a musical about all the presidential assassins or those who attempted, in the history of the U.S. with John Wilkes Booth encouraging Kennedy’s assassin Oswald and the common theme “Everyone’s got the right.” In “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” which he wrote with Hugh Wheeler, is about a man wrongly accused, comes back to murder the judge who rapes his wife and is now  lusting over the teen-aged daughter Joanna, and slices the throats of many until the judge gets his. Mrs. Lovett, originally played by Angela Lansbury, makes meat pies from the remains.

Sondheim Review, a magazine dedicated to Sondheim

Review of Finishing the Hat in the NY Times.

Living With Intensity

Living With Intensity, edited by Susan Daniels, Ph.D., & Michael M. Piechowski, Ph.D. Published 2009, by Great Potential Press.

This is a book intended for counselors, psychologists or social workers, but it is reasonably accessible for other people who have interests in Psychology. It discusses Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilites and Developmental theory. The book covers children, adolescents, and adults including discussions on how Overexcitabilities can lead to misdiagnosis and mental health treatment that does not help. One of the authors Michael  M. Piechowski worked closely with Kazimierz Dabrowski in his native language. Dabrowski’s theories have been very important in many psychologists and others conceptualization of gifted psychology. Includes articles by many influential authors in gifted psychology and education. Includes case studies involving working with gifted people.

Book Cover

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The Brain that Changes Itself

The Brain that Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge, M.D. Published 2007 by Penguin Books.

According to Doidge, the common belief in neurology was that if the brain got damaged or missed key developmental milestones, the brain would never improve, and would never get better. More recent research and practical experience has shown that given a stimulating environment that nourishes and causes the brain to create new neurons, substantial changes can develop. This is called neuroplasticity. It seems very promising. Given some of the problems that some gifted people struggle with with Asperger’s for instance, or sensory processing issues, maybe people can find support and assistance that can help them change. I have concerns that people find that while may help, may lead people to feel disappointed and blaming themselves for hoping that change is possible. I think one needs to keep one’s expectations in check. It’s also curious that the author, who comes from the psychoanalytic world view is thinking about neuroplasticity. It had been typical for psychoanalytic people to suggest the best we can have is self-knowledge and much of our struggle will continue, just as ordinary unhappiness.

Author’s Website.

The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You

The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D., published by Broadway Books, 1998.

Elaine N. Aron’s book is aimed at helping people who are highly sensitive, which can include many GT people, especially those with certain Overexcitabilities, though she argues this is not just for gifted people. She suggests that being highly sensitive is not abnormal and such sensitivity, even though it leads to being stigmatized is a gift and not a problem. Her arguments are that people need to take steps to manage their emotions and the circumstances in their lives that overwhelm them. This can be useful, but sometimes can be difficult if the circumstances are such that you can’t make the adjustments. It is good to hear a lot of her comments especially her attempts to reframe and normalize the challenges that we face.

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Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Pracice–A reader

Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Pracice–A reader, By Howard Gardner, published by Basic Books, 1993.

Howard Gardener developed a multiple intelligences theory that argues that their are multiple intelligences, not just the core that most IQ tests measure. He argues that intelligence is more about developed potential and learned by practice and learning, not just something that one is born with that is just there. He is an author that poses an alternative perspective, and suggested that gifted is just about children, as adults grow, it’s more about developed potential. His work has strongly influenced educational reform where it has a lot of promise focusing on developing and helpign students learn and develop their potential, which is useful for all. He does not really account for the problems that gifted and talented people face, especially the emotional and social. In some ways he poses the alternative to the Dabrowski view of multiple overexcitabilities, which are hard wired which accounts for both potential and challenges gifted people face.

Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ

Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ, by Daniel goleman, Published by Bantam, 1995.

Daniel Goleman makes the arguement that understanding how emotions work and knowing about how things play out with others is an important skill, and it may be more important than just IQ. Some gifted and talented people can have difficulty relating to other people, escpecially those more normal. Goleman backs his arguments by research, and argues that increasing this type of skill or intelligence in people can solve many problems in our socidety. The book comes from an scientific basis including research in neuroscience and understanding how the brain works and how emotions and memory. Other arguments made include the costs of not learning about our emotions like depression, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, prejudice, etc. This book has limitations, he could go further and talk further about how to use this information more and applying it and steps to do so.

Gifted Grown Ups: The mixed belessings of extraordinary potential

Gifted Grown Ups: The mixed blessings of extraordinary potential, by Marylou Kelly Streznewski, published by John Wiley & Sons, 1999.

This is a good basic informational book for gifted adults. It covers many basic information. The basic point of the book is “This is who you are and what you have to deal with.” This can be a good book to give to a friend who you want to understand you better. As far as books that may help you take steps to grow and improve yourself and live a better life, this is not the best. For many people this may be a good starting point. This book is also honest about some of the problems that gifted adults face in the world and challenges that we need to deal with.

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The Gifted Adult: A Revolutionary Guide for Liberating Everyday Genius

The Gifted Adult: A Revolutionary Guide for Liberating Everyday Genius by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen, Psy.D., published in Paperback by Ballantine books, 1999.

This book is a very useful book for gifted adults. It normalizes a lot of what gifted and talented people are and deal with and tries to provide a framework that people can use to enhance their lives and develop their potential. Jacobsen acknowledges the challenges GT (Gifted and Talented) people face in a normal world where talents and gifts are viewed as oddness and problems and helps us find ways to use them productively and face less pain in the world. This book is also good for those who aren’t sure they are GT and know more about themselves if they have not known a lot about who they are and why they have struggled with life. She breaks areas of potential into three different levels, collapsed or unexpressed, exagerated where all features are very big and balanced where we are able to use our potential to the fullest, but not be as troubled by it. She also helps normalize some of the criticisms that we have heard and face the reality that many of us create a false-self to avoid pain in dealing with others.

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