#3 Stella Viereck – A Box Full of Stars

June 14, 2023

When I think of Stella, I think of the 1929 novel ‘The Sound and the Fury’ by legendary American writer, William Faulkner.

In the novel, at one instance, a character says,

“Caddy got the box, set it on the floor, and opened it. It was full of stars.”

When I first read it, I thought, “But how can stars be fitted into a box?”

Stella means star. Viereck is a German word for square. Maybe, it is the fault in my eyes, but whenever I look at a square, walls appear. I see small rooms without doors and windows. I see rules and definitions. I see boxes.

'Stella' and 'Viereck' as words don’t go well together. Stars can’t be put into boxes. They are meant to shine when the night is dark. Unlike the moon, they don’t depend on others for their light.

Stella’s personality shines, much like her name. Much like her name, the world often tries to put her into little boxes. These boxes can be anything, anywhere. Be it someone’s gender, someone’s appearance, or in Stella’s case, it has also been the fact that she is a highly gifted individual with an IQ of over 130.

Stella is many things. For one, she is indeed super smart. Without much trouble, or at least without as much trouble as most of us, she would get her As and Bs in school and at university. Being in the top percentile of her class hence, never felt like a big deal to her maybe.

So, in that sense, she is gifted. But that doesn’t define her. That shouldn’t define her.

Every time you meet her, you see a strong, talented, beautiful woman who is highly sensitive and aware of her own self and towards the people around her.

When she was a child, she would be a little wary of celebrating her achievements, which were many. But her reasons made sense.

At school, she didn’t want to make her friends feel bad. At home, she went through a similar struggle with her brother. In such moments, both at school and at home, she would try to underplay her achievements.

It was an emotion she struggled with for most part of her young life.

But with time, by accepting her abilities, she found her peace eventually. She conceded that it was not her fault that she was perhaps smarter than others around her.

It sounds weird at first to say it like that.

However, when you start grinding in life, especially with jobs, you don’t find yourself fulfilled.

“During my internships and jobs early on, I would be put into one role, or one department and I would learn everything there was to be learnt and then I wouldn’t want to continue. My colleagues, who meant well and saw me doing well at my job, would recommend me to do the same thing for some other company. But I just didn’t see a point in that.”

This is something that is true for most jobs in the world. People like to box themselves into the accepted normalcy, just to be part of the crowd, but after a while, seeing a purpose in this act becomes increasingly difficult for some.

Perhaps the greatest catalyst for creativity is the challenge itself. If you don’t find it in abundance around you, you feel less about yourself.

And Stella, by all means, is not just creative, but someone who can easily be classified as a multi-passionate creative.

With a little bit of training, she can be pretty good at pretty much everything that most of us can do. I know that sounds like a modern-day AI tool.

“But that makes me sad, you know, if people feel that way. I don’t want to be compared to an AI tool. I am a normal, vulnerable human being.” Stella reacts.

And thank God, she is a human being. Because, unlike those poor non-living creatures, she can choose and celebrate her choices. And she has always made her own choices. Often, she has chosen not to choose a particular thing.

“I keep considering a Ph.D. at some point but then, I have realized over time, that I may not want to be an expert in a particular field, because I like a lot of things. I have a scanner personality.”

Google told me that people with scanner personalities struggle to settle for one particular career because they are good at or interested in several things.

In Germany, generally, kids learn reading and writing when they first go to school at the age of 6. Stella was good at both by the time she turned 5. That’s when her IQ was tested. She was also already passionate about art and craft and soon found her love for painting.

As the server brings her tea, Stella takes out her phone and shows me a painting she made of a woman with the Tibidabo mountain in Barcelona behind her. It is a replica of a photograph that she saw in a magazine. When she did finally move to Barcelona, she saw herself in that painting that she drew years ago.

“I always wanted to come to Barcelona. I can say it was one of my dream cities to live in. I identified myself with that woman. It was almost like I manifested my dream by making that painting. I even shared it on Instagram in a heartfelt post.”

As she is talking, I notice a glint in her eyes.

After finishing her master's degree at ESADE, initially, she wanted to be a consultant with the BCGs and the Bains of the world.

“And I meet people in those jobs, see their lives, and my desire slowly dissipates. I just can’t see myself doing it anymore.”

She took the role of teaching assistant at ESADE last year and found it great.

“I am even teaching a few classes now and have so far thoroughly enjoyed my role.”

“But, at the same time, I have this deep desire to do something more for this world. If let’s say I am gifted, then I should be using that gift to help others, don’t you think so?”

And so, some time back, she also became a life coach.

“I don’t know to what extent I can achieve that but maybe this is a good starting point. We will see.”

She also tells me that she has become more aware of how good she is at photography.

“Maybe I will do something with it one day. But that’s the thing. As I said, I like a lot of things. I think I have a good sense of fashion. I remember, as a kid, I always looked at my name and last name, the star and square, as the logo of my fashion brand. Maybe I want to do something as a fashion designer one day. Maybe not.”

I confess to her that I thought painting was her first love, something that she might want to get into full-time.

“It is interesting that you bring that up. Perhaps it is. Perhaps, when all is said and done, it will be a passion I will continue following all my life.”

After a while, she speaks again,

“There was a friend of mine in school, a really good friend, and we both liked painting.”

“But?” I add the impending word.

“But it was the only thing she was good at. It was like her thing. And I was more or less as good as her if not better. But I didn’t want to take her thing. I wanted her to stay my friend. So, while I was with her, or in school, I would go through the similar feeling of guilt about being good at painting that I felt all my childhood with my brother and my friends.”

And then she continues,

“I always saw that people struggled at many things and some of them were good at any one thing. And for them that one thing was extremely precious, something they wanted to be proud of. Like my friend.”

“And you were just always good at more or less everything.”

“More or less.”

For a while, we stay quiet. I notice that there are many more people now in the fancy hotel lobby than when we entered.

“So, nothing challenges you in life?” I ask.

“I can do better with feeling my emotions. I am a very sensitive person but maybe I can just allow myself to feel a bit more.”

And then Stella continues,

“What I mean by that is, I am great at connecting dots and rationalizing things and, possibly because of my highly gifted personality, highly self-aware. So, in the past, when I went through an emotion, I would struggle with just allowing myself into it. I would try to analyze it, rationalize it, make sense of it, be in control of it. That gets exhausting sometimes.”

“So, now that you are more aware of you doing it, do you find yourself improving in that area?” I ask.

“Yes, in the past few years, I have been getting better. I have been consciously learning and improving by observing myself and others. But as I said earlier it makes me feel vulnerable because I am supposed to have figured out everything in life as this highly gifted person but to be honest, when I go through difficult emotions, and try to understand them and then fail to do so sometimes, it scares me. I sometimes wish I didn’t try to be so analytical about my feelings and just allowed them to be felt.”

I take her permission to ask a question that has become pertinent in my mind.

“Do you fear that your gifted personality can ever affect your romantic life?”

“How do you mean?”

“Maybe your partner is not equally gifted or talented or ambitious.”

“I don’t see it that way. Romantic relationships are based on emotional understanding between two people. If I am available for my partner and they are available for me when we need each other, I don’t think these factors matter. But yes, if someone is not secure enough or feels intimidated by me for some reason, then it is bound to fail.”

The noise has increased around us. A couple sitting not very far is hoping for us to leave so that they can have more space on the large couch.

A little over 2 hours have passed. We begin our departure formalities.

On my way back, as the pleasant Spanish sun shines in my eyes, Caddy’s box of stars from Faulkner’s novel appears.

It is a great novel primarily because it demands us to expand our minds beyond the prejudices about how a book should be. It looks at reality from different perspectives, different streams of consciousness, and through multiple narratives of the same story.

Stella is like that novel. Every time you think you have neatly wrapped her in a definition, she unboxes herself and jumps back into the sky.

Stella also helped me understand why stars twinkle. Maybe, they too get exhausted of being in control of their light all the time and want to disappear once in a while. Even if it’s only for a moment.

Maybe they are also just vulnerable like us. And it is perfectly okay. It is what makes them beautiful.