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No One Is Too Smart For Their Own Good; Not Sylvia Plath, Not Vincent van Gogh, And Certainly Not You

Gemma Rosenthall


It’s the function of the grandmother you see once a year to ask questions as original as
“how is your childhood going?” Unsure how to have that conversation once you make it about
plot holes you caught in A Series of Unfortunate Events, she ends it with a well-meaning
observation: “you’re too smart for your own good.” She addresses your parents when she
changes the topic to the blogs she wishes she could listen to but doesn’t know how.

“Do you mean podcasts, grandma?”

She does. It takes her another ten minutes to accept that, but she does. You show her the
app, add Serial to her library because she’s convinced she’s going to like it, and realize, clearly
I’m not too smart for her own good. How long until you realize you’re not too smart for your
own, either?

What a backwards compliment. The young people it’s mostly aimed at are caught in the
awkward and public distance between the person they are becoming and the crude tools of
self-expression available to them. What your grandmother calls “too smart” is actually that
distance; it’s why you’re usually so well spoken, but pronounced the word epitome epitom when
it was your turn to read from the history textbook last week and haven’t yet forgiven yourself.
It’s why your imagined difference from your peers stymies the connections you so desire to have
with them. It’s why you make your parents laugh with ease, but no one at school would suspect
you of a sense of humor because, if you’re made to talk, you sound like someone delivering a
eulogy at gunpoint.

Contradictions are not problems. At worst these are entertaining and relatable anecdotes.
At best they are the places where you’ll enjoy substantial growth and self definition. But if you
don’t view them so generatively, their toxicity knows no bounds. Maybe you’re scrolling through
twitter one day and profoundly relate to a meme about the emotional and spiritual decline of
prior gifted kids, so you subconsciously commit to confirming this narrative. These memes,
while playful, prescribe an addictive subtext: if woe isn’t you for bearing the weight of your
intellectual singularity, is woe anyone at all?

Before long you’ve convinced yourself that because your AP Comp teacher occasionally
used your confessional poetry as examples for the class, you’re fated to stick your head in an
oven. You recall your performance art piece for mixed media in which you sewed wide pink
stitches along the first layer of skin on the lines of your palm to symbolize something or another
about domestic labor going unnoticed. This of course inspires a comparison to another artist who self harmed in style, and suddenly you’re terrified at how little you believe it would take for you to cut off an ear, too.

Fortunately, you’re only indulging yourself. You aren’t a once in a century genius and
your brand of mental illness doesn’t quite manifest like theirs. More to the point, you cannot be
born special enough to justify self torment of this magnitude. The crucifixion of Jesus, if you’re
into that kind of thing, was less dramatic.

All this to say, you can internalize a hot take from your grandma, who will also be
remembered for such opinions as,“speaking of the ‘60s, it should have been Jackie.” Otherwise,
you can choose to embrace the contradictions in your character that her weird compliment
couldn’t contain and accept that you’re just an average person with critical thinking skills and an
anxiety disorder. You are smart though, so I know you’ll pop an SSRI and choose what’s for
your own good.


If you enjoyed today’s moot, follow Gemma on Twitter. If you are feeling generous, consider donating to the Chicago Community Bail Fund, Gemma’s charity of choice.

*For each moot, we generate a cover image using  DALL·E, an AI art platform that generates images using natural language processing. This image on the right was generated using the title, 'No One Is Too Smart For Their Own Good; Not Sylvia Plath, Not Vincent van Gogh, And
Certainly Not You
' in the style of Leonora Carrington, Gemma's artist of choice.*

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DALL·E 2023-02-05 22.25.13 - a painting of a smart person with a huge brain of Leonora Car

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