The Smartest Kid in the Room


Narrative by Paul Iannucilli (USA), Interviewed by Shazeen (UK), Photography by Saman. Ali (Iraq)

Okay, before I get I to it, a handful of disclaimers.

No, this isn’t specifically about me. It isn’t about any one person. It is about the traits, ideas, actions, and processes that I notice people whom I consider to be intelligent engaging in on a fairly regular basis. The purpose of this writing is for me to document those things in a creative and original way, mostly so that I can make sense of them

I do try my best to emulate, and perform, these things in my own life, and in my interactions with others. As I stated above, they are behaviors performed by people that I respect. I also chose not to tag anyone, or call them out here. If I think you are intelligent, I have more than likely expressed this to you already, and if you are reading this, guess what, I think you are intelligent. Names aren’t necessary.

Since there exists no gender neutral pronoun in the English language I have chosen to use the feminine “she”. It makes it easier to write without having to switch back and forth, and also I know some really goddamn smart women, I figured the smart men I know wouldn’t mind at all. If this offends you, I suggest you go and have a long hard think about why it does so.

The smartest kid in the room doesn’t usually say a lot, but when she does, it is with confidence and conviction. She has spent many hours going over how she feels about certain things in her mind, and has come to her conclusions after a prolonged internal debate. She has weighed, and researched as much as necessary, and has discarded the arguments that don’t align with her cautious way of decision. This doesn’t mean that she forever more discards those arguments, quite the opposite, she stores them inside of her and uses them to weight new information as it becomes available. You see, the smartest kid in the room can entertain notions that go against her personal beliefs, she can recognize them as possibilities, even while refusing to ascribe to them. She isn’t bothered when people disagree with her, for whatever reason, because she has come to her own conclusions through a long process, and there is little that can shake those foundations.

The smartest kid in the room doesn’t call untoward attention to herself. You can usually find her out on the fringes, never in the center of things. She hangs back, waiting for something interesting to grab her attention. And when something does grab it, she learns as much as possible about it. She often does this quietly because it is sacred to her. The typical ways of learning hold no interest for her; she knows how best to teach herself, and does so fervently. The smartest kid in the room requires no praise, nor attention for this act, and she finds, often enough, that the loudest voices in the room, those that demand attention, usually have the least amount to say. She learns only because she loves to, and she unobtrusively shares that knowledge with those who will benefit from it, asking nothing in return.


The smartest kid in the room has a wild and vivid imagination. She is intensely creative, and applies that imagination and creativity in novel ways to whatever field she favors working in. There is some carry over here, however. The best scientists and mathematicians were often the children who liked to pretend there were magic portals to other worlds hiding in their gardens when they were children. The smartest kid in the room still likes to pretend these things, finding a spark of magic in even the most mundane, and allowing her imagination to transform those things into something majestic. Solutions come naturally to her. Her mind is a playground, and it generates new ways of looking at old problems. Playing make believe is a part of this. You can usually find her wandering around in her own mind, always thinking of solutions to a problem. And figuring out how to make her imagination translate into reality.

The smartest kid in the room listens to her own heart and mind. She does listen to, value, and take into consideration, the opinions and thoughts of others, but ultimately she is her own best guide. The smartest kid in the room is comfortable with both logic, and emotion, knowing when to use each, and using the correct tool for the task at hand. She is able to gain great insight from those she interacts with, without really knowing how. She can also spot a fake from a mile away. She also does not allow herself to fall into the trap of dogmatic, or ideological thinking. She can see from multiple perspectives and points of view, and realizes that there is truth in all of them.

The smartest kid in the room dreams big. She isn’t happy or content with settling, or with feeling stuck. She knows she can change the world, and often starts doing so from a very early age. Even if these changes are only small. She does them because it is who she is. The smartest kid in the room is also quite concerned with the world in general. She wishes she could fix all of the problems that we are facing, but also know that she cannot. So she does what she can. This commonly leads to no small amount of frustration for her. She also has a difficult time understanding how people get so wrapped up in petty things.


The smartest kid in the room is adventurous. She knows that travel and solitude are great and necessary teachers. She is willing and open to trying new things. She also isn’t afraid of making mistakes, knowing that she can learn a great deal from them, and using that knowledge to make herself better than she was before. Change does not frighten her either. She is always willing and ready to learn, and grow, and she accepts that sometimes this might be painful.

The smartest kid in the room has read enough of this, and is done. She has spent too long glancing over this, she already know all of this. And besides, she feels the tug of her imagination calling, and needs to go and change the world now.

Since you moved to Seattle and interacted with the local’s creative and artistic space, what were the different levels of smartness you discovered among them? 

There is an interesting mix up here. Creatives tend to be a widely varied bunch. The type that stands out the most is musical intelligence. This city is a rich musical history. Jimi Hendrix, and a lot of old soul and R&B from the 60’s and 70’s, to the “grunge” rock scene in the 90’s. It seems like every other person here is a musician, and the music scene is vibrant, and supported, and loved here.

There are numerous other artists as well. I mix most frequently with other writers. A lot of the younger generation is very intelligent about how they feel. They see a lot of injustice in our world, and they are speaking out against it. The most important thing here is that you aren’t afraid to speak in your own unique voice. So there is a lot of social, and emotional intelligence as well.

Smartness is commonly known by being able to think coherently, but there are other kinds of smartness that engages our senses and emotions. How important do you think they are in our social and personal lives? 

Everyone, excepting perhaps the most unfortunate of us, is good at something. This just expresses itself in unique ways. Knowing the process of repairing something is vastly different from actually repairing something for example.

All of it is important. And given the appropriate context they all shine through. The key element I see in any type of intelligence is imagination. Asking those important “what if” questions. This applies to practical solutions, as well as theoretical solutions.


Have you met people who surprise with what they can do?

Constantly. As I said above, people are always smart about something, they only need to discover what that is, and be given the appropriate context to utilize it.

There are numerous traps we fall into as far as thinking is concerned. Ideological thinking is a big problem, and most people engage in it. It effectively blocks off the use of the imagination, and sticks a person into a dogmatic and single-minded worldview.

It is so easy to tell someone what to think. Teaching someone HOW to think is vastly more important. Even people who engage in ideological thinking are smart. But they limit their worldview and application of that intelligence in such a manner that there is little to no growth to be had there. I find it rather frustrating.

Our educational system needs to change so we can equip people to prevent this from occurring. Intelligent people can entertain a notion they do not agree with. Ideological thinkers can not.


What are you currently exploring in your creative pursuits?

A million different things. The main focus is on finishing a novel. I hope to have it done by the end of the year. I have also been speaking with some independent publishers about publishing a couple volumes of poetry soon. Mainly just writing. I can crank out a poem rather quickly, and so I try to as much as possible. The main thing is to just keep writing.

Do you observe objects, collect particular things, or place yourself in surroundings that inspire you?  

I am always most creative late at night, and in the very early morning. I do not like distraction when I am writing. I draw inspiration from all over. I like riding the bus to just listen to people. Or sitting on a bench downtown to observe what happens. I pay attention to the stories people tell me. It’s all fodder.

What does the language of your work represent? 

My poems are like snapshots of moments. They tell a brief story of what I am experiencing at a given point in time. They are all honest. Stories are extremely important to me. I believe we discover ourselves in them, and that we are constantly creating our own personal story. The great stories, those that have lasted for hundreds of years, are the ones that give us a peak at the fundamental and underlying truth of existence, without trying to tell us what that might be. They allow us to figure it out on our own, and those individual reactions are all just as equally valid. It amazes me how varied interpretations of my pieces are. I had something in mind when I wrote a piece, and people interpret that how they like, or how it is right for them. A lot of times it is close. In that interaction, between creator, created, and observer, lies the truth of the matter. It is fascinating.

I just want to tell stories. I love doing so, no matter the form they end up in. And if they happen to allow another to discover something beautiful, or even ugly I suppose, then I have done my job, and we are all so much the better for it.

Truth exists in stories. The ones we tell ourselves, the ones we read or watch or listen to. The ones we write or paint or sing or direct. It is how we find ourselves.


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