(An entire three page essay by me, Asper, who’s in love with Jack Kelly.)
Okay listen we all know I love Jack Kelly and I adore Jack Kelly and Jack Kelly is an incredible character, but let me talk about Jack Kelly right now. Jack Kelly is a goddamn genius, and nobody seems to think so, including himself. We’re talking right now specifically how I write Jack in modern au, but plenty of this could also apply to canon so let’s just dive right in.
When I write modern Jack, I write a very specific character across any and all aus. Jack Kelly is a foster kid from an immigrant household, he spoke Spanish at home, he has ADHD and dyslexia, struggles with anxiety and often with depression, and thinks he’s stupid. He’s not stupid, in fact, he’s pretty goddamn smart, but he doesn’t see it in himself.
Davey Jacobs and Katherine Plumber-Pulitzer are very similar in many ways. Both of them are also very smart, Davey has dyslexia and Katherine had ADHD, both of them have their own anxiety to deal with, but the difference is the environment they grew up in.
Jack moved around a lot. He moved schools, families, friends, towns, and he never did well in school. He struggled in English, both because he didn’t speak it as well as he spoke Spanish until he was in foster care, and because of his dyslexia. He didn’t recognize it as dyslexia, or ADHD, for that matter, because everyone always had a different explanation. He moved around so much, the curriculums were different, the assignments, the teachers, of course he wasn’t getting incredible grades. He couldn’t focus, so he acted out. It wasn’t malicious, he wasn’t trying to be disruptive, but after a half hour of trying to read a book he couldn’t make sense of even when he could make the letters stay put in the right order on the page, he couldn’t sit still anymore. It was easier to doodle on the worksheets, to draw little comics of funny things happening around him, to chat with the person next to him. Beyond that, he learned pretty quickly that if he made the jokes before he became the joke, people laughed with him, not at him. And one of those was decidedly better than the other. So people put his bad grades down to him never paying attention in class, and nobody ever bothered to ask if he was having trouble paying attention, or having trouble learning, they just assumed he was bad at school, at eventually, when enough people told him that? He started to believe it. It was easier to believe that he was just bad at English than to try to convince people that he wasn’t joking when he said “I can’t read” and that he wanted to pay attention but every time he tried to force himself too, it seemed like he just got distracted again. Knowing the name of every constellation in the sky didn’t mean he was smart, he learned that on his own time and it didn’t make him smart, he just liked the night sky, is all. And being able to focus on art for hours and hours and hours without noticing the time passing by, that was just because art was, well, art, and he could never get bored of that. He was stupid, but art wasn’t something he had to be smart to do. Never mind how many classical painters he could identify without names next to the painting, never mind the fully accurate map of the night sky he painted after months of careful research, never mind how much he loved math, he couldn’t ever focus and he got bad grades in school and he was stupid, he couldn’t keep up and it took him five times as long to get anything done and he was stupid.
Davey, on the other hand, grew up in a steady, stable, loving home. He loved stories, and wanted to learn to read as soon as he was old enough to understand that those marks on the page are what were telling the stories, but it was hard for him. At first, his parents and teachers assumed it was just because he was young and just learning to read, but eventually they watched him read and compared how fast he was moving in reading and writing to how fast he was moving in other subjects, and decided to test him, and realized he had dyslexia. So he had reading interventions, and was taught how to deal with it, and was able to compensate for it.
And Katherine had a similar thing. She was smart and everyone knew it, she got good grades in school, but she could never focus and they recognized it as ADHD and she was given ways to deal with it, and it didn’t affect her so much because she was given accommodations and support.
Jack didn’t get any of that. He got new school after new school after new school, and all of them and himself blamed it on the moves and Jack just not being good at school. He was just stupid.
And he met Davey and Katherine and it just cemented that idea in his mind. They were so smart, and they mentioned sometimes having trouble but they were so smart and did so well in school, he only did well in art and music, and he could barely read and barely focus and Davey and Katherine were just so smart, and he was nothing like them, so he couldn’t be smart. He was just stupid.
The thing is, he isn’t. He loves stories, he loves telling them and hearing them and it’s frustrated him time and time again that other people can read a book in a week and he can read an hour a day for two months and only be halfway done, because the letters don’t stay still and the words don’t even look like words and it takes him ten minutes to piece together a two sentences. But he listens to audiobooks, and Davey can’t figure out how he figures out Agatha Christie mysteries before the end, and Katherine never ceases to be amazed at how much he retains from nerdy podcasts she sends him because she thinks he’ll like them. He knows more about the night sky than the people who run the planetarium, and loves to lean over and tell Davey when a fact is wrong, that star is this many light years away and that means the light we’re seeing was made when the dinosaurs were around, isn’t that incredible? And he can spend hours making a painting just right, and pick out the perfect ratio in a painting without even thinking about it, and knows more about art history and color theory and the science, chemistry and math that go into art than most art teachers did. Reading was just hard, so he didn’t get good grades and had stopped trying to a long time ago, because trying just resulted in late nights and frustration and thinking he was even stupider than he already did.
And the thing about thinking you’re stupid is that it doesn’t go away. Eventually, sure he and Davey were talking about something and Davey described dyslexia and Jack was like oh shit! That’s me! And eventually the same thing happened with Katherine, and he was like double shit! That’s also me! But it didn’t really matter because they could be so smart even with those things affecting them, and he couldn’t. Because he was stupid.
Because thoughts like that don’t go away, at least not all the way, so now maybe he could blame pieces of being bad at school on them, but most of it he was convinced still came out of him being stupid. And it’s hard to convince him otherwise, because he’d been thinking like that for so long, and because he sees Davey and Katherine and can’t help thinking that they’re so much smarter than him, even though they’re not, really, they’ve just been supported and accommodated more throughout their lives, which obviously means they’ve been able to deal with it more.
And beyond that, Jack’s anxiety plays a huge part, too, because he can be sitting in bed, doing homework, and his ADHD is making it hard to focus and his dyslexia is making it hard to read and his anxiety is telling him he’ll never get it done and he’ll get a bad grade and he’ll fail the class, and that makes it harder to focus, which means he’s reading even slower, which means he’s even more anxious, which means it’s harder to focus, et cetera, et cetera. And that just makes him feel even more dumb, because it’s something else he can’t control that other people don’t even see as a problem. Because he says he can’t read, and people tell him to stop joking and get back to work, like that’s gonna help him. Because he says he can’t focus and people tell him to focus, like that’s gonna make a difference. Because he says he gets anxious and people tell him they do do, just get over it, like that’s gonna make a difference. And because when he says he’s depressed, when all of the things he’d gone through and everything he thinks about himself and all his fears and doubts feel like they’re suffocating him, people tell him to cheer up, smile, stop being so sad, like that was enough to make him feel better.
So he always feel stupid, especially in comparison to his friends, but he’s not, he just didn’t have the opportunities his friends did to learn how to work around their problems, and he didn’t. He didn’t get taught how to work around his dyslexia, he didn’t get to learn how to deal with ADHD, he didn’t get medication for ADHD or anxiety, he just dealt with it in his own way, which didn’t get him good grades. Because his way of dealing with it was making jokes and not even trying once he realized that trying didn’t even do him any good. He’s not stupid, and maybe he technically knows that, but hearing it and believing it so long and his own cycle of anxiety and depression combined mean that he can’t quite make himself really believe it.
But Jack Kelly isn’t stupid, he only thinks he is because he hasn’t had the resources and environment that would have allowed him to grow into his own intelligence in the same way Davey and Katherine did, so he found his own ways to express it, but he doesn’t consider that intelligence, and constantly compares himself to them even though they aren’t really that comparable, but he thinks they are and therefore thinks he’s stupid thank you for coming to my TED talk titled “Jack Kelly is Not Stupid and Also I Love Him.”