Potential

Jordan Tucker | Contributor

I ’ve got a bone to pick with my former high school teachers. The worst thing they ever did was tell me I had “potential”. The slightest whiff of “potential” is like crack to the awkward, acne-speckled, bespectacled teen that I was, and that I’m sure many of the readers of this fine paper are. It has a certain ephemeral quality to it, it whispers of the promised land of “success”, and some sort of opportunity to become more than what you are, which in my case was a kid who played trombone and wore wool, floor-length medieval capes to school unironically.

“Potential” meant that I was better than the population 2,000 town I had grown up in, that I would keep reaching and achieving until someone finally pressed a red-inked stamp reading “contributor” over my my forehead. I would become someone who ran things, rather than being in a constant state of running to catch up with bill payments or my own crappy decisions. Yes, indeederino, the world is run by the people who show up, and I would indeed show up. I clutched my high school transcript like it was gold and got my dirty little paws on as many scholarships as my grubby talons could clutch onto. I would head to UNBC, the land of promise. Then, I would do something. Not sure what, but I would be Successful™.

Here’s the dirty little thing that the high school teachers don’t tell you: being Successful™ is a lot of work. My little buddies and I would trip over ourselves nightly to finish up our homework, to do our readings, to study for whatever godforsaken test we were being told would be the next hurdle we had to leap to be Successful™. And we would do it, at least partially, for the praise of whatever encouraging-eyed teacher was standing at the front of the room, cooing words about our “potential” as leaders of men, champions of the people – or failing that, assistant managers of the local A&W. Or just at least 23 and in a stable relationship before we had our first baby.

“Those who can’t do, teach,” my friend’s mother drily observed. She didn’t smoke, but she didn’t need to: her very tone compelled the air around her to move as though she was stubbing out a chain-lit cigarette. She suggested that those who chose to devote their lives to the dreams of the next generation had somehow copped out on their own. All high school teachers were walking disappointments who were waiting on the street corner of life for Death’s taxi-cab. Their lives were mediocre, so they punished us by telling us we could be anything we wanted, in line with the aspirational messaging of our capitalistic economy. Eager little salmon, we swam upstream into university, guaranteed to end up in the same tupperware-bookended lives our parents lived, that we swore we didn’t want. The revenge of our teachers was that we would achieve the successful futures they forecasted: with our overachieving would come the jobs we wanted, the prestige we had earned. My high grades and commitment to extracurricular work would get me a lucrative dream job. Successful™ at last! My doom sealed.

Here’s what they don’t tell you about getting a job that is hard: it is hard. Working hard is hard. It will suck your energy and demand your mental resources and emotional resources and at times it will pool into your body like a poison, and make it do all sorts of silly things. Your back and neck will seize up and your mind will wake you up racing because you didn’t send an email to someone, or maybe you did but the tone wasn’t respectful or appreciative enough of their continued mentorship. Your weekends will be spent looking for more work to do in the hopes that perhaps you will get a complimentary note from your boss, the workplace equivalent of an A-plus. You will have no time or energy to see your friends and when you do all you will do is gripe about work and how little you love your dream job. But you are happy, you insist, like Emma Watson’s Belle sparrow-songing around the Beast’s castle. You can’t leave because you’ve sacrificed too much to be here – and besides, he might be handsome deep down and look at the library you’re permitted to look at. Also, the forest outside holds no guarantees but wolves and uneducated villagers who think “no” is a flirty retort. “No one’s quick as Gaston”, indeed.

Luckily enough, behind the sheen of provinciallymandated encouragement towards high-paying jobs, there were a few teachers who managed to eek some reality into me, the smell of leftovers oozing out from beneath their saranwrapped lunches. My middle school English teacher was a hero: she hated all of us but tolerated the classroom somewhat when we consented to reading a Midsummer Night’s Dream aloud. Her disdain for everyone sometimes broke into smiles or laughter at the antics of her students. She didn’t really tell us to try, which was a welcome reprieve.

teacher (I graduated a year early, because Successful™ means spending your first two years of university sneaking into bars). I forget her name but I will never forget how fed up she was with everything. She dressed like a woman who had better places to be but had found herself with a flat tire in our Jesus-obsessed town and had resigned herself to staying. I remember chattering some highpitched stream only dogs could hear about my future plans to save the world at her and being disappointed when she raised her eyebrow only to say, “You’re going to end up just like me.” I protested, because she seemed miserable and I was going to fix everything about everything. She shrugged, continued with a story about her divorce. The man, it seemed, had been rather rude to her, and ate all of the blueberries out of the shared tub of yogurt in the fridge. He hated his mother but somehow clung to her like a barnacle. This all struck me as very sad. Still, she pretended not to notice my presence when I skipped my math class to sally into her C block to spend time with my two friends. She left at the end of the year, citing “irreconcilable differences” with the school administration. As a parting gift, she directed our art class to make a pornographic mural of “Alice in Wonderland” on the large wall. Alice had double-D’s and period blood leaking from beneath her blue dress. A veiny pink and purple phallus tree bore the initials of two of my friends who had recently started necking. I painted a penile caterpillar on top of a cock and balls mushroom, and the hills were alive, indeed, because they looked like a pair of pornstar tits. When the new art teacher painted over it a couple of years later, I wrote an outraged email defending freedom of speech to the principal. Surprisingly, it was never returned.

I’ve been graduated from UNBC for over two years now, and if there’s one thing I can really say that i’ve learned, it’s this: your potential belongs to no one but yourself. I can’t help but think of this one panel from a Spider-Man comic: naive Peter Parker is confronting a giant pterosaurus who was formerly a human scientist.

“With that kind of tech, you could cure cancer!” The womb-new Parker spittles and sputters. “Why are you so obsessed with turning people into dinosaurs?” The pterosaurus scientist replies, “but I don’t want to cure cancer! I want to turn people into dinosaurs!” If a psychologist could run a full analysis on that cartoon dinosaur scientist, I’m sure they would find him to be fully sane and fully self-actualized. I’m sure with my potential, I could do anything.