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Potential and the Pursuit of Perfection


Black Girl, Lost Keys will now take what will be the first of many poetry breaks with a short verse from yours truly:

For Rent

I’ve got potential to lend

everyone keeps telling me

I’m not using it.

Onto the aforementioned post:

Around the first few years of elementary school, a teacher ruined my life. Yeah, I know that sounds far fetched and I know people with this disorder tend to have a flair for drama. . . Just trust me when I say this woman had no idea what effect she would have on me. I was a frequent chatterbox and daydreamed quite a bit in classes and that’s probably what prompted her to brand me as she did at report card time: “very bright, lots of attention, doesn’t apply herself. ” Talk about your backhanded compliments. She’s smart, but she’s trying not to be. She’s intelligent but too lazy to work. She would rather make conversation than make the grade.

My mother, determined that I should use ALL of my potential began that year what I would come to regret at every report card thereafter: a series of scolding, lectures, and threats which eventually left me feeling ambivalent about grades. I began to get drilled over petty infractions; if I came home with a 97, she wanted to know why I hadn’t gotten a 100%. If I got an A-minus, I had to account for what I should have done to get an A-plus. As I got older, I began to feel more and more that the only way to win her approval would be to attain perfection, which I knew was impossible. Slowly, I began not to try.

Now don’t get the idea that my mom was demon spawn or a tiger mom or Evilene from the Wiz, it’s just that she had strong ideas about what I was and was not going to do: I was going to be smart and independent, I was going to college. I was not going to live a life of unrealized potential. This teacher struck fear into her overprotective heart!

I wish I could find that teacher today and tell her what a profound effect she’s had on my life. It would probably be a really passionate, emotional time. Something like this:

Lady, do you realize what you did to me? Do you know how much weight unrealized potential carries, especially for a little black girl whose mommy is expecting her to go to college? Do you have any idea how it still burdens me today, how I’m never quite sure I’ve tried hard enough?

In the end, I guess my teacher was doing the best she knew how to do at the time. Which is really all that any of us can do. I don’t have the answers, and looking for them seems like misplaced energy that I could use to work my way through the rest of my life with this damned disorder. I might find the answer to all of these questions when I figure out how to stop misplacing my keys.

Until next time,


Read More

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