Smart, hilarious, winning, full of life and potentiality, energetic-depressed rather than just depressed, eloquent, almost smooth, and unsettled, unsettled so deeply that nothing, no project, could absorb them. There was rarely a career; just jobs, while the creative energy sought out just the right outlet. People defined by having potential. People whose observational intelligence takes your breath away: they’re Dorothy Parker, write the best letters to the editor, blog with perfectly formed opinions. Quipsters, they blaze hot and then enter a fallow time, until they forget somehow that they’re there and then say something revealing their brilliance, which restarts the arc of almost sustaining its energy into something like a life, but not quite.
There's more in this post I haven't digested yet, but potentiality is on my mind this evening, as I spent three hours today on our academic unsatisfactory progress committee. This is the last court of appeal after students have failed bunches of subjects, and gone through all the counselling and special considerations their faculties can offer them. All our committee is really empowered to do is make sure due process has been followed; that there has been no bias in the implementation of policy; and see if there is any further information.
Sadly, most of these students are international students; or Australian students with ethnic backgrounds that insist on discretion about family troubles, whether financial, medical or social. So they often haven't sought help or advice. But I had better not blog any more about them: discretion is appropriate here. The awful thing is realising how young these students are, and how difficult it is to learn what one is good at, and how hard it is, so early, to find the right path.
I do often feel lucky, in that I think I fell into the right path for me. Not because I chose the academic life over countless other possible paths; it was only that I could never really see anything else. Not that I couldn't see anything else I wanted to do: I just could never really see anything other than reading and writing. I'm sure my work is more mundane and humble that the brilliant arcs of potentiality Berlant describes, but on the other hand, it doesn't torment me, either.
P.S. The morning after... Actually, that's not quite true, that my work doesn't torment me: I'd say it's pretty much an equal mixture of pleasure and pain, especially the writing phase I am in at the moment. But it does at least, usually, eventually, lead to a finished product of one kind or another.