‘P’ is for Potential


“You have to create some dung to fertilize the flower,” Martin Sheen said when he was asked how he could only be proud of three movies in a career that listed 69 titles.

The fact that this was my favorite quote, for years, should’ve told me something about the dreams I had of becoming a writer. I believed that I had a capital ‘P’ emblazoned on my chest, until I realized that everyone else did too, and I hadn’t done enough to separate myself from the pack. The thing with the ‘P’ word that those in the card carrying ‘P’ world don’t know is that there is another ‘p’ word in the vocabulary of those that watch you. This is an evil ‘P’ word to those in the card carrying ‘P’ world. That ‘P’ word is performance.

HaloSome may have their ‘P’ word swinging before their face, in the manner a farmer puts a carrot on a stick before their horse. They may also wear it in every smile they give you, and those smiles tell you they are meant for something more, but they just don’t know what yet. When one runs across a true ‘P’ word, they know it when they see it, and it diminishes their capital ‘P’ a little by comparison. Most people are not unusually jealous, they’re happy, and they lead a great life, but when they run across one that carries a true ‘P’ on their various smiles, they decide that they would do just about anything for just one of those smiles.

When they speak of events that have occurred in their life, and they speak about them in a casual manner, the observer knows that the career that we currently share with them is just a way station for them, and we can’t help but be genuinely jealous in that moment.

Others wear this letter ‘P’ as a costume, in conversations, to cover for the fact that they haven’t achieved as much as they once thought possible. We’ll know these people when we see them too. All of these people teach us the various definitions of the ‘P’ word. We see the beauty in their smiles, and we perceive their limitlessness, but we’ll also see the evil ones. We’ll see that these definitions are defined by how the user uses it, and if they use it.

I thought I had a capital ‘P’ branded into my chest at one point. I didn’t. I thought I did though, and that thought prompted me to work my tail off to convince myself, and others, that it was truer than true. The idea that I pursued something, for which I had so little talent, amazes me now in retrospect, when I look back on the actual performances that convinced me that there was, at least, a lower case ‘P’ somewhere on my chest.

Those that manage their ‘P’ word correctly, rarely comment on it.  They don’t have to say it. It is the conclusion their observers reach soon after getting to know them. Those that wear the letter ‘P’ on their chest, as a costume, know this also.  They know that most in their audience are so loaded with insecurities that those insecurities can be translated into a variety of ‘P’ words, and ‘P’ word synonyms, if they do it right.  In order to do it right, however, they know to avoid performing in front of them. Give them silence, and let them fill in the rest.

“I can’t hang out with those two anymore,” a friend of mine told me one day after an outing with co-workers. I initially thought he was being a cool guy. A cool guy tells those around them that a fun and exciting night was boring; a cool guy tells those around them that a great movie, or album, sucked; and a cool guy stops all the plastic people, with all of their plastic proceedings, and drops a quick quip like: “The world sucks!” Cool guys can also reveal those nerds around them by saying that what we thought was such a great time, was time spent with nerds. I attempted to dispel what I thought were my friend’s cool guy condemnations by saying that those two were fun and entertaining, and that fun and entertaining people don’t usually hang out with two drips like us. He said that wasn’t it. He said his concern was work-related.

I attempted to dispel this notion by saying that our company didn’t discourage senior agents hanging out with employees, only managers. My friend believed he was born with a capital ‘P’ on his chest, and I thought this was another moment where his delusions of grandeur had gotten away from him. “It’s not that,” he concluded. “It’s that, they know what I think now.” Here I thought that all the symptoms I was witnessing added up to the fact that my friend had come down with a simple case of delusions, but as it turned out he was suffering from a complex case of grand delusion.

What his last sentence told me was that he knew his thoughts were never as complex, or as complicated as he wanted them to be, but those two didn’t have to know that. He was despondent. They knew. He told them what he thought. All those weeks and months he spent quietly sitting in the background cultivating, harvesting, and weaving the idea of his brilliance into gold by allowing these people to fill in the blanks for him were gone, shattered, in one night.

He feared that the grand delusions he had perpetrated in their world, had just been popped, and he feared that when Monday rolled around, they would know that he was just one of them, in the present, with a future that probably wouldn’t be that much different than theirs. On Monday, they would see him quietly typing away at his keyboard, in an office, and that visual would take on an entirely different meaning than it had on the Friday before our weekend outing.

The other employees around him took their jobs less seriously. They always got their work done, but they played, and talked, and joked. He didn’t. He was serious. He even went so far as to shush employees when management walked by. He had always been a quiet guy with few friends, and in the real world this defined him as an awkward person that had a difficult time mixing with other people. In the office world, these characteristics can lead to an employee gaining a mystique of being a model employee with a serious future. That night, spent with our two co-workers, revealed him as more of a quiet, socially awkward guy that feared authority. It made everything he had done to procure those grand delusions in their head feel pointless.

He feared that they would now believe he was what they saw, nothing more. The idea that he didn’t mix well with others, was once a silence thing, but silence begets the ‘P’ word if one does it often enough and allows others to fill that silence in with their own exciting and intoxicating words. Why does he behave so well? Why doesn’t he mix well with others? I’ll tell you why, that boy’s got the ‘P’ word in spades. They fill that silence with words that you wouldn’t believe, until you accidentally fill those blanks in for them one night, while drinking, and there’s no turning back after that, or so he feared.

There were times when he spoke his mind during that night, and our two co-workers realized he didn’t know everything. He wasn’t as wise as they feared in their silent, insecure comparisons. There were other issues he wouldn’t discuss with them that he found too revealing, because he said he couldn’t discuss it with them. In the latter, he attempted to convey the notion that he had proprietary information that he could not divulge, due to his position in the company. When we reminded him that he was not management, and he could reveal whatever he thought on the matter without fear of recrimination, he went silent. It was revealed that he simply didn’t know what we were talking about. We accidentally took away his shield of silence. He thought these co-workers had given him a capital ‘P’ followed by an exclamation point, and he feared that that ‘P’ had replaced by an ‘R’ word, reality, that would shatter all the myths he had worked so hard to create.

My friend wanted to be like a politician that stood for nothing, but allowed his constituency to fill in the blanks that he left for them, until they had other ‘P’ words dancing in their head, and ‘P’ words that had question marks behind them, as opposed to his preferred exclamation point.

The thing with the ‘P’ word is that it can be beautiful.  It can drive a person to become better tomorrow than they are today, if they’re willing to engage in the naughty ‘p’ word of the ‘P’ world vocabulary, performance. The reason that most card carrying ‘P’ words regard performance as a naughty word is that performing can lead to another ‘R’ word, revelation. It can reveal if the card carrying member truly has a ‘P’ word or not. It can tell reveal whether a person is truly special, gifted, and meant for more, or if they’re just a regular guy, collecting a regular paycheck, with as many limits on your ‘P’ word as everyone else.

I identified with my friend. I thought I had a capital ‘P’ behind my name that was followed by a big, old gleaming exclamation point. I thought God whispered things in my ear, and I wrote down everything I heard. I wrote short stories. I wrote novels. I wrote anything and everything I could fit in one mind. I thought it was my job in life to see this calling to its end. I thought I was a few steps below Stephen King and Dean R. Koontz, and Robert McCammon. I thought I just had to perform my way through that hole.

I’ve read through all those whispers recently, and I realize that if they happened today, I would turn to my wife and say, “I just had a thought.” I would then say those two sentences, and be done with it. Back then, a part of me believed that those whispers were telling me to be a writer, and I listened to these whispers, until I had enough material that it should’ve come true, and then I wrote some more, until I reached a point where I may have fertilized that ground so well that all the cultivating, harvesting and turning of those lies might have accidentally produced a truth.

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