Oh Me Oh My

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Magus

As I was searching for an exam I wrote in my second year Communications course I stumbled across an essay I wrote in Grade 12. (exactly 6 years ago today; strange, no) It was for a teacher who I both deeply admired and who I was also afraid of. He was well-known for being a hard marker so getting an 'A' on one of his assignments was quite the ego-boost. For our final ISU he provided the class with a list of books from which to choose one. He then approached me and suggested I read John Fowles' The Magus. It was not on the list and it ran almost 700 pages. I was proud he had confidence in my ability to take on such a huge text (in both ideas and size) so I agreed.

Needless to say the book kicked my ass. Not only did I have to read like 70 pages a night to have it done on time but I had pages upon pages of notes and I still felt overwhelmed. There were such complex ideas of personal identity and sexual politics. It was like a combination of Eyes Wise Shut and an episode of Twin Peaks. When it came time for me to write my essay I choked. I couldn’t write anything worth reading and was genuinely considering not doing it, and just taking the failing grade. I was that overwhelmed. My teacher eventually convinced me to write what I could and I produced a paper that was short of the page count and most definitely not my best work.

When the semester ended he gave everyone an overall evaluation on the essay as well as a kind of final word. In mine he included the following:

I’m writing to inform you that you are not in fact the Magus, nor are you the second coming. You are merely a confused individual poised on the edge of the great escape into higher level academics, and eventually personal, social and individual freedom. It’ll take a while to get there but I know you’ll have a good time when you do. As for your essay—yes of course I expected more of you, but then to have actually finished reading the text and made notes on it was a stellar performance on its own. Your analysis was excellent and I was glad to see you rescue some of your talents through this piece of writing. I know it’s not as great as it could have been but I celebrate your analysis and ability to comprehend such a mammothly complex text.

...We are bred to wear masks and to hold these up to maintain face. I believe that you’ve tapped into some of that understanding and hope you continue to do so along the great journey. Just please don’t convert your life into waiting for the sugar refill at Tim Horton’s. You do have more to offer life and yourself than that. Aim beyond the library my friend! Good luck in the years to come—they will be gruellingly difficult for yourself and should offer you the best learning experience of your life. Don’t squander it.

P.S. I would like a copy of this paper please.

The 17 year-old me re-read this dozens of times. I assumed by telling me that I was not the Magus or the second coming he was telling me I was arrogant. When I approached him about this he told me I had gotten it wrong—that wasn’t what he meant. It was odd since The Magus is all about godgames and exercising power and seeing the future, and I felt like his words were doing that to me. Did he know something I didn’t? It’s 6 years later and his response on that paper is still the one I remember most. Essays I have written have been called everything from brilliantly crafted to shoddily thrown together and yet they faded from memory pretty much after I got them back, but this one is always in my head.

Have the last few years been gruellingly difficult? Have I squandered that time? Do I challenge myself at all anymore? There is nothing like the words from someone you admire. The slightest compliment makes you feel so good about yourself, but the criticisms dig their way in as well-- creeping up whenever you feel self-doubt.

Can I borrow your sugar?


At 6:00 p.m., Blogger adge said...

Those comments are incredible Jamie! It's refreshing to see that some teacher's really care about their students and have faith in their abilities.
It sounds like he taught you more than how to create a good essay!

I'm curious to know which teacher that was. (I'll ask you outside of this blog)

At 9:30 p.m., Blogger Byron said...

Was it Mr. Brandstetter?...what? If it was so valuable then why keep the bearer's identity secret? Unless it was the oracle. I have no problem saying Mr. Finamore impacted me the most by far. But academically it was Mrs. Tousignant, and oddly enough, I learned a lot of 'facts' from Mr. Steffensen. However, the examination of mica formations aren't really relevant in my current chosen field.

At 12:21 a.m., Blogger Jamie said...

Yeah it was Mr. Brandstetter. I just thought the name would alienate people who didn'y go to our high school. Waita kill the mystery guys! :P

At 3:26 p.m., Blogger aldogg said...

my favorite two comments at the end of papers in my AP English class were:

"You do not read or write well enough to be in my class"


"What's your point?"

I don't know how Dr. Campbell knew that saying those things would motivate rather than crush me; or maybe he just didn't care either way. At any rate, I finished with 3 As in a row & got high marks on the national test.

At 4:51 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

you just explained why i want to be a teacher. a teacher like THAT.


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