My education didn’t leave me feeling helpful. It left me wondering what I am doing on Earth. While I have developed my own sense of my place in the world (I am an ant who could be squashed by any thing at any time and it isn’t because God wants me), I still haven’t recovered from my education.
I got excellent grades, from the moment I skipped kindergarten until the day in high school I decided to smite my GPA and stop turning in all assignments. Excellent grades again once I started college, all the way until I graduated. A+ A+ A+ A A- A+ For me, a millennial who had a mostly analog childhood with a digital adulthood, those As were akin to the heart, the thumbs up, the new notification. They lit up my circuitry, they got me science fair money, they kept me studying so I could keep on getting boosts of dopamine. I was the kid that showed that extrinsic reward systems produce results. I wanted to be the best because I didn’t know there was a better thing to be: helpful.
What I want for my kids is for them to grow up and be helpful. For them to be able to see a problem in the world that needs fixing and be a part of the effort to solve it. Our current methodology in education doesn’t help develop an interest in community. American financial ideology teaches us to rise up on our own, be the best, make the most, take it all, let no one drag you down. Fuck capitalism, and fuck winning. Fuck pitting our children against each other, ourselves in a competition to outsmart the people around us.
It is agonizing for me to have a job that involves me taking money from other humans, but it is even more painful to consider what it would be like to take money from other humans for clothing I didn’t hand make. Sometimes I call this guilt a form of self-sabotage, the guilt that says, “You enjoyed doing that, ergo you don’t deserve to get paid for it.” Sometimes I think, “People need to have clothing options that aren’t sexy-ing their girl babies and numbing their boy babies, I am being helpful.” Other times I think, “I am taking people’s money and what if they now will have to dip into their credit cards to buy dinner?” I make the best small shoes I have come across, but do people really need them, or is buying handmade a luxury and should I be underselling my work to make it more accessible? Am I really good at this because I really care about it, or am I really good at this because that is what I have trained to be?
Right now, Iris says she wants to be an engineer or a surgeon. Part of this is because her other mom is an engineer, and the people Christina works with are surgeons. But she never says, “I want to design clothes like Mommy Tabtab.” She did recently say to her 2-month-old brother, “Felix, do you want to be an engineer, or do you want to make clothes?” Maybe Felix can identify my problem and solve that, take over this little business, expand it to really give kids options outside of compromised fast-fashion, heteronormative babywear.
Whatever they do, just please let it be helpful. I stopped playing my guitar, writing music, working in theatre, doing photoshoots, smiling, I have stopped smiling because smiling isn’t utilitarian. I am crushing myself with the guilt of ruining our planet, contributing to the rise of the plastics industry, not giving enough support to local farmers by growing my own garden, denying myself all creative outlets because they feel useless right now (despite only feeling less terrible from looking at the art of others). It is late at night. Perhaps these feelings are because I am a new parent again, that I am valuing myself less because I am creating less.
Or perhaps these feelings are because I truly feel like my entire formal education system taught me to only think about myself, and now that I have been out of school for years, I can finally see there is a great big world outside of myself and I am just drowning in it.