“I certainly never fantasied about a radiant future where I was paid to perform an economic role.”
-Sally Rooney, Conversations With Friends
Until I read that, I’d never thought about my future without fantasizing some economic role. At least, I hadn’t since I was very young—hadn’t for so long that I barely remember asking how will I be in the world without adding and what job will I have. It’s strange to see how much I’ve adopted performing an economic function into my idea of being. I have more questions. More and more questions. Then again, just having them helps me with something I’ve been struggling with—something about trying to “work,” or at least help and engage, when my efforts are channeled through existing social systems that feel broken.
Here’s an example: I wholeheartedly believe in people supporting other people as we grow. I’ve felt what it’s like to be planted in a community that gave me soil. I’ll keep drawing from that soil, if I didn’t I would whither, but I want to help tend it, too. That’s part of why I’m a teacher. Then again, I only mostly believe in “teaching:” our American conception of “students” and “teachers” includes dynamics of power, control, and hierarchy that trouble me. The form of our “learning” presses us toward some ways of knowing, some ways of being, and away from others. What’s with all the classrooms? Where are our outsides? I’m even more troubled when it comes to many specific classes, situated as they are in academic sequences and intellectual “departments” that separate thought into different silos with their own strange histories. And for that matter, separate think from feel. Then there’s the institution itself, and I have more and more questions about access, economics, history, prejudice, standardization, Student Learning Outcomes, and opening up during a pandemic. Where I end up can feel far from where I thought I started. I think most of us want to help. I think it can get confusing what helping means, and more confusing when the water we carry goes into canals that already exist.
As far as I can tell, Rooney doesn’t have an answer. I certainly don’t. I’ve heard some suggestions: you do the best you can, you keep your dream close while making the compromises you must and work toward slow change. Or else you decide the system (the company that has hired you; or education, capitalism, factory farms, the clothing industry, transportation, and on, and on) is too broken, and you try to step away. I don’t find either of those satisfying. I see the wall I’ve come to, this strange wall between me and what I’d thought was possible, and I don’t see a way through it. Then again, if I tilt my head, even not seeing feels hopeful. Maybe it takes time. Maybe it takes all sorts of answers, playing back and forth together. Dreaming and engaging; dreaming and engaging. Whatever else, I think it takes noticing, and Rooney calling me to a stop. Here I am, surprised, looking at this wall I’ve felt in front of me and still somehow so often missed. Ah, yes; all this isn’t what I’d hoped. I don’t know what’s next. And here I am.