Am I Making It?
If you’d asked me that question in August of last year I would have scoffed in your face before giving you my best mean girl sneer so that you’d leave me alone. “Yeah fucking right,” I’d think to myself, “I’m living at home with my parents, which might be fine if they lived in L.A., or New York City, or Minneapolis, but they live in El Paso, Texas. So now I’m in the middle of the Chihuahuan desert far away from my accustomed intellectual stimulation and sweaty dance parties and familiar radical communities and exhibits worth seeing and concerts worth hearing. Instead I am surrounded on all sides by sand and longing.”
I was adjusting from Liberal Arts Poster Child to Unemployed Live-at-Home Post-Grad. I watched as my classmates started new jobs or Americorp positions, moved into new apartments, and started their lives in the real world. I sank and sank. I felt useless, and hopeless, and ashamed. I had had great potential – high grades, community organizing experience, teaching experience, experience working in an office space. I had received awards, and made speeches, and been toasted to. Professors, bosses, and other peoples’ parents had smiled at me and told me they “couldn’t wait to see what I’d do next”, by which they meant they couldn’t wait to see how I would simultaneously feed myself and be useful to the world. But something deep in the belly of the beast that was my compulsion to “work hard and be successful” had failed. So I sat on the bed of my childhood bedroom, staring at the Tiffany blue walls, and thinking “I am a goddamned loser”.
I spent the first few weeks watching hours of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, reading The Hunger Games and Star Trek fan fiction, curating my LinkedIn account, browsing job listings written in an English I didn’t speak (what in the name of all things holy is a self-starter, and how do I know if I am one?), and crying to my mother that I didn’t know who I was outside of school and what even is the point of my life? Why do I matter? How can I make myself matter? Who broke the economy? And isn’t the world a terrible place? Soon, I was exhausted.
I ended up lying belly up, in my underwear, staring at the gridded fluorescent lights of my kitchen. I slowly breathed in and out and concentrated on the hum of kitchen appliances. I decided to focus on one personal dilemma at a time. First was “what do I want to do?” I let go of the pressure to have one solidified plan with a clear end goal. Instead I laid out some options. Women, youth, Latin@s, visual culture, reading, teaching, writing, politics, human rights (are they real?), The Border, filmmaking, community media. These things were (and are) important to me. I began to stop begrudging my “at home and unemployed” status and see it instead as a privilege and gift. I was not being punished. I was being tested.
I’m aware this is cheesy. I needed cheesy. I needed to accept that sometimes life is a cliché. There were no more courses, and tests, and meetings, and essays to structure my life around. I had run out of clear, achievable goals. Next on my list was “get a job” and “understand your role in the world” but obviously I needed to plot some baby steps to get me to the promised land. There was only me. I needed to make my own mooring. I needed to conjure a couple of tentative claims and then go with them like I believed in them from the very bottom of my tepid soul. Dream like you’re a believer, baby!
What are you worth when you’re not working? You’d be surprised.
I began tutoring a fifth grader in math. I’d go to her house several times a week and help her grasp fractions. I encouraged her parents to move her to the public school system where she was more likely to get the help she needed. In that moment I was an education consultant. I contacted a local organization that provides affordable immigration law representation for the border families and international migrants who need it. I made a short documentary for them to be used for educational and fundraising purposes. In those moments I was a journalist, confidant, director, editor, and guerilla filmmaker. I also started writing for an online magazine for young Latinas. I became a writer and role model. I helped my mom at her work. I became a personal assistant, tech support guru, a resident office feminist. Now I’m involved in the efforts to keep another evil Republican from becoming governor of Texas. I’m a community organizer, a phone banking machine, a voter registrar, and a local Vine expert.
All of that. I have all of that to give. I’m at a loss of where to put myself.
I’ve realized some useful things. The world is not my fault and not my sole responsibility to fix. I’m still happiest when I’m trying to help communities be more whole. Everyone is on that grind. You have to put parts of yourself on the market. End of story. That being said, I try to fully appreciate the labor that makes life possible. But it’s also vital for me to know that not counting to capitalism (not being gainfully employed and fully stitched into the production/consumption cycle) isn’t the same as not counting at all.
Here’s to reaching out, looking forward, and hoping I’m not in the same mire of self-doubt, hopelessness, and total lack of gumption once I’m out of school again. Cheers!