Nothing Gold

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay. -Robert Frost

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Location: Arlington, Virginia, United States

I am a white American middle class suburban housewife trying desperately to tell herself that that is not who she is. One time I was a glowing young ruffian. Oh my God it was a million years ago.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Cities and Suburbanites

A city has a soul, an essence, a personality. This is something that suburbanites don't seem to understand. The suburbs have no soul, unless it is a pale shadow of the city they build themselves around. DC has a dark essence of greed and power and ambition and classism, but also passion and idealism and inclusiveness and a blending of world cultures. The sides are constantly at odds but sometimes come together and blend in the middle. Young people move there hoping to change the world and get sucked into the political machine. But sometimes they still do change the world. Sometimes they don't lose their idealism. However difficult it is to put up with the dark sides of a city's soul, it is so much better than no soul at all. Even small towns have something. A personality. Even if it's common and not particularly interesting, it's there. I can understand that. I can understand wanting to live in those places that are safe and common and home, even if I would rather not. But I'm not sure I'll ever understand the appeal of the suburbs.
When a suburbanite asks me if I like it here, I usually say a number of things, one of which is something along the lines of "I don't really like the suburbs in general" or "I'm not really a suburbanite". Unless they are a city transplant, themselves, a poor soul who moved with a job or thought that it was their parental duty to be smothered in perfect domesticity, I usually lose them. They say "oh, so you're more of a big city person, huh?" and they seem to feel uncomfortable. Maybe they are picturing me going to operas and sophisticated parties and they feel small and unglamorous. Or maybe they are picturing me going to clubs and getting mugged at 3 in the morning and they are feeling smug. They think that I'm attracted to the city for the excitement and noise and lots of other people around. They don't understand that what I did in the city was pretty much the same as what I do here. There are of course advantages and disadvantages in what the city offers. The food is better and there is more culture, but the traffic is bad and parking is scarce. Those kinds of things are not the reason that I miss the city or why living in the suburbs makes me even more grumpy and cynical. It's the complete lack of personality. What is there to bond over? Everyone stays in their own homes and cars, tries with a large percentage of their energies to impress each other with their homes and their yards and their cars. And they complain that they don't know their neighbors and that their kids don't have the chance to wander about like they did and meet other kids. The crazy thing to me is that they are not different than me. They hate it here too. They hate having to keep their lawns impossibly green. They hate having to dress up to pick up the kids from school. They hate how deep in debt they are to afford the big house and nice cars. They want community. But they're stuck in their patterns of impressing one another and they don't have that unified city personality to bond over. They don't realize that there are other choices and other ways of life.
I don't know, I seem to be ranting, but it's a little soul crushing.


Blogger Ken said...

This has been a complaint of mine for a long time Maggie, although I come from the opposite direction, small town to suburban life. I too miss the identify that living in a town or city provides (I have done both). Grey sprawl with faceless restraunts, stores, and cookie cutter houses is soul killing for sure.

One of the reasons that we bought an old home in the suburbs is that we didn't want to be in one of the new cookie cutter houses. A least our house has some character and some history!

Perhaps cyber communities are the future for suburbanites, but for some reason that feels lacking as well. Anyway, good comments, I always appreciate the existential nature of your posts. Ken

2:50 PM  
Blogger kate said...

Well said, Maggie.
I feel I'm in this weird spot -- trapped between those two mentalities, sharing both of them. (I love the city! Always have! But now I'm sooo the cloistered suburbanite. And I love it, and it totally sucks, at the same time. And it's not just up to me, unfortunately...)
Arghhh... Internal conflict... I have a feeling I'll be chewing on this post a lot. Lots of wisdom here. Thanks.

4:35 PM  
Blogger P3T3RK3Y5 said...

i enjoyed this sould crushing rant.

3:14 PM  

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