Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Restless Dreams of Youth

The ageless battle to defame or defend the suburbs is once again joined. Matthew Archibold looks at the latest 'burb bashing flick from director Sam Mendes and finds himself more soothed than suffocated by suburban living:

I think I'm the bizarro Sam Mendes. I've embraced everything he fears.

The question sometimes comes up in conversation with old friends. What was the best time of your life? And I'm sometimes embarrassed to admit it but right now is the best time of my life. Truly. And I'm a short chubby bearded dad living in the suburbs. I mow my lawn. I pay bills. I talk to my wife about what she did that day. I change diapers. Lots of them. Sometimes we go get ice cream. I do all those things that angsty pubescents jeer at.

I've lived in the suburbs coming up on ten years. And I've yet to feel my soul sucked. I don't really do angst. I think I used to. But I think I've forgotten where I put my existential angst. I'm happy. And even more importantly, I'm content. I'm focused.

So often his characters are running around and saying they're looking to "feel" something. I think I'm content because I don't consider my feelings all that important. And because of that I feel things more intensely than I did ever before in my life. A child's utterances can have me laughing all day. I feel the pain of a parent who sees his child hurt. I feel tired just about all the time but it's the tired that comes from doing something you love. It's not the weary kind of tired that Mendes' characters seem to feel.

And finally, there's one thing I don't ever remember hearing from Mendes' characters: God.

God, thankfully, is at the center of my life. And that puts me in proper perspective. Now if, like Mendes' character seem to often do, I found myself at the center of my own universe I'd be pretty depressed too.

Paul Zummo's post at First Thoughts provided the link to Archibold's piece and provided further thoughts on the matter:

That said, I can understand some of the antipathy towards certain aspects of suburban life. I'm not a big fan of the new developments where the houses all look the same and your options for eating out are all at the strip mall a mile away. But that's a personal preference. Like Matt, I do not understand the sniveling, jeering attitude taken against the suburbs--an attitude that is not exclusive to teenagers and hipsters in their twenties.

Most of this antipathy is overwrought and based on an ungenerous evaluation of people's reasons for choosing to live outside the city. Some do it because of economic concerns. Others might just want a little more space. Whatever the reason, I don't think we're all a bunch of lily-white, anti-social people afraid to deal with unlike people.

UPDATE-- Tim from Colorado e-mails with more on stifling in suburbia:

I have to say that Matthew Archibold's experience in the suburbs is very much like my own. Growing up, my home town in Michigan was a suburb of a larger, blue collar, city. My home town was a great place to grow up; the larger city, not so much. Growing up, I never thought badly of my suburban life experience.

We moved to Parker, CO from Denver 13 years ago. We did so for many reasons; one, we could get a house that was twice as big for the same money; and two, Parker seemed to be a town that enjoyed being called that little horse-town southeast of Denver.

My kids love our suburban neighborhood. We have a neighborhood rec center. Our neighborhood has a lot of open green space where the kids can play. Our neighborhood backs up to an open space with a bike path and creek that wind throughout the open space. Our rec center staff organizes family parties throughout the summer at the rec center pool. Our town has a youth sports organization that organizes youth baseball, softball, football, lacrosse, volleyball, basketball, swimming, wrestling, and roller hockey leagues. The town rec center organizes adult sports leagues.

Thanks to you, I now find out from high-power thinkers that my life in suburbia is just a hollow empty shell of what it could be if I only had chosen to stay in an urban center. In thirteen years that thought had never crossed my mind. I am a regular soul-less zombie out here. What a fool I must be to not see that living with my family in a small apartment with no green spaces to play, stacked on top of thousands of other people but not knowing more than three people in the building, relying on public transportation to not come and go as I please, and making sure my family is not on the city streets after dark, is far more preferable to life in suburbia. I guess I am a bad citizen; I should raise my kids in an urban center so that they can see for themselves that their only choice is to live in an urban area hope the city leaders can somehow provide my kids a childhood.

If there's anybody living in an urban center reading this, please, do not come for me; save yourself and stay where you are.

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