The suburbs don’t depress me…

…I depress the suburbs.

Walking with my daughter this morning I was overcome with a feeling of nausea at the suburbs around us.

It’s an old feeling so that means thoughts with momentum. And there are plenty of ways to justify my thoughts.

But the fact remains that I create my reality, and at the very least one might ask “if you don’t like the suburbs, why are you living there?”

Isn’t that kinda dumb?

Well yeah it is.

I heard a woman on an Abraham-Hicks video explaining that she lives in Boston but wants to live in California. That was the defining problem in her life.

The advice was to appreciate Boston first and then decide whether to move or not.

It’s good advice because you take your fault-finding mentality with you most places, and if she couldn’t be happy in Boston then there’s a good chance she wouldn’t be happy in California either.

I thought she was stupid, but I guess I’m stupid too 😅

Finding the positive

The suburbs are convenient because the population density draws in more shops, better roads, more attractions.

Then again, by that logic I’d be happier in the city centre, so why not move there?

Living in the hills is appealing because there’s more space, more nature, more freedom, more beauty.

The suburbs are like a middle-ground that gives people space without losing proximity to others, freedom without losing convenience.

Okay, so why do I really hate it?

I didn’t want to go too negative but sometimes describing how we feel gives clarity.

So for the sake of clarity: when I look at the suburbs I feel like life is small and meaningless. I see each little plot divvied up and built upon in varying degrees of same-old.

I feel the individuality of people circumscribed by standardisation. It’s like each block is a little box, and though they all look different, the differences are superficial.

Not to mention the architecture is frequently hideous.

When I walk by on a cold day I can only assume people spend all their time indoors or away from home, and I struggle to feel uplifted at the thought of their lives contained and defined by these ugly – and audaciously expensive – little allotments.

Bringing it home

Everything I just wrote says far more about me than it does about the suburbs. I mean, you could totally agree with me but just not care, right?

That’s because it’s not about other people and their houses, it’s about me and my thoughts.

These houses are like the one I grew up in. I’m a stone’s throw away from the suburb where I lived most of my life.

To me these suburbs represent a way of life bereft of idealism and joy; they represent acceptance of ugly convention at great personal cost and burden.

I don’t feel this way when I visit friends or relatives in their homes – it’s deeply personal. When I imagine strangers’ lives in these suburbs I project onto them my own thoughts and feelings.

So I am the one who feels as though my life is constrained and confined by the expectations and conventions of others. Yet no one ever told me where to live or what to do. I just inferred what was “normal” and made it into my own constraint.

I looked at what “everyone” was doing and railed against it. In Abraham-Hicks terms that’s a perfect way to get more of what I don’t like.

Holding pattern

In the end I think I live in the suburbs because it’s what I’m used to. I think we chose to live here because it was familiar, and I felt that I could only break with the familiar if I was really sure of what I wanted.

Living in the suburbs is like a holding pattern in lieu of knowing where I really want to live.

But that itself is a form of resistance, raising the bar on how sure I needed to be of a decision that breaks from the norm.

Back then less bad wasn’t good enough for me. I was intensely all or nothing and with that attitude I was pretty much guaranteed to wind up with nothing.

I’m sorry, suburbs. You didn’t deserve so much hate. You never asked me to be here in the first place and it’s not your fault I stayed. We don’t need to like each other, and we really don’t need to live together anymore.

The beauty of knowing what you don’t want is, in A-H terms, that you know implicitly what you do want. You just need to stop focusing on the unwanted long enough to let the wanted in.

The limits of non-fiction

The problem with my first attempt at writing  a novel was simply that it lacked meaning. It wasn’t meaningful enough for me to pursue it beyond the first five or six rejection letters and additional non-replies. I knew deep down that despite finding it interesting, enjoyable, and challenging, it had particular faults that stemmed ultimately from a failure to fully invest myself in it.

This is, I think, the most likely answer to the previous post’s question: why am I so conflicted about writing fiction? – a question I attempted to unravel through finding the essential value or purpose of stories or histories generally.

But on reflection, it turned out that what matters more than the essential purpose (there may very well be multiple non-essential purposes) is finding a single purpose that is sufficient to motivate me. After all, different authors have different reasons for writing, and all that matters in the end is that my reason is good enough to get the job done. And for me that means that the process itself has to be personally enriching.

A novel is a huge undertaking, and I don’t have the patience or the energy to write for the sake of merely completing the task. What I need is a purpose and a process that can sustain me through it, make me want to keep going, make me turn to fiction for nourishment or re-invigoration.

That purpose lies in the special nature of stories as opposed to non-fiction: I love that non-fiction lets me describe, analyse, and solve problems with as much clarity and wisdom as I can muster. But the fact is that fiction has its own power to solve problems, with a clarity and wisdom that is paradoxically both stronger and weaker than its more realistic counterpart.

Ideal non-fiction has the attributes of realism, certainty, and fact. It is direct and unadorned, making no attempt to hide the truth or to embellish it; relying only on what can be known and reveling in the clarity and openness of whatever it can grasp.

Fiction, on the other hand, is not limited to facts, certainties, or the real. It is entirely unreal, and accordingly imprecise; attuned as much to the wildest fantasy as it is to truth. It can grasp anything, but nothing of any substance. It is totally without the raw integrity of non-fiction – the constraints that make non-fiction relevant, that keep it grounded and useful.  Fiction is ultimately empty; the freedom from constraints equally a lack of discernible essence or identity.

Yet in this weakness lies also fiction’s strength. While non-fiction allows us to identify, analyse, and resolve problems, its power is really our own power, and we are limited precisely to what we can identify, analyse, and resolve for ourselves, using whatever reason and wisdom is at our disposal.  Fiction may be imprecise, but this is what makes it perfect for problems we cannot precisely identify.  Fiction may be as attuned to fantasy as to truth, but non-fiction cannot go far beyond the truths we already recognise and understand. Fiction may be empty, but its very emptiness allows it to soar far beyond the crawling limits of non-fiction’s methodological constraints.

What is of all things most yielding
Can overwhelm that which is of all things most hard.
Being substanceless it can enter even where is no space;

– Daodejing 43

The value of fiction, then, is that it alone can deal with the problems we cannot pin down, the challenges and themes of which we are at best only vaguely aware. Not every problem or challenge in life can be safely abstracted, intellectualised, and dissected under the light of day. In the dark there are dragons and monsters that can only be fought, treasures that can only be found, if we are willing to enter – even blindly enter – into the fray.

Dealing only with problems we feel we can understand is like only fighting battles we know we can win. It is safe, secure, and some would say wise. But much can be gained or lost in the space between what we know we can win, and what we actually could win if we fought for it. What is lost, above all, in limiting ourselves to problems that can be dealt with through careful analysis is the broader domain of our own selves. We are not simply analytical intellects. And though the whole of our lives, selves, and experiences may be intelligible, they cannot all be engaged or approached with the shining clarity of the intellectual problem-solving mind.

For me, the appeal of non-fiction is that it can draw the entire world and reality itself into my intellectual domain. The challenge represented by fiction is to drag me out of that very same domain, that safe and comfortable fortress, into the broader, wilder, more mysterious world beyond.  It’s no wonder then that I have both resisted and yearned for it, knowing that there is more out there, but unwilling to put aside the obvious power and clarity of the intellect.