I work at a bookstore. I try to stay as far away from the kids’ section as possible. Not because I have anything against children’s books, but because it is an organizational nightmare. Despite my efforts, I often have to shelve there. I found a book written in the 1950s, maybe, by some curmudgeon. I can’t remember the title. It praised the boredom of childhood. Boredom, the argument went, is the impetus for all that is creative and independent in children. Unsupervised kids find a way. On some level, my parents concurred. Their parenting style boils down to what my mother terms “loving neglect.”
I don’t disagree with the premise. Staring at the wall and milling around empty cul-de-sacs looking for something to do was instructive. It prepared me to be a writer, a dubious profession that entails a disproportionate loafing/writing ratio. And it taught me how to notice. My childhood was not overscheduled like many of my friends’ lives. I didn’t have a crisis of parental absence in college.
Yet the drawbacks are clear. My mother grew up in Detroit where neighborhoods were cohesive social units, even if they were fraught. My father grew up in Georgia where the same was true even if neighbors and schoolmates lived farther away. Some of this was true for me. We lived two doors down from Washington Park, something I’m grateful for. My childhood best friend, Evan, lived behind me. I was not isolated, is what I mean. There were block parties.
Still. American suburbia is a disconnected space. There was never a sense that we did indeed live in a community. Suburbia is also non-evental. I believe these things are related. In her essay, “The Importance of Being Iceland,” Eileen Myles writes, “Really, if you travel here outside the interesting American cities and ignore all the natural beauty of our country you’ll see that America is rapidly becoming this place which is nothing…” There is, I confess, little natural beauty to acknowledge or ignore in suburban Illinois. There is a quality of sameness. In Zizek’s Welcome to the Desert of the Real, a collection of essays about 9/11 and its aftermath, he draws an interesting parallel between Cuba and the post-industrial West, of which, I would argue, American suburbia is the symbol par excellence. While, in Cuba, time seems unmoved because they repair and rebuild what they already have, time also seems unmoved in the post-industrial west because of the obsessive process of making everything anew. “In Cuba, revolutionary mobilization conceals social stasis; in the developed West, frantic social activity conceals the basic sameness of global capitalism, the absence of the Event…” Anyone who came of age in the sweet-spot of post-Glass-Steagal repeal and pre-2008 financial meltdown can easily recognize this. Safety and peace in America are defined solely as an absence of threat and an absence of conflict, respectively. Suburbia was meant to be the safest and most peaceful place in the world. In such an anesthetized and antiseptic milieu, what did it mean for things to happen?
Safety and peace in America are defined solely as an absence of threat and an absence of conflict, respectively. Suburbia was meant to be the safest and most peaceful place in the world. This concealed much more than a “sameness of global capitalism.” In such an anesthetized and antiseptic milieu, what did it mean for things to happen? I’ll spend more time developing the problems of “eventalism,” concealment, and disconnection in suburbia, or “The Suburban Question,” as I call it. I plan on giving it its own series as I do more research. The question, for now, is small. And maybe, at first, silly. What does any of this have to do with Mirah’s album you think it’s like this, but really it’s like this?