Saturday, 9 February 2013

Hooking in the Suburbs

Perichoraphobia: fear of suburbs

I have this vivid childhood memory. I'm in the car with my family (depressed mum, manic dad, angry brother). As usual, I'm anxious! My mind won't shut down. It's winter, which is depressing enough, but I notice something as we speed past the city limits. My anxiety begins to increase tenfold. We're on our way to visit the relatives: angry grandmother, sullen cousin, detached cousin, alcoholic uncle, nervous but nice aunty.

They live in the suburbs. And even though I'm probably only seven or eight at the time, I'm aware of something sinister about the suburbs. My chest begins to tighten as the landscape changes. There is an emptiness in the suburbs. There are fewer trees, and the houses are all the same. Everything is symmetrical, orderly, neat and tidy. Perfect.

I'm frightened by perfection. I know already that I'm imperfect, flawed, that I was a mistake, given up for adoption. I am already trying (and failing) to be perfect. I'm convinced it's the only way I can make amends. This desire will lead me down a dark path. Never thin enough, never pretty enough, never smart enough.

We stop at my aunty and uncle's house. Inside, it's spotless. It's clutter-free, mess-free, dust-free. In other words ... soul-less. My brother and I are the perfect foils for my cousins. We are non-believers. They are God-fearing and church-going. We don't have any obvious talents. They both play piano. We have a cross-eyed Siamese cat that my grandmother hates. They have a poodle that my grandmother adores. I hate the suburbs.

My cousins always have a new hobby. The one closest to me in age does rug-hooking. She brings it out after we arrive, and sits with a serenity that rivals the Madonna, poodle at her feet. I am jealous and miserable. I draw and write poetry, but both seem ridiculous activities. My poems are amateurish rhyming laments. My drawings reflect my desperate need for security and happiness. They are filled with smiley faces, sunshine and rainbows ... none of the things I feel inside. I hate the suburbs.

All these years later, I find myself living in the suburbs. Technically it's not. Technically it's a beautiful seaside "city". The house I live in is anything but suburban. It's ramshackle and old and chaotic, which I love. But it's still the suburbs. Even the small community of creative people here conform to the stereotype of being "creative". They remind me of the skit in Little Britain: "I'm the only artist/writer/musician/gay in the village!"

I have tried my best to conform, because the true heart of any suburb beats to the rhythm of conformity. The worst possible sin is to "stand out". But I just can't do it. Recently, I read Sarah Silverman's autobiography, The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee. In it, she describes her battles with depression. When asked by someone what it feels like to be depressed, she answers that it feels like homesickness. I couldn't think of a better description. That is exactly how I feel at the moment: homesick. Homesick for family, homesick for friends, homesick for the city. I hate the suburbs.

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