Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Simple Pleasures of This Suburban Life

"I think about that moment whenever some blowhard starts talking about the anonymity of the suburbs or the mindlessness of the TV generation. Because we know that inside each one of those identical boxes, with it's dodge parked out front and it's white bread on the table and it's TV set glowing blue in the falling dusk, there were people with stories. There were families bound together in the pain and the struggle of love. There were moments that made us cry with laughter. And there were moments, like that one, of sorrow and wonder."
                                                                   - The Wonder Years

When I lived in Chicago, I detested the city life, or so I thought. Hearing the incessant sirens on the streets below my loft apartment building, sitting amongst the filth of the subway trains and watching the rats that scurried along the tracks in between train arrivals, breathing the smog-infested air, searching in vain for any rustic enclave to escape to, missing my friends, girlfriend, and most of all my Wolverines - it all seemed to me then that it was the Windy City's fault.

Yet when I moved back to the Michigan suburbs, I found myself missing Chicago. I missed the camaraderie of sharing that confined little loft space that looked out over the Sears Tower and the rest of that lively city with Lake Michigan in the distance, I missed the bustle of people - always full of life and caffeinated energy - on the sidewalks during rush hour, I missed the limitless night scene that never left you lacking for weekend plans, and - most shockingly to me - I missed Chicago sports and the Wrigley summer nights and random Blackhawk games during the winter and all the awesome sports bars in between. I was very lost at that point of my life, and there probably wasn't a setting in America that I couldn't find myself unhappy in.

I've discovered that a lot of those rather pessimistic feelings were largely driven by my own latent depression. I wish I could go back and experience Chicago depression-free - or at least with an open-mind - and I wish I could take back the last year or so of my life in Michigan and re-live it without the depression and the otherwise emotionless version of me, but I can't. Those years will always be a part of me, and I'm alright with that, because it's contributed to where I stand today. What I can do is learn from the mistakes I made in not appreciating either of those periods of my life. The little things in life are oftentimes the best in life after all. Perhaps the greatest truth I've learned over these past years is that your surroundings do not define your outlook, but rather that you define your own outlook.

Life in the suburbs may not be an ideal living situation for me at this point of my life, but I'm learning that making the best of it is important. Living in the present is, after all, what all those Romantic-era poets that I read in college were writing about.

I've found a lot of solace in running these past couple months. It's not just the running that has given me some peace, but it's the sights and sounds and smells I've experienced on those runs that have provided me a comfort that I thought I had lost along with childhood. The simple things about my surroundings, the simple pleasures of this suburban life:

  • The stars in a midnight blue sky - not clouded by the smog of city life, but framed by a silhouette of treetops instead.
  • The aroma of the spaghetti's and charcoal-cooked burgers and Hamburger Helper's wafting from houses passing by.
  • The simple thought that someone would spend hours carefully crafting each of hundreds of Christmas lights and chimney-top Santa figurines - a testimony to the purity and simplicity and also the slow clock of life in suburbia.
  • Running through the same circular neighborhoods,  past each of those identical cookie-cutter boxes, yet thinking about how each one of those monotonous houses holds some story that means a lifetime to someone. 
  • The pleasant perfume puffs of laundry sheets blowing through those little laundry rooms vents to the cold weather, and somehow each one of them with it's own unique smell.
  • Knowing the exact houses you will smell the distinct scent of marijuana from on Friday's and Saturday's.
  • Running through my cousin Frank's old neighborhood and thinking about how awesome those childhood years for us were: the summer days that held no limits, the baseball games in Frank's backyard and Uncle Frank's hot dogs in between games, winter nights sledding down the banks of the river in those woods, wondering if all of our grade school crushes names were still written in those attic walls we used to hang out in - it all comes back to me each night as I run by, bringing back a sense of calm that can only be associated with innocence.
  • Best of all, it's the simple conversations about the nothingness of your daily routine. For me, those conversations are with a guy I grew up with and one of my best friends, Bryan. Though it might not seem like we have much to talk about with all the monotony of our daily lives (it usually goes: sports, fantasy sports, how shitty was your day?, weekend plans, sports), I'm certain it's something we'll look back on someday as something that represented how close we were during these difficult, yet determinant days of our lives.
It may not seem like much, but even a nightlight can seem very bright when you're emerging from a very dark room.

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