It would be difficult to overstate how radically my ideas about the suburbs have shifted in the last couple of decades or so.
When I was 17 years old, I escaped the suburb in which I was raised — Pikesville, MD — as quickly as I could. The summer after I graduated high school, I moved down to an apartment by the ocean with four of my high school friends. (One of whom is now also a theater practitioner you might know, though I’ll not reveal his identity; he can do it himself if he cares to.) We did just about everything a bunch of randy and rowdy teenagers newly released from parental supervision might be expected to do (and perhaps a bit more), and we barely survived that summer without criminal records and gruesome injuries before heading off to college. Thus began the long hoped-for dismantling of the suburban facade I had been, until then, required to maintain… or so I thought.
I now find myself living in a suburb no more than 35 minutes from the one in which I grew up. Of the four friends I long-ago escaped with, one lives in New York, one lives in Los Angeles, one lives in Austin, and one lives in quite near me in DC: I’m the only one who ended up outside (even if only by a couple of miles) an urban area. That feels weird.
Living here, however, feels really right. I have more stability and security in my artistic life than I’ve ever had here. I don’t have my nerves jangled by sirens and litter and exhaust all the time: I have breathing room and imaginative space and fresh produce at the grocery store and nice neighbors who really do look out for one another.
The 17 year-old version of myself would have done anything to set the suburbs on fire, Tyler Durden-style. Now, I find myself comforted by the wide and neat lawns, the quiet, the necessary observances of the speed limit, the spacious house I live in. And I realize the neighborhood IS already on fire… its just a lot less hot and a lot more bright.
The most important part of being here, though, is that it’s rekindling in me all the stories from my childhood — the outrageous behaviors my friends and I indulged in, the anger we felt at all the materialism, the rampages we went on, the secret destructions, the poetic missions, and the mad dash for the door we all made when we finally got old enough. These are the important stories, and I expect that in time they will find their way into my work. If nothing else, that’s a damn fine reason to live here all on its own.