Real Life

The Problem with #Suburbia

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 3.17.19 PMI saw this Facebook status today, and I had to stop to think about it, given that I’ve been living in Novi for the last four months. Is Novi, or suburbia for that matter, lethal?

I don’t know. Personally, I’ve felt more scrutiny and judgment coming from the people in Novi than I ever felt in Ann Arbor, but I know that some of that could come from my own bias about wonderful Ann Arbor. If I’m being honest, there are a few examples that point to the more negative view of Novi as a suburban wasteland full of zombies who all act and do the things the other zombies are doing, like shopping, tanning, manicuring, and gossiping.

Today, for example, while I was chatting with an old family friend, I mentioned that I have my Reiki II class this coming Sunday, and she said, “You know that’s bad, right?” Implying that reiki is evil. Now, I consider this woman family. I love her and greatly enjoy her company whenever we get together; however, her Catholic background prevents her from opening her mind to any other religious or spiritual practices. This is not only shortsighted, but to me it also seems anti-Catholic. Didn’t Jesus instruct us not to judge?

That’s what Sam is talking about when he calls Novi “lethal.” Many of us are so quick to disregard and oftentimes criticize one another’s practices, perspectives, and opinions that we lose sight of the inherent value each person brings to a conversation. We can all learn something from one another, and if you enter a conversation with that in mind, you’ll oftentimes greatly benefit from it. Everything is in Divine order. You are where you are in this moment because you are meant to be here; everything in the Universe has conspired to bring you here, and you are entirely whole and perfect within this moment. Nothing is lacking. You have been given all of the tools you need to reach your goals, and further, you achieving your dreams can only better the lives of those around you because what you have to give is exactly what the Universe needs in this time and this place.

What Sam is talking about when he calls our city “lethal” is the judgment, the close-mindedness, the negativity. The way I hear women gossiping, feeding off of negative stories and comments about other people—that is lethal. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m guilty of gossiping as well. But it has to stop. It drains our positive energy and replaces it with a jittery, unstable rush of adrenalin—this is what we call feeling good at another’s expense (ie. feeling like you’re better than someone because their personal life or career is in shambles). This rush lasts for a very short period of time before dissipating and leaving behind the guilty aftertaste of shame. Can we all agree to set a goal of only contributing positively to conversations? As I’ve been learning in my meditation class, our words are very powerful. We create our lives with our words.

On a similar note, near the end of this summer I attended an art gallery opening with some family friends, and one of them explained her reasoning for wanting to move from Novi to Detroit. She pointed to the stuffy, close-minded, and judgmental nature of our community as the main reason she wants to move. She basically told me she feels like she doesn’t fit in here, and that she can’t fully be herself. That made me sad. I’m about to start my own Happiness Project in 2014 (got the idea from Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project), and one of my 12 Commandments for it will be the same as Gretchen’s first commandment: “Be Emily.” In The Happiness Project, Rubin cites the fundamental truth that, “What’s fun for you may not be fun for someone else, and vice versa.” I want to be comfortable enough being myself that I can say to my friends, “Nah, I don’t feel like going to the bar tonight. I’m going to stay in and read.” Because I love to read. And take notes.

I remember how long it took me to write about the facades of Northville and Novi in my own fiction at U of M, and how energizing it was to finally let out my pent-up anxiety and frustration at feeling constant scrutiny and judgment coming from my peers, family friends, and acquaintances. I don’t know if it’s like in every suburban city, but after living in Ann Arbor, I’m optimistic. I’m also unsure if my negative perception of Novi comes from associating it with that awkward, challenging life phase that we call puberty, or if my assessment is founded in a more concrete reality. Sam’s comment, at least, makes me lean toward the latter.

In high school, it seemed like we were all competing for the whitest and straightest teeth, the highest grades, the most beautiful hair, the tiniest bodies, the tannest skin. Parents and teenagers alike took part in this endless competition to be perceived as beautiful and popular, uploading thousands of shots to Facebook every Sunday evening and buying that monthly package at Hollywood Tan. Let’s be honest: we all know it’s empty. All of it. The joy of being more beautiful, popular, or smarter than another person is fleeting. There will always be someone more beautiful, sought-after, etc. Being sucked into that competition is a trick: it doesn’t lead to happiness. So what does, then? In my experience? Sharing in one another’s victories, working for the underdogs, helping others achieve their dreams. Committing to being ourselves no matter who decides to criticize us. Putting family and friends first. Working towards a big goal.

So, is Novi lethal? I don’t think “lethal” is the right word. It’s conservative at best; close-minded and judgmental at worst. Like many places, people are stuck in their ways and would rather condemn what they don’t understand instead of opening their minds and hearts to it. I’m not asking for people to change their religious beliefs here, but just that they learn to listen with open hearts. What it comes down to, in my mind, is a simple choice, one that I think about a lot: are you living out of love, or are you living out of fear? Every day. Every moment. Which is it? Nearly every negative emotion can be traced back to fear. When I’m upset, I like to remind myself of a mantra from Rubin’s book, one that reminds me of my soul, my higher self, and my true essence: “There is only love.”

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