Suburbia is the purgatory of modern development. It is neither nature nor city but straddles the space between. Here, people are frenzied shoppers but are also desperate to escape the compulsion to consume. Once people lived in harmony with nature. Seasons guided our notion of time, objects were made and ownership was a foreign concept. It’s a life I romantically imagine I live when I trek through or camp in isolated places where there are more trees than people. Now we own stuff or pursue stuff and are surrounded by busy people constructing, selling, buying or breaking. There are trees in suburbia but it is very peopled, busy and seems to lack something, or so I thought.
My life is surrounded by objects which constantly threaten to own me. Maybe they do? They hold memories of my life in the way the landscape holds the lives of people living on it. I do not live on ‘the’ land. I live on a square of mortgaged real estate. I have made my peace with that. I respect it by caring for it. I bring beauty into it. I plant flowers, fruit trees and bottle my own olives. Inside my many walled dwelling I place objects that I have purchased. This is my ritual. I may not feel a cool breeze around an evening fire or wake up damp to birdsong, but if you look carefully it’s a rich place. Suburbia suggests the universal trend towards bland sameness, a middle class lego land. It’s more than that. It’s the space on this earth where I live my life, find meaning and constantly re-imagine existence.
Here is a part of a shadow cast by one of the objects of my life. But this steel chair doesn’t cast shadows here anymore, or anywhere else now because I threw it out. I rebelled against the voice of my father which has always gently cautioned me to never ‘throw away’. I shut my ears, my heart and shouldered my way through the memories imbedded in the rusty seat. Where the rust had swollen the joins I bent the chair in half and tossed it away. There were waves of guilt as I surrendered to the consumer mind – “I will buy another, a newer and better chair”. Then I did. It was easy. It was difficult. Nostalgia bit at me as yet another object that had migrated 6000km with me gave in and got chucked like it was just a thing-which it is, was.
The white wrought iron chair was a part of a set of three objects: A table and two chairs. Meals were had around it where we encountered some of the best words we had to offer each other. The salted coastal air eroded the table first, then the chairs. They went from holding us to the rubbish dump too quickly.
I must avoid being too bleak. Hope must be maintained. A life endured, even enjoyed, has a duty to look beyond current erosion. We must point our children to new experiences, to look beyond the rubble that gathers around a life. We all crumble,to varying degrees. Consumerism has its place, but objects carry history. We simply carry on.
Now we have two new chairs beside a table made of steel to endure the coastal air. I’m still not sure of the difference between steel and iron, I did once but I forget and maybe it’s not important. One kind lasts longer but neither lasts long enough. I wonder if whoever throws these out will at least pause before discarding them?
Meanwhile, new experiences open like blooms and a fresh beginning unfolds in suburbia. Ultimately, what will remain here? The trees I planted, some plants I grew from seedlings, a few paving blocks perhaps? Maybe not? Suburbia is a battlefield between relentless, brutal progress on the one hand and the lives of people held in fragile ceramic pots and weathered patio sets on the other. Thankfully the beauty of nature is there as well, if you look for it. Like us, it’s just somewhat contained.
By Mike Scallan