Sunday, May 24, 2009

For academic folks like myself, May is always one of the cruelest of months, especially when your school year ends on the earlier side as it does at Smith. So it is that I haven't posted anything here for nearly three weeks. But now the semester's over and I'm back in my home town of Simi Valley, CA, visiting my parents. And I have nothing but time on my hands.

A while back I blogged about how happy I was to have shipped all the remaining records I had kept at my parents' house to my home back in Northampton. It has indeed been great to have all my records living under one roof. But now that I'm visiting my parents for the first time since then, I'm having to face the flip side of the situation: aside from my parents themselves, I have very little stuff at their house now that I feel connected to. Even though my parents still live in the same house I grew up in, it feels a lot less like home to me than it ever has.

Simi Valley was a place I needed to escape from the time I was a teenager. That's pretty much one of suburbia's main functions, culturally speaking. While for some people the suburbs is the place to settle down, for others - and especially for those like me who grew up there - suburbia is the place to get away from. I got away a long time ago, when I left for college at age 18 and headed north to the hip(pie) atmosphere of U.C. Berkeley. But my parents have continued to live in Simi Valley and so my escape has never been complete. I come back here once, maybe twice a year and when I do I invariably relive some of the mixed emotions that I felt when I was growing up here all those years ago.

Back then, my records were one of the things - along with my guitar and my books - that made living here bearable. Indeed, as I've grown up it's been hard not to think that my principal passions in life - music, learning, writing, intellectual analysis - largely developed out of the isolation I felt growing up in such a culturally stifling environment. And that recognition has led me to think that the suburbs, however awful, are not all bad. They can stimulate all sorts of creativity, even if the stimulation often takes a negative form, a reaction against the environment. That's the flip side of the desire to escape: if you can't get away you have to figure out how to deal.

For the last several years before I shipped my records back east, I hadn't actually had a way to listen to them. My parents have never been hi-fi people. At an early age I pretty much appropriated the main home stereo system in our house as my own and soon moved it into my bedroom from its less cloistered position in the living room. After I moved out of the house my parents never got a stereo for themselves; my old one stayed around but in a deteriorating state and after a while it inevitably died. I actually went to the trouble of replacing it a few years back because the thought of visiting my parents and not being able to listen to my old records was intolerable. But as luck would have it, the cheap-ish (but overpriced given its quality) Sony turntable I bought at Circuit City stopped working just a couple years after I bought it and I took it as a sign that listening to my old records at my parents' house was no longer meant to be. Thus, the decision to move my records back home.

Even when I couldn't listen to them, though, having those records at my parents' house provided a sort of anchor. It was a sign that this was still familiar emotional territory, that there was something here that made my parents' house feel like my house too. That feeling hasn't entirely evaporated, but it's diminished, and I feel a little more like an alien in this Southern California suburb than I have in years past.

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