A hometown can be cozy and warm and all those good feelings, or it’s the place you hate the most. Here, Hazel and I have a deep conversation about appreciating the suburbs, angst, and the beauty of humanity. —Tavi
HAZEL: HEY GIRL.
TAVI: HEY. ARE YOU READY TO TALK ABOUT THE SUBURBS?
TAVI: SWEET. First of all, why is it so easy and natural to hate your hometown? What do you think, Whoopi? (I am Joy.)
HAZEL: For many teens, it’s where they’ve been most of their lives.
TAVI: With classmates and family members they’ve known their whole life.
HAZEL: Yeah, they’re stuck with the same people. The place gets boring.
So, in suburbia or in a small hometown that you’ve been in, it’s understandable that most teens would be like “UGH GOTTA GET OUT OF THIS TOWN.” And because teenagers love to exaggerate EVERYTHING, ALL of the time (haha), suburbia and hometowns sort of become, like, THE DEPTHS OF HELL.
TAVI: It’s like what Damian Kulash said when he did Ask a Grown Man—everything is exaggerated when you’re a teenager. And being a teenager means changing all the time, and you start to hate parts of that you used to be before you’re able to find them funny, so that past part of you is ALL AROUND YOU in your hometown. Like I hate going to this one Starbucks because we went there all the time in middle school because we thought we were really adult or something. So it’s like, constant reminders of when you sucked. Or, also, constant reminders of stuff from when you were little—playgrounds and parks and things—and that makes you sad, or it makes me sad, at least.
HAZEL: I have places like that, too. At first I loved my suburban New Jersey hometown, and loved going to Starbucks and hanging out at the mall. Then it was sort of like, “That’s sooo uncool omg” and the hatred and criticism set in. But now, all of those moments and memories are funny. Like you said, you start to hate parts of who you used to be, but eventually they’re just hilarious. That’s where I am now.
TAVI: Yes! And, disclaimer: I am lucky to be from a suburb that is not Stepford. People are pretty ~artsy~ and “politically enlightened,” accepting of people of all kinds, etc. Plus, I actually get to leave this place a lot. My dislike for where I live is the teen exaggeration stuff. It’s important to make the distinction, because some towns do actually suck a lot. For that, we have a great article this month by Sady!
HAZEL: A big part of my former hatred for my hometown was the fact that I really, really wanted to live in a city. I thought I belonged in a city and that if I lived in an artistic and creative urban environment my life would just be the coolest ever and it would make me into this artsier, cooler person. But one of the reasons I love my hometown and suburbia is that I live in a place that’s NOT spilling over with creativity and artsiness. I think that kind of environment inspires people to be even more creative. Being bored with the place you live requires you to seek out the things your town is missing—making suburbia a place that truly fosters creativity! Yay! Not to mention that living in a place that isn’t a fast-paced cultural mecca allows people to create things on their own, less influenced by other people’s work than if they were forced to confront that work every day. Therefore: a town that is lacking in creativity and artistic support will produce the most interesting and talented people!
TAVI: It gives you something to rebel against, if you think everything else is boring! Sometimes I’m worried I won’t be able to function in college because I won’t be able to hate it like I do with high school… Anyway, you have your whole life to live in a city, but experiencing suburbia as a place that can be both really comforting and funny/weird/awful is something you can only do NOW, while you’re growing up there.
HAZEL: To love suburbia you have to appreciate how weird people are.
TAVI: Or how normal people are! Normal people are secretly weird too. You have to look for it.
HAZEL: You have to learn to laugh at everything around you. If you don’t, you will go crazy. It’s easy to get upset and confused and maybe terrified when that girl in your botany class thinks a brown bear is an amphibian. But instead of screaming “I MUST LEAVE THIS TOWN!” I tried to laugh at the fact that that whole episode even existed. I mean, a brown bear? This is comedic gold, this place you’re living in. Soak it all in, take in every moment. Your life will never be this tortured and strange.
TAVI: We had Mole Day in chemistry and this guy meant to write “mole-ster” on his T-shirt (his project was a T-shirt), like “Friendster”? And he wrote MOLESTER without realizing. Like, what?
HAZEL: OMG that reminds me of Tobias Fünke’s analrapist.
TAVI: AHHHHHH! I guess people are weird in the Big Apple too or whatever, but I don’t know, something about suburbia is funnier to me. I think people go to New York TO BE weird, so there are no secrets, you don’t have to look for it.
HAZEL: Every person out here is strange in their own way. Especially in high school, public high school in suburbia. I think in public school you get a broader mix of people, so I’m interacting on a daily basis with all different personalities. I feel different from everyone, but they’re funny! It’s basically like the freak-show section of an olde-timey circus. It’s like, why wouldn’t you want to see the bearded lady? But my bearded lady is that nervous teenager playing DDR for the school talent show.
TAVI: Oh my god. That happened?
HAZEL: HAHA yes, in middle school though. I actually respect him a lot, now that I think about it. He was pretty good. I can’t believe they let him do it.
TAVI: I love this person, whoever he is. I used to have such resentment for people like that, but I honestly credit Ghost World for showing me how amazing it actually is. COMEDIC GOLD, as you say. Like, if you read that book or watch the movie, Enid and Rebecca are constantly like, “THAT SATANIST COUPLE IS SO AMAZING.” Also, April from Parks and Recreation. I love Daria, but I think she takes it a little too far. A cartoon character can get away with being that cynical, but in real life, insulting everyone around you (e.g., me in middle school) is just a dick thing to do. The difference is that Enid secretly LOVES the stupidity of people around her, or at least has a sense of humor about it, whereas Daria takes it seriously and never gets over it. Daniel Clowes, who wrote Ghost World, put it really well in this interview on McSweeneys: “Perhaps [critics] found Enid too judgmental. Also, she’s a part of a leisure class, and her problems are hardly matters of life and death, yet she still complains about every little detail. To me, Enid tries to create an interesting life out of a potentially dull existence by uncovering—or actually manufacturing—the strangeness beneath this seemingly sterile world. I find that heroic.”
HAZEL: Enid and Rebecca taught me as well to be able to appreciate the weirdness. It’s important to pursue the interesting and weird people you see. Every suburban no-name town has them, it’s not like that only happens in movies!
TAVI: High schoolers ESPECIALLY, because it’s before people grow up and learn how to be people, kind of.
HAZEL: I just pictured a training camp for people who are learning to be people, which sounds really entertaining. Then I realized, “Oh right, that’s high school,” and high school IS entertaining.
TAVI: It is. Not to be constantly self-referencing, but I have to have every piece on Rookie basically memorized so whatever—Alia Shawkat’s high school advice for us was to write down everything weird that happens at school, and I totally agree. PEOPLE ARE SO WEIRD AND FUNNY AND AMAZING. Again, self-referencing, but from Aubrey Plaza’s interview with us about April: “She doesn’t really hate everyone, she just has kind of an attitude problem—but secretly she really loves everyone.”
HAZEL: That’s one of the reasons I am actually really glad that I went to a public high school (omg it’s almost over for me aaagh). I love that I got to experience my school years with everyone, not just art kids. The dorks, the jocks, the goth kids, every kind of high school kid—not to generalize, but you know what I mean. Shawkat’s advice is golden, because all of that weird stuff will only get funnier and more amazing as the years go by. I wonder if we’ll miss high school when we’re older. I’m already missing it and I’m not even done with my senior year.
TAVI: It’s helpful to have that perspective that like, everything in high school will eventually be really funny. I learned that from reading a zine that came out a couple years ago that compiled people’s first-kiss stories. I submitted mine and the writing is so embarrassed and apologetic, and all the adults’ stories were so amused at themselves. That was kind of a learning moment.
HAZEL: Would you say that school is a second home for you? I was thinking about that today. I spend most of my time there, probably more time than I spend at home. It’s a giant dysfunctional family.
TAVI: Hmmmm. No, I mean, I spend a lot of time there, but it doesn’t feel like home. My second home would be…dang, I dunno. On a ~spiritual level~ California? But I, uh, spend most of my time at home. Oops. HOME IS WHEREVER I’M WITH YOU, HAZEL.
HAZEL: The internet is home. Haha omg noooo that would be the worst home ever.
TAVI: Oh god. L’OREAL IS HOME! (Buy our ad space.)
TAVI: Aesthetically speaking I think suburbia is kind of great too, for feeling like you’re in a movie or whatever. And I don’t even live, like I said, in a Stepford, where everything looks creepy perfect, or where everything looks old. But there are still parts of my town that are picket-fence-y. Or houses that haven’t been changed since the ’60s or ’70s. Along with people-watching, I love HOUSE watching. Every now and then there’s like someone with a lot of furniture in their backyard. And that’s my idea of fun, looking for those weird parts. And it’s great for taking photos, too! If you can seek out a weird church or alley or something. Getting into photography will make it way easier to see the place you live in as your little experiment, kind of. Autumn de Wilde’s post for us about finding a spot and isolating it was great, too.
HAZEL: I get so Rear Window on everyone who lives near me. Someone on Tumblr posted a photo of their suburban neighborhood out in Las Vegas. All of the houses looked the same and there wasn’t any grass, just desert, and the sky was really clear and I commented on it like “Wow this is so beautiful!” and they were like, “No it’s not, IT’S HORRIBLE!” I’m sort of jealous of people who live in the desert, because it’s such a different and exotic landscape to me. Everybody wants what they don’t have.
TAVI: THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE (white picket SUBURBIAN HOMETOWN) FENCE! But as much as suburbia is so-bad-it’s-good, I think parts of it can just be good-good, too. Like in the Wonder Years pilot, which, OK, was never about to win a Pulitzer Prize for its writing, it ends with the narrator saying, “Whenever some blowhard [TOBIAS YOU BLOWHARD] starts talking about the anonymity of the suburbs or the mindlessness of the TV generation…we know that inside each one of those identical boxes with its Dodge parked out front and its white bread on the table and its TV set glowing blue in the falling dusk, there were people with stories. There were families bound together with the pain and the struggle of love. There were moments that made us cry with laughter, and there were moments…of sorrow and wonder.” OK, that’s way more cheesy than I remembered, plus I am pretty sure none of us live in TV Suburb From the 1960s, but the sentiment is nice, I suppose.
HAZEL: It is a little cheesy, but it’s sweet. It’s easy to dismiss something or someone as boring, but if you look deeper you’re bound to find something interesting. The people might not be “bound by the pain and the struggle of love” (hehe), but there’s more to them than just “Oh, a family in the suburbs snoooooze.”
TAVI: Yeah! Some of those people could be HOARDERS! Or just genuinely nice people! But that nostalgia is kind of nice, and the simplicity. It’s not as much fun when you’re living in it though. And again, I know some people live in like, terrible closed-minded towns. So in those cases these are just ways to make it…suck less, I guess.
HAZEL: It’s really easy to be like “I hate it here!” and just give up on it. But that’s so stubborn! Not everything is going to be this American Beauty moment (like, seriously dude, that’s a trash bag) BUT dismissing your town as hell is labeling every single person and place in the town as being not worth your time. And maybe they are worth your time! Maybe you’ll love them! But you won’t know until you’re open-minded enough to explore it. I totally get the “fuck this town” attitude (I definitely had it for a long time), but I’ve learned that even though my town isn’t perfect, it can be pretty hilarious and interesting at times. I don’t think I would have realized it if I had just ignored everyone forever.
TAVI: I still think everyone has the right to the angst of hating living in a small town or suburb, and I know sometimes I don’t WANT to be optimistic about it, but hopefully this CONVO helps for when you do wanna be optimistic. And if that’s not enough for you, well, read Sady’s piece. And if that’s not enough for you, well, I’m sorry we have failed you.
HAZEL: We ruined your life. Rookie ruined your life. HA HA LOL OMG NAWT ♦