I’m writing this post from the warm, sunny town of Satellite Beach, Florida, where I’m spending the holidays with my girlfriend and her family. It’s a far cry from both Amherst -grey and rainy this time of year – and Sandwich – bitingly, razor-blade cold – and it’s a welcome change. I’ve never spent a holiday season anywhere but the cold, northern climes and I’ve already had a few moments where I forget it’s time for good cheer because there’s no snow on the ground. Christmas lights without snow?! It’s more confusing than you’d think.
Along with the luggage I brought to Florida came my preconceptions about the suburban lifestyle. Where I live, we have ‘neighbors’ – we can’t see or hear them, unless someones firing off a potato gun, and have to trudge through the woods or down the road to meet with friends. Arriving in Florida, I was reminded of ‘Weeds’ and ‘Edward Scissorhands’ and their boxes and cookie cutters and identical people. My girlfriend says that the houses look different, but it’s hard for me to tell them apart. I came here imagining the suburbs to be built around white, consumer culture – ‘perfect’ little hamlets of conformity, blandness, and plastic smiles. And that’s not to say that it wasn’t just that. We went shopping today at two malls, driving there along wide, straight highways and stopping for snacks at Starbucks and Smoothie World (or something of a similar name). It was certainly a far cry from Mocha Rizing in Sandwich and Yikes! gallery in Center Harbor – lovely chunks of originality, hard work, and craftsmanship in rural New Hampshire. There are signs and maps everywhere here, but I feel rather lost.
However, I caution my readers to hold fast to prejudices – even ‘silly’ ones like a suburban stereotype. Such things are often not true – and like most characteristics, crumble when held to an entire group. My girlfriend and her family are people I’d expect to find where I live – which exposes my prejudice as not only a prejudice but also as an incorrect mindset. They like intellectual conversations, arts and crafts, and the outdoors – alongside shopping, beach-cruising, and pool-hopping. And I like all those things, too. Does that make me a suburban person in rural clothing and them rural people in suburban clothing? Not at all – it makes us people willing to see beyond our horizons, people who love to unwrap presents. Keeping with the holiday spirit, I’ve noticed that many, many people leave their presents wrapped all year round. But that mindset makes no sense. When given a present, you open it! How are you going to know if you like it, or if it needs to be returned or exchanged? But opening a present takes a leap of confidence – the preparation of an appropriate response, potential disappointment, and fulfillment of expectations. Billions of people open presents each year, though, so this can’t be too hard. And brushing away prejudice is almost exactly the same – it takes courage to see beyond your blinders, and it’s not always easy, but almost every time is worth it. I could be sitting in suburbia lamenting consumer culture and moping to the tune of the 99%, but I choose to take it for what it is and enjoy it how I can. It’s a part of my identity as an American, whether I like it or not, and I have to handle it in the way that is best for me.
It’s the holiday season – time for good cheer, kindness, and love. So I encourage everyone to try to think in new ways about old thoughts, and see if under the dusty wrapping paper is the gift you’ve been waiting for all along.