Talking Out of My Pie Hole: Letter from the Editor by Lisa Montagne
Vol. 2: The Asphalt Jungle
“Another suburban family morning
Grandmother screaming at the wall
We have to shout above the din of our Rice Crispies
We can’t hear anything at all
Mother chants her litany of boredom and frustration
But we know all her suicides are fake
Daddy only stares into the distance
There’s only so much heartache he can take…
Another industrial ugly morning
The factory belches filth into the sky
He walks unhindered through the picket lines today
He doesn’t think to wonder why
The secretaries pout and preen like
cheap tarts in a red light street
But all he ever thinks to do is watch
And every single meeting with his so-called superior
Is a humiliating kick in the crotch…”
“Synchronicity II,” The Police (1983)
Welcome to Vol. 2 of Archive 405! In this issue, we are taking on suburbia and its counterpart, the urban environment.
Some liken the success of the human species to a virus that has overtaken the planet. This struck me as true at couple of years ago as I stood in the Natural History Museum at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., as I witnessed the tick-tick-tick of the World Population Clock. The World Population Clock tracks births and deaths. As I stood there, for just a few minutes before I got a little freaked out, about twenty people were born and perhaps two died. Huh. Truly remarkable, I thought. The number that I saw on that clock was nearly 7 billion—it has since gone over that mark. I certainly would call 7 billion organisms alive all at once a pretty successful enterprise.
Here in America, we have dealt with this population explosion in various ways. One of them was the development of suburbia—flight from overrun and decaying urban centers. One of the most common sights on the suburban landscape is the indoor shopping mall. Nothing is as emblematic of the suburbs as indoor shopping malls. They take up huge tracts of land, have swaths of heat-producing asphalt parking lots, and use up enormous amounts of energy in order to be cooled, heated, and illuminated. They are the antithesis of efficiency—just like their locations in the far-flung, flat suburbs of most large American cities. However, did you know that the inventor of these kinds of shopping malls, Victor Gruen, never intended them to be blights on the suburban landscape? An Austrian-born immigrant and a devoted socialist, Gruen built the first indoor shopping mall in 1954 outside Detroit to be a center of a complete, compact, and efficient community that would be a sort of classless utopia where everyone could work, live, and play together in a close-knit, well-organized, clean, and efficient urban center. In effect, they were meant to be town squares. However, he never got to realize this dream completely, and as other architects copied his format, they actually missed the point entirely—and the rest is history.
Today, in 2013, the Millenial generation seems to be taking back the cities. They are more anti-possession than previous generations—they don’t want cars, they don’t mind taking public transportation, and they would rather live in a close-knit community in a city neighborhood than live in an isolated suburb in a huge house that uses up resources at a fast clip. There does seem to be a shift back to the cities where people are gentrifying, sanitizing, and clarifying. I say more power to them and their urban gardens. No really, I wish that I were one of them.
There are three indisputable facts about my life: 1) I didn’t ask to be born into Southern California’s suburbs ; 2) for that matter, I didn’t ask to be born in the first place; and 3) I should have run away to New York City when I was 18 where surely, by now, I would be editor-in-chief of Vogue, instead of Anna Wintour.
When I think of all of the people of earth—past and present—who were not born into the time and place that I was, I start to feel guilty. Honestly, I have it pretty gosh-darned, ding-danged good. But, I didn’t always feel that way. As a teenager, I felt just like millions of teenagers have before me; I wanted to get the heck out of Dodge. I languished in my bedroom in Thousand Oaks, California; I wanted more, much more. Mostly, I wanted to go, go, go.
I wanted to eat a baguette in Paris, I wanted to float down the canals of Venice, and I wanted to drink a pint in an English country pub. My town, basically on the outer edge of the Los Angeles suburban landscape, was beyond sleepy as far as I was concerned. But, it was scary to venture out. When I was a young teenager, a few of my older friends piled a group of us into a car and carted us off to a drive-in movie theater. (Yes, there was still one in the Valley at the time). These were fun nights when I got to ride in a car with boys. However, one night we went to see “Escape from New York” (1981). I never wanted to leave my town again. I was AFRAID of the city. I wouldn’t even venture into Hollywood after that—except for that one night at the Whiskey when my friend’s boyfriend’s band…okay, yes, that’s another story… So, when it came time for me to leave home, I continued to bounce around the suburbs. I never really did get my big-city living experience, unless you count Cheesman Park near downtown Denver—which is as close as I ever got to living in an urban city center. Still, I eventually came to appreciate and long for the joys of the city. When I finally did get to Manhattan, I was in love and bitterly regretted not running off there when I had the chance. That city makes my heart pound, and it makes me wildly happy. Nevertheless, here I am STILL in the suburbs of greater Los Angeles. But today, whenever I get the chance, I always tell my students to go, go, go.
Lisa Montagne, Ed.D.
Blogger at “Talking Out of My Pie Hole,” lisamontagne.com
Vol. 1: We’re Doomed!
Welcome to the first issue of “Archive 405 By The Writer’s Group.”
The theme of our first volume was intended to be a smack-down fight to the death: utopia versus dystopia! Personally, I was rooting for utopia. At the very least, I’d settle for feeling mildly pleased at least once a day, but I wanted set the bar higher. It’s utopia all the way for me: no more poverty, no more war, no more ignorance, and no more prejudice. Everybody with me; everybody equally good-looking and entertaining. In this world, I would be sipping champagne by the sea all afternoon, and dancing under the stars all night. Foot-loose and fancy-free, me. And, not a zombie in sight.
But, that’s not to everybody’s taste, it seems. We have noticed that there is a distinct thread of dystopian obsession in the zeitgeist in recent years, and we were wondering: “What is up with that?”
While the baby boomers strove for utopia and Gen-Xers pursued the yuppie dream, the Millennial generation seems to revel in a dark, dystopian haze. In recent years, movies, television shows, popular novels, and even some of the fine arts have increasingly featured a wide variety of dystopian characters and themes, including zombies, vampires, other assorted monsters, torture porn, natural and super-natural disasters, government cover-ups, and the rise of the machines. Even fashion, with its steam-punk, leather warrior princesses, and gothic-inspired attire, is in on this game. Underlying this dystopian theme is an assumption that the world is coming to an end soon—and, if we tank the environment to the point of no return, this could actually be the case. In other words, we’re (probably) doomed.
And so it has turned out that this first edition of Archive 405 has been mostly an exploration of dystopia. After several editorial meetings, I realized that we did not have one piece that featured utopia. I suppose a perfect world is just not as entertaining. I get that. However, we were missing out on a lot of opportunities here. After all, there is some good in the world left. Is there not? We may not live in a utopia, but I can think of a dozen things off the top of my head that are forces for good in my humble opinion, including chocolate, hand-crafted beer, and a really good kiss (if one is lucky enough to get one). Finally, I intervened and did a piece on dance as a force for good in the world.
Ultimately, until we have survived the zombie apocalypse and utopia has settled in for once and for all—as I am hoping for— we have plenty to entertain us, so enjoy Vol. 1 of Archive 405!
Lisa Montagne, Ed.D.