Monday, April 09, 2007


Through the Fence

So, Charity and I are reading Al Hsu's The Suburban Christian together. And we thought that besides talking by email we might open up the conversation a little wider. So, here we are. Intro and Chapter 1.

As you can see in the picture above, this is the edge of my back yard. It has a rather urban feel that might be surprising, with all my talk about the pine and the ivy.

Indeed, I learned from TSC that I live in an urban suburb, or maybe an exurb, or possibly an edge city. The point is that I don't live in downtown Manhattan, which everyone agrees is urban (well, except that apparently the cities are now taking on suburban characteristics).

As I tried to sift through the definitions of urban/suburban (poor sociologists and bravo to Al Hsu!), I realized that maybe this is the most important point for me: I experience life here as if it were urban.

There are no picket fences. Horns and sirens and car alarms often pierce my days and nights. People toss beer cans, empty Doritos bags, and (can you believe it?) even old pairs of underwear onto my sidewalk and into my front hedge. I can walk to the post office, the grocery stores, the library, and a few establishments that sell overwear. It hardly feels like a "great place to raise kids."

In general, life here feels pinched, unless I look up, into my pine tree. Or down, into my ivy. Still, I've got the suburban feel that people who trek to the suburbs are apparently after... this is a place where I have no past. Most of my neighbors don't even know my name.

For more thoughts on this, read Trashwalk on my Green Inventions blog.

At the Edge photo, by L.L. Barkat.

Seedlings Invitation: If you write a post related to this post and Link It Back Here, let me know and I'll link to yours.


Kim's Subfusion

Maria's Suburban

Al Hsu's Discussing Suburbia

Charity's Subruralurbanite

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Blogger 23 degrees said...

Wow, can you imagine driving down the street and thinking, "hey, that hedge needs a good pair of boxers" as you launch them out of your sunroof with a smile.

Actually—what size were those puppies?

Moving to a town of 6,000 from Dallas has been a change for us. We can walk almost anywhere, even to the movies, and everything moves at a much slower pace.

I have a 20 minute motorcycle ride to my office through rolling hills, which is a change from all of the concrete and traffic.

Stars blanket the sky at night.

But thinking back, we knew our neighbors 5-deep on each side in TX and interacted much more than were we are now. Being new is a factor but this is a good reminder that we need to make more deliberate attempts to reach out.

Maybe I will start by not launching undergarments into our neighbors lawn?

7:17 PM  
Blogger Ted Gossard said...

Very interesting, L.L. Our place is not far removed from yours in some important ways (though I don't have a digital camera yet to prove that- ha!).

What I pick up here is that I need to be intent on the beauty that is present, instead of looking at what is not (beautiful).

Thanks! A good discipline, surely.

9:13 PM  
Blogger Mark Goodyear said...

Wow. It makes me grateful that I know my neighbors. We moved into a neighborhood with chainlink fences. And I'm loving it. (I talk to people over the fence at least once a week.)

But my small town life is no better (or worse) than the suburban life I left behind. Just different.

Sometimes having the impression of knowing everyone feels like the charade that it is.

I love Al's book, by the way. When I get back to work, I'll dig out my copy and post again. (It's been awhile since I read it.)

9:35 PM  
Blogger Llama Momma said...

I've also been reading "Suburban Christian." I'm definitely in the suburbs...I send my boys next door to borrow butter! :-)

I love reading all of the definitions and distinctions that Al makes between the urban and suburban. I used to live in Silicon Valley, which was an experience unlike any other, and wildly different from my life in the burbs! Not better or worse, simply different.

And peeking into your backyard, I can't help but think..."how close to Manhattan does she live? How fun, to live so close to Manhattan!!" My big, green yard is a burden as much as it is a blessing...

10:40 PM  
Blogger Andrea said...

I like this discussion, L.L. I know you'll have some great thoughts regarding TSC.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Christianne said...

I like this new thread of discussion, too. But I have to confess that I have ALWAYS gotten urban and suburban mixed up. I read most of your post not knowing which was which in your life. (Actually, this usually happens when I read "urban" -- when I remember its converse, suburban, I usually remember that urban means city. Right??)

So much for the wordy editor knowing everything about words. *Sigh*

By the way, I loved getting this more intimate peek into your real life over there in NY.

11:49 AM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

Sad news, LL. One of our blogging neighbors has packed her bags and moved away. For Now… even deleted her account, and it has already been taken over by parasitic low-lifes.

11:54 AM  
Blogger Every Square Inch said...


You said "most of my neighbors don't even know my name". I think this is a symptom of modern life, either urban or suburban.

During a given week, most of us spend more active time at our "workplace" than we do at home.

LL, I wonder if your neighbors also feel the same way and what can be done to redeem this?

12:34 PM  
Blogger AIMEE said...

can you believe that I just picked up "The Suburban Christian" and read the first 2 chapters before I went to bed last night...had no idea y'all were reading it! How fun! Can't wait to "talk" about it!

1:12 PM  
Blogger Martin Stickland said...

We used to live in a big Industrial Town but 5 years ago uprooted and took the kids 200 miles to this little Village by the coast, i am so glad we did but sometimes I do miss city life!

1:25 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

23... Oh, my, I think I spilled my tea laughing. Yes, the concrete and traffic thing is hard for me, being raised in the country. Yet I love the accessibility of everything here. I realize I will probably never be completely satisfied... one seems to preclude the other.

Ted... that's exactly what I'm working on... the contentment aspect. And you know, it really does help to choose where and what I will look at. And I've been loving writing about the beauties that have been mine, since I decided to open my eyes.

Mark... yes, the impression of knowing everyone is perhaps deceiving. I guess I really know that I don't know these people! Still, it's fun to hand them Christmas cookies during the holidays (and see them thinking... "hmmm... can I trust this lady?")

Llama... boys borrowing butter... that's a great image, great sounds... I can almost hear a poem about boys borrowing butter in the burbs. :) And, yes, I was musing that this place is not so different from the country as it seems (at least in the sense that people desecrate the countryside too... I remember a few old cars, a lot of tires, and piles of cement blocks all over my growing-up-place yard!)

Andrea... and I look forward to your reciprocal thoughts. I suspect you've come from deeper country too?

Christianne... if I succeeded in confusing you, then you are as "subfused" as I am now. In other words, the distinctions between urban and suburban are quite blurred these days. I like to remember that sub means under, but then, of course, I get this image of a city stacked on top of a suburb! Not helpful. As I said in the post, I think the important thing is how we experience our life wherever we are. Some people in urban areas have a lot of community life. Some people in rural areas refuse to speak to their neighbors. The question is, what kind of neighbor am I, and do I want to be?

Craver... oh, yes, I noticed that. There were Doritos bags all over the front stoop.

Every Sq... I was just reading that Wendell Berry lives in a place where his family has lived for about two hundred years. I think this makes all the difference. Not only are we at work outside our communities, but we rarely spend even a generation in one place.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

OK LL, I give up. I'm looking all over for the definition of "Subfused." Is it that I'm that culturally detached? What did I miss? Or, did you just make it up? And, what is its meaning in the context of your post? I know that when you tell me I'm going to dumb and like some unsophisticated "rural hick"! (Oh wait, I am one) Peace, Kim

4:49 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Aimee... that's great! So, you can really participate from the inside out. Ah, the glory of good timing (that we don't plan!)

Martin... did you move specifically in an effort to get a different environment, or was it just a work location thing? Yes, I agree on the city access thing. Hard to give up.

Kim... oh, nice, you are a country soul, so you can relate to my country side. :) Now, about that word, I'm always making up words. It's my fun as a blogger. So here's the L.L. meaning... I'm so confused about the meaning of suburban... I'm so subfused. Really, I bet you weren't alone in your confusion about my subfusion. I figured it was a rather obscure usage, but I wanted to do it anyway. Yes, my fun as a blogger.

5:35 PM  
Blogger Charity Singleton said...

I think my problem with sorting out the definitions of urban, suburban, exurban, and rural is that I only really see myself as one of those . . . and I define the places I live based on who I am, rather than the place itself. (More on this over at Wide Open Spaces, where you can continue the discussion.)

6:45 PM  
Blogger Irish Church Lady :) said...

WoW! I never would have thought you lived there from your posts about your favourite place!

I've nominated you, my friend. You are a THINKING BLOGGER!

9:54 PM  
Blogger Ex-Shammickite said...

If I lived where most of my neighbours didn't know my name, I'd hate it. I love living in a small town. I know everyone on my street (execpt the new people at the end of the street) and I can't go to the library, grocery store, or walk down the Main Street without meeting 2 or 3 people that I know.
BTW were the undies the right size?

12:21 PM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

I was a vegetarian for quite awhile and then I got sick and my iron was really low so I started to eat meat again and then just didn't stop for a few years. But starting this year I am back to my plan :)

12:28 PM  
Blogger Al Hsu said...

L.L., thanks for this discussion! If folks would like to join in on these discussions but don't have a copy of the book, the intro and chapter 1 are both available online as free PDFs at IVP's website:

2:21 PM  
Blogger jams o donnell said...

thjanks for leaving a comment on teh Poor Mouth. I love your photography

4:15 PM  
Blogger Inihtar said...

I wonder where in New York you are too:) Fun to see a yard! Not too many of those on the island!

Is it bad that I really don't try to talk to my neighbors? I gave up on roommates because, by the end of the day, I find myself seriously craving alone-time. So neighbors sort of fall into the same category for me.

I love the anonymity of city life (though not New York particularly), although I do find myself occasionally longing for a quieter "home" where borrowing butter from neighbors is more a way of life than an anomaly(despite my anti-social tendencies!)

6:03 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Charity... I love that idea of how you define your place based on who you are. Honestly, having grown up in deep country, I don't think I could conceive of this place as anything other than urban. While others might think of it as a more suburban place.

Irish Church... yes, it all depends which way I look... up, down, or sideways. It's been a good reflection for me on perspective.

ExS... I don't know. There's a part of me that likes the anonymity. I haven't decided if that's good or bad. Oh, and I think the undergarment was just the right size... for the original owner. (Or maybe not... maybe that's why they gave it up as an offering at my hedge?)

Stephanie... yes, veg. is not necessarily healthier, unless we eat the right mix.

Al... why thanks! (So where can we get the balance of the chapters? ;-) Just kidding, just kidding. I promise not to type them out and post them.)

Jams... now isn't that funny. I never thought of what I do as photography. Thanks for the compliment.

6:06 PM  
Blogger bluemountainmama said...

is that picture looking into your yard or is it taken of an adjoining yard from the back of yours?

after seeing this, i realize how amazing it is that you have found your special place.... i would have a hard time thriving there, i think. we can walk to all our town's amenities, but we live in a very small traffic light. and everyone has big yards and gardens.

this literal glimpse into your life will make your posts that much more meaningful to me....

7:55 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Ini... I struggle with this question too. For there are SO many people I'm in relationship with. Family, church, work, blog?! I'm not sure the goal is to be close to all my neighbors. It would be nice, though, if there was enough collegiality to prevent the trash toss.

Blue... that's the view from my yard to theirs. In spring, when the buds open, I feel a little more secluded, and that is a wonderful feeling. But in winter, I've got to concentrate on putting my focus on the sky or the ground.

11:10 AM  
Blogger Maria said...

L.L. -- I finally got my thoughts posted.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Kim said...

LL, you have really set me off in an amazing direction with this word "Subfused." Today I posted P4E.019 Subfusion to my blog Preparation 4 Eternity. Hope you and yours can stop by to read and comment. I love your blog. It's one of the few I have linked to my own. Peace, Kim

3:43 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

Let's try that link again:

P4E.019 Subfusion

3:47 PM  

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