I was born in a city. I’ve grown up in cities. I live in a city. For the foreseeable future, my life will revolve around cities.
I also loathe cities.
Like that old cliche, the initial love has turned right round to a shade of bitter-sour that the worst medicines have no hope of matching up to.
Cities are increasingly widely viewed as the eventual, and inevitable, destination of the human-dwelling evolution. Cities are where all the best jobs are, where all the conveniences are, where all innovation emerges, where the arts are born and where they can truly flourish, where different cultures and classes and colours are forced to face the reality of each other.
Right? That’s why people are deserting the countryside in ever-increasing numbers, isn’t it? No more depending on three shops that haven’t even heard of couscous, or having to drive for miles to buy the same-old-designed clothes, or suffering local libraries that resemble airport bookshops in terms of the variety they stock, none of which can quickly escape from either because you’re so far out no firm can be bothered setting up a fast Internet line for you. So, hooray cities and 24mbps lines and fashion weeks and highly-paid consultancies and cronuts and specialist doctors and all the jazz you care to hear.
Except, we forget what we give up.
We forget the stars that we no longer look up at. We forget we don’t have to simply scuttle from sealed-off apartments to shut-in cars. We forget that sounds need not always be noise. We forget that sleep can be found without the ever-presence of artificial light. We forget that nature was never consulted about hours and minutes and seconds. We forget that every patch of greenery does not need to be named or mapped out or be accessible. We forget that we don’t have to work so hard not be so angry all the time. We forget that ‘can-do’ does not have to become ‘make-do’.
We forget. And in this forgetting, we lose ourselves. And all that’s left are shadow-selves, trying desperately to discover themselves in the reflection of ever-growing glass towers. And the only sound that’s left is that of us constantly trying to define ourselves, explain ourselves, classify ourselves, ourselves ourselves ourselves, if only someone would listen. But nobody is. And we know this but refuse to accept it, because we are special and and everybody else will surely want to know it too, and we will keep saying it till it is acknowledged.
But it never is, and one day, all our lost echoes find each other and come hunting us, surging at us and shattering our fragile beliefs with the weight of their scorned dismissals.
And we break. And in that break, we are forged a-new.
We become the lady with the funny hats who mutters on the bus. We become the man who spends 92 minutes feeding pigeons. We become the neighbour who throws buckets of cold water at children playing outside. We become the guy sleeping on the road who will break a bottle on his head, as long as he can drink the ‘good stuff’ inside first. We become the morality police that berate lovers for kissing in public, because how dare they show love and not violence. We become the customers who knife people for jumping queues in a restaurant. We become the neighbourhood watch who want to throw street vendors because they disrupt the view from their terrace. We become the motorists yelling at everybody around them from behind rolled-up windows, because we know stepping out will result in a bloodbath. We become the ones that self-diagnose and medicate for depression and stress and breakdowns. We become the ones who glory in a few extra square inches of space, while there’s a whole world out there.
And we choose this. We choose this. And we claim we have no other option, all the while knowing we have.
And that is a level of crazy from which there is no saving.