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Archive for October, 2006

Urbanphobia

Is there a -phobia word for ‘fear of cities’ or ‘fear of urban environment’? I would find it hard to believe that we have a word for ‘fear of flutes’ (aulophobia) and ‘fear of objects to the right of the body’ (dextrophobia) but nothing for large cities. There’s even a phobia for ‘fear of teenagers’ (ephebiphobia–totally understandable, I admit) and different phobias for fears of flying, falling, gravity, and heights. I’m currently scanning a phobia list on the internet, and if I don’t find any kind of urbanphobia, I totally claim the rights to create such a term because I’m certain that the condition exists.

I live in the suburbs. A sad, sad fact of life. However, I live less than an hour from Vancouver by transit, so I spend my all my weekends and free days roaming the city streets. To be entirely honest, nothing happens in the suburbs. Really. It’s much more interesting to be in Vancouver, where everything is happening all at once, than in the suburbs, where the headline of the local newspaper is about a coyote attacking someone’s pet cat. Until about last April, I was content to live in the slow-paced, suburban life, and saw nothing particularly strange about my fellow suburbanites. And until about the same time, I never realized that myself and the other suburbanites all suffer from what I like to call (for lack of an official term) ‘urbanphobia’.

Urbanphobia is a strange thing. When I tell someone–anyone–in the suburbs that I spend every weekend and every day of the summer wandering the streets of downtown, they are, without exception, absolutely appalled. A fourteen year old girl wandering the streets nine-to-nine alone, without companion or cellphone? They would never dream of doing it themselves. How many times have I been mugged, have I ever been attacked or raped? What kind of awful, neglectful parents would allow their daughter to roam the city unprotected? What am I doing so far from home for so long each day? It never fails.

Last week, my English teacher remarked on the ‘scary’ panhandlers of downtown, how she would never walk the streets alone because people will hassle you for change. On a school trip to the Orpheum theatre downtown to see the dalai lama, we happened to drive down East Hastings, the worst street in Vancouver. All of the downtown east side is essentially forbidden territory for most Vancouverites, never mind suburbanites. And all the while we drove down this street, girls in the back of the bus whimpered about ‘scary downtown’ and how disgusting Vancouver was. I took great pleasure in telling them what I do with my spare time. Priceless.

What I pointed out to both my English teacher and the girls cowering in the back of the bus (and to anyone who expresses grief over my urban wanderings) is that, no, Vancouver is not a scary, dangerous place. Downtown east side, perhaps (my friend’s father drove down E Hastings with his two young daughters clearly visible in the back seat–nevertheless, two women asked him on seperate occasions at the intersection if he was looking for a ‘good time’), but only the truely foolish would walk through that part of town. The misconception that most suburbanites seem to share is that the entire city is one big East Hastings, and that the panhandlers are all muscular, drug-crazed men that will stab you if you don’t drop your wallet in their tin.

I always use my own case in my argument, because it tends to surprise a lot of suburbanites: that I, fourteen year old girl, wander downtown completely unattended from dawn to dusk, and have not even once been so much as approached by a panhandler. The depth of my encounters with them is this: they sit by the sidewalk, tin in front, maybe asking, “Spare change?”, but nothing more. After months of wandering the streets nine-to-nine as a lone teenage girl, that is the absolute extent of panhandling I have had to endure.

Just a thought, really, but also a note to all the urbanphobic suburbanites out there: cities aren’t the scary underworlds people like to think they are.

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“Someday.”

Ever have one of those persistent-yet-passive thoughts? Think, “I should write a novel someday,” after you read a nice book? Wonder why the sky is blue, then fail to follow through with your curiosity? Contemplate starting a personal project, think of it in passing every so often, but never actually complete it?

I’ve experienced all of the above, but the one that currently holds my attention is the last one. There is a list (rather, there would be a list, if I got around to making one) of creative projects I’ve been looking to take on–some for a rather long time, and some that have been plaguing me since I was a very small child. But where I’m actually going with this is that for the last month or so, I’d been thinking that I ought to have a ‘serious’ blog. This was prompted by several things at once: a desire to seem more professional in my art (musing on paper), my growing adoration for essayists, and the fact that I would never let the URL of my personal blog near people who take me seriously.

So, this is my attempt at a ‘serious’ blog, one that I dearly hope I will never be ashamed to hand out the URL to. It’s a pseudo-companion to my as-yet-uncompleted online writing portfolio, Wandering Ink, but you don’t have to bother with it unless polished fiction and the occasional essay is your thing. And even then, I don’t believe I take editing as seriously as I should.

Concluding a first post with a pair of quotes may be a bit tacky, but I have far too many of them at my disposal.

 

“The book fascinated him, or more exactly it reassured him. In a sense it told him nothing that was new, but that was a part of the attraction. It said what he would have said, if it had been possible for him to set his scattered thoughts in order. … The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already.”

George Orwell, ‘1984

“Divide mankind into twenty parts: nineteen consist of men who work with their hands and will never know that there is a Locke in the world, and in the remaining twentieth part how few men you will find who are readers! And of those who read, twenty read novels to one who studies philosophy. The number of those who think is exceedingly small, and they are not interested in upsetting the world.”

Voltaire, ‘Letters on the English Nation’

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