They hate you if you’re clever, and they despise a fool – John Lennon
I have a rather turbulent relationship with my hometown. We’ve never really seen eye to eye on a lot of things. Ever since I can remember I’ve always felt like an outsider in my own city. This is something I think about a lot and find very difficult to articulate.
I’m from a place called Sunderland – a small, working class city in the North East of England. For readers who aren’t familiar with the geography of the UK, it is the Game of Thrones equivalent of Winterfell. I find it’s the type of place you either never leave or move as far away from as you can. It’s a city that revolves around drinking and football, neither of which are high on my list of interests. It has very limited opportunities but if you try hard enough you can find a job at a call centre, or at a bar, or a school or an office. Everyone has a ‘living for the weekend’ mentality which I could never get on board with. It’s a place that can provide you with a cushy life where you have just enough money to pay the bills and go out drinking on a Saturday night.
If Sunderland had to sit an exam that tests its quality of life it would probably get a C+. It’s not a bad place to live. But it’s also not that great either. Which is where I’ve concluded the problem lies. In this middle ground. This is my theory:
Sunderland is a comfortable place to live.
Comfort breeds complacency.
Complacency breeds stagnation.
A major fear of mine is to become stagnant and trapped in a place/job I don’t like. And I fear that is what will happen if I stay here. My hometown represents stagnation to me. So I remain uncomfortable, resentful and unhappy in order to keep myself motivated to leave. If I get too comfortable it’s over. Is this a crazy way of looking at things? It’s crazy isn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong, when the sun hits it right Sunderland can be a very scenic place to live. The city has a beautiful coastline, surrounded by green countryside and some charming 19th century architecture. In my view, what holds the place back is the negative attitude of a lot of the residents. On any day of the week if you go to a local pub you will invariably overhear a conversation that sounds something like this:
“Argh Sunderland is a shit hole. It’s always been a shit hole. Never nothing good ever ‘appens”
“Should we do something about it?”
“Nar, I’d rather just complain about it and makes others feel bad for trying”
Okay maybe that isn’t a verbatim conversation you will overhear but it’s certainly the general tone. It is a ubiquitous attitude that can unfortunately be very contagious. I find that people are so fixated on the negatives that they refuse to acknowledge the positives. And they carry that with them in all aspects of life. I feel that in order to be happy you need to become a miserable drone and embrace how awful everything is. You have to proudly exclaim: “it’s shit, but it’s home”
(I know I am painting my picture with broad strokes here. Not EVERYONE is like this obviously. I am just trying to get across the general negative attitude of the city.)
I grew up with people saying I could do anything I wanted to. Yet whenever I would express any ambition or ideas that deviate from the “norm” I’d get shot down for it. I’ve been lucky enough to spend a bit of time living outside of Sunderland and the UK. I spent two years living in America and working in various locations around Europe and Asia. Whenever I am out of Sunderland I feel like I can accomplish anything. I feel unbelievably creative and happy in my own skin. I smile at people on the streets and wish them a good day.
Then I return home, and it is like all that personal development and positive change never happened. I feel like Frodo returning to The Shire and trying to explain how scary a Nazgûl is; the description will never do it justice. I tell stories about the happy people I met or the fun things I did, and more often then not I am received with mockery and judgement. I am made to feel like a snob for even considering alternative life choices. I suddenly feel awful and pessimistic about my life goals and I don’t feel like an individual anymore but part of a group that I don’t connect with. You get all your ambitions and dreams shaken out of you and told to get a “normal” job. To meekly shuffle down the path of mediocrity like everyone else and stop being so pretentious.
I know this isn’t unique to me. Returning to any hometown is tricky. Whenever people return to a place or see people they haven’t seen in years, it is often a challenge not reverting back to the person you used to be. I find that a lot of times in friendships you tend to hold the person that your friends with to the standard of what the friendship was originally.
For example, when I am looking at hometown friends on Facebook who I haven’t spoke to in years it is hard to imagine any sort of emotional development. I still think of them as being the same person they were at that party four years ago. Like they are some kind of 2D character in the production of my life. (Maybe this isn’t universal and I am just demonstrating the size of my ego. But I am going to continue in the hope that something of what I am saying will resonate with someone.) But this is the challenge for me when returning home to my friends and family. People don’t see the person I have become, but the person I was. This is when resentment starts building up.
Okay I think I’ve lost my train of thought now and am just incoherently rambling.
To conclude, I’ve often blamed the city for a lot of my negative thoughts. It’s an easy scapegoat for a lot of my problems. For example: the reason I’m not more successful is because of the limited opportunities it provided me. Or the reason I’m not more self-confident is because of the close minded/stifling attitudes I was brought up around. Or it’s the reason I can’t ever get a tan in the summer (that last one upsets me the most).
Maybe I’m a victim of my surroundings. Or maybe I make an active decision to place myself as an outsider. Or maybe it is just a case of “the grass is always greener” or suffering from the fear of missing out. Who knows. But I realised all of these negative feelings towards my hometown was unhealthy, counterintuitive and was only breeding more disconnect and isolation. My external surroundings don’t define me as a person.
So in an attempt to transcend my own negativity I set myself a challenge to make a positive video about Sunderland. I decided to ride around on my bike and film all of my favourite places. It was actually quite a therapeutic experience and I am rather pleased with the result.
I’ll admit it may not be an actuate representation of the place as I mainly focused on the coastal areas and the places far removed from the city centre. But I think that works as an unintentional metaphor for me feeling like I am on the outskirts of society looking in rather than being in the thick of it all. I could have just as easily (if not even easier) made it look gritty, industrial and miserable. But that wouldn’t have been as fun.
Here is the video!
It’s not a bad place really, I just need to stop being so negative. As I grow older I know I am very lucky to be where I’m from. Relatively speaking there is lots going on.
Let me know your thoughts. How do you feel about your hometown? Do you feel resentment or do you love it?