Because I’ve been thinking more about moving, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of home. Home, indeed, is never very far from my thoughts. Over the years, I've prioritized my home over travel and self. I've spent thousands of dollars on magazines designed to inspire me on the home-front. And I've spent more wistful time than I can imagine with my nose figuratively pressed against windows on realtor sites trying to fix some idea of what my ideal home looks like and to imagine my life in it.
When I’ve imagined some new stage of life, whether it was studying abroad or moving here or other cities I could move to, it has always been through the lens of what my home might look like there. I’ve undergone all kinds of exciting changes and relationships. And yet I’ve spend most of my energy thinking about the domestic stage all those events take place in.
Still, for over 10 years, I've lived in the same rental apartment. The truth is I love my rough-around-the-edges 1930's apartment. And I pour that love into its crooked walls and sub-par finishes. But the truth is also that no matter how much I rearrange my belongings and create little moments that seem lovely, it’s never quite as good as ideas in my head. There’s always the itch of this ideal I carry with me.
Why of all things has home obsessed me in this way? My pat answer is, oh I'm a typical Cancerian, a nester. I only really believe in astrology symbolically though, so this is more a convenience than an explanation.
There are other ways I could tell this story to form a pleasing arc. I could tell you how often we moved growing up, how house-hunting used to be a Flanagan family recreational sport (the amount of time I spent fantasizing about bedrooms in houses we never bought is itself worthy of remark). But the truth is there is something deeper inside me that made me disposed to all this domestic dreaming.
When I read books as a child, part of their cachet was always the domestic descriptions. From Peter and Jane in the Garden (my favourite childhood book, in which the siblings cleaned a garden shed and turned it into a playhouse of their very own), to Hobbit holes, I often read books with particular attention to the abodes. More of my imagination was expended colouring in the spaces occupied by characters, the fabrics and colours, the layers and smells, than I ever spent thinking about their facial features or the shape of their bodies.
I still read this way, much more mindful of the spaces characters occupy than the bodies they inhabit. I suppose this is an extension to my own indifference to my body, the feeling of being never quite associated with it. Perhaps it’s my immediate outward space that is more of a body to me in this way — more representative of my heart and mind. And, of course, more malleable too; I may dress my body and lose or gain weight, but I will always roughly be, a short, soft Irish girl. Home offers the chance to express myself outside the confines of my body.
It offers a chance to create something wholly personal and self-serving, shared only with others of my choosing. It offers the chance to curate a little world and build some measure of perfection through the placement of belongings, the selection of fabrics and furnishings. It sounds overblown to lay it down as such, like so much could be imbued in mere furnishings. But the desire to not only do this, but to get it right is one that’s wholly engrossing for me.
Of course, the freedom to build a home is not as unrestricted as all this. Real estate and decor are material things and material things come with price-tags. The practicalities of what I can afford have changed the way I think about home. It’s gone from a sweet and hopeful daydream, to an agitating underscore - odds are I’ll never have this home I dream of. And while I used to delight in gorgeous homes and neighbourhoods, now there’s a faint ache when I walk down streets with homes I would love to live in.
Indeed, this love of things domestic has never been easy to live with. At times it twinges in a vague way. What I I want, what it is that could satisfy me, seems vague and inarticulable. And even though I do think “home” is more than the sum of its parts, more than the inventory list of stuff that it houses, I wonder if I haven’t imbued it with too, too much. More than the sum of its parts and then more, then perhaps every idle dream and hope for quietude and joy and creativity.
I feel like I’m waiting for perfect, though I know perfection is beyond any grasp. And instead of moving somewhere a little better than where I am, I've been staying here and making it work -- as if the meantime doesn't matter until it can be perfect. The problem is this meantime is my life.
At the same time, I shake my head as I write and read all of this and think about the utter privilege I already exhibit; having a home, living alone, making my space as nice as it is. Still, I don’t like to disown feelings just because I dislike them, or because I don’t like the way I sound when I say them out loud. What I want to do, to try to start to do, is to understand that certain ideas started out as a fun way of envisioning my life, of creating some forward momentum. But now, they’re doing the opposite: This home thing is not an idle daydream, or a joyful occupation, it’s an impossible standard. And it’s time to get unstuck from that.