Happy new year’s eve! This has been a year of extremes in living situation and stability.
The Hacker House
Between January and May, I lived in the Mountain View Hacker House. In Silicon Valley, a “hacker house” is basically a euphemism for a hostel-style AirBnB with bunk beds in bedrooms and work tables in the living room, instead of single rooms and couch+TV.
Over the four months, roommates came and went. Most stayed for only a few days, to interview with startup incubators or network with venture capitalists. Others were there for a few months for internships.
I was there because my boyfriend/roommate and I had just broken up, and I wasn’t sure where I wanted to live next.
The morning after we broke up, in early January, I jumped out of bed at six in the morning, opened a fresh Google doc, and started brainstorming where I would live next. We’d shed some tears the day before, and the months before… But that morning, I was overwhelmingly excited about my new, vast freedom.
By mid-morning, I had a plan.
First, I would stay at an AirBnB until I finished packing, saying goodbye to everyone and everything, and fulfilling my commitment at the county Suicide and Crisis Hotline, where I had only recently started volunteering.
Then I would spend the rest of 2016 in my parents’ house in Atlanta. Nowadays, when people ask me why I moved to Atlanta, I give a variety of reasons, including that the film industry has basically migrated here and this is the best place for a new film actor.
But that morning, my primary reasoning was that, even in my excitement, I knew the breakup grief would come eventually (and come it did!), and I wanted to mourn with the comfort and safety of being near my family.
This part of the plan will probably go down in my memory as a shining example of my ability to predict myself and plan accordingly.
The next phase of the plan was that, in 2017, if I found that I didn’t like living in Atlanta (which was likely because what the heck was there in Atlanta?), I would start a two-year trip around the world to sample different places and ways of living so that I could decide where I ultimately wanted to live and take root. This was partly inspired by Eat Pray Love (did not enjoy the book, but the spaghetti and the silent meditation in the movie must have hit a chord), partly inspired by the tales of a former classmate who transformed while studying in rural Africa, and partly a manifestation of my lifelong Anglophilia / Europhilia / Hobbitonphilia.
So that was the plan: AirBnB, then Atlanta in 2016, then traveling in 2017-2018.
So in late January, I moved into the hacker house. In early March, I went to Iceland to see the northern lights, and also as a mini-experiment in traveling alone. A good friend joined me for the middle part of the trip.
But on the last day, when I was suddenly alone again, I became unbelievably homesick. The streets of Reykjavik were no longer new and exciting, and they weren’t home. I couldn’t even experience comfort vicariously through the people milling about on the streets because almost everyone was a tourist.
My sudden and extreme homesickness was compounded by the fact that there wasn’t an actual home that I was sick for. The hacker house certainly didn’t feel like home yet. And I had mixed feelings about the apartment I’d just left. It was the longest I’d ever live in one place, but it never felt like home because the walls were stark white, with poor sunlight, and I’d never put up decorations because I kept thinking we would find a better apartment soon. My parents’ house where I stayed every winter didn’t really feel like home either because my parents had moved there after I’d left for college.
So I wasn’t just feeling homesick. I was feeling homeless. I was, in fact, homeless. Both physically and emotionally.
I spent the rest of my residence at the hacker house with a constant low-grade panic that is perhaps akin to agoraphobia. It was the feeling of having nowhere to sink my roots in, nothing solid to hold on to, and nowhere to breathe easy and unclench my stomach. As much as I loved my roommates and meeting new people constantly, sharing a room for four months can wear on you.
As I went about my day, every little thing was unfamiliar and therefore significant. The way a leaf fluttered in the wind during my morning walk, what I ordered from the menu at a restaurant, my word choice while journaling… I think that when you’re mildly depressed, every little choice and happenstance has the power to make or break your emotional stability.
In May, I moved back to Atlanta after ten years away. Oddly, I began to feel at home a few days before I’d even left California. Since May the nostalgia for my old apartment in California has come up in short and cathartic bursts of tears. It’s pleasant and entirely different from the previous homesickness because it’s not my background state. I love it here in Atlanta. I’ve scaled back my traveling plans quite a bit and have no intention to move any time soon.
A year ago, I read an ElephantJournal article called All I Really Need is a Good F**k and Someone to Pick Me Up at the Airport (“I love to be met by someone who is genuinely ecstatic to see me”). Lately I’ve found myself picking friends up from the airport. And you know what? It’s a good feeling because it reminds me that I’m already at home.