Sunday, January 18

Home or alone

In the same week that I moved from one flat to another, and was, for no reason at all and for every reason possible, crippled by the blues, I read two essays and one poem. All three seemed connected in that they each captured a slightly different fragment of what I was feeling. Homesick, sort of, missing my family, yes, January blues, definitely. I think I was also finally mourning an end to a part of my life I'll probably never return to: meandering through the months at home with only vague ideas about growing up and adult life.

Adult life. I'm doing this now. I've bought my ticket. I'm on the road to adulthood whether I like it or not. I can go home and have Mum cook my dinner and make my bed and I can sit on the sofa and pretend that the journey is over and I've returned. I know, though, that the journey doesn't end. Like our old video player, the pause button will unpause itself after a bit. The idea of staying at home, of committing to nothing, of burying my head in the sand, ostrich-like, reminds me of that oft-tumblr'd F Scott Fitzgerald quote: 'I didn't realize it, but the days came along one after another, and then two years were gone, and everything was gone, and I was gone'. I don't want to leave home, but I don't want to be gone.

Maybe this is why the words of James Wood in his essay 'On Not Going Home' were comforting, his talk of:

'the slow revelation that I made a large choice a long time ago that did not resemble a large choice at the time; that it has taken years for me to see this; and that this process of retrospective comprehension in fact constitutes a life – is indeed how life is lived. Freud has a wonderful word, ‘afterwardness’, which I need to borrow, even at the cost of kidnapping it from its very different context. To think about home and the departure from home, about not going home and no longer feeling able to go home, is to be filled with a remarkable sense of ‘afterwardness’: it is too late to do anything about it now, and too late to know what should have been done. And that may be all right.'

My first week or so in the new flat was very quiet. I was in the centre of the capital yet I hardly saw a soul. My flatmate and friends were still on their Christmas breaks. The longest conversations I had were with baristas and shop assistants. I had unwritten essays to cobble together and every day I walked from flat to supermarket to coffee shop to library. I was lonely. Those first few nights I would stand at the window and watch the city: the outlines of buildings, the columns of yellow squares blinking on and off, the red tail lights disappearing round corners, the odd smudgy black figure slipping past. For the first time ever I felt no love for it. Just a cold, empty feeling, the emotional equivalent of sirens fading into the distance or headlights glancing round an dark empty room. One evening I downloaded a poetry app onto my ipad, and quite by chance, the poem recommended was Amy Lowell's 'A London Thoroughfare, 2am'. It expressed that cold feeling better than I ever could.

Opposite my window,
The moon cuts,
Clean and round,
Through the plum-coloured night.
She cannot light the city;
It is too bright.
It has white lamps,
And glitters coldly.

Then Eva Wiseman tweeted a link to a recent piece by Durga Chew-Bose, 'Since Living Alone'. Beautifully written in itself, and even more beautiful to me for articulating the things I really needed to hear, for turning my ear to a more positive idea of loneliness.  

'In those moments,' Durga writes, 'the whiplash of loneliness can impose temporary amnesia. How did I end up here? Had I lectured myself into some smug and quarantined state of solitude? Was living alone analogous to the emotional moat I construct around myself whenever I listen to one song on repeat, again and again? No, not exactly.'

Because (and here I think of my mum again, and how she always tells me that the lows are just as important as the highs) whilst these one-way-plane-ride moments of loneliness and newness are temporarily terrifying, they're kind of good for me too. 'Staying put in my new place all to my own was akin to the emotional clarity yielded from those first few sips of red wine, or from riding the subway after seeing a movie'. When I resurface in the fleshy, noisy, human world of people and lectures and coffee trips and pubs and parties, my skin feels that little bit tougher. I think Durga might be right: 'living alone ... is a form of self-portraiture, of retracing the same lines over and over - of becoming.'

(It's funny how sometimes, unplanned, the things you read link themselves together, hold their hands out to whatever's preoccupying you at the time. It's nice.)


On Not Going Home by James Wood:
A London Thoroughfare, 2am by Amy Lowell:
Since Living Alone by Durga Chew-Bose:

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