A Year Lived in Other People’s Houses

“No, it’s okay,” I told Liz, my hostess in Wellington. “I’d love to go with you to feed your daughter’s cat. I just get a kick out of…”

“…Seeing the inside of other people’s houses,” she finished, and laughed gaily (the only way she ever laughs). “So you’ve said!”

This year, I uttered that phrase so often that I began to doubt whether or not it was actually true. Did I really love seeing the insides of other people’s houses, love living in various weird locations, or was it just a way to justify my actions: to see myself as a voyeur, not a vagrant?

Because the fact remains: on paper, I graduated from MFA school and spent the year more or less homeless. For this academic year, I have not officially paid rent or spent more than two months in the same location. Hallelujah, I’m a bum.

Of course I am, as always, being dramatic. On paper, I have a home – my parents’ house, the one I grew up in, the one to which I send mail, the one in which I am in fact typing this very blog post. It’s just that it no longer contains a lot of my possessions. (Apart from the closet of childhood artifacts and old prom dresses, which, if you’re reading this, Dad, I swear I will one day actually clean out.) Most of the stuff I have travels with me in a big blue suitcase, a smaller red one, a light-green backpack, and a clunky plastic-zipped container of shoes. I have gotten rid of everything else. I am unencumbered by bed frames and doilies and candles, free to flee to wherever I please.

And for much of this year, I swore I preferred it that way. Freedom! If I’m honest – and I’m trying to be honest, now, honest and un-dramatic – I’ve spent much of my adult life internally sneering at people who spent their life acquiring stuff – stuff, and a place to put it. Grabby babies hoarding plastic gems! I on the other hand – an auteur, a wanderer, fancy-free, bereft of mortgages…

But in this year I’ve swung from smugness to jealousy. Because, let’s face it – when I signed on for this year of moving from place to place, I didn’t expect that I’d like some of them so much.

I’ve learned that to pick a place and make it your own – that takes actual work. It’s nothing like this messy business of packing and unpacking suitcases, which seems like a lot of effort but is really just the same effort over and over again in different houses. A place is a vision, just like anything.

Where am I going, where have I been? In the weeks to come, I’d like to give a brief tour of where I’ve spent this academic year. A parade of homes, if you will. It’s a story of where I’ve unpacked my suitcases, sure, and all the, you know, life lessons I learned, but more than that: it’s a story of how people are, by and large, incredibly kind.

“I remember I used to drop you off at school. All the kids would be playing in the yard, all happy together, and you’d go right to the corner and just sit there all by yourself. Playing with, I don’t know, sticks. One kid actually said to me, “That’s Jessie’s corner…”” laughed my dad last week. Who knew that I’d ever have any friends, let alone enough to bounce between for a solid year?

I am tired, and I am wistful, and I am full of gratitude. And I can’t wait for my own place to show up, because let’s face it, I am really sick of keeping my clothes on a floor.

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