I was lying awake at 4:00 a.m., thinking about a house I recently bought that I simply can’t connect with no matter what I do to make it feel like home. And I started thinking back to all the living spaces I’ve occupied in the last twenty years, and came to the uneasy realization that it’s not them, it’s me. I’m weak. I’ve allowed living spaces to define me. I don’t feel good about this, because I want to be the SAME rendition of me no matter where I am. And I hate to think that my sense of self is so shaky that it can change the moment I step into a building. But this is my reality. I’ve gone through numerous inner selves in numerous different places, shedding and sluffing, but mostly taking on whatever the living-space vibe demands of me.
Let’s start with the house I can’t connect with. There, I’m a lost soul shuffling from room-to-room with no compass, plucking at her nightgown and fretting about a life gone horribly awry.
Then there’s the condo. Ten years ago, I briefly rented a condo (WTF was I thinking?) in what should have been a delightful and charming Victorian. Instead, inside those walls, I took on the form of a shadow person who spent her days dealing with slumlords, gangs of mice, and leaking roofs. From the apartment above, bad music seeped through the ceiling and a young mother shrieked at her boyfriend while her kids played video games and roller-bladed in the living room.
Before that, it was a tidy bungalow in a somewhat upscale area of Saint Paul. I was an imposter, knowing I didn’t belong, but unable to pinpoint why I was so unworthy. It gave me little comfort that another outsider, Sara Jane Olson, previously of the Symbionese Liberation Army and now a cookbook author, lived nearby. In that house, I eventually became one with a permanent state of unease, enough to remain four years.
In my problematic and impractical church home, I’m confident and focused and at peace most of the time. No nightgown plucking or slipper shuffling. In the church house, I feel I’m my truest self, but this could all be a lie. The house could be tricking me, but it’s a trick I’m willing to embrace.
The big question. Why do spaces shape our inner selves? And how do they do it so quickly, sometimes within moments of stepping in the door? Am I just that weak? Or, because I’m a writer, am I more open to suggestion? Must I become what the dwelling suggests? Why can’t I be me wherever I am? Do others experience this, but don’t recognize it? Or is this common knowledge and I’m blabbing about something everybody else has always understood?