Maybe extremes aren’t the right way to go, you know?
It’s hard to get what you want out of life without making certain sacrifices. Obviously nothing about the process of moving to London was easy, but one of the things that was scariest to give up was the complete privacy of living alone. See, my living situation back in Ottawa for the last few years of my life there was pretty ideal: I had my own tiny, brightly coloured, perpetually messy apartment. It was a place that made me joyous, with its lime green/fuchsia/teal walls, painted lovingly for me by my parents before I moved in. It was the second apartment in which I ever lived, and the nearly three years I lived there flew by. It was right in the heart of Centretown, perfectly located between downtown Ottawa’s tiny core, and Chinatown, and the Glebe. Any direction I headed would bring me and my heaving hamper to a laundromat, assuming I had the money to do laundry. It was the place that taught me just how much I loved walking, because suddenly walking was interesting to me. There were things to be explored. And, sure, those things were a far cry from the glorious adventures I’d spend so much time daydreaming about, but it was good, you know? It was a good enough life. I just wanted something more.
I never would have imagined how much I’d love living alone before I moved into that apartment. It was necessity that brought it on in the first place: I needed to find somewhere to live, and I didn’t have any roommate prospects. I definitely didn’t want to live with a stranger (they could be crazy!), and so I started looking online for places that could be all mine. Of course the prices came as a shock, but I held out hope.
And hey, holding out hope is a good thing, really, because a friend of mine ended up telling me when an apartment became available in her house. My mom and I went to look at it, and I fell in love immediately. I’m a sucker for things like angled ceilings, and, while the place was awfully small, it was perfect for me. I didn’t need much space! In fact, the less space in which I could convince myself murderers were hiding, the better. The shower stall was made of glass, so I wouldn’t even have to punch the shower curtain to make sure no one was hiding in there. My mother did most of the talking, since I didn’t have a job at the time, and I enthusiastically told the landlords I’d take it. I didn’t let myself get truly excited until I’d signed the lease, but then I did at the beginning of December 2009, and between then and the beginning of December 2012, I had a little space in the world that was completely my own. It was wonderful, and it got even better when the apartment next to mine became available and my best friend moved in. It was the perfect compromise: we weren’t roommates, but we were seconds away when we wanted to hang out. We found a pub down the street that became our Friday night destination, and both of us put up whiteboards on our apartment doors so we could write one another notes.
Nidal and I had two other neighbours: Edith (who wonderfully made me aware of the existence of the place), and Emilie (glorious, glorious, glorious), and our highlight as a non-household-household was when the four of us cohosted a massive party. It was a warm May night, and it was an excellent enough time that I still remember it fondly in spite of spending a good portion of it being sick from way, way too much gin.
That house was perfect, especially given that in those few years I lived there, Centretown was the main hub of my friends group. There were those of us in the house, and there were so many of the other people I loved best in the world located a short walk away. It seemed sort of strange to have to travel very much to get to anyone, and Nidal and I took great joy on summer nights in sitting on the front steps, drinking beer and sending out a general invitation via Twitter to anyone who wanted to drop by. I’d bring my computer outside, and we’d listen to music and have a wonderful time. Sometimes we did get visitors (particularly in that last summer, when our spectacular friends David and Erin frequently joined us), sometimes we didn’t, but it was always terrific.
I guess there are some things in life you’ll always miss, regardless of how happy you are with the way things have turned out.
It all happened at once, really: within the space of a few months, Emilie left (Nidal took over her apartment, and the process of moving up there was significantly more frustrating than any two-storey move should rightly be), Edith left, and then I did. I don’t really remember the names of the people who moved in apart from the guy who took over my place. Last summer, on my first visit back to Ottawa since moving away, Nidal was in the process of finding a new place, and now none of us live there anymore. Strange, really. When I visited again at Christmas, my dear friend Marc and I took a long walk through slightly blizzardy conditions, and I insisted we walk by the house, mainly just so I could stand there for a minute, mouth agape, and say “weird” repeatedly.
I have to strain a bit to remember much about my last few days in that house. I remember a bit of packing, and I remember watching The White Stripes’ documentary Under Great White Northern Lights during that packing, and crying for most of it because my emotions were off the scales. I remember the constantly building stack of boxes lining my front hallway, although that may partially be because the last photo I posted on Instagram, on November 21st, 2012, was of just that:
I had so many emotions in that last little while, and just before the last of my belongings were taken from my apartment to my parents’ house, I remember leaning against the wall in my almost empty bedroom of almost three years and panic-crying. Because everything was so major, and so terrifying. This was such a change from my first real memory in that apartment, which was of a hungover New Year’s Day 2010 lying in bed, feeling happy about nearly everything in the world. I don’t think I’d be the person I am today if not for that apartment; all that time alone made me so much more comfortable in my own skin, something I’d always struggled with. When I first left Gilmour Street, it felt as though I’d removed myself from a fair bit of my context.
I’ve lived in London for over a year now, you know. If I felt as though I’d removed myself from the only context in which I could properly exist by moving out of a house I’d visit several more times before leaving Ottawa (remember the part where my best friend lived upstairs?), you can only imagine how I felt moving away entirely. Let’s just say it was shocking, and although I knew living with flatmates was part and parcel of living in an enormous and notoriously expensive city, that’s been a bit of an adjustment, too.
I realise that I’ve barely ever spoken about my living arrangements, only sort of grazing over the basics in the post nearest to when I moved in (and explaining the circumstances under which I ended up here in the post previous to that), and as it’s obviously a major part of my current life, I feel as though it demands more explanation. I’m located in Tufnell Park, which is between Kentish Town and Archway on the Northern Line.
I’m walking distance from most of the places I like to go, depending on what your definition of “walking distance” entails. On a particularly nice day, I’m quite happy to walk the hour-plus to get to Central London, and have done so several times. I’m about twenty minutes’ walk from Camden Town and from Hampstead Heath. Holloway Road isn’t too far from me, and is where I’ve gone to see all two films I’ve seen since moving here (Catching Fire and The Grand Budapest Hotel, in case you’re curious). My understanding of North London has come to baffle me, and I did spend an evening a month or two ago walking from Angel Islington (my most beloved home of the month of October 2011) to Camden Town, via my neighbourhood. This wasn’t planned; I was walking with a friend, and we were chatting, and I just kept knowing where I was and where to go. For someone with no sense of direction of which to speak, this was an accomplishment. I could walk to my work in Muswell Hill, although that would take up precious time I could spend in bed, and so I take the bus.
My flat itself is a really wonderful place, too. I have the smallest bedroom, under the stairs because I’m Harry Potter kind of not really at all in any way. I live under some stairs, okay?!? But oh! remember what I was saying about loving angled ceilings? BINGO!
When I first moved in I had two flatmates: Ritchie (Irish), who’s lived here for over four years, and Lawrence (from near Birmingham), who moved in just about the same time I did. It was interesting sharing a flat with Ritchie and Lawrence; both of them seemed just as keen to keep themselves to themselves as I did, and we only occasionally crossed paths in the kitchen or the living room, shared pleasantries, and vanished off to watch Netflix in our own bedrooms. It was sort of a shame I didn’t spend more time talking to Lawrence while he lived here, given I’d occasionally overhear him watching The Simpsons or QI, or listening to music I like such as The Libertines or the Raconteurs. We had a lot of common interests, I think, and could’ve been friends but neither of us were social, and then he got transferred with work to Edinburgh and he moved out. His room was taken by a couple, Liz and Matt (Australian), both really terrific people. They’ve been living in the flat for nearly two months, and they’re actually (imagine this!) social. They spend a lot of evenings at home, and occasionally have friends around. Naturally, after all those years of living alone, my automatic instinct when I get home is to hide from other humans, but I’m realising that trying to change my instincts wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
As much as I loved having my own apartment back home, there was often this weird sadness that hit me when I returned to being on my own after spending a fair amount of time around my favourite people. I always took such delight in having people around, whether it was for a full-scale party or just one or two people over to drink wine and listen to records. Because I spent so much time alone in that apartment, my heart would swell with joy when I’d walk into the living room and someone would be sitting there (assuming, of course, that they were meant to be there and I’d let them in – in this scenario, I’m returning to the living room after going to the kitchen or the bathroom or something). And there are few times I can remember when I felt happier than the weekend when our friends Alex and Laura came to see me and Nidal, and, after drinking much too much and being awake far too late the night before, the four of us all laid out side by side on my folded-out futon, all cozied up with pillows and blankets, watching TV shows and being idiots. It was difficult to go back to being alone after that. Thinking back on it, there were even a couple of times when I went to parties with my friends and the silence at home was a bit hard to deal with.
I guess what I’m saying is, maybe it’s good if it isn’t all or nothing. Maybe it’s good if I stay social in general. Not always, obviously, but I don’t need to be 100% social and then get home and not talk to anyone for ages. Maybe it’ll be better for me if I get used to being around humans more often. Especially when I’m living so far away from home, and all my flatmates are, too. It’s good to develop a sort of camaraderie. There’ve been a few times recently where I’ve thought I’ve felt antisocial, but then I’ve seen Ritchie, Matt and Liz sitting in the living room together and I’ve gone and sat down with them. I’d rather be a part of things than not. It’s easy to distance myself and then wonder why I feel remote, but I think it is time to change my ways. I live with people and I’m so, so fortunate, because I actually really like the people I live with. Enough that I’ve started to have long conversations with them. Enough that I’ve invited them to Old Rope this coming Monday. Enough that knowing that Matt and Liz’s UK visas expire in July makes me feel a little twinge of sadness. Enough that I ended up spending last night watching TV with them, and I laughed until I cried.
It’s good to be around people. And it’s good to be alone. I mean, it’s all about balance, isn’t it?