Last year, I wrote a post about the apartment I was living in: the “nice place,” as I called it. It was nice, but under a veneer of affected warmth its heart was pure, cold sterility. I didn’t like it very much at all. I resolved that when my lease expired I wouldn’t renew it and would move somewhere else less polished around the edges, but more alive.
I am pleased to say that of all the things I have set out to do in my adult life, this is about the only one I have accomplished. A little over a week ago, I finished packing the last of my belongings, which proved to be about fifty percent books, thirty percent kitchen stuff, and the rest mostly shoes and gadgets, and moved to a new place.
Well, it’s new to me, anyway. It is just what I wanted: An old apartment on the second floor of an old converted house. I don’t know the entirety of the building’s history, except that my landlords (who I really like, a lot) say that the building was originally the office of a trolley company that ran a trolley that terminated in a loop just up the street. (The neighborhood is still called the Douglass Loop as a dim memory of that time.) The apartment itself is the crazy, funky mess I was looking for: Slanting floors, high ceilings, old floors, uneven steps, doors that lead to nowhere, a stained glass window in my shower. It is well maintained, don’t get me wrong; it’s just been around quite a while, and it shows.
I am far happier with the surrounding neighborhood, too. The main plus is that it is walkable in a way that my previous neighborhood simply wasn’t. My previous neighborhood had sidewalks and such, but there just wasn’t anyplace much worth walking to there. Here I am within quick walking distance (3-5 minutes) of six restaurants, a coffee shop, a bakery, an ice cream shop, a bargain home decor store, my barber shop, and my church. And that’s just the stuff I am particularly excited about. The immediate vicinity of my apartment, though, is very secluded and doesn’t feel much like the city. The view from my bedroom window is of the barn across the street. Seriously.
The best part is that my son, who is four years old, has embraced the move without reservations. He loved the place from the moment he first set foot in it. It isn’t functionally all that different from our old place where he is concerned, except that our bedrooms are now on the same floor as the rest of the apartment. But whether it is the sheer novelty of it or something intangible, he loves the place. It helps that the facade looks like a castle, and we have exclusive access to the second floor patio on the parapet (as it were). It gives him an opportunity to pretend to shoot at passing cars. Our fortress is indeed well-defended.
So the move happened, and it has been positive. The new place doesn’t completely feel like home yet for all that. I am emotionally cautious; I don’t just give my heart up to any old place. I haven’t yet learned how to relax there. It is hard for me to feel truly at home; in fact, I am not sure when was the last time I felt completely at home somewhere, like it was where I truly belonged. I assume that will come with time, and I do hope to spend some real time here.
I have some worries about the place too. For one, I have at least ten years on all of the neighbors I have seen so far. I am the resident old man, it appears. I lack a hipster beard, I don’t own a single pair of Toms shoes, I have profound anxieties and issues towards which I have no ironic detachment. Nothing you can say will make me give a crap about vinyl records containing twee songs performed by reedy-voiced white people. I don’t even own a turntable. Oh, and I have a child. But for all that, I am already more at home here than I have been anywhere since moving to Louisville in 2003. This fact says a lot about how I have spent my time in this city, I suppose.
I am learning that I had more wrapped up in my domestic surroundings than I thought. We frequently make the mistake, at least since Descartes, of assuming that our mental and spiritual life takes place primarily and in the first instance “in the head,” in foro interno. Your mental and spiritual life may be like that– in which case, more power to you– but mine certainly isn’t. My thought and entire sense of self are oriented in space and attuned to my surroundings. Some spaces are fertile, alive, an invitation to thought and awareness. Others feel enclosed, trapped, like dead ends.
My old apartment, for its part, was a garret, a hiding place. Nothing was going to happen there; it was a place to hide, to ride out a number of storms that have now passed or never broke at all. In that, it served its purpose; it sheltered my son and me for a time. But now it is time to venture outside a bit, to risk stormy weather again. I now have something that feels like home to which I can return.